The Agony of Debate: CNBC, Candidates All Manage to Offend

Who won? Who lost? Nobody won and America lost. Photograph: Justin Sullivan/Getty Images

Tonight’s Republican debate was terrible. After listening to several sneering exchanges about how government is always the problem and always screws things up and Obama welcomes violence against the nation’s police and BOO! socialism, I couldn’t get this refrain out of my head: Nasty people saying nasty things and being nasty to each other to the cheers of other nasty people. And before anyone says I should leave the audience out of it, these are the same kind of people who booed a gay soldier for asking a question during a 2011 Republican debate. That’s who these people are, and anyone who supports Republican candidates needs to own it.

The debate was bad for several reasons. First, as Josh Marshall explains, CNBC lives in its own weird universe and the moderators asked several suitably weird questions. One even managed to make me feel bad for Trump by asking if he’s running a “comic book version” of a campaign. Trump’s campaign definitely straddled the joke-or-not line in its infancy, but for better or worse (worse, obviously), his campaign is no joke now.

Marshall also notes that Ben Carson, now leading in Iowa, does not focus or dominate a debate the way a frontrunning Donald Trump can focus and dominate.

But mostly the debate was bad for the ten reasons on the stage: Kasich, Huckabee, Bush, Rubio, Trump, Carson, Fiorina, Cruz, Christie, and Paul. Whether it was the liar Fiorina telling lies again, Carson lying about his involvement with a shady nutritional supplements firm, Huckabee trafficking in ugly (debunked, of course) Clinton conspiracies, or Christie free associating his way to an ugly smear of President Obama, the refrain just kept coming back to me: Nasty people saying nasty things and being nasty to each other to the cheers of other nasty people.

If anything of consequence came out of this debate, I think Charlie Pierce may be right that Jeb Bush’s campaign is now dead. Bush’s campaign will shuffle along, indefinitely and zombie-like, but when your candidate is whining on the campaign trail and can’t manage to land a punch against the insufferably dumb and stupid Marco Rubio, it may be time to follow Scott Walker’s lead and find a different way, other than running for president, to make the world a worse place.

My final takeaway is that Bush and the CNBC moderators managed to lay out partial blueprints for how to attack Rubio, so it will be interesting to see who picks them up and comes after Rubio soonest and hardest.

Polls next week ought to account fully for any effects from the debate. I don’t think any of the ten candidates (not sure about the four jokers at the kiddie table debate) will feel compelled to drop out as a result of this one. If I had to bet, I’d say Rand Paul will drop out next because he’s had trouble galvanizing his father’s base of support and people are worried he’s taking his 2016 Senate re-election bid for granted. But never underestimate these people’s vanity.

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