GOP Debate Recap: Trumpty Dumpty

After a long week (or actually only a couple of days that felt like a week) of “will he-won’t he” speculation, the start of last night’s debate confirmed that Donald Trump would not deign to grace the forum with his presence. I was slightly surprised that they didn’t go with an empty podium (or chair, amirite Clint Eastwood?) to draw attention to the fact that the leading candidate in polls was refusing to show up because he thought one of the moderators was a mean, mean lady. To be fair, this is not an altogether ineffective negotiating strategy — for someone who’s, say, around 4 years old. But Donald doesn’t care if he’s acting like a petulant child. He’s going to be president, damn it, and that means that he gets to stomp put his foot down ANY TIME HE SO DESIRES.

But even Donald has a modicum of self-awareness (or very insistent advisers) — enough to know that his personal anti-debate event probably wouldn’t go over very well if it was wholly devoted to his bruised ego. So who got pulled into the petty fray? Veterans! Because nothing says “I care about our troops” quite like a hastily convened public spitefest.

Regardless, the debate went on without him. And despite a consensus among commentators that it was less interesting without Trump, I have to say I actually appreciated his absence. Like Jeb!, I felt a sense of relief that he wasn’t on stage with the other candidates, tossing out insults alongside vague populist catchphrases. It was kind of refreshing.

Here are a few highlights from the debate:

  • Jeb’s relaxed demeanor was evident from the outset, and it paid off. He looked like a different candidate from previous debates. Even his off-the-cuff jokes weren’t terrible (unlike his previous attempts at throwing out prepared one liners).
  • Ted Cruz’s prepared one liner WAS terrible, and fell totally flat. Now if only his campaign would do the same.
  • Everyone loves their families.
  • In an unexpected twist (at least to me), the crowd LOVED Rand Paul. LOVED. Like, if the audience members were asked to caucus then and there, and that counted for all of Iowa, then Rand Paul just dominated the Iowa caucus.
  • Kasich presented himself as both the “unity” and “third way” candidate, distinguishing himself from both the establishment and anti-establishment candidates. It was his way of saying, “Hey, I’m different, but deep down we are all the same. Now whattaya say we go grab a drink and balance the budget.”
  • Carson presented himself as the “unprepared” and “incoherent” candidate, distinguishing himself from everyone else by touting his total lack of experience as some kind of advantage and then answering every question with either A) some vague reference to “political correctness” or “the Constitution” or B) incomprehensible words. Actual quote from Carson last night: “Putin is a one-horse country: oil and energy.”
  • Ted Cruz’s eye lasers are back. He will personally destroy ISIS, as only SuperTed can do.
  • Chris Wallace puts up with none of the shtick from Ted Cruz, and completely shuts down his whining protests about the rules. Sadly, Chris Wallace is not running for president.
  • Before a commercial break Megyn Kelly teases a “never before seen” aspect to the debate, which is soon revealed to be … damning video clips! GOTCHA JOURNALISM at its finest, as Sarah Palin might say. I almost felt bad for Rubio and Cruz when the floodgates to their own personal (respective) flip-flopping hells opened with the mere click of some dude in the production room. Almost.
  • Chris Christie’s apparent debate strategy: insult Hillary Clinton, talk about how awesome it is to be a governor, insult Hillary Clinton some more, and then stare directly into the camera to really “connect with the viewers.” Also possible: he’s attempting to hypnotize them into voting for him.
  • Name of YouTube questioner: Dulce Candy. I’ll just leave that there.
  • Marco Rubio is not a savior. But he loves Jesus and hates socialism.
  • Also, Rubio might want to bone up on Swedish government (i.e., recognizing that it has a prime minister and not a president).  Might be helpful for someone who wants to be, like, the leader of the free world or whatever.