The Donald was missing and missed last night in the Fox News Republican debate. Without the bawdy showman, the entire cast seemed smaller, the divisive questions of the Fox moderators more petulant, and the debate endless.
The most stunning revelations of the debate came from what was missing. There was not one question about the economy. Not one candidate explained what he would do to make the economy work for working people. No one mentioned the threat posed by what looks like a looming global slowdown. Gilded Age inequality went unmentioned. The real and present challenge of climate change was reduced to a gotcha question to Marco Rubio about cap-and-trade. The “conservative message” doesn’t include the kitchen table concerns of most Americans.
No, instead the debate featured right-wing staples. Inflate the threat of ISIS. Rail about immigrants. Rant about Obama and Hillary. Stop off for right-wing “social issues.” Lay it on about Putin. And lots on “electability,”
We didn’t really learn much. These candidates compete to lather the most hawkish about ISIS and terror. They vie with Trump on building walls at the border. They are against Planned Parenthood and pro guns and cops. They’ll waste more building up the military. They will repeal Obamacare to the last comma.
Periodically, Rand Paul entered stage right to liven the place up. He challenged the folly that has us fighting ISIS while trying to overthrow its biggest enemy, Syrian president Bashar Assad at the same time. He objected to giving the intelligence agencies a blank check to trample our rights. He offered a hint that a real debate might break out. But the rest of the field basically refused to take the bait and the moderators moved on.
Who won? "Jeb!" Bush looked great, and mostly stayed out of the line of fire, while hinting that he might be the candidate of relative decency (which probably rules him out). Ted Cruz was slick, but besieged, and surely lost points whining about the moderators. The Fox analysts tended to nominate Marco Rubio as the "winner," but he seems but a programmed player piano, with practiced one-liners keyed to play on demand.
Chris Christie did his routine about slippery Washington rhetoric as opposed to accountable, stand-up governors, while saying he “knew nothing’ about Bridgegate and lying about the investigations of it. Ben Carson was roused from his slumbers occasionally to little effect. John Kasich still strikes me as the drunk at the end of the bar droning earnestly in his cups about something or another. Fox News anchor Megyn Kelly looked great with a new hair style, luminous lipstick and fake eye lashes straight out of 1940’s Hollywood.
These folks live in an alternate reality. They have no clue of today’s America. They aren’t even close to acknowledging the real challenges facing the country, much less addressing them. Republicans can choose between the bumptious Trump, the glib Cruz, the programmed Rubio or the shambling Bush. It is hard to believe that anyone of them can attract a majority of Americans.