At times, last night’s CNN debate seemed like part of a reality-TV series rather than a serious presidential debate.
Heck, the slew of questions tailored to keep alive the ratings-fetching controversy between a braggadocio billionaire and his political opponents was almost nauseating at first. It felt more like family therapy, with real estate mogul Donald Trump as the dysfunctional (and liberally inclined) uncle who has a penchant for verbal abuse and overconfidence.
But, as far as reality-TV shows are concerned, I have to say it was a little disappointing. After all, no one got voted off the island by the end of the night, and honestly, