Overall, the show was entertaining — but not as fun as I hoped it would be. Of course it did not even remotely resemble an actual debate; all modern political discourse consists of acknowledging the question asked and then quickly pivoting to talking point. I was impressed by the speed and grace with which all the candidates deflected the issues raised by the moderators and got to the serious business of reciting their scripts.
I do not think any completely ruined his chance to win the nomination — pretending for a moment that more than a handful of them actually have a chance to begin with — but I also do not feel like anyone distinguished himself, either.
Real estate magnate and bloated ego enthusiast Donald Trump was not as impressive or as funny as I’d hoped he would be; he could have buried the field and put the nomination on ice with a top-flight performance here. In a way, Trump “lost” by not dominating the faceless herd of fellow hopefuls.
Ohio Gov. John Kasich was the most eye-opening to me in a positive way, in the sense that I knew absolutely zero about his stance on the issues previously, and he said a few things that sounded reasonably. But then again, he also fumbled the question about explaining his homophobia to a hypothetical gay daughter, fumbling and stumbling before avowing that he would still love his daughter “if she were that.” And by that, he meant, gay.
On the negative end of the scale, I would Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee raised my eyebrows the most with his naked and in-your-face piousness. I kind of expected him to be more circumspect, but let’s face it, he’s trying to get some sector of the Republican electorate to notice him, so playing the Jesus card was to be expected.
And Kentucky Sen. Rand Paul stumbled badly early, looking confused, cowed and out of place. But he bounced back in a short firefight with New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie over government surveillance; Christie got the better of him, but I believe most folks were on Paul’s side (against Patriot Act-style bulk-data collection). As usual, Christie came across as a schoolyard bully out to take everyone else’s milk money. (“And youse didn’t see nuthin'”)
I thought Trump opened strongly by refusing to blindly pledge allegiance to whomever eventually wins the GOP nomination. It would be madness for him to blindly promise to support an as-yet unknown candidate. And what it turns out to be one of the total nutballs, Huckabee or Texas Sen. Ted Cruz? And why didn’t Trump demand to see Canadian-born Cruz’s birth certificate?
It was sad to see how out of his league Dr. Ben Carson was — until the very end. He totally won the closing-statements competition with lines like, “I’m the only one [on this stage] who has separated Siamese twins.” The rest of the night, when he did get to talk, he mostly babbled about God. Fail.
The Fox News moderators, Megyn Kelly, Bret Baier and Chris Wallace, mentioned Hillary Clinton much more than the candidates did, and kept trying to bait them into talking about her. I was impressed that Kelly asked Trump a surprisingly on-point question about his attitude toward women. Trump also did not take kindly to Wallace pressing him about his companies’ multiple bankruptcies, which finally forced him to admit he took advantage of the existing laws to benefit himself, his family and his companies. In other words, he gamed the system, like any other 1-percenter.
Just to prove how out-of-sync I am with the Republican Party, I watched some of the Fox News postgame show, and the focus group they put together mostly said they were most impressed with Huckabee and Cruz — some going so far as to call Cruz “the next president of the United States of America.” Still, when I think about it, those two served up the most red meat for the base: lots of talk about God; lots of non-specific promises to be a dynamic leader; lots more God; lots of anti-immigrant demagoguery; lots of gun talk; and lots more God.
I don’t know for whom I’ll be voting yet, but it certainly won’t be any of these toxic bozos.