I knew this time would come, and it came the same week for both parties: I’m getting sick of the debates, and it’s harder and harder to find new illumination and conclusions with each one. For some reason, however—the effect of the unsettling news of Justice Scalia’s sudden death. perhaps?—last night’s Republican debate (transcript here) was nastier and more personal than any of the debates this cycle, and Charles Krauthammer may be correct that that it was the most ugly Presidential candidates debate ever.
1. This was 100% the fault of Donald Trump. I keep reading that the Republicans should be embarrassed—-what control does the party have over Trump? He’s in the race, and that means that he will drag down the conduct in the race. Arguing with him is like arguing with a 12-year-old—I was reminded of Erma Bombeck’s line that it is impossible to argue with a six-year-old without sounding like a six-year-old. Sometimes I think all the debaters should agree to turn their backs on Trump when he’s ranting, like all the jurors do in “Twelve Angry Men” when the racist finally lets it all out.
I wrote months ago that Republicans should have told Trump he wasn’t a Republican and thus wasn’t welcome in the debates, the nomination race or the party. They had neither the foresight, principles nor guts to do that, and now they are stuck with him polluting the debates and the race, engaging in the equivalent of belching and farting, as the juveniles supporting him cheer and snicker. Good job, everybody.
2. That was excellent, fair, competent moderation by John Dickerson. You know the debate has been a mess when the moderator is the star.
3. I have really come to resent Ben Carson’s sleepy, arrogant, useless statements and observations, wasting precious time, blathering platitudes, appealing only to those ignorant souls, like him, who really think the most challenging and consequential job on Earth should be handed to a proud amateur. In that respect, he is the most unethical individual on the stage.
4. Marco Rubio wins competence and truthteller points for challenging the false narrative about the Iraq War that it was only about WMD’s, by saying…
“I think you can look back in hindsight and say a couple of things, but[President Bush] kept us safe. And not only did he keep us safe, but no matter what you want to say about weapons of mass destruction, Saddam Hussein was in violation of U.N. resolutions, in open violation, and the world wouldn’t do anything about it, and George W. Bush enforced what the international community refused to do.”
5. Back to Trump: a Republican candidate aping dishonest Democratic activist talking points in order to attack Jeb Bush through his brother is a breach of loyalty, fairness and common sense, and if the party doesn’t insist that he stop that, Republicans are too incompetent to compete in an election. The outburst came after Dickerson asked if Trump meant what he said about Pelosi impeaching President Bush over Iraq—one of his many, many, irresponsible statements. Trump didn’t answer—he seldom answers any questions–then said..
“George Bush made a mistake. We can make mistakes. But that one was a beauty. We should have never been in Iraq. We have destabilized the Middle East. You call it whatever you want. I will tell you. They lied. They said there were weapons of mass destruction and there were none. And they knew there were none. There were no weapons of mass destruction.”
Did he lie, or did he make a mistake? Or make a mistake by lying? Does Trump know the difference between mistakes and lies? Does he know the difference between “They didn’t know there were weapons of mass destruction;” “they were mistaken in thinking they knew;” “they were mistaken in saying they knew,” and “They knew there were none”? Any of the first three statements may be true, but the last is unequivocally not true. To Trump, a sloppy thinker and a reckless speaker, these nuances are meaningless. It would have been nice if someone pointed it out, but Trump was interrupting and shouting over everyone.
I have yet to encounter anyone—friend, colleague, mild acquaintance, relative—who says they support Donald Trump. I would have no respect for anyone who did, and would say so, and I feel the same way about those who really don’t support Trump but enjoy watching him make a mess out of our search for a competent President. Those people are worse.
6. Gov.John Kasich’s eye-rolling, “Can you believe these guys?” bit was cowardly and slimy. What choice do other candidates have when a loud-mouth creep insults their family members, their party, their party’s most recent President, and calls them liars and worse on live national television? If Kasich had any integrity, he would have used his alleged above-the-fray virtue to tell Trump, as an objective observer, that Trump is the utter disgrace that he is.
7. Just like Bernie Sanders earlier this week, Trump uttered the smoking gun statement of a fake and a fool: “Waste, fraud and abuse.” He did it while, once again, refusing to give any specifics about how he would fix everything by making “deals” and “bringing back jobs.”(In the imagery of the late Justice Scalia, Trump supporters who think this stuff is anything but faking it should put bags over their heads.) He was asked by Kimberly Strassel…
“You have made a lot of promises and you have also — you’re the only candidate who has said he would not touch entitlements. The Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget has estimated that your ideas would cost an additional $12 trillion to $15 trillion over the next 10 years and that we would have to have annual economic growth of anywhere from 7.7 percent to nine percent annually to pay for them. Are you proposing more than you can actually deliver, at least not without big deficits?”
“First of all, the — when you say I’m the only candidate, if you listen to the Democrats, they want to do many things to Social Security and I want to do them on its own merit. You listen to them, what they want to do to Social Security, none of these folks are getting elected, OK, whether they can do it or not. I’m going to save Social Security. I’m going to bring jobs back from China. I’m going to bring jobs back from Mexico and from Japan, where they’re all — every country throughout the world — now Vietnam, that’s the new one. They are taking our jobs. They are taking our wealth. They are taking our base. And you and I have had this discussion. We’re going to make our economy strong again. I’m lowering taxes. We have $2.5 trillion offshore. We have 2.5 trillion that I think is actually five trillion because the government has no idea when they say 2.5, they have no idea what they’re doing or saying, as they’ve proven very well. We’re going to bring that money back. You take a look at what happened just this week, China bought the Chicago Stock Exchange, China, a Chinese company. Carrier is moving to Mexico, air conditioning company. Not only the ones I talk about all the time, Nabisco and Ford and — they’re all moving out. We have an economy that last quarter, GDP didn’t grow. It was flat. We have to make our economy grow again. We’re dying. This country is dying. And our workers are losing their jobs, and you’re going… I’m the only one who is going to save Social Security, believe me.”
This is neither an answer, nor coherent, nor relevant. In fact, what the hell is it? Here, take this poll:
Then the puzzled Strassel asked, “OK. But how would you actually do that? Can I ask you? Because right now, Social Security and Medicare…”. So Trump “answered,”
“You have tremendous waste, fraud and abuse. That we’re taking care of. That we’re taking care of. It’s tremendous. We have in Social Security right now thousand and thousands of people that are over 106 years old. Now, you know they don’t exist. They don’t exist. There’s tremendous waste, fraud and abuse, and we’re going to get it. But we’re not going to hurt the people who have been paying into Social Security their whole life and then all of a sudden they’re supposed to get less. We’re bringing our jobs back. We’re going to make our economy great again.”
There are only three interpretations of that “answer.” Either Trump is lying, or he is an idiot, or both. Yes, if huge government programs could be run efficiently, all would be wonderful, our taxes wouldn’t be wasted, the national debt would go away, and Bernie Sanders’ grand schemes might even make sense. But huge government programs never run efficiently, and waste, fraud and abuse will always make them too expensive and ineffective, because they are inevitably run by a lot of human beings, and in every large group of human beings there is a critical mass who are dumb, lazy, irresponsible, dishonest, incompetent, negligent and corrupt.
This has been true for thousands and thousands of years, and any candidate for high office who ignores that fact of history and everyday experience is also some unacceptable combination of dumb, lazy, irresponsible, dishonest, incompetent, negligent and corrupt.