The twelfth Republican candidate debate last night was an event of mixed blessings.
It was, finally, a meeting of men who wanted to discuss positions and proposals. As such, the fireworks and bad manners of earlier evenings were not in evidence. Further, the CNN moderators were well-behaved and persistent.
So what happened?
Actually, very little.
There was no game-changing moment, no sudden explosion of ability and talent, and probably not much movement to come in the polling next Tuesday in the Florida and Ohio primaries. With so many states allowing early voting – some states start this two hundred days out from the primary – some candidates were no doubt already distressed or relieved. Think of the thousands of Floridians who had voted early for Jeb Bush.
Score cards on cable television this morning varied. We disagreed with most of them.
Starting with our favorite, John Kasich, who admitted something we wish he hadn’t: that discussing governmental problems and solutions was maybe not that interesting. This seemed an effort to cover a slow night in Mr.Kasich’s campaign. He was, after all, in Florida, where his chances of scoring big are minimal. The audience had come to hear Rubio and Trump. When addressed by moderators, Mr. Kasich replied crisply and fully but clearly the crowded auditorium had little or no interest in what he was saying. His presence on stage was as a place-holder, a reminder to his troops up north in Ohio and Illinois that he was alive and kicking and would wing in as quickly as he could to continue his uphill fight.
To Kasich’s right was Senator Ted Cruz, who prefers whining and lecturing to solving problems positively. In fact, there is nothing positive about his approach to running for this august office which he holds in such clear disregard. (A side-bar: how on earth Carly Fiorina is going to assist Cruz beyond elevating the combined whining duet is beyond us.)
Everything about Cruz’ campaign is negative. This is a man devoted to bringing down institutions, not shoring them up. This is a man devoted to scaring voters rather than uplifting them. This is a man whose tax proposals reputedly will add more to the national deficit than any other candidates’. This is a man who constitutionally cannot understand that the $150 billion that is going to Iran as our sanctions lift is in fact Iran’s money, held in the sanctions, not a reward for signing. Maybe he just prefers lying.
Wonderfully, Cruz and Donald Trump have common approaches to their campaigns. Both are Fascistic.
From the very beginning, when he was elected to the Senate, Cruz tied into the European anguish after the First World War when Germany felt (deservedly so) it was being treated far too harshly over reparations. In time, as we know, Germany began sinking: no jobs, no income, no food, no leadership. Plain ordinary chaos.
Cruz picked up these conditions and applied them to the US in the 21st century. He began to try to develop a stance wherein he alone could solve our (and Germany’s) problems, where only his insights and personality and promises were worth anything. His approach was direct and straightforward: scare the hell out of voters and then come to their rescue. He could even, we presume, imagine himself Fuhrer, leader for life. Hiding under false piety, exaggerating anti-Christian sentiment around the world, swearing allegiance to Israel (oh, that huge passel of evangelicals!), Cruz has devoted himself to tearing down any and all Democratic institutions that over the years have made this country great.
Which leads directly to Mr. Trump’s “Make America Great Again.” Without the historical background and distance of Cruz, the Donald went right at the good and angry people of the US. We doubt Donald had any intimation of how closely his request for oath-taking and raising of hands in a pledge to vote for him, or how indeed it may have seemed to some a little too delicate, echoed memories of World War II.
But there is no doubt that the Donald’s worst moments last night came when he was asked about the atmosphere at his rallies. Was he not throwing firebrands into the crowd and then standing back to watch them explode?
Trump’s excuse was that people were genuinely angry and that his rallies only allowed that anger to surface in physical ways over which he had no control. Which is hog wash.
We presume that some voters got off the bandwagon at about this point in the evening. Perhaps Ben Carson’s endorsement will mitigate some of this feeling.
The big surprise, and one that really was gigantic, was that Marco Rubio showed one and all what he could have been if he hadn’t gone bananas over Donald Trump’s hands. He was informed, pleasantly jovial, seriously engaged in the task at hand – which, simply, was reminding his constituents in Florida how good he might have been without going off the rails.
Rubio was the winner of the night, even though, as with the thousands who may have already voted for Jeb Bush, it probably won’t do him that much good.
The one thing he achieved above all else was the possibility that if the nomination landed at the convention and wheeling and dealing had to be done, he could be right in there. That was the Big Dream of the night, and it must have occurred to hundreds of other Republicans beside Rubio himself.
You’ll note we’ve not spent a lot of time discussing Sanders/Clinton. Alas, we have months more of this to come. But if last night’s action in Miami is worth anything at all, there are some exciting times ahead. As long as the Republican powers-that-be don’t throw their own supporters over the side, obviate their anger and desire, and keep Trump –if he wins- from taking his place at the top of the ticket. THEN we’ve got REAL trouble.