Well. That was the least crazy Republican debate in recent memory.
Those who are familiar with my personal politics know that this admission comes with some amount of sadness. For so many reasons, I’m not particularly fond of this batch of 19 Duggars and counting — er, Republican presidential candidates. In earlier debates these folks conjured a fictional "baby part-selling industry" powered by Planned Parenthood, used the actual term "anchor babies" without being aware that it would make (statistically) everyone in America gasp, and generally shat on each other, crying like babies throughout earlier chest-pounding debate exercises.
The debate Wednesday night was less of an inter-party pissing contest than ever before.
It was mostly a Republican self-love fest in Colorado’s most populous Republican county — Boulder County — and it was clear that these GOP candidates are not afraid of Bernie Sanders. They campaigned and railed directly against Hillary Clinton and the news media in a fairly united front. The only "mention" of Bernie was vaguely racist. More on that in a minute.
A lot of people in America might have pictured a University of Colorado Boulder-based debate held in an actual university athletic facility as a great staging ground for young folks or even town residents who might be more liberal to mix it up and make it interesting in a true show of cross-ideology dialogue and democracy. I was at least clamoring for white dudes with dreads to play disc golf in front of the camera as candidates grew exasperated. But alas, no doobie-smokin’ nudity advocates were in the heezy — just the old guard who were given access to the debate. The reality is, the debate may as well have taken place 1,000 miles away, as university brass encouraged students to have "watch parties" or participate in other ways than physically attending the actual debate at their institution of American education.
There was another issue that made this debate literally unwatchable: While CNN and others offered a free streaming preview on their websites in previous debates, CNBC did not stream the event free. As we all know, democracy is only for those with cable. Does anyone else think it’s fucked up (read: unjust) that equal access to these presidential primary candidate debates for the voting public would be encased in a $100-to-$200 a month Xfinity subscription hurdle in a world where so many citizens have shed cable for Apple TV or other Internet delivery?
Ohhhhhh, I see now. That’s why university higher-ups encouraged "watch parties." Because rich kids who can afford ESPN probably also have CNBC — and it takes a village to head over to Chaz’s for debate drinking games, right? Whatever.
CNBC moderators accused Donald Trump (rightly) of running a "comic book" candidacy early on and, in a rare moment of solidarity, Republicans locked arms and exposed just how hilarious some of CNBC’s questions were. There was certaintly nothing more comic book than a few of John Harwood’s questions. I loved it. Harwood — and I’m paraphrasing — basically started off by asking Trump why he was a clown person who wanted to ask Mexico to build a wall with their own money. Trump's answer created the mental image of a cartoonish wall with a "big fat door" that had me imagining the entrance to a CGI Mexican Wally World. You can hear the VO as people cross the border in the customs booth now: "Hey, Mexicans. It’s me, Donald Trump. The ‘UGE President of the United States and I’m very, very rich and I want you to come here, LEGALLY."
Trump used the word "legally" in a fashion that will have Internet meme and vid makers rushing to cut together the sequel to their Trump "China" videos.
After lampooning Trump, Harwood dove back into clowning mode, overtly leading the witnesses on the stand. He bounced right to a slightly more relevant John "I saved Ohio" Kasich with what was tantamount to: “Mr. Kasich, you had some super-dope anti-Republican things to say earlier about everyone else being crazy as fuck." And then he literally said: “Would you repeat it?” In other words, "Ben Carson and Ted Cruz are Donkey Kong-level Bonkers and you called them to the mat the other day. Will you go ahead and do it again on this highly rated debate? It would make all of this so much easier.”
To be clear, I’m not shitting on Harwood at all. CNBC is hilarious, and he knows that these candidates are hilarious.
Earlier in the week The Daily Show had him as a guest and ran an interview with Harwood becoming exasperated with Carson when asked about gay marriage — to the point where Harwood said something akin to, “I’m sorry, but I have no idea what you’re talking about” as Carson’s words drifted into incoherent whispers and non-answers. Harwood came in shaking his head. Now Harwood couldn’t resist implying that Carson’s math on a 10 percent tax "tithe" was as insane as its derivation from a church tithing its members.
Another subtle but hilarious Harwood moment was when Ted Cruz was straight-up rolling. As Cruz, who arguably came off looking somewhat like less of a pussy than his less alpha opponents, decried the moderators' questions and media in general, Harwood cut him off to throw it to Rand Paul, who's polling at 1 percent, to talk about how dumb big government is. It was amazing.
Rand Paul actually said some of the least crazy things, but he has the charisma of an Old Jeb Bush, so it’s a waiting game until he’s out.
Marco Rubio looked the best he’s ever looked and Cruz looked like a straight-up pro televangelist with both cadence and his talking points. He led a somewhat cogent effervescent moment or two with applause breaks that seemed to unify the candidates on stage.
