Eleven Grumpy Guses
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.