1. Whoever decided that presidential candidates debates require patriotic songs to start them off should be shunned and mocked. This simultaneously over-sanctifies the event and trivializes it. This is a serious enterprise, but not that far removed from a an interview on “Meet the Press,” and it’s also not a variety show.
2. With Wolf Blitzer’s competent, respectful, fair and benign debate moderation last night, media and liberal pundit defenders of the disgraceful CNBC inquisition should admit they were defending the indefensible.
3. Ted Cruz had a terrible night, meaning his arrogance, cynicism and dishonesty were exposed and nobody trapped him into it. His talking over the moderators after they repeatedly told him to pipe down was outrageous. His long, evasive non-answer to the question about why he refused to level the same criticism of Trump in public forums that he has made in private appearances was like a parody of a double-talking pol. Cruz’s plan, it’s obvious to see, is to avoid alienating Trump’s base so he can snap it up when The Donald finally starts imitating Michael Richards in his career-ending stand-up meltdown or does something similarly self-destructive. At this point, that plan appears irresponsible and cowardly. Cruz is the best qualified candidate to take Trump apart, because he has the rhetorical tools and requisite ruthlessness to do the job right. That means that he has an ethical obligation, not just as a Republican but also as a citizen, to remove this ugly blight from the political scene before he does more damage. Yet he refuses to do it.
There has been a lot of talk about what disqualifies a candidate to be President. Cruz’s refusal to take on Trump when he knows how wrong and dangerous he is disqualifies him.
4. One half a measure of kudos to poor Jeb Bush for at least trying to point out Trump’s lack of thought, civility and substance. I don’t believe he’s capable of doing a better job than he did, but it wasn’t nearly sharp enough, because Jeb isn’t nearly sharp enough.
Last night may have been the only time in my life that I wished Newt Gingrich was on a stage.
5. Did everyone notice that Trump at one point following a Jeb jab did a spontaneous imitation of the guy imitating Trump in that Burger King commercial?
6. Rand Paul, who barely made the main debate, continued to preach his irresponsible refrain of isolationism, this time employing the dishonest euphemism of “regime change,” which really means, “don’t fight anybody, don’t try to save foreign citizens, don’t try to make the world safer, don’t lead.” I expected him to start singing Simon and Garfunkle’s “I am a Rock.” No doubt about it, removing dictators is risky business, and sometimes it backfires, especially if we don’t do it right. Getting rid of the Taliban was, however, a matter of principle and responsibility. The U.S.’s “regime change” in Germany and Japan worked out rather well, I’d say. When the Iranian people were ready to overthrow their repressive theocracy, President Obama ignored their cries for support: this is Rand Paul’s idea of ethical world leadership. He got a national audience for his essentially pacifist manifesto, now he should go home, home to the Senate, where the deer and the ideologues play. He, more than all but one other candidate on the stage last night ( and I don’t mean Trump) does not deserve to be called a serious candidate.
7. The other unserious candidate is Ben Carson; it’s just that he is too slow and egotistic to realize it. The real question is, how could anyone else take him seriously after his sleepy, vague, meandering comments last night? How can anyone, other than the deluded doctor, think that his experience talking to children needing medical treatment—really, that whole monologue was unbelievable— has any relevance to the Presidency whatsoever? How can anyone, watching the smoldering wreckage of President Obama’s administration, extol the virtues of the “citizen statesman,” as if this was an 18th century agrarian society and we should trust a smart farmer to drop his plow and rush from the fields to negotiate with the King of France—or in Carson’s case, a not-so-smart surgeon to drop his scalpel and negotiate with Putin? Governing isn’t just a profession, it’s a craft. Leadership isn’t a hobby, it’s a specialty, as well as a talent. This–what is he, an idiot? A nut? A hoax? A parody of the surgeon with a God complex?—man really thinks that leading the most powerful, contentious, challenged democracy in the world is one of those jobs anybody can do without training or experience! He really thinks that, after Barack Obama has spent his entire administration showing why that isn’t true.
8. After the polls show that viewers thought Trump “won” last night—you know they will—I want someone to ask one of the dolts who thinks that to explain their reasoning. He said nothing. He repeated the same generalities–we don’t win, he’ll be tough, he builds things, this or that policy was a “disaster”—without articulating a single specific policy position that wasn’t gossamer vague or a rationalization. His meanderings about what “shut down the internet” means proved that Trump doesn’t know squat about the internet. His explanation for why he would kill the families of terrorists was Bond villain reasoning. His query, “They can kill us but we can’t kill them?” articulated the Cro-Magnon level of his “reasoning”: is Trump aware that the United States imposes different ethical restrictions on its conduct than terrorists impose on theirs? No, he isn’t.
As with Carson and Hillary supporters, those who think this man should be President has forfeited the privilege of having their opinion respected.
9. Trump did finally say that he would not run as a third party candidate, which is the ethical position. Of course, his words on this and any other matter are worthless.
10. The John Kasich watch, also known as “Watching what some hoped would be an impressive moderate Republican continue to prove that their hopes were rash and misplaced”:
- He only said “guess what?” once last night, a vast improvement…
- He still waves his arms around like the evil android in “Alien” after his tube got messed up, and
- He uttered the night’s most unprofessional, meaningless, pandering line of the night not uttered by Donald Trump: “It’s time that we punched the Russians in the nose.”
11. Chris Christie was asked if there was a no-fly zone and a Russian fighter breached it, would he shoot the plane down. Unless you are Barack Obama, there is only one answer to that question: Of course. That’s what a no-fly zone means. It’s like a red line, just to pick an analogy out of the air. If you aren’t going to stop planes from flying, you don’t set up a no-fly zone! Chris Christie gave not just the right answer, but the only answer. And Rand Paul said that the answer meant Christie was the candidate to start World War III.
His dad must be so proud.
12. Marco Rubio and Chris Christie emerged as the most articulate, honest and admirable candidates. Christie deserves special respect for describing Obama as a “feckless weakling.” I wish he had slammed Trump, but he didn’t really have an opportunity; instead he correctly mocked the ridiculous and revealing pissing match between Rubio, Cruz and Paul over who had voted against which Senate proposal that went nowhere anyway. I’m trying to think of a Senator without additional executive or military experience who knew how to be President. Only three Senators have moved directly from the Senate to the White House: Harding, Kennedy, and Obama.
It is not an encouraging list, and that is not a coincidence.