It is not as if the nation needs further evidence that presidential debates have outlived any usefulness they may have once had and are now just embarrassing entertainment. Nonetheless the Republican party’s seven « also rans » (technically still « also runnings ») provided such evidence in abundance last night. It is, of course, difficult at best to organize a genuine « debate » among so many candidates. The moderators, for the most part, asked good questions, but without the authority to shut off the candidates’ microphones they could not prevent the event from degenerating into an exercise in mutual shouting at and over one another. This will perhaps please those ho have become accustomed to the idea that politics is another form of Springer-style entertainment. But it continues to be catastrophic for the future of the Republic.
The absurdity of the multi-candidate format was, of course, further, highlighted by the absence of the only candidate that matters, the front-runner and presumptive nominee, former President Donald Trump. Attacking the absent Trump is largely what Chris Christie’s campaign is all about, and he did so – labelling the off-stage (but very much at the center of the stage) Trump « Donald Duck. » In theory, it should only getter better from here, but actually the discourse consistently got worse. The Governor of North Dakota tried to talk policy, but policy is not what this campaign cares much about, and anyway he is the Governor of North Dakota! Nikki Haley and Tim Scott shouted at each other, obviously competing for donor class endorsement and looking ahead to the South Carolina primary. Haley distinguished herself by lamenting what a poor job Scott has done as the Senator whom she appointed back in 2012, while Scott further distinguished himself by focusing on the cost of the curtains at her official ambassadorial residence in New York (curtains purchased in any case by the previous Obama Administration).
Of course, some more important. matters came up. Several candidates seem eager to wage war in Mexico. And Mike Pence seems to believe that school shooters (who often kill themselves or get killed in the altercation) would be deterred by the death penalty, rather than reducing access to guns. And on and on it went.
The candidate they all seemed to despise (deservedly so) is, of course, Vivek Ramaswamy, who tried to be nicer this time, but who earned the best put down of the night when Haley said, « Every time I hear you, I feel a little dumber from what you say. » Indeed, we should all feel a lot dumber from hearing the lot of them!
When not shouting over each other, the candidates spent a lot of time and effort not answering the specific questions they were asked. The moderators deserve some praise for following up and reminding the candidates that they had not actually answered the actual question. But they failed to ask the most obvious questions concerning Himself the Dear Leader’s four indictments on 91 felony charges – certainly an appropriate topic, especially considering the candidates’ apparent obsession with law and order!
We’ve come a long way from Kennedy and Nixon debating Query and Matsu in 1960. Those days are gone forever. Would that the debates would be gone too!
Meanwhile the real campaign, which may determine the very survival or extinction of American democracy continues outside the debate hall.