Last night we watched the Trump-free Republican debate. The Donald may be a master at manipulating the media, but we weren’t going to let him manipulate us.
It turns out that Trump’s absence affected the debate in a lot of interesting ways. Obviously, he wasn’t physically on stage, taking the polling leader’s share of the questions or mugging and frowning for the cameras at every turn. Without Trump’s glitz, bombast, insults, and obvious lack of homework on certain issues, the substantive content of the debate clearly was raised a few notches.
Even more interesting was the candidates’ effort to fill the perceived leadership vacuum left by Trump’s decision to skip the debate. Ted Cruz clearly wanted to present himself as the big dog, but we didn’t think it worked out very well for him. It’s as if Trump’s antics in prior debates gave some cover to Cruz’s persona, and without Trump there Cruz was finally alone in the spotlight. He’s not really ready for prime time.
Why? Cruz reminds me of the time Uncle Mack, Dad and I went to buy a casket after Gramma Webner died, years ago. For all of his wooden expressions of sympathy, the guy who sold the casket was shameless in trying to play on guilt to unload the most expensive casket he could. Cruz has the same unctuousness, the same practiced mannerisms, the same scripted responses, and the same inert sense of humor. His attempts to act as if the other candidates were ganging up on him, and that the moderators weren’t being fair with him, all fell flat. Some people say Cruz isn’t likeable, but I would describe it more as not being genuine. He was the most contrived guy on the stage — and that’s not a good thing.
I don’t know how Trump’s power play with Fox News will work out for The Donald, but I think it really hurt Cruz.
God help me, but I watched the Republican debate tonight. UJ — who for some mysterious reason lacks a functioning TV — decided he wanted to come over and watch the debate, and Kish and I watched it with him.
My thoughts? The Trump balloon popped tonight. The forever-frowning Donald looked like a self-mocking SNL skit up there. He’s a pompous blowhard who obviously doesn’t know much about the issues at a granular level, and it shows. When he talks about how his businesses are taking “advantage of the federal laws” he’s not exactly speaking to the lives of normal Americans. I think we’ve seen the scowling, high water mark of the populist uncandidate.
As for the rest of the field, I thought Ben Carson was a clear loser until the last few questions, when he recovered somewhat. I was surprised by how well John Kasich fared. I thought Chris Christie and Marco Rubio did well, and I have to believe that the evangelical element poses clear upper limits for Mike Huckabee and Ted Cruz. Jeb Bush seemed to flounder a bit, Scott Walker is Everyman, and Rand Paul looks likes he’s wears a wild animal pelt on his scalp. Let’s see . . . have I forgotten anyone?
I’ll say this for the Republican debate tonight: I’m not sure you’re getting much nuance and sophistication in answers that are limited to 1 minute — or in some cases 30 seconds — but it was fast-moving. What does it mean? I think nothing.