STATESBORO, GEORGIA – As I write this, Donald Trump is in the post-debate spin-room in Simi Valley, California, deep in the bowels of the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library. The lights from a swarm of cameras reflect off his nectarine skin and dazzle the tips of his legendarily grotesque head of straw-colored hair. Trump is telling the horde of cable news journalists that we all know he had a great time, that everybody else “did fine” but also “had a rough time.”
At different intervals he returns to Rand Paul and Jeb Bush, who have become perpetual whipping boys as Trump has rolled over the field. They apparently dwell in the “rough time” category, which seems appropriate considering the first thing out of Trump’s mouth tonight was an insult of Rand’s appearance. Repeatedly Jeb took small pot shots at the billionaire, only for Trump to smack him down almost immediately. The most jarring moment of the night was Jeb demanding Trump apologize to his wife for comments made regarding immigration and Donald firmly telling him no. Jeb backed down, only to give him a violent, but ecstatic high-five, some thirty minutes later when discussing their Secret Service codenames.
It was another night in Trumpville, a universe where a bloviating, arrogant rich asshole continues to not give a shit while everyone around him tries to shut him up but crawls away the moment he snarls back.
There’s a question snaking into the room. Trump hears it, immediately asks an aide for the numbers a Drudge Report post-debate poll.
“We’re at sixty-four percent on Drudge,” Trump says, “so I’d say we had a pretty good night.”
The reporter repeats her question: “Do you think Carly Fiorina did well?”
“Everyone did fine,” Trump says. “Everyone had a fine night. But we all know what the polls are going to say.”
A word: CNN should be ashamed of themselves.
There are, of course, many things for which CNN should be ashamed. Their pandering, their constant lust after technology and novelty, their unleashing of the kraken that is the cable news/political complex. But tonight, September 16th, 2015, CNN has to apologize for one thing in particular: wasting our time.
This debate lasted three hours and fifteen minutes. Before it was the initial debate, a bullshit squabble between lightweights that somehow or another made Lindsay Graham look palatable for an hour and forty-five minutes. It was a spectacularly uneven affair that started hot and fast, like an argument between tweekers that feels consistently on the verge of spilling into violence, and ended with a stroll into the punchy and delirious realm of exhaustion.
But I will say this, even though I faded near the end and found myself wandering the halls of my house in search of water and food and maybe an end to the misery, the extended format led to some brilliance. The candidates grew uncomfortable and restless. They strolled from their podiums, sweated like criminals, drank and leaned against the props. Kasich nearly left the stage multiple times but had to be coaxed back by moderator Jake Trapper. The debacle lasted so long and grew so tiresome that all pretenses were left behind.
Jeb admitted smoking pot.
Ted Cruz said, and I quote, “America is not a planet.”
Ben Carson, who sleepwalked his way through the entire show, flirted with an anti-vaccination stance.
Maybe the most uncomfortable man on the stage, Chris Christie lost his mind and slipped into his old, revered form where he “tells it like it is” and takes shot after shot at his opponents.
Among them all, the only candidate who stayed calm and stayed in her place was Carly Fiorina. She stood iron-rod for over three hours and when the time came to speak she was ready with an easily digestible, albeit passionate, message.
She was easily the most prepared and the most professional.
Where it gets interesting is that she was also the only person willing and capable to stand up to wild-haired maniac.
Walker and Rubio floated in the background while Huckabee sermonized and Carson slumbered. Jeb tried and failed to exemplify “high energy,” a derision Trump cast his way a few weeks ago, and managed only to remind everyone why the comment stuck in the first place. Ben Carson…well, Ben Carson is simply unprepared for the national stage.
They’re a row of tin cans for Trump to plink with his rifle.
The stuff of carnival faire.
He danced through the field tonight, popping his opponents like a schoolyard bully. All that mattered was his choice of torture and the time he chose. The only one who wasn’t fair game, however, was Carly Fiorina, who smacked back and insinuated Trump was sexist and, even worse, fast and loose with his investments and business practices.
Trump called her one of the worst CEOs in American history, which is probably not that far of an overstatement.
Fiorina asked how many times Trump had declared bankruptcy.
Her chances to speak were few and far between, but when Fiorina got the spotlight she dispensed her stump speech and never let her peers distract or detract. She painted herself as a no-nonsense, Margaret Thatcher-ish conservative whose heart broke thinking about abortions and a Churchill-type who wouldn’t bother negotiating with Putin or Iran. When asked what woman she’d put on currency she said it was a shallow gesture and utterly useless.
But what was even more impressive was how Trump shrunk from her challenge.
Usually, and this is understood in all political circles, he works on good behavior until he’s insulted. It’s an old trait in which the volatile character lays dormant and then erupts in defense. It’s the little boy in Donald Trump coming out and when he comes out he comes out swinging. With Carly though, he hesitated. It isn’t clear yet whether that wavering was a result of exhaustion, fear of seeming misogynist, respect, or fear. From what I saw, I’d place my bet on the latter.
Trump wants no part of Fiorina, and for that matter I don’t think the rest of the field does either. She’s the answer to this election, a natural antidote to Hillary Clinton should the presumptive frontrunner loose herself from these scandals and ascend to the nomination. She gives the GOP it’s most desired state: the appearance of progress and tolerance.
Right now, even money’s on Fiorina nabbing the spot. She’s a natural for New Hampshire, South Carolina, and most likely Florida and California. Trump, Bush, and Rubio can all make runs.
Donald being the most likely and Rubio the clear and obvious darkhorse, but this doesn’t seem to be a field that’s very much interested in breaking from the pack. Carly is the exception as she’s poised and possessed of enough ambition to power a small town.
The question is whether changes can be made.
Whether Bush can find his backbone.
Whether Rubio can grow into his role as spoiler.
Whether Trump will swill himself even further.
Whether Fiorina can rise above her most famous failure.
Whether the Republican Party will realize its doomed destiny and cannibalize itself.
We don’t yet know the answers to these questions or whether these farces can improve themselves, but in Trump’s own words, we all know who the real losers are.
It’s always been us.