This Tuesday, March 1, will be Primarypalooza, when almost a quarter of the states in this country will decide which presidential hopefuls should face off in the general election. Super Tuesday has voters in Alabama, Arkansas, (our own) Colorado, Georgia, Massachusetts, Minnesota, Oklahoma, Tennessee, Texas, Vermont and Virginia heading to the polls in what feels a little like historic times.
They feel historic because at the end of all of this either a woman, a Democratic socialist Jew, one of two Cuban Americans or the guy from NBC’s The Apprentice will end up being the President of the United States.
They also feel historic to me because each Republican debate sets a new standard for screaming, steamrolling and punching, and it all unravels in the most entertaining way possible.
Are they good debates? Absolutely not. These debates are some of the worst when it comes to point/counterpoint discourse. They’re anti-repartee exercises engulfed in the same type of chaos a substitute teacher who’s hopelessly lost control of the class would endure if everyone was off their medication.
In short, the debates are breathtaking.
Thursday night's debate at the University of Houston had CNN’s crew "led" by Wolf Blitzer peppering the candidates with questions spanning topics from immigration and building a wall to Supreme Court Justice nominations to potential Easter eggs in soon-to-be-released tax returns.
But the real star was Donald Trump. Again.
During one particularly rapid-fire overtalking flourish, Trump called Ted Cruz a "basketcase" who didn’t know what he was talking about.
While I don’t disagree, it never ceases to amaze me how someone who is a basketcase and doesn’t know what he’s talking about himself is still maestroing the media works with bombast and ruthless arrogance. Standing between Ted Cruz and Marco Rubio and giving the Dikembe Mutomobo finger wag to alternate sides of his podium, Trump was still in control.
Everyone is going to talk about how Rubio won this debate, and he definitely looked and sounded looser than I’ve ever seen him. Instead of delivering talking points like a dead-eyed, crazy ventriloquist dummy with a tape recorder in his chest, he yelled right back and even scored some spontanaeity points by ably pointing out Trump’s own Rubio-like Chris Christie moment, when "The Donald" repeated the same gobbledygook about healthcare over and over. Rubio looked good in that skirmish.
But it doesn’t matter. It doesn’t matter because Trump was still the subject of 80 percent of the questions. When it comes to debates, CNN knows how to make the ratings HUGE. Make the whole production all Donald, all the time.
Here’s a quick rundown from the least to most relevant candidates last night:
BEN CARSON: On the other end of the Trump spectrum you have Dr. Ben Carson barely hanging on. I think Carson answered like six questions in two and half hours and no matter what he was asked, he sleepily regurgitated some version of “I believe in liberty and justice for all,” followed by responses to the questions that weren’t even close to cogent.
Once he didn’t hear the question, which seems to be a theme. A couple weeks back Carson couldn’t hear his name being called during one of the most botched television-production chain reactions in history.
The only time he really said anything substantive last night, he blurted, “Healthcare is not a right,” and then followed up with a pitch for "Healthcare Empowerment Accounts" that would allow people to save money for healthcare and share it with any family member. And since everyone in the family will "share" magically saved money in these Empowerment accounts, he said, “If Uncle Johnny is smoking like a chimney, they’re going to hide his cigarettes.”
Conclusion: Carson is gone after Tuesday, where his best showing will be 7 percent somewhere. Put this sweet, crazy man out of his misery. Remember when the whole race was Trump and Carson? Well, now the whole race is Trump and Carson is done.
JOHN KASICH: Kasich continued his “I’m the only semi-sane person up here” schtick, answering a fair amount of questions with poise. Asked whether he advocated assassinating Kim Jong-Un, Kasich deftly swatted the bait aside, delivering a much less insane answer than Blitzer was hoping for about regime change in North Korea.
He also basically said, "Leave the gays alone if they shop at your business" and just go home and pray for their souls on your own time. This qualifies as one of the least insane sentiments espoused during the debate. In another salvo, Kasich confronted Trump and Cruz regarding the feasibility of moving 11 million people out of the country.
Kasich’s problem is he’s not as batshit as his counterparts, and America seems certain he’s not anything more than a qualified governor from one of our biggest states.
