While Donald Trump stuck to his Fox boycott, the other GOP candidates got down to business. It was, in a word, bad
Some good news came out of the GOP presidential debates last night. It dawned on everyone watching that in a week or so this field is going to be winnowed considerably and we will never have the thrill of seeing the seven dwarves — Grumpy Christie, Sneezy Cruz, Happy Kasich, Sleepy Carson, Dopey Rubio, Bashful Bush and Doc Paul — on a stage together again. (Snow White Trump was pouting across the street, upset over having to take questions from Megyn Kelly.)
Trump did manage to dominate the news all day as usual while the whole political world excitedly speculated as to whether he would sweep into the debate at the last minute like a diva high soprano or if his alternative rally would upstage the main event. Just as the debate was about to begin he invited CNN onto his luxurious private plane to explain that Fox had profusely apologized for their bad behavior (“they couldn’t have been nicer”) and had begged him to come to the debate. He wished he could but he’d promised to raise money for the veterans and couldn’t let them down.
Fox News has a different version of events, claiming that there was no apology and that Trump had shaken them down agreeing to appear with the hated Kelly but only if the network would promise to pay $5 million to his veterans charity. They refused to “negotiate” any further.
His event was a dull affair but the other networks covered it nonetheless. They always do. The bright spot of the night was when Mike Huckabee and Rick Santorum, both previous Iowa caucus winners, raced over from the kiddie table to lend their tacit support to Trump. The pundits saw this as a major development for some reason, as if their endorsement was a meaningful symbol of something, but nobody seemed sure of what it might be.
Trump raised millions from himself and some other millionaires and smaller donors for the veterans, “who he loves.” Curiously, the money all went to donaldtrumpforvets.com, a website set up that morning which routes the money to the Donald Trump Foundation. One assumes he means to send it on to veterans groups but as of last night, the press was unable to confirm that he had contacted any of them. Anti-Trump right wingers are up in arms that this foundation has donated to the Clinton Foundation in the past which apparently means this is a nefarious deed of some sort.
Truth be told, it was little different than the rallies he puts on every day. The master showman was apparently unable to put together an entertaining spectacle on such short notice. But that is not to say the rival event was any more exciting. The seven dwarves dully sparred over the course of a couple of hours but the usual energy was lacking. Cruz started off strong with a carefully prepared funny:
“I’m a maniac, everyone on this stage is stupid, fat and ugly. And Ben, you’re a terrible surgeon. Now that we’ve gotten the Donald Trump portion out of the way…”
He does try to have a sense of humor. But he was unable to keep his poise as his frontrunner status made him the target of his fellow candidates as well as the moderators. Taking a page from his CNBC debate complaint book he said, “I would note that the last four questions have been: Rand, please attack Ted. Marco, please attack Ted. Chris, please attack Ted,” to which Chris Wallace dryly retorted,”It is a debate, sir.” Cruz managed to recover with a brittle little joke: “If you guys ask one more mean question, I may have to leave the stage.” Unfortunately for him, if Twitter is any example,a great many people cannot tell when Ted’s cracking wise and they thought he was being serious.
Jeb Bush, on the other hand, was on fire. Well, he had a nice little glow about him anyway. Freed from the burden of having to fend off Trump’s insults, he was able to sound almost … confident. He started off with a clever little jab at his fellow candidates:
“I kinda miss Donald Trump. He was always a little teddy bear to me. We always had such a loving relationship… Everyone else was in the witness protection program when I went after him.”
I’m not sure saying he had a “loving relationship “with Donald Trump was such a hot idea, even in jest. It’s just weird. But that’s Jeb! He also droned on about his “proven record” over and over again and tried to sound as hawkish as the rest of the bloodthirsty crowd with a startling comment: “Get the lawyers off the damn backs of the military once and for all,” which can only be interpreted to mean that as president he would authorize war crimes. He’s a real Bush, after all.
All in all, it was Jeb’s best debate. It might even boost him up to 5th place.
Many of the pundits seemed to think that it was also a good night for an oddly rosy cheeked Marco Rubio, who appeared to have guzzled a couple of double espressos before he took the stage and breathlessly answered every question with his patented rapid-fire machine gun delivery. And he was excessively pious, mentioning his faith more often than the Pope did during his recent U.S. visit. But he was also the most bellicose of the group insisting that ISIS is one of the greatest threats in human history and any fighters he captures alive in the U.S. will immediately be shipped off to Guantanamo. It’s hard to know what issues he feels most passionately about because he gives every answer with exactly the same frantic emphasis. One can’t help but worry he’ll end up having a heart attack as president if he doesn’t mellow out a little bit.