I wasn’t intending to watch Saturday night’s GOP candidates’ debate, but I had taped it just in case. After seeing and reading some of the commentary, I broke down: how could anyone to the left of John Kasich not delight in spectating at the Republican circus? (Or, would a better metaphor be a free-for-all mud wrestling match?) The special attraction on Saturday night was Chris Christie’s takedown of Marco Rubio and Rubio’s incredibly accommodating response. After being accused by Christie of memorizing stereotyped speeches, Rubio repeated his rote talking point about Barack Obama’s insidious objectives for America not once, but twice more in the space of about 5 minutes. (He repeated it once again later in the debate.) Evidently, having lost his composure, Rubio couldn’t do anything but robotically repeat the same canned lines. It’s as if Rubio wanted to confirm what Kevin Drum had written about him just the day before:
To me he seems like a robot: he’s memorized a whole bunch of virtual index cards, and whenever you ask a question he performs a database search and recites whatever comes up. The index cards aren’t bad, mind you, and I suppose they allow him to emulate a dumb person’s notion what a smart person sounds like. This is despite the fact that he normally talks with the same kind of hurried clip employed by nervous eighth graders reading off actual index cards.”
Something obviously went awry Saturday, and the robot just kept spewing out the same virtual index card.
Rubio’s spectacular third place finish (!?) in Iowa had reinforced his status as the leading hope for “establishment” Republicans unwilling to reconcile themselves to a choice between the buffoonishly repellent Donald Trump and the unctiously creepy Ted Cruz. Rubio’s embarassment follows Donald Trump’s surprising failure to win in Iowa and the revelation that Ted Cruz’s campaign had spread false information about Ben Carson’s candidacy on the eve of the Iowa voting. Cruz has apologized, though his remorse didn’t deter him from offering a mendacious explanation of the “mistake” during the debate. Carson understandably has not been entirely forgiving. In short, the mud is getting spread around, and it’s fun to watch.
I didn’t have that much fun watching the Democratic debate earlier in the week. I wasn’t enthusiastic about either candidate’s performance. Hillary seemed edgy, if not actually nervous –very much in contrast to her calmly unflappable performance before the Benghazi committee witch-hunters. Her lame response to the predictable question about her munificent speaking fees was especially surprising; surely she could have prepared something better. Bernie seemed too repetitively monothematic to me, to the point of tedium. His desultory handling of the foreign policy questions was consistent with the relatively low priority his campaign has assigned to foreign policy. Unfortunately, because Hillary’s hawkishness needs to be challenged more effectively than Bernie seems willing to do.
My main concern about the Democratic debate, though, is the increasing rancor between the two camps that it revealed. I would hope that the Democratic candidates and, no less importantly, their supporters, can agree that the overriding political objective this year has to be to keep the Republicans out of the White House. So I really hope that both sides can cool it. A mutually destructive nomination battle would be the ultimate Democratic folly of 2016.
Jonathan Chait’s characteristically provocative article in the current New York Magazine. You don’t have to agree with Chait’s main argument—that Donald Trump would be the least disastrous president of all the Republican candidates—to appreciate pithy insights like this:
The GOP is a machine that harnesses ethno-nationalistic fear — of communists, criminals, matrimonial gays, terrorists, snooty cultural elites — to win elections and then, once in office, caters to its wealthy donor base. … As its voting base has lost college-educated voters and gained blue-collar whites, the fissure between the means by which Republicans attain power and the ends they pursue once they have it has widened…. Trump’s candidacy represents, among other things, a revolt by the Republican proletariat against its master class.”