From the opening introductions—which included Rand Paul saying he spends his time “defending the Constitution” and Carly Fiorina forgetting to introduce herself–the second Republican presidential debate was awkward, unintentionally humorous and painful to watch. Senator Bernie Sanders tried to live tweet the whole three-hour ordeal, but gave up after two hours. Moderators seemed unable to control the 11 candidates, it was hard to follow, there was a lot of non-sequiturs and unintelligible talking over each other. Some of it may have been CNN’s fault–the questions didn’t give much room to talk about the issues most Americans would rather discuss, and often introduced he said-she said rhetoric to stir the pot. Fact checkers are still working overtime to process the misinformation and lies. Of course, none of this is really outstanding.
It’s almost hard to be shocked by conservatism anymore. Republican positions have gotten increasingly irrational since the last Republican president. It is taken for granted that many conservatives believe abortion and gay marriage affect the stock market, or the weather. In other words, with the GOP, people tend to accept crazy as normal, so it takes an immensely over-the-top moment to shock us these days. Nevertheless, there were quite a few WTF moments during this debate.
That Planned Parenthood Video
Carly Fiorina graphically described watching a Planned Parenthood sting video with “a fully formed fetus on the table, it’s heart beating, it’s legs kicking while someone says we have to keep it alive to harvest its brain.” It would be shocking if it were real, but it’s not.
Defending George W. Bush from Donald Trump’s criticism, Jeb Bush said, “As it relates to my brother, there’s one thing I know for sure. He kept us safe.” In the very next breath he talked about the rubble from 9/11, so it’s not really certain what definition of “safe” Jeb thought he was using. The Republican Party has selective amnesia when remembering the Bush, Jr. administration, but the general public still remembers it as a period of conflict and anxiety. One can only assume that the other candidates would prefer Jeb not to be a constant reminder of the last Republican in the White House, yet nearly all of them seem to be taken in by this revisionist history that America’s foreign problems all started during the Obama administration.
The Trump/Carson Handshake
After Ben Carson made it clear he had advised George W. Bush not to invade Iraq, Donald Trump attempted to give him a high five. What followed was possibly the most awkward handshake ever. This is remarkable not just as a moment of incoordination, but also because it serves as painful reminder: While TV star Trump may be the coolest Republican in the room, Republicans still aren’t that cool. They’ll never have the Barack and Michelle fist bump.
Trump vs. Carson on Vaccines
Neurosurgeon Ben Carson was specifically asked if non-doctor Donald Trump should stop incorrectly linking vaccines to autism. While not an anti-vaxxer himself, Carson evaded confronting Trump on the issue directly, saying, “He can read about it if he wants to.” When pressed again, Carson actually caved to Trump’s position! It’s strange that Donald Trump’s opponents seem afraid to disagree with him, even in areas where they clearly have superior expertise and Trump has no factual support. It’s almost as if they don’t realize they’re running against him. Instead, stuck in the same mindset that lost 2012, most candidates seem to think they’re running against Obama again, when they’re not.
At the end, a throw-away question asked the candidates which woman they would put on the 10 dollar bill. Mike Huckabee picked his wife, Ben Carson his mom, Donald Trump his daughter, John Kasich Mother Teresa. Carly Fiorina declined on principle, which was probably a missed opportunity to pick herself if she were the first female president. A few others played it safe with Rosa Parks, who was, of course, a liberal Civil Rights activist and Planned Parenthood board member.
Half the candidates seemed to struggle naming a single accomplished American woman, but the most ridiculous answer was Jeb Bush’s pick: Margaret Thatcher. The former English Prime Minister. Margaret Thatcher??? My first thought was of an episode of Family Guy. Peter and the gang are drinking, fantasizing about having any woman in the world, to which Cleveland says, “Margaret Thatcher.” Because “power is sexy.” Eeew! Perhaps the best explanation I saw was a tweet that hypothesized Jeb had realized Ronald Reagan wasn’t a woman, so he picked the next best female. Jokes aside, it says a lot about the GOP’s “women problem” that Jeb couldn’t think of a single prominent conservative American woman.
The overall summary is a rather bleak picture. Candidates discussed defunding a major healthcare provider (Planned Parenthood) over non-existent evidence. All of them rejected the disarmament deal with Iran and raising the minimum wage. There was a lot of discussion on what Donald Trump thinks of his fellow candidates (he now thinks Carly Fiorina is a “beautiful woman”), but less talk on their specific policies. There was silly talk about whether the bilingual candidates should speak in their second language, Spanish–a ruckus that had Trump exclaiming “you have to assimilate” amid defensive remarks from two GOP members. Several polls and media outlets crowned Carly Fiorina the winner, but it was clear the viewers were the losers. At least it was entertaining, if nothing else. For the full debate, go here.