[dropcap]I[/dropcap]f you took a shot every time the word “war” came up in Tuesday night’s Republican presidential debate, you would have been dead drunk within the first half hour and would have been too far gone to catch one of the best moments on the Las Vegas stage, when U.S. Sen. Rand Paul (R-KY) called out New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie for shutting down the George Washington Bridge to keep people—probably Democrats or Muslims or both—out of The Garden State.
Of course, being well fortified with a stiff drink was probably a good antidote for all the fear-mongering running rampant like a virus at The Venetian casino hotel. This crowd wants blood, as long as it’s spilled by “jihadi terrorists in the ISIS caliphate.” Red was the color of the evening—a red dress for former Hewlett-Packard CEO Carly Fiorina and red ties for the guys—except that Gov. John Kasich and Dr. Ben Carson obviously didn’t get the memo and wore blue ones instead. Those wimps. When everybody started to get rowdy and speak out of turn, CNN host Wolf Blitzer had his hands full, but he kept them in line. Certainly he did a better job than those losers at Fox Business Network.
To keep us guessing there were some flubs and falsehoods. Christie said he would meet the king of Jordan, but the king he named is dead. More tellingly, Christie summoned up how he foiled a Fort Dix plot but didn’t admit how it was manufactured by the FBI.
Ex-Florida Gov. Jeb! Bush seemed to be going for the nerdy look with his glasses on. His demeanor reminded me of a decent kid who would have been the perfect gentleman as a teenager if he had showed up at your door to take your daughter to the senior prom. To see him as the ruler of the Free World is a stretch, but then who would have thought his brother would ever be elected—certainly not the Bush family!
I give him credit for telling the truth—or at least trying—by calling Donald Trump “The Chaos Candidate” and telling him to his face that “you’re not going to be able to insult your way to the presidency.” He also pointed out how damaging Trump’s hateful anti-immigrant utterances have been to the country and its image in the world. Too bad he resorted to typical Bush speak when it came time to make his closing argument. He should take a lesson from the candidate leading him in the polls, U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas).
Cruz took an adroitly worded, long-winded detour to avoid answering CNN’s Dana Bash about why he would disparage Trump in private conversations to his supporters but swear his admiration to him in public. Did he or did he not think that Trump didn’t have the judgment to be president? Yes, and no. And he sounded believable.
Trump took it in stride—even patting the former Princeton debater on the back—after he himself had been quoted calling Cruz “a maniac” last weekend. “He’s just fine—don’t worry about it!” Trump said of his rival. I guess the bromance was back—at least until the Iowa caucus results come in Feb. 1.
When Cruz said he’d build a huge border wall and, “I’ll get Donald Trump to pay for it,” Trump replied, “I’ll do it!” See, beneath that weird hair lurks the brain of a builder.
But Cruz’s pandering went too far—even for this crew. When Cruz was pressed to explain whether his call to “carpet-bomb ISIS into oblivion” meant he’d pulverize Raqqa, their stronghold, even if it meant blowing up hundreds of thousands of presumably innocent civilians, he dodged that bullet. Instead, he pointed out, “The object isn’t a city… We will utterly destroy them by targeting the bad guys.” And he spelled out his brilliant military strategy further: “We will stop the terrorist attacks before they occur because we will not be prisoners to political correctness.”
You could hear a big sigh of relief coming all the way from the Pentagon. But really, how anybody could support this snake oil salesman is beyond me. He’ll always be the right-wing radical who tried to filibuster against Obamacare so he could read Dr. Seuss’ Green Eggs and Ham on the Senate floor.
Donald “Something Terrific” Trump didn’t steal the show. But he was worth watching—as long as you could forget what some of his followers are reportedly shouting at hecklers (Hint: It recalls Nazi rallies). He did let the others get under his skin, turning red in the face once or twice, especially after putting up with criticism from Jeb!
Trump said that Bush “has failed in this campaign. It’s been a total disaster.” To seal the deal, the billionaire developer reminded him where they both stood in the polls: “I’m at 42 and you’re at 3.” Ouch!
After a heated exchange between U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL) and Cruz over the finer points of Senate amendments—especially whether they’d undermine our First Amendment rights—Bush and Paul seemed like the sane guys in the room. At least for a few moments. I liked that Paul stood up for the Constitution, especially when it comes to the Internet, but when the Kentucky libertarian said our greatest threat is the federal debt, he sounded like a fool.
Carson didn’t have a clue about the nuclear triad, which is key to our defense. I can’t look at Fiorina without thinking of the 30,000 people she laid off while she walked away from her CEO job with a golden parachute worth millions of dollars. I went to college in Ohio, but I wouldn’t want Kasich running our country. He acts like a buffoon. He should be selling used cars in Dayton.
Trump is good for the ratings, but would he even be here in the public eye without his dad’s inheritance and his legion of lenders who couldn’t afford to let him fail? He is indeed the most dangerous man in America without a gun. According to surveys, he leads among white men that never went to college.
But Trump didn’t have the monopoly on simple truisms. Or lies. No, President George W. Bush did not deport 10 million people. Iran has not declared war on us. Yes, Russia has had a naval base in Syria since 1971. Tech companies in Silicon Valley have indeed been asked and refused to let law enforcement get access to encrypted data, despite what Fiorina insisted.
Sure, we live in a dangerous world—there are crazy people in it. But what would this crop of Republican Party candidates have to talk about if they couldn’t distract us with all their inflammatory rhetoric?
How convenient that somebody apparently triggered a shutdown of the Los Angeles school system earlier that day when it fortunately turned out to be a hoax. Did the GOP candidates mention the Paris climate talks—so far the best and only chance humanity has to stop global warming? Or the cancerous concentration of wealth? No, but at least Trump pointed out our crumbling infrastructure needs billions of dollars in investments, and we don’t need another ground war in the Middle East. There’s that word again.
After Christie said he’d shoot down a Russian plane if it ventured into a “no-fly” zone above Syria, even if it risked World War III, that triggered Paul’s best quip.
“When we think about the judgment of someone who might want World War III,” he said, looking at Christie at the next podium, “we might think about someone who might shut down a bridge.”
These candidates are building a bridge to nowhere.