Michael Grunwald writes that the Republican debates were so off-the-wall that many things that would normally have caused a sensation were completely ignored because of all the attention paid to Donald Trump’s utterances and the sniping by the candidates at each other, and that the only reason he noticed them at all was because he read through the transcripts.
After five Republican debates, most Americans know about Donald Trump’s provocative beliefs, like his desires to end birthright citizenship, stop Muslim immigration and kill families of suspected terrorists. Much less attention has been paid to Carly Fiorina’s conclusion that the minimum wage is unconstitutional, Mike Huckabee’s pledge to defy Supreme Court rulings he deems incompatible with God’s law, Rick Santorum’s claim that Islam is not protected by the First Amendment or Chris Christie’s threat to shoot down Russian planes and launch cyberattacks on Chinese leaders.
Those provocative beliefs, believe it or not, were also expressed during the five Republican debates. They were just overshadowed by the furor over Trump. It might be natural for an opposition party to sound bombastic during primary season, especially when its front-runner is blessed with a seemingly inexhaustible supply of bombast, but the debate transcripts read like a Democratic opposition researcher’s dream.
I’ve watched all the debates as well as the undercards live, but when I reviewed the transcripts, I was amazed how many radical statements had slipped under my radar. Ted Cruz called for putting the United States back on the gold standard. Marco Rubio accused President Barack Obama of destroying the U.S. military. Huckabee said Bernie Madoff’s rip-offs weren’t as bad as what the government has done to people on Social Security and Medicare. Lindsey Graham said his administration would monitor all “Islamic websites,” not just jihadist ones. I had even forgotten Trump’s claim that vaccines caused autism in a 2-year-old girl he knew.
Vaccines do not cause autism. Goldbuggery is crackpot economics. The U.S. military is still by far the strongest in the world. And what the government has done to people on Social Security and Medicare is give them pensions and health care. But none of those statements drew any pushback from the other Republican candidates, or, for that matter, the media moderators. Neither did Ben Carson’s assertion that if the United States had set a goal of oil independence within a decade, moderate Arab states would have “turned over Osama bin Laden and anybody else you wanted on a silver platter within two weeks,” which is wackadoodle on multiple levels.
[T]he GOP debates have felt like madcap purity contests, with the candidates competing to demonstrate their commitment to supply-side tax cuts and foreign-policy belligerence, as well as their fierce opposition to illegal immigration and every imaginable government regulation. Rubio, supposedly the establishment alternative to Trump, vowed to repeal Wall Street reform in its entirety and oppose abortion without any exceptions. John Kasich, supposedly the moderate in the GOP race, vowed to “punch Russia in the nose.” Wild accusations by non-Trump candidates—that the independent Federal Reserve has kept interest rates low to prop up Obama, that Obama shows more respect to Iran’s ayatollah than Israel’s prime minister, that 300,000 veterans died last year while waiting for health care, that Obama is trying to strip away the sovereignty of the United States, that David Petraeus was prosecuted for sharing classified information with his girlfriend because Obama didn’t like him—have provoked no reaction whatsoever during the debates.
The gist was that the survival of the United States is at risk; that Obama has been weak on ISIL and Assad and Russia and China and Iran and Hezbollah and every other distasteful figure on the world stage; that calling radical Islam by its name and “targeting the bad guys” and “taking the fight to the enemy” will solve all the problems in the Middle East. On domestic issues, the gist was that the United States in the Obama era has become a dystopia of rampant unemployment, high taxes, runaway deficits, porous borders and job-killing regulation—and that undoing what Obama did would make America great again.
Yep, that was about it. While I did mention some of those things in my reviews, I did miss a lot of others.
Is this a winning message in the general election? Grunwald thinks that the Democrats will be able to haul out all these preposterous statements in the general election and seriously damage the Republicans.
Is he correct? Or have we now entered a post-reality world when it comes to elections in which not only do facts not matter but what a candidate or his party has said or done in the past don’t matter either and that what matters is which candidate is able to best appeal to the visceral feelings of the electorate on election day?
About a year ago, I would not have considered this a serious question. But now it is because the Republican party has pretty much abandoned any connection to reality. That is how bad things have become.