Excerpts and links from a variety of perspectives on the February 13th, 2016 #GOPDebate in Greenville, South Carolina. Click here to see all of TLP’s 2016 election posts.
My Take on the Debate
You can scroll down a bit to skip this and get to the links and excerpts if you want, I won’t take it personally.
You can also watch the entire debate and/or listen to it while you read:
[Video was removed before I got this posted, sorry.]
OMFG, Trump! I really have made my peace with the paradox that, on the one hand, Trump’s popularity among GOP voters and the media is just frightening, while on the other hand, Trump’s tactics to become and remain GOP frontrunner are just amazing – even entertaining. I was among the many who were wrong about his ability to compete once votes started being cast (although I maintain he is unelectable in the general, unless Bloomberg facerolls his way into this thing).
At this point though, Trump has basically shattered the GOP nominating contest version of the fourth wall. Sure, all candidates “talk to the people” during debates, but they do it within the accepted forms of political theater. Not Trump! He is actually trolling the donors and insiders who get debate tickets, aka the audience, in order to score more points with voters watching from home. The guy is actually using the built-in buffers against outsider candidates (e.g. the audience will boo you) to build up his support among primary voters. It’s just amazing. There is no curtain on this process that the guy won’t pull back.
The other amazing thing is not just that Trump trolled the audience at the debate, but that he did it by calling bullshit on almost every GOP article of faith from the last 16 years. He attacked the Bush 43 administrations for not just being wrong about WMD in Iraq, but for knowingly lying to the country about it. He pointed out (again) that the WTC and Pentagon attacks happened while W was President. He defended Planned Parenthood for providing women’s health services. He voluntarily brought his appreciation for eminent domain up – he brought it up! – and made his case again that it is an important function of government. It was by far the most 🙀 debate I have ever seen. I think it is the first reality TV show that I have ever watched and enjoyed. (Seriously! I managed to avoid the whole genre.)
Masterful moderating by John Dickerson: It was also the most substantial debate I have seen among the GOP candidates. Some of the credit for this is surely owed to there being only six candidates – instead of 8 or 10 – on the stage. Most of the credit though, including for bringing much of the substance itself, goes to moderator John Dickerson. Dickerson, an actual journalist, made it a point to give facts a high priority. When he caught Ted Cruz
talking like he usually does lying about a Supreme Court nominee never being confirmed during an election year, Dickerson got booed by the audience (and seriously glared at by Cruz) for simply saying he wanted to get the facts straight for viewers. (That’s right: Facts got booed by the audience at the debate. Facts.) Dickerson generally avoided gotcha questions and questions designed to instigate conflict among the candidates (which makes it even more remarkable that the candidates fought as much as they did last night). Also, great tie. 👍
Supreme Court nonsense and John Kasich being decent again, kinda: The candidates started right into their bizarre, anti-constitutional claims that the President is somehow not really the President any more and so he shouldn’t do what the constitution makes it his job to do, which is appoint federal judges when there is a vacancy. Jeb Bush gets a little credit here for actually saying that of course the President should nominate somebody and every guy on that stage would surely want to appoint someone if they were President. Of course, he then attacked President Obama for nominating someone that isn’t a consensus pick, since he has already prejudged any nominee as divisive. Governor Kasich actually lamented how quickly the issue had been weaponized by the candidates, which is a really decent thing to have brought up. Of course, Kasich immediately followed his lamentation with a rejoinder to President Obama that, much like Bush’s, claimed a priori knowledge of the divisive nominee to come.
Jeb! is still Meh. Much was made of Bush’s performance, at least among the things I read (many of which are linked below). There was a general agreement that he had a really good night, though not a consensus on if it will really help him. I don’t think he had that great a night. He had his usual weak moments, they were just balanced by some strong moments this time. I’m also totally unimpressed when the former governor turns in his best debate performance in a state where the local GOP loves his family and the debate hall is packed with supporters (which became obvious well before Trump said anything about it). Jeb having a better than usual performance under more favorable than usual circumstances doesn’t make me think he is getting better, just that he had a good night. At this point I think his best hope is to hang on long enough to be the last alternative to Trump or Cruz, lose, then be the presumptive front runner for the nomination in 2020.
Trudy Ring has a write up of the debate, including this summary of the initial exchange regarding the nominating (or not) of a new Supreme Court justice:
Moderator John Dickerson opened the CBS News debate in Greenville by asking the candidates about whether Obama should make a nomination to fill the high court vacancy created by Scalia’s death. Trump said he expected Obama to do so, prompting Dickerson to ask, “You’re OK with the president nominating somebody?”
The businessman replied, “I think he’s going to do it whether or I’m OK with it or not. I think it’s up to [Senate Majority Leader] Mitch McConnell and everybody else to stop it. It’s called delay, delay, delay.”
Sens. Marco Rubio and Ted Cruz both asserted that it’s been 80 years since a Supreme Court justice was confirmed in the last year of a lame-duck presidency. Dickerson eventually corrected them on this, pointing out that Justice Anthony Kennedy was confirmed in 1988, the last year of Ronald Reagan’s presidency. Kennedy was nominated in late 1987.
Dylan Matthews at Vox has their usual breakdown, this time with 3 winners (Jeb Bush, Hillary Clinton/Bernie Sanders, John Dickerson et al.) and 2 losers (Donald Trump, Marco Rubio). Of Trump and his belligerent heresies, Matthews concluded:
Trump is still winning this primary. He will probably win in South Carolina, and the rest of the field remains scattered enough that he stands a good shot of winning a majority of states in the “SEC primary” on March 1. But tonight, more than any other debate, felt like a momentum where the tide could shift against him.
