Thoughts and links from a variety of perspectives on the Miami #GOPDebate hosted by CNN (Click here to see all of TLP’s 2016 election posts)
Last time I said “Just wow.” This time: Just eww.
If the previous GOP debate was a Pyrrhic victory for the anti-Trump forces, then the Miami debate last night seemed like an unconditional surrender. Cruz and Rubio both rebutted some of Trump’s statements, and Cruz took some other (lame) shots at the Donald, but mostly everybody had the kid gloves on and Trump was in this rare, calm, not-as-poorly-spoken-as-usual form. Given how this contest has played out thus far, I have a hard time not assuming that Trump will get a boost from the event. If I were to bet on these things, I would bet that it is a big boost, too.
What really struck me about last night’s debate is how awful it was. As I mentioned after the last Democratic debate, I have actually enjoyed watching the previous debates with the GOP candidates calling each other liars and cowards – because they are! But last night they mostly stopped all that and returned to the bizarre, hateful alternate universe of the modern GOP that is full of culturally illiterate, racist, sexist, violent reactionaries who spew nothing but vulgar platitudes backed only by counterfactual claims and outright delusions. Sad!
There are no other GOP debates scheduled, and I hope it stays that way. The worst moment of the debate was when not one – not fucking one! – of these guys managed to condemn Trump for inciting violence at his rallies. Mostly they passed the blame to President Obama and indicated that angry people are justified in being violently racist. The logic is pretty obvious – people angry at a black President are allowed to hit black people at a Trump rally – and it is just incredibly, unbelievably, monstrously disgusting both as an argument and as a sentiment. The RNC chair named after part of a washing machine cycle, Reince Priebus, came out before the debate to assure everyone that the GOP will unify behind and support whoever the nominee is. If he had any sense or decency (he doesn’t), he would have come out at the end, said never mind, and denounced all of them.
One last point: It is one thing for a candidate for President to say he has a strategy for a conflict and will listen to the advice of generals to tell him how best to implement it. It is another thing entirely for these guys to stand up there and say “I am going to do whatever the generals tell me to do.” That isn’t how our military works – it is lead by civilians, with the sitting President being the ultimate authority. If these guys can’t think on that level, they shouldn’t be applying for the job. Again – sad!
Okay, enough venting. Here are some reactions from other folks.
Timothy B. Lee gives us Vox’s recap of the CNN debate winners (Donald Trump, Ted Cruz, Civility) and losers (Civility, #NeverTrump, Trade deals). Regarding how civility won, Lee says:
Thursday night’s debate had a very different tone. Candidates generally waited their turn to speak, kept their criticisms focused on issues, and avoided making comments about each other’s hands or genitalia. Donald Trump was so pleased by the debate that he described it as “elegant.”
And regarding how civility was the loser (and this is, I think, the more true and important point here):
While the tone of the debate was civil, the substance of the debate was anything but. Trump was asked about the many incidents in which his supporters have responded violently to protestors, including an incident this week in which a Trump supporter threw an unprovoked punch at a protestor as he walked by.
Instead of unambiguously condemning this kind of violence, Trump fell back on one of his uglier talking points.
“They love this country,” he said. “They don’t like seeing bad trade deals, higher taxes, they don’t like seeing a loss of their jobs where our jobs have just been devastated. There is some anger. There’s also great love for the country. It’s a beautiful thing in many respects.”
David Weigel points out that the rationalization offered by the candidates for the violence is bullshit:
But John McGraw, the man arrested for assault in North Carolina, did not give reporters the impression of a man driven to temporarily over-reaction by big government. Interviewed by Inside Edition, he expressed no remorese.
“Yes, he deserved it,” McGraw said. “The next time we see him, we might have to kill him. We don’t know who he is. He might be with a terrorist organization.”
None of Trump’s rivals opted to condemn that action — or condemn Trump for anything he’d done to incite it.
But just in case you didn’t see the debate and think I am exaggerating about the other candidates non-condemnations of the violence, behold George Zornick’s write-up that has the quotes:
But what happened next was truly surprising: None of Trump’s rivals, who are desperate for any way to get an edge on Trump before it’s too late, went after him. Instead, they validated his answers.
When Tapper asked Ted Cruz if what was happening at Trump’s rallies might hurt Republicans in a general election, Cruz responded: “Washington isn’t listening to the people. And that’s the frustration that is boiling over. And we need to nominate and elect a president who remembers, he works for the people.”
Marco Rubio expressed concern about violence—but primarily against police officers. “The first is, I’m concerned about violence in general in this society. And by the way, the first people that are facing that violence are our law enforcement officers. And they deserve our respect and they deserve our thanks for everything they do for us,” he said.
John Kasich disclaimed, “I worry about the violence at a rally, period,” but went on to say, “Jake, here’s what I think is happening. There are people out there who are worried about their jobs.”
And it wasn’t just the discussion of racist violence at Trump rallies. German Lopez describes how Rubio pushed back on Trump’s Islamophobia in an ugly, ugly way:
Rubio’s answer isn’t that we shouldn’t be bigoted against Muslims because we should respect other people and their beliefs. It’s that we shouldn’t be bigoted against Muslims because it’s tactically advantageous to be polite, because we need Muslim allies in the Middle East, Muslims might convert to Christianity, and Muslim Americans could maybe join the military.
This is pretty weak. The problem with Islamophobia is, fundamentally, that it’s bigotry. While being nice to Muslims does happen to be tactically advantageous (as Hillary Clinton has also said), it shouldn’t be the primary reason for rejecting bigotry.
Rounding out the violent bigotry angle, Trudy Ring has a good recap and points out that there was no discussion of LGBT issues other than a veiled threat by Cruz:
The debate also saw some bashing of President Obama, with claims that he’s weakened the U.S. military and America’s standing in the world, although this took up less of the time than usual. There was no talk of LGBT issues, although Cruz promised in his closing statement to protect “religious liberty,” usually code for the liberty of those opposed to LGBT equality on religious grounds.
Speaking of Cruz, Eliana Johnson seems to think he has emerged as a “formidable foe” for Trump:
All of Trump’s challengers have struggled to find an effective way of attacking him, and Cruz seemed to be trying out a new method on Thursday. Repeatedly, he noted that Trump is good at identifying problems but doesn’t propose meaningful solutions. “He’s right about the problems but his solutions don’t work,” Cruz said of Trump’s proposal to impose steep tariffs on imported goods, which he noted would represent a new tax on American consumers. “This solution would hurt jobs and hurt hardworking taxpayers in America.” On foreign policy, Cruz noted that Trump talks tough but has said repeatedly he wouldn’t undo the Iran deal and has promised to be a neutral negotiator between the Israel and the Palestinians.
It is a pretty hilarious line of attack from a candidate proposing a massive VAT that will be incredibly regressive in its impacts on working and/or poor Americans (read: most all of us).
Rebecca Berg notes that Trump made appeals throughout the night for the GOP to ignore Cruz et al. and get behind his candidacy:
On one of the biggest stages in politics, the GOP wrestled with accepting an unorthodox and divisive standard-bearer, while that candidate, Donald Trump, urged his skeptics to “be smart and unify” around his candidacy.
“I think, frankly, the Republican establishment, or whatever you want to call it, should embrace what’s happening,” Trump said in his opening remarks, citing the new voters he has drawn to the party, among them Democrats and Independents.
Jonathan Chait, always a must-read, thinks the debate signaled the end of #NeverTrump:
This was the chance for Ted Cruz, Marco Rubio, and John Kasich to make the case to the television audience what a great many conservatives believe: that Trump is not just an outlandish Republican candidate but a dangerously illiberal one. They were being handed on a silver platter the case that Trump is a singular danger not only to their party but the country.
Instead they simply echoed Trump’s message. People are angry. President Obama is a menace to freedom. Police are wonderful. And that was it.
It was not impressive.
Donald Trump either knows nothing about government and public affairs, or is playing a character who knows nothing. In most cases, his answer to everything is that every deal the United States government has ever made on anything is a disaster, and he would make much better ones. What was wrong with the old ones? What would the new ones consist of? How would he get there? He has nothing, because of course there is nothing; it’s just an empty boast. When he tries to talk about specifics, he gets lost, changes the subject — usually to himself — or just flat out lies.
And yet … it’s not as if the others, who basically stick to standard movement conservative talking points, are all that coherent. Better than Trump, to be sure. But not great — whether it’s Rubio saying that nothing the U.S. could do would have any effect on climate, or Ted Cruz dragging out the fiction that Barack Obama took an”apology tour,” or John Kasich bragging about balancing the budget in the 1990s (while in fact the main steps that accomplished that were George H.W. Bush’s budget deal and Bill Clinton’s 1993 budget, both of which Kasich opposed).
Ezra Klein points out (in detail) that while the debate was more substantial, that substance itself was not reality-based:
So was this debate substantive? Sure, in the sense that it focused on weighty policy topics like Social Security and trade and the assembled candidates mostly used their inside voices. But the things the candidates actually said were, by turns, wrong, misleading, misinformed, confused, or ridiculous. This substantive debate mostly showed how weak a grasp on the issues the candidates actually have.
Jim Newell, like Donald Trump, myself, and (I assume) many others is glad that there are no more debates (at least any time soon):
I don’t say that just because I, personally, am tired of covering debate nights. That’s only a modest 80, 85 percent of it. It’s because, as Trump said Friday morning, “[H]ow many times do you have to give the same answer to the same question?” It’s not just that candidates have made their positions on the issues clear by this point. It’s that they’ve made their cases—substantive, stylistic, and comparative—fully. Ted Cruz, Marco Rubio, John Kasich, and Trump have used every argument for their own candidacies and against the others’ candidacies that’s available to them.
Click here to see all of TLP’s 2016 election posts.