Republican Debate Reactions

I just arrived home after a whirlwind speaking trip to Tucson, Arizona. Because of the event, I was unable to watch the first Republican primary debate live and, to tell you the truth, I really wasn't planning on watching it after the fact. But upon my return all my girls are away on our annual church camping trip, so I decided it was a good opportunity to catch up on what I missed.

I read lots of commentary on the debate. Having watched it in its entirety, I agree with much of the commentary. But a number of things stood out to me that I thought I'd share. I don't have the time to give an assessment of every candidate's performance, so I apologize if I don't comment on your favorite.

The debate was simply fantastic

I sit amazed at the quality of nine of the ten candidates on the main stage, and several who took part in the earlier undercard debate. Honestly, with a few variances in degrees of wholeheartedness, I could support any of them. Forget for a moment silly things like who misspoke or who looked uncomfortable or who "won" a particular exchange on a policy disagreement. Every single person on that stage except one (more below) was confident, articulate, substantive, and passionate about moving our country in a better direction. 2012 was a political clown show; 2016 is a master class of political professionalism.

Donald Trump Was Out"Classed"

Having read most of the post-debate commentary, I confess to being completely unprepared for just how badly every other candidate outclassed Mr. Trump. It will undoubtedly take a bit of time for this to trickle down to actual poll numbers, but Donald Trump was thoroughly diminished on that stage. Actually, I'm tempted to use the word "humiliated." He wasn't worthy of carrying the bags of the greatest neophyte of them all: Dr. Ben Carson. Even conservative pundits are giving him way too much credit. Now, anyone who knows me knows that I cannot stand Donald Trump. But I assure you I approached this debate with as open a mind as I could muster, willing to listen. Donald Trump turned out to be a kindergartner in a postgraduate seminar. It really was shocking to me how poorly he performed in that crowd. Trump will be long gone before the first primary votes are cast. Not because he wants to bow out, but because his ineptness will simply catch up to him. That's my prediction, based partly on my new novel theory:

No, Trump is not conspiring with Bill and Hillary to split the Republican vote and deliver the White House to her, although before watching this debate I suspected that to be the case. As he was delivering one of his mind-numbingly stupid "red meat" answers in this debate, the truth struck me like a thunderbolt. Remember a few years ago when well-known, talented Hollywood actor Joaquin Phoenix appeared to go crazy? He quit acting, was photographed by Paparazzi doing all kinds of weird things, and decided to pursue a career in hip-hop music? He even went on David Letterman and gave this classic (bizarre and strangely funny-as-in-watching-a-car-wreck) appearance. It all turned out that Joaquin was making a "reality-esque" film about Joaquin Phoenix quitting acting and starting a hip-hop career. Everyone was "punked."

Donald Trump is a reality TV star. This debate made it obvious to me: he isn't trying to get Hillary elected because he's been paid off. He's making a "reality" film about him running for President. Some enterprising reporter should check the identities of the ubiquitous film crews following Donald Trump around on this campaign. One of them is not a journalism outfit. It's a reality TV firm filming a movie. We are all being punked. 

Marco Rubio, The Savant

Conservatives: we have found our Ronald Reagan. So stop looking, please. I mean that. Rubio's every second was maximized to deliver a conservative vision to the common man, with once-in-a-generation charm and likability. In this he is the antithesis to Ted Cruz, who seems determined to win by doing nothing other than (very) grimly trumpeting his personal hobby horses, as much as I might agree with a few of them.

Rubio took some heat later on for his answer on abortion, in which he denied ever advocating for rape/incest exceptions, and I was surprised that nobody in the conservative commentariat really mentioned his answer. I'm sure it's the travel tiredness, but the last part of Marco's answer brought me to literal tears. I found it just as moving as the pro-abortion crowd found it disturbing.

Yes, people will say Marco is too young. He should "wait his turn." I'm not sure the country can afford to wait for a mythical "turn." Watch the debate and see how Marco handles every question. He is an absolute political savant. Performing like this is not easy (ask Rick Perry!), and he makes it look ridiculously easy. 

Jeb, the Anti-Marco

On the other hand, Jeb Bush makes politics look very difficult, indeed. Runs in the family. I liked almost everything he said. But the Bushes have never been great communicators, and he seemed, well, awkward. A person watching the debate who had no prior exposure to the campaign would never know that he is one of the frontrunners. That's a major problem for Jeb, and a major compliment to the other candidates. They all came across as serious contenders. Even Ben Carson.

Speaking of whom, Ben Carson is the nicest man alive. He just oozes grace and goodness. His foreign policy answers were, as expected, sub-par, but he did a lot of good for his campaign with his answer on race relations and his delightful closing statement.

I thought John Kasich gave a good impression, even though I didn't like all his answers. Mike Huckabee was his usual gregarious self, and had some terrific zingers. Chris Christie was confident and Presidential. Rand Paul was... Rand Paul. He hit all the usual family talking points, but he just lacked stature on this stage. I'd replace him in an instant with Carly Fiorina, who blew the competition away in the undercard event.

All in all, I was immensely gratified by the Republican field this year. Pull yourself away from the hype for a moment and appreciate it. I'll let Marco Rubio express what I think:

Brian Mattson