I suppose the upside of being late to posting the reax is that instead of saying “everybody who has said that so far has been wrong” I can say “Matthews joins with everybody else who has said that and been wrong,” because the first South Carolina poll since the debate shows an increase in Trump’s lead.
If those polling results hold steady, Jonathan Chait has already put Trump’s achievement in perspective for us:
As Trump has defied his skeptics, evaluations of his political acumen have grudgingly embraced the conclusion that there is a method to his madness. But on Saturday night, he took the madness to a completely new level. By the normal standards of politics, Trump swallowed enough poison to kill himself ten times over. If he survives, it will be the strongest evidence that he has forged a connection with Republican voters that resides beyond any plane visible to the rest of us.
David French is fed up with Trump et al. and thinks conservatism was the real loser of Saturday’s debate:
On a day when an American lost a great patriot — a Supreme Court justice who defended the Constitution and upheld its vital principles until the very day that he died — it was particularly sad to see the hijacking of constitutional conservatism in a race that is quickly degenerating into a dangerous farce at the very time when the nation so desperately needs principled, courageous leadership. Dear candidates, if you can’t win, step aside. If you can win, step up. Otherwise, we are lost.
Josh Marshall had a great post-debate summary titled “What Was That?”:
I find it hard to know quite what to say about this debate. It was chaotic and disordered. Lots of candidates called each other liars. Donald Trump used variations of the actual word numerous times. Our initial count from the rough transcript has Trump saying “single biggest liar” twice, “this guy lied” twice and “why do you lie” no less than three times. Rubes said Cruz “lies” a handful of times. And that was just the start of it. I don’t think there’s ever been a presidential debate where so many of the candidates have called each other liars so many times. At some moments the trash talking and chest-puffing and general drama got so intense I thought this might be a fair approximation of West Side Story if you’d written it about two battling country clubs, the plutocrats versus the plutocrat flunkies.
Jonathan Bernstein has managed to create a mental framework for the GOP contest:
There were two Republican debates on Saturday night, just as there are two Republican nomination battles right now.
One of them is the reality TV show, starring Donald Trump. That one is amazingly entertaining, although it has less to do with how to govern the nation than “The Bachelor” has to do with real love and romance. Trump lies: No one talked about immigration as a problem until he ran for president! He spoke up against the Iraq war before it started! He insults his opponents. He insults debate audiences. He interrupts. He makes faces. And sometimes the other candidates strike back, often on about the same level.
And then there are the regular candidates. It isn’t as if they are all that edifying either. Their lies are politician lies, not the specials that Trump serves up. Marco Rubio, for example, wants everyone to believe that he and Ted Cruz have similar records on immigration, something that isn’t even close to being true. Cruz, for his part, pretends that Obamacare has cost millions of jobs. But the candidates do at least sort of debate public policy.
Joshua Keating points out yet-another way in which GOP candidates invoke Reagan while lambasting various things he did in office (e.g. raising taxes), this time regarding immigration:
Things get a little awkward, however, when it comes to the subject of illegal immigration and “amnesty.” The 1986 Simpson-Mazzoli Act, signed into law by Reagan, granted amnesty to 3 million people who had entered the country illegally before 1982. (The word amnestywas specifically used at the time.) The law, which Reagan promised would “humanely regain control of our borders,” is widely regarded by Republicans as a model of what not to do to address the problem of undocumented immigration, as it failed to deter millions more people from entering the country.
Isaac Chotiner agrees that Jeb had his best night, but thinks it was too little, too late:
He cleverly associated Trump with Obama by saying they both blamed George W. Bush too often. And Jeb probably did a bit to dispel the image of himself as weak. (Unfortunately, like his brother, he is incapable of pronouncing the wordnuclear.) But what he didn’t do was fundamentally change the race. Every day that passes with Trump holding a massive lead in the polls is a victory for him. Bush was good tonight, and if he had performed this well months ago it’s possible that this race would be different today. As it is, his victory tonight may just be a minor speed bump on Donald Trump’s road to the nomination.
One more Trump excerpt, from D.D. Guttenplan’s review of the night:
Watching Trump’s dismal performance in the debate, it was tempting to concur with Cruz’s dismissal of the New Yorker as “an amazing entertainer.” Yet in terms of his appeal as the right’s anti-politician, Trump for once may not have been exaggerating when he told Fox this was his best debate yet. (Any doubts I had on that score were settled by Bill Kristol, who called the evening “a disaster” for The Donald.) The invited audience might have booed repeatedly, but Trump wasn’t speaking to them—his comments, as usual, were aimed at the television audience.
Guttenplan also discusses just how little time remains for the GOP establishment to unite behind a single candidate.
I don’t really see what could make much difference at this point from the GOP establishment’s perspective. Trump and Cruz/Carson are taking 2/3rds of the vote. The establishment might fight them to a draw, but then what? Pick an establishment candidate on the second ballot of a contested convention? Let Cruz and/or Trump play kingmaker? Unless Trump and Cruz both collapse, soon, I don’t think the establishment unifying behind a candidate or not is going to matter.
Stepping back and looking at it, I still think Trump is doing the GOP establishment a big favor. While he almost certainly will, in one way or another, cost the GOP the general election, Trump is also draining the GOP swamp… …at least a little bit. Trump is just as bad as the rest of them on budget busting tax cut proposals (check that – Cruz is the worst), but to state openly that Bush failed to stop the WTC and Pentagon attacks on September 11, 2001 and then lied/errored the country into a disastrous war in Iraq… …I mean, that is some serious ground to be covering. Future GOP candidates will be able to say this stuff openly without suffering the costs they would have if they said them now. Trump, for his part, has found a way to say all this stuff without suffering any downsides at all. Amazing.
Click here to see all of TLP’s 2016 election posts.