I decided to tune in at least to part of the eighth Republican primary debate and see what fun there was to be had and I was glad that I did so. It was a rollicking affair. Almost completely substance free, of course, but great fun nonetheless.
Ted Cruz got off to a rocky start by being asked why he did not call Ben Carson, whom he calls his good and dear friend, before rushing to tell Iowa voters on the night of the caucus the false information that Carson had stopped campaigning. He did not answer the question of why he did not call, instead giving his timeline of events and apologizing to Carson. (Cruz has now been accused of lying about that too.) Carson in his response sanctimoniously invoked the sainted Ronald Reagan and said that he did not want to attack other Republican candidates but then proceeded to stick the knife into Cruz anyway (this time metaphorically at least), accusing him of having the sleazy Washington ethics that as long as something is legal, then it is fair game. Cruz seemed subdued during the rest of the evening.
Here is Carson sticking it to Cruz.
But the highlight was undoubtedly the Chris Christie-Marco Rubio clash. Rubio has been criticized for being almost robotic in the way he responds to any question, quickly pivoting to what looks like a memorized set of talking points culled from his campaign stump speech, consisting largely of bashing president Obama and Hillary Clinton, and then issuing gushing praises to America’s greatness and his own religiosity. He reminds one of a salesman with a stock rapid-fire patter pushing an item on a customer.
All the Republicans bash Obama almost as a reflex. What they do when it comes to foreign policy is characterize him as feckless and inept, always apologizing and groveling before other world leaders, and thus endangering America’s security by making the nation appear weak and making one mess after another around the globe. Paradoxically, when it comes to domestic affairs, Obama suddenly becomes this Machiavellian autocrat who tramples over the US constitution by arrogantly seizing and exercising powers that he is not entitled to as part of his plan to make himself a dictator.
Rubio seems to have decided to be a contrarian this time around to stand out from the pack and in response to an early question to which Christie had responded, did his patented pivot and said that rather than being inept in foreign policy, Obama was coldly executing a deliberate plan to make America weaker in the world. Why, you ask? Who the hell knows? Presumably because he is a devious Muslim or something. Republicans don’t have to have a plausible reason for any attack on Obama.
Christie seized on this reply to accuse Rubio of parroting 25-second memorized speeches that his advisors give him. Incredibly, in response to this charge of being robotic, Rubio repeated his previous little speech almost verbatim. And then he did it again. And later again. It seemed like he could not help himself, like a robot whose circuits had malfunctioned and made it issue the same response to any stimulus. It was almost painful to watch and the crowd booed him as he flailed around with his seemingly endless repetition, smiling weakly all the time, as if realizing that it looked bad but plowing on, driven by impulses he could not control.
You can be sure that Rubio’s debacle is going to be the target of all the comedy shows, let alone the other candidates and political pundits, with mashups of various kinds, like this one.
But that was not all. Donald Trump got roundly booed when he tried to shush Jeb Bush. Trump then took the tack of trying to turn this to his advantage and burnishing his anti-establishment credentials by attacking the studio audience, saying that the Republican party issues tickets to the debate to its supporters and special interests and they don’t like him because he neither wants nor needs their money and thus they cannot influence him like they can all the other candidates. He then got even louder boos.
All this was set up by the fiasco at the opening introductions. The ABC News moderators announced each candidate’s name and they were supposed to emerge from the wings in the order that they would stand on the stage, like in a beauty pageant, which is kind of appropriate really when you think about it. But Ben Carson seemed to not hear his name and stopped in the wings, creating confusion and a pileup behind him, like a crash on a highway. They even forgot to introduce John Kasich altogether. The moderators were facing the audience and had their backs to the stage as they were making the introductions and so did not know that some candidates were not on the stage until they turned around at the end and found missing gaps in the podiums. It was hilarious.
What effect will all this have on the standing of candidates and actually voting in New Hampshire? Who the hell knows? But as entertainment it was great.