My thoughts on the last debate before Iowa caucuses

Just a quick note on the final GOP debate before the Iowa caucuses. I think Gov. Jeb Bush had his best night, and I know I’m not the only one who is thinking about what might have been had Donald Trump not been in this race. But Trump is in the race, and he has sucked all the proverbial air out of the room. Some would see this as a show of strength. But I don’t see it that way. It’s a show of insult and bravado. Michael Gerson is right:

Days away from the first votes of the presidential nomination process, the prohibitive Republican front-runner is successfully applying the lessons of his pro wrestling career to dominate media coverage and prevent opponents from gaining attention and traction. God help us…

As for who won the debate, I agree with David French who makes a good case that Bush won. But he also observes that his solid performance is too late to help his candidacy in Iowa:

This debate was a fascinating glimpse into what might have been absent the disrupting force of Donald Trump. Bush was far more at ease without one of the candidates hurling middle school insults at him, and the debate itself was substantive — showcasing the GOP’s most effective communicators. This is why people said the GOP had a “deep bench” in 2016. Absent Trump, the three-man contest likely would have been between Bush, Rubio, and Cruz. But might-have-beens are irrelevant, and in this evening’s audition for the best alternative to Donald Trump, Marco Rubio won the night.

Trump’s “low energy” attack on Bush was devastating, below the belt, and effective. It was a personal attack that had no relevance to any of the substantive issues at hand. But Trump has proven that he specializes in sophomoric insults. He may have elevated himself by doing so, but he has diminished the process. I was glad he wasn’t on the stage tonight. It is a shame that qualified candidates are about to have to cede the race to the one man in the race who is singularly unqualified. On that note, one final word from Gerson:

It is a tribute to the seriousness of the Trump candidacy that we should be considering the real-world consequences of his temperament. But his feud-seeking, his personal insults, his shock-jock transgressiveness, his sexism, his mocking of those with disabilities, his clumsy deceptions, his toxic leadership style, his cultivation of chaos should be issues in this campaign. And they should be disqualifying in a prospective president.

Read the rest of Gerson’s column here.


  • Dan Phillips

    I don’t at all agree that “low-energy” is a “below-the-belt” attack. The raised-pinkie elitist crowd’s distaste for seeming to care passionately about vital issues is what gave us Donald Trump. If a candidate isn’t appalled at what Barack Obama has done to America, and communicate clearly that he’s all-pistons-firing dead-set to redirect the course, he’s lacking a critical qualifier.

    In that regard, both Jeb and “Oh well, I disagree with gay marriage but it’s the law of the land” Rubio are off my list.

    • buddyglass

      What else would he say? It is, in fact, the law of the land. Short of nominating SC judges that would reverse the ruling (and, remember, they have to get confirmed) and possibly stumping for a constitutional amendment (which has to come from the states anyway), what are any future president’s options w.r.t. same-sex marriage?

          • buddyglass

            I spent some time googling this morning and the only concrete actions I can find Cruz proposing w.r.t. same-sex marriage are: 1. appoint more conservative-minded Supreme Court justices during his tenure as president (which I mentioned above, and which Rubio would presumably also do; remember, they still need to get confirmed), and 2. encourage states to ignore the court’s ruling and decline to issue same-sex marriage certificates. The George Wallace option, as it were. Please let me know if he’s said or written something that I’m missing.

  • Larry Geiger

    Jeb Bush is a Common Core apologist. He is among the worst of the worst. Maybe not quite as bad as the abortionists but he wants your children and he wants them ignorant and helpless. There is no other way to say this.

    If he becomes the nominee I will not vote. My grandchildren were trapped in his despicable plot. Homeschooling and a charter school have mostly rescued them but the entire school system is disintegrating around us. This was once one of the finest school districts in the nation. As “integrated studies”, “common core” and other such foolish nonsense have made inroads into the system it has fallen apart. Jeb Bush is a blight on America.

    • Lynn Burgess

      Could you tell us more about Common Core? I do not think that most people know the concerns. I heard it has a strong political/one world bent, is that true?

  • Jim Masters

    Ah, that’s why people love Trump so much because of all those ‘characteristics’ (if you will). He is so non-politically correct, people are captivated by him. He is making a statement to the American people — I won’t play by the rules, and no one can make me. That’s rugged individualism, and the American people love it…skirmishes and all.

    This is not my personal endorsement of Mr. Trump; I do not support; I support another candidate. But as far as his political sway in this race…he’s a businessman. And he’s showing the American people how he conducts business. He plays by his rules, hands down.

    • Christiane Smith

      I suspect for some people, a popular Republican who draws crowds and has high ratings must seem like a miracle . . . but perhaps you should see all this from another point of view . . . if this leader wins, and it is known that conservative evangelicals supported him,
      what will their ‘witness’ be worth, then?

      Same with a self-proclaimed ‘evangelical’ Republican candidate who supports such things as carpet-bombing ‘the enemy’ in the Middle East . . . a LOT of conservative evangelicals love this guy (for his evangelical values, they say);
      but carpet-bombing innocent civilians, including old people, women, children, and babies is NOT an evangelical value: it never was and I hope it never will be . . .
      if THIS candidate wins with known evangelical support, and carries out what he said he wants to do . . . what then is their witness worth in a world such as ours?