Conclusion: After Super Tuesday, Kasich could be totally out..even if he's still in the race. As for the debate, he did little to affect his chances.
TED CRUZ: Cruz is becoming less relevant than Rubio and if Marco keeps it close, ol Cruz is going to plummet at some point. He’s got the whole establishment after him and he can’t rattle Trump.
One of the best moments of the night was when Cruz talked about making sure we don’t put a crazy zealot on the bench of the Supreme Court and Trump, without missing a beat asked, “When you say 'crazy zealot,' do you mean you?” I let out an audible, “HA!”
Cruz on immigration: I’m basically just going to deport everybody.
While he scored some solid applause, for the most part it looked like Cruz and Rubio were a two-man team on either side of King Kong, trying to keep him from running wild by holding him in place with a rope.
Best moment: Getting called a basketcase.
Conclusion: Cruz is still afloat, but if Rubio’s performance last night was any indication, this might be a rough Tuesday for Cruz. If he doesn’t win some states, he’ll be on the ropes as more money pours into the RNC’s new favorite, Marco Rubio.
MARCO RUBIO: Rubio had his dancing shoes and boxing gloves on Thursday night. While I find him to be completely odious, he straight-up surprised me during the debate with the impressive show of thinking on his feet. Although he was still pretty boring, he dished out some zingers and got Trump on his heels a bit.
He hit with the body, hammering Trump on illegals building Trump Tower, although Trump warded off his barb with an immediate and amusing, "That’s a cute soundbite" retort.
But then Rubio landed a bunch of blows in a row, slamming Trump against the ropes in one tear when he mocked Trump in a way we’re used to seeing The Donald dish punishment. During an exchange about healthcare, Rubio called out Trump for repeating the same answer as robotically as Trump accused Rubio of doing weeks before.
Rubio made it clear he was the #1 friend of Israel on stage, and yet he was also thanked/mocked by Trump for sending him his book years before with an autograph ytelling Donald he was doing a "great job."
Conclusion: Rubio will do well Tuesday and be the #2, but still not win many states and probably cause a complete crisis in the party because the establishment will be that much closer to having to abandon him and suck it up for Trump.
DONALD TRUMP: Trump was equal parts Loony Toons, almost-human and substance-free on Thursday.
Incredibly, he insisted Mexico would build a wall for $10 to $12 billion on the Texas border despite previous and current presidents declaring it would absolutely never happen. Trump chastised Mexico’s Vicente Fox for using "a filthy disgusting word" (the F word) when asked what he thought of Trump’s wall. When pushed about the viability of rounding up 11 million people, he simply dismissed the idea that it couldn’t be done.
But Trump sounded almost human when he continued to defend the health benefits of Planned Parenthood outside of abortion. It’s an incredible stance that sets him apart from every other Republican, and it’s almost shocking when he says it in juxtaposition to Cruz, Rubio and Carson in particular. He also insisted that the patient-centric pre-existing condition eligibilities in Obamacare were good and that in his America, “Nobody would die on the streets.” Rubio looked evil when he scoffed at the idea that the Republican Party would contribute to a government that helped take care of everyone.
Trump also scored by painting politicians as untrustworthy while painting himself as a job creator. “You have hired no one,” he said defiantly.
Then he had nothing more to say on healthcare, which Hispanics would support him in a general election, and used the phrase "Let me just tell you" dozens of times while immediately following that phrase with almost no real information other than that we’re going to win again or he’ll probably broker peace in the Middle East because he’s a great negotiator.
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SHOW ME HOW
The thing is though, Trump is the sun and the others (candidates, CNN’s staff, the audience) are all the planets. Eighty percent of the questions were directly or indirectly targeted at Trump in some fashion, so even with Rubio showing some heat, Trump is still the center of this universe.
Conclusion: This was more of the same, but it was a perfect demonstration that Trump will do enough to win, especially performing when it counts. He’ll win most of the twelve states on Tuesday.
Nobody has the moxie to please so many different elements of the conservative base as Trump, and in the end they’ll mobilize behind his Joe Arpaio-loving, trophy wife-toting ass. And we’ll all tear our hair out until then. Because while this is all intensely amusing, it’s starting to get scary: The guy who wants to "let the good ones come back" is getting really close to becoming the leader of the free world.