Political Editors / January 29, 2016

Finally, a Debate Without Petty Insults

A Republican debate with only Republicans on stage.

For the first time this election cycle, last night featured a Republican debate with only Republicans on stage. Yet it was the “elephant” not in the room that dominated pre- and post-debate coverage. As for those on stage, we have two primary observations.

First, as Mark Alexander predicted yesterday, Marco Rubio and Ted Cruz were baited into attacking each other, especially on immigration. That was Donald Trump’s strategic play. By not being present, he pitted his chief rivals against each other without getting caught in the crossfire just ahead of the Iowa caucus. That said, Cruz began the night by humorously pretending to play the part of Trump: “I’m a maniac and everyone on this stage is stupid, fat and ugly. And Ben [Carson], you’re a terrible surgeon. Now that we’ve gotten the Donald Trump portion out of the way…”

In fact, many of the questions were negative attack bait, roughly following the formula: You or someone else said something awful or outrageous…explain why your remark wasn’t terrible, or attack the other candidate. The questions were largely designed to generate fratricidal arguments between the Republican candidates rather than focus on how each Republican would approach policy matters different from Democrats.

Second, the Google/YouTube/ advertising sponsorship, as with the Facebook sponsorship in the last debate was at best, grating. As they previously did with Facebook “mentions,” the efforts to incorporate “search words” and videos into the debate — including one YouTube question from a Bernie Sanders supporter (seriously!) — was ridiculous and little more than cross-platform advertising.

Finally, the quote of the night might just go to Rubio, because he managed to pack so much about himself and why he’d be a formidable general election candidate into one answer: “[L]et me be clear about one thing. There’s only one savior and it’s not me. It’s Jesus Christ, who came down to Earth and died for our sins. … As far as the polls are concerned, Iowa, on Monday night you’re going to go to a caucus site and you’ll be the first Americans that vote in this election. You will be the first Americans that get to answer a fundamental question: ‘What comes next for this country after seven disastrous years of Barack Obama?’ Let me tell you what the answer better not be: It better not be Bernie Sanders. Bernie Sanders is a socialist. I think Bernie Sanders is a good candidate for president — of Sweden. We don’t want to be Sweden. We want to be the United States of America. And Hillary Clinton — Hillary Clinton is disqualified from being the commander in chief of the United States. In fact, one of her first acts as president may very well be to pardon herself because Hillary Clinton stored classified information on her private server and Hillary Clinton lied to the families of those four brave Americans who lost their lives in Benghazi, and anyone who lies to the families of Americans who have died in the service of this country can never be commander in chief of the United States.”

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