Mike Huckabee had to be pissed that Cruz stole the most racist moment of the night, too, when he boldly proclaimed “I’m not finished yet” during a diatribe, and then said that the only choices on the left are the "Bolsheviks and the Mensch-eviks." To be clear, Cruz inferred, “Your choices on the Democratic side are 1) scary socialists OR 2) scary JEWISH socialists!” He should have finished it off with, “Oy, caramba!”
Huckabee got the racist comment of the last debate when he tweeted a tasteless joke about Koreans. Not tonight, Mike! Cruz won the day with fun, jovial, side-door anti-Semitism that few can wink and gun with such aplomb. Old TC also did the best job selling his website: TedCruz.org. That same URL is 100 percent ready to go when TC figures out that he can just bail and start a megachurch.
Meanwhile, the way Jeb Bush sold JebBush2016.com sounded like a naïve but well-intentioned rich kid running for high school class president. This is important: Jeb Bush is DUMBER than George Bush in many ways. At least he presents himself that way. Jeb tried to look tough calling out Marco Rubio for missing an incredibly high number of voting sessions in the Senate while campaigning, and Rubio throated him by immediately answering that he was a dumb puppet who should be thrown in the trash because he was coached by people to attack Rubio on this.
He’s right. Jeb’s brain trust makes his already feeble volleys look even more benign. Point, Rubio.
Carly Fiorina had a solid "picture this" moment when she invoked imagery of going at it with Hillary in a debate. Of course. That would be fun for both sides and she should beat that drum. Unfortunately, while she seemed slightly more human than in previous debates, Fiorina spent a chunk of the debate doing nothing to dispel the legitimate claim that she wasn’t that great of a cure-all CEO ; she also said with Carson-like certainty that she would change the tax code from 170 pages to three pages and build a budget from a "zero base" like it was a publicly traded company. It showed how very different the "business"-minded person who thinks they can waltz in and ignore 200-plus years of lawmaking with "simple" solutions that will never happen because they account for none of the nuance that is American society today with 330 million people or the entrenched roadblocks that would prohibit such nonsense from ever transpiring.
Jeb Bush’s most believable moment was that he absolutely is good at Fantasy Football (7-0) and Chris Christie’s only moment was lancing the integrity of a stupid gambling question for which nobody had an appetite.
Trump actually is saying fewer crazy things and handling the long game of the candidacy better than his opponents on the defensive so far. Last night he was still Trump, but he didn’t say anything about rapists or capitulate much extremist hate. He did say he likes to keep people guessing when he’s openly carrying a firearm (presumably around New York). That was classic crazy Trump, but CNBC’s moderators had so many other, “You’re a dipshit. Talk about that”-type questions that they missed their chance to lure more batshit by passing that gun-control baton around the stage.
Carson is just clearly on drugs of some kind. While he’s a smarter marketer than Mike Huckabee. who left "Huckabelieve" and an "I HEART Huckabee" bumper sticker on the table, Carson is dazed out like Paula Abdul on American Idol or Sarah Palin, where anything shiny can gain her attention while she’s supposed to be staying on task and delivering bullet points. Carson sleepily answered questions with the fervor of someone who pops a valium with a glass of wine. I get it: I can’t tell you how often I want to rest my eyes at a stoplight from fatigue like my grandfather used to after a long day. However, Carson's temperament at this and other debates and on nationally televised interviews mirrors a kid who wants to sleep during a baseball game that went into extra innings — and it’s extremely unpresidential and off-putting.
John Kasich (sort of) answered the only question of the night about marijuana and the hundreds of millions in tax revenue it’s created in Colorado by proclaiming something about how he knows how to handle our nation’s drug problem and "shut down" overdoses. It was appalling, inaccurate and then brushed away like a pile of leaves, never to be discussed again. If he had any education at all on marijuana, he’d know that Colorado overdoses are down post-legalization and that marijuana is not the gateway drug these candidates portray. The GOP is simply clueless about cannabis.
Republicans actually did themselves some good despite offering a series of insane tax-code proposals, horrifying suggestions about Medicare and Medicaid, and a preposterous answer to the only question about marijuana in the whole debate by looking less crazy and more respectful than previously. They didn’t make fun of each other. They didn’t look like complete horse’s asses — and because it was on CNBC, got to talk more about money than social issues. All in all, a pretty good day at the office.
If you like this story, consider signing up for our email newsletters.
SHOW ME HOW
You have successfully signed up for your selected newsletter(s) - please keep an eye on your mailbox, we're movin' in!
Now if we could just get the Mensch-eviks to listen to reason!
The Mensch-eviks, incidentally, is the name of Jeb Bush’s undefeated fantasy team.
That's one thing Jeb and I can agree on: Fantasy is fun.