After last night’s Republican debate (what? Again?), “gobsmacked” describes how we feel.
Flabbergasted, speechless, confused, dazed.
Because for fifty percent of the time we found ourselves agreeing with the candidates about the job being now completed by Barack Obama. For fifty percent of the time, we were defensive for the president, knowing as we do the obstacles he faced, deliberately embedded in the landscape by the Republicans themselves.
We had the same disturbed and divisive feelings towards Nikki Haley in her “official” reply for the Republicans to the president’s State of the Union speech. At first we were delighted by the evenness of her tone and her insights, assuring us that there was blame enough in Washington all around to account for some of our troubles, in particular Congressional gridlock. Then we come to learn that Governor Haley had had her speech vetted by Paul Ryan and Mitch McConnell. Which means what might have started out as her own personal take on life in government (and which we approved), was, in effect, more of the same standard Republican fiction. For five seconds we had thought her perfectly suited to become Vice-president; in the following five seconds we regretted even having had that thought. We don’t want more of what we’ve already had; we want less.
To make being gobsmacked even more real, some of what Donald J. Trump said in the debate actually made sense.
Have we become so enured to the circus aspect of this campaign that a few sensible words from the Clown cut through our resistance? Disgust and anger have made this campaign what it is: an international embarrassment. Could Donald Trump really be settling into a role that’s comfortable both for him and for us?
The entire evening was comprised of highs and lows. Just when Jeb Bush made a sound sensible stand on immigration, five minutes later he had sunk once more into being of little energy and petulance.
The face-off between Ted Cruz and Marco Rubio may have made both of them feel powerful and engaged. To some of the rest of us it made us think of schoolboys at recess, bickering before landing a knock-out blow of any kind. Mr. Cruz maintained his air of arrogance and egotism; Mr. Rubio got on rolls that made him seem articulate but scattershot.
Chris Christie elevated himself by playing referee and chief explainer. It suited him well, and may stand him in good stead.
Ben Carson remained imperturbable and under-studied, a man who is going to rely on others for his decisions. He began regaining ground before he lost it again.
And John Kasich took the road he finds most comfortable, relating to us his successes in Congress and as Governor of Ohio. No news there, but for the fact that he lost his hectoring, scolding demeanor and began to come across as a man who is sensible and unafraid to compromise and consolidate. In experience and outlook, he far out-strips the competition. In temperament, he’s a grown-up.
Each of the seven had choices to make, which made listening to them even more bizarre. Who is the target of their campaigns? Hillary, Barack, Eric Holder? Each other? Not every problem is intractable. There are solutions to be found for our economy; decisions to be made in combating terrorism. (Pacem Lindsay Graham who – now off the trail and granted little enough attention and space during his run- seemed now to be everyone’s favorite wartime leader. We believe this is called irony.)
“Gobsmacked” means also to be confused. Which we are, by our own reactions to watching these men and women try to make bricks without straw.
We are as confused as the rest of the country by the choices presented to us.
It may be that we have been “turned” into an Independent voter, at sea, surrounded by huge ships that may, or may not, sink at any moment.