      Can the Church go forward without the evangelical witness ??? I dare say it could. But should it? I am appalled by several of the Republican candidates and I am more appalled by the Christians who blindly follow them. God have mercy on us all. These are very troubled times.

  • Derek Taylor

    I’m not a Trump supporter, but as Gerson is a classic establishment guy, what he and his colleagues need to reckon with is that Trump would NOT be a viable candidate for most Republicans if so many of us didn’t feel completely betrayed by Bush and the other blue bloods that run the party. I’m pretty familiar with Gerson since his days in the Bush White House, and HE TOO is unqualified, though for different reasons than Trump. Their betrayal is so thorough, and their abandonment of conservative principles so complete, that many of the people Jeb and the other Bushes could count on for support, are either staying home or are running to a populist (Trump is a classic populist, not a conservative).

  • Michael and Judith

    You are absolutely correct in your analysis of events but to no avail. Do not expect more than a few to look at the honorable and respectful or even logical aspects of the debates and politics. Two terms under Obama has taught Americans a very cynical lesson which is why Trump is leading in polls and may not “fall” as many expect, regardless of what he does. He is playing on style alone. He has no substance, in the same way that Obama was/is without substance. The American people may not realize that they have intuitively come to learn that it really does not make much of a difference who is in the position of President so they do not look at policy, substance or outcome. Style is all that matters and that style is the postmodern understanding of truth. If Obama can be president, then anyone can. Trump is just Obama dressed in right-wing clothing.

  • Ezra Thomas

    Trump is simply a reflection of his supporters. These people are not motivated in the same way as social conservatives and establishment Republicans. They relish standing up to those they see as weak and representative of the traditional Republican party that used them for votes and failed to deliver anything that would actually improve their lives. They are not motivated by abortion, gay marriage, taxes, or limited government but rather by economic fears and fears of cultural changes along with years of perceived disrespect from the elites.

    Trump won the debate even in his absence. If he wins the nomination you and many here will be crawling over broken glass to vote for him in the general election over someone like Clinton or Sanders. Social conservatives don’t have the guts to do anything but get in line and hope for a handout somewhere along the way.

    I think Ted Cruz is the purest movement conservative candidate in the race. The fact that he doesn’t hide this beneath a veneer of moderateness is what makes him scary to the establishment. That’s why there’s this support for Rubio, an overrated figure. He gets you 90% of Cruz with the ability to lie well enough to win the middle.

    • Lynn Burgess

      Ezra: I believe that you are dead-on correct on all points.

      Trump supporters are no different from the liberals who want what is best for themselves, they lack principles greater than their own welfare.

    • buddyglass

      Agree on Rubio being Cruz Lite. Except, not entirely. I feel like at a fundamental level I might be able to be friends with Rubio. Like if we’d gone to school together or something. Cruz comes across as kind of a jerk. And that’s being charitable.

      • Lynn Burgess

        Buddy: I wonder if you know that Ted Cruz campaigned in IA with a promise to end ethanol subsides? The IA governor publically denounced his candidacy for that reason and the governor’s son, an ethanol lobbyist, campaigned for Donald Trump.

        The man has a backbone and does not waver on his promises to those who vote for him. He is a constitutional scholar and likely a genius. He is absolutely committed to paring back our government and returning it to the constraints intended by the constitution. I for one can forgive him for not being Mr. Personality.

        This is an interesting video of Cruz explaining to an angry corn farmer why he intends to end the ethanol subside. Ted seems personable enough to me, what do you think? https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=I6cUDscjrNg

        • buddyglass

          It’s not about him not being “Mr. Personality”; it’s about him (allegedly) being mean, arrogant, stingy and just not a very nice person.

          • Lynn Burgess

            Buddy, initially I did not support the Cruz candidacy because I believed the story that everyone hated him. Then I did some research and discovered those that hate him are the established political power brokers he is standing against and the liberal media. We pretty much only know what the media tells us and I for one believe they are not trustworthy. Cruz has the highest approval rating of any politician in TX.

            There is nothing more fearful to the far-left than an honorable uncompromising evangelical of great conviction. Why do you think Tim Tebow cannot keep a job in the NFL when other great believers play? I believe it is because of his power of influence and the liberal media has poisoned the teams against him. I think that is likely a lot of the hatred for Ted Cruz as well.

            • buddyglass

              “Then I did some research and discovered those that hate him are the established political power brokers he is standing against and the liberal media.”

              Them, sure. And his college roommate. And guys like Huckabee. And Rand Paul. And Tom Coburn. Very few people would accuse Coburn of being a moderate or an appeaser.

              “Why do you think Tim Tebow cannot keep a job in the NFL when other great believers play?”

              I don’t think this makes the point you were going for. That there are other great believers in the NFL undermines the idea that Tebow is without a job because he’s an uncompromising evangelical of great conviction. More likely he’s out of a job because he’s just not that effective at the NFL level.

  • Gus Nelson

    Denny: Gerson was a player in the George W. Bush administration, so his views on Trump come with baggage, particularly vis-a-vis Jeb. That said, I do agree Trump’s move to avoid debating seemed petulant and grandstanding and he may find Midwestern sensibilities offended by his “New York” values.

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