GOP Debate Recap: Birther of a Nation

Last night’s GOP debate marked the first of the election year, and the second-to-last (I believe) before Iowa caucuses. So the good news is, an end is in sight for these free-for-all grand ol’ party debates. The bad news is, an end is in sight for these free-for-all grand ol’ party debates.

The tone was slightly different last night, with a mere 7 candidates and the obvious pressure of primary season bearing down on all of them. There was noticeably less elbowing among the candidates for speaking time and somewhat more eager/grandiose displays of leadership potential. No one perhaps exemplified a bigger shift in style than Marco Rubio, whose previous calm, smooth and occasionally smirking persona was replaced by a tiny Cuban version of the Incredible Hulk. Rubio seemed uncharacteristically angry from start to finish – which for a 2.5 hour long debate is actually pretty impressive. If nothing else, the guy’s got stamina. (“I DARE you to call me ‘low energy,’ Donald. I DARE you!”)

The biggest clashes of the night were between Cruz and Trump, whose media exchanges in the lead-up to last night were getting fairly heated – presumably due to Cruz’s questionable status as a natural-born citizen, but more realistically owing to his rising polling numbers. Trump initially denied this was the case when Cruz pointed it out last night, launching into a rather farfetched explanation of how his birther comments were intended to subvert potential lawsuits that might arise after Cruz made his way onto the Trump ticket as VP, and then the two of them sauntered into the White House with linked arms and matching sneers. Of course, this convincing account lasted for about 30 seconds until Trump admitted Cruz’s newfound frontrunner status was a factor in his passive-aggressive smear campaign. A shocking revelation to all.

Speaking of Cruz, he started off the night “cruising” into typical territory with a long and impassioned soliloquy right off the bat. If anyone didn’t know that Cruz was both a) a college debate champ and b) formerly a successful attorney who had argued before the Supreme Court multiple times, these biographical details should come as no surprise whatsoever. His most fervent oration of the night came in response to the so-called “New York Times Attacks,” which raised questions concerning Cruz’s past campaign finance disclosures. Because these “attacks” pertained directly to him, he is likely to have deemed them the most serious and severe assaults upon American soil in recent history.

I mentioned this was a long debate. In the interest of time, a few additional notes are bulleted below:

  • Chris Christie was as determined as ever to distance himself from that post-disaster Obama hug that has haunted him ever since. “WE ARE NOT FRIENDS!!!” was essentially his mantra all night. He also reiterated his firm belief that governors are better than senators in every conceivable way.
  • Jeb! Bush really tried extra hard to give off the adulting vibe again. Did it work this time around? Maybe a little better than usual, but not enough to get him out of the polling gutter. Also, when Trump outright called him weak at the end of the night, he responded with “Come on, man.” I don’t know what a better response might have been, but that was – well, frankly, a little weak.
  • DOCTOR (never forget) Ben Carson wavered between trying really, really hard (and failing) to show off the foreign policy points he’s been fed, and making his mark as the Candidate Most Concerned with Burning Existential Questions. “Is this America anymore??” He did have one of the more humorous lines of the night when he claimed his name was invoked by Jeb Bush because, as he explained to a confused Neil Cavuto, “he said everybody.” I admit I laughed. Also, flat tax. Flat tax. Flat tax. (Flat tax.)
  • Kasich still has just about no chance whatsoever at the presidency, but his presence in these debates is appreciated nevertheless. His statement about there being no real room for on-the-job training in foreign policy was an accurate and pointed nod toward the ridiculously underqualified candidates in that arena (*cough cough* Trump. Carson. Fiorina.)
  • Ahh, Fiorina. Carly. Can I call her Carly? I thought I might be starting to miss her a little bit on the main stage, but then caught a couple of “her” tweets and remembered how infuriatingly irritating she is. Not all that sad she’s descended down into the ranks of the undercard group, to be honest. Don’t let the door hitcha where the good Lord splitcha, Car.
  • Speaking of tweets, can we give all these candidates some kudos for their incredible abilities to tweet WHILE debating? Amazing! They even managed to type out quotes of themselves immediately after speaking the very words! Bored 14 year olds around the country will doubtless be contacting them soon for tips on such impressive subterfuge.

Well. The whole thing was an interesting ride, as always. And again par for the course: he biggest moments seemed to come from trite clichés and direct personal digs. It’s Trump’s element, basically. It pains me to type that he and Cruz are the probable frontrunners, at least for now. Hopefully the actual caucus and primary outcomes will send them both spiraling back down into the pits of regular, non-presidential (natural-born?) citizenship where they belong forevermore.