Eleven Grumpy Guses

The Standard Journal - - COMMENTARY - By DONNA BRAZILE NEA Con­trib­u­tor Donna Brazile is a se­nior Demo­cratic strate­gist, a po­lit­i­cal com­men­ta­tor and con­trib­u­tor to CNN and ABC News, and a con­tribut­ing colum­nist to Ms. Mag­a­zine and O, the Oprah Mag­a­zine.

Bot­tom line: Af­ter watch­ing the Repub­li­cans de­bate for a to­tal of five hours on is­sues rang­ing from immigration re­form to child­hood im­mu­niza­tions to the Iran deal to cli­mate change, I’m con­vinced that we are not go­ing to see a Repub­li­can in the White House in 2016.

The first two hours of Wed­nes­day’s de­bate might have been ti­tled, “Eleven An­gry Peeps.” They chided one another, bick­ered, frowned, scowled; one or two showed flashes of sup­pressed rage. In gen­eral, the only thing gloomier than this bunch was the way they de­scribed this coun­try right now.

I’m not sure I heard a sin­gle real pol­icy idea, other than de­port­ing im­mi­grants or cre­at­ing a flat, re­gres­sive tax.

Not one Repub­li­can could un­equiv­o­cally say the health of our chil­dren is more im­por­tant than pseu­do­science, pre­fer­ring to play scare­mon­gers rather than sup­port vac­ci­na­tion. And out of 11 Repub­li­cans, they could col­lec­tively name only four Amer­i­can women (Su­san B. An­thony, Rosa Parks, Clara Bar­ton, Abi­gail Adams) who should be on our cur­rency. Two can­di­dates had to ex­pand the pool to in­clude for­eign women to find some­one they felt was good enough.

At a cer­tain point, Wed­nes­day’s three-hour de­bate be­came an en­durance test. And the can­di­date who came in best-pre­pared showed the kind of re­silience that vot­ers look for in a can­di­date.

Carly Fio­r­ina had to prove she was not an ano­maly, but a se­ri­ous can­di­date. Jeb Bush chose Mar­garet Thatcher to ap­pear on our cur­rency, but Fio­r­ina ac­tu­ally chan­neled the Iron Lady’s per­sona.

And on the sub­ject of Fio­r­ina’s “per­sona,” she got in what was per­haps the most ap­plauded line of the night -- a zinger put-down of Trump.

The mod­er­a­tor quoted Trump’s ear­lier at­tack on Fio­r­ina’s face and his sub­se­quent de­nial, ask­ing Fio­r­ina if she thought Trump was talk­ing, in fact, about her “per­sona.”

“I think women all over this coun­try heard very clearly what Mr. Trump said,” Fio­r­ina coolly re­torted to an out­burst of vig­or­ous ap­plause.

Trump, the cen­ter of at­ten­tion for weeks, faded when the mu­sic went from Trump rap to Repub­li­can clas­si­cal. It was a very dif­fer­ent venue from the Cleve­land de­bate, where an arena was filled with fans who were look­ing for en­ter­tain­ment. At the Ron­ald Rea­gan Li­brary, party reg­u­lars, donors and po­lit­i­cal pro­fes­sion­als were gath­ered in a more in­ti­mate venue.

Bush proved that he is not afraid of a play­ground bully. While Trump’s con­tin­ual in­ter­rup­tions clearly ir­ri­tated Bush, he pushed back with­out los­ing his cool. Bush also nailed Trump on his famed deal­mak­ing, re­lat­ing that as gover­nor, he turned down a Trump re­quest to build a casino in Florida.

Trump flatly de­nied ever ask­ing for a casino. But the look on his face be­trayed an aware­ness of the truth of Bush’s claim.

Bush had three mo­ments that stole the spotlight. He showed gen­uine pas­sion in sup­port­ing his Mex­i­can-Amer­i­can wife against Trump’s ac­cu­sa­tion that she, ef­fec­tively, was a lob­by­ist for Mexico and im­mi­grants, and de­manded an apol­ogy to her, which, of course, Trump de­clined.

Bush also showed him­self to be a stand-up guy when he stepped for­ward as the one that Rand Paul was re­fer­ring to as hav­ing smoked mar­i­juana as a young man, sav­ing Paul the em­bar­rass­ment of hav­ing to point him out per­son­ally.

And Bush grabbed one of the two big­gest rounds of ap­plause when he de­fended his brother over Iraq: “You know what? As it re­lates to my brother, there is one thing I know for sure: He kept us safe” -- a claim that was force­fully de­liv­ered, if fac­tu­ally de­bat­able.

Chris Christie, who was on the night watch, came back to life. He held his own and kept his own brand of bom­bast un­der con­trol. Marco Ru­bio was re­laxed, man­ag­ing a joke when the mod­er­a­tor called him “Sen. Paul” -- “I know we all look alike,” Ru­bio grinned. Dr. Ben Car­son, who is neck and neck with Trump, sloughed off sev­eral of­fers to at­tack his op­po­nents. Paul, Car­son, Ted Cruz, Mike Huck­abee, John Ka­sich and Scott Walker were pretty much back­drops to Trump, Bush, Fio­r­ina, Christie and Ru­bio.

But when it came to pol­icy, the 11 of­fered re­treads of pro­vin­cial con­ser­va­tive po­si­tions. Those who spoke on global warm­ing ex­pressed the belief that it can be best han­dled by the states, if it is to be han­dled at all. Un­for­tu­nately, they didn’t in­clude in­for­ma­tion on how 50 states would co­or­di­nate their ef­forts. And, of course, they all vied to de­fund Planned Par­ent­hood, a key sup­porter of women’s health.

On for­eign pol­icy, all 11 tried to outdo each other as hard­lin­ers. Two of the can­di­dates, Fio­r­ina and Ka­sich, would flatly refuse to talk to the Rus­sians. Ru­bio called North Korean dic­ta­tor Kim Jong-un “a lu­natic,” and Rus­sian Pres­i­dent Vladimir Putin a “gang­ster.” And they all lined up to de­nounce the Iran deal, which our al­lies -- who are ge­o­graph­i­cally much closer to Iran -- all like.

In the end, the per­son who ben­e­fited most from this de­bate wasn’t even there. But Hil­lary Clin­ton was men­tioned so of­ten she was al­most a 12th pres­ence on the stage. While the 11 were de­bat­ing if it’s proper to cam­paign in Span­ish, Hil­lary was tweet­ing -- in Span­ish.

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