Enjoying the Republicans’ Latest Game Show: Their Fourth Debate in Milwaukee

Live from the Milwaukee Theater, it’s the fourth GOP presidential debate!

Tuesday night’s prime-time show featured a big cast of characters, even though a few wannabes from the previous episode had been dropped in this ongoing political comedy series (or tragedy, depending on your point of view) due to their low ratings.

On hand for the main event in Wisconsin were Donald Trump, Ben Carson, Marco Rubio, Ted Cruz, Jeb Bush—it’s okay, catch your breath—Carly Fiorina, John Kasich and Rand Paul. Each of them was individually “WHOOED!” like a celebrity rock star as they were introduced. They were the top draw at 9 p.m. on the Fox Business Network, which sponsored the program with the Wall Street Journal, both with ties to Rupert Murdoch’s media empire. At 7 p.m. the “happy hour” debate had Chris Christie, Bobby Jindal, Mike Huckabee and Rick Santorum. But who except the hardcore conservative would want to put in four hours watching all this in one night? Get a life, people!

The debate rules were simple: 90-second answers. If a candidate talked for too long, they were supposed to shut up (but totally didn’t) at the sound of a bing-bing.

“It sounds like a game show, but it’s not,” joked moderator Neil Cavuto, Fox Business Network managing editor, who failed as both a comedian and a persuader.

Two minutes prior, inspirational music had played to dramatic retellings in what may as well have been a “Previously in Wisconsin” clip. In 1859, we learned that the so-called “black president” Abe Lincoln (a Republican, no less) had campaigned in Milwaukee. In 1912, a few blocks away from this debate venue, Teddy Roosevelt (then a Progressive Party candidate, no longer a Republican) had given a 90-minute speech with a bullet lodged in his chest after he’d just been shot outside his hotel by an unemployed saloon keeper. And, of course, no conservatively biased video is complete without a cameo from their true Lord and Savior, Ronald Regan, who praised the Badger State’s Brew City for all its worth.

In short, Neil Cavuto got it wrong. American presidential campaigns have always been a game, whether it’s TR capitalizing on a shooting for sympathy, Reagan sucking up to Milwaukee, or the Fox Business Network using those stories to choke up nostalgic patriots. America loves drama – especially evocative legends of bravery and heroism, even if they all were just an act – and in less than three minutes of this Republican debate, the storyboard was set and the pieces were moving.

Two hours of 90-second-plus monologues wooed viewers with conservative wet dreams. Good America vs. Evil: like illegal immigration, Obamacare, and Putin. Bonus claps were earned if someone badmouthed Hilary Clinton or strategically brownnosed America’s military the night before Veterans Day.

“I know that the world is a safer place when the United States is the strongest military power in the world,” said Marco Rubio.

“We have to make our military bigger, better, stronger than ever before so that nobody messes with us,” echoed Donald Trump.

“We have the strongest military on the face of the planet, and everyone knows it,” copied Carly Fiorina.

They said a whole lot of nothing and something at the same time, and that something was whatever earned them brownie points. After all, who doesn’t love being praised?

The remaining highlights were when the candidates disputed each other, their outraged voices blended together, the commentators attempted (and failed) to control the outburst, and mostly notably, the crowd whooped and booed.

Fox Business Network decided who would attend the debate based on four recent polls, which I’m guessing asked, “Which candidates will get us the highest ratings?”

The debate averaged 13.5 million viewers, which was 13.5 million viewers too many, as far as I’m concerned, but the most audience this cable network reportedly has ever gotten.

But let’s be honest. Following the November 2016 presidential elections in November 2015 indicates a lack of true entertainment in one’s life. Find something else to watch on TV, people.

The Democratic debate will be held this Saturday, Nov. 14, in Des Moines, Iowa. But The Hunger Games: Mockingjay Part 2 also opens in theaters this weekend. The fifth GOP debate will be Tuesday, Dec. 15, in Las Vegas. You know, where there are casinos. They’re a better bet if you actually want to win something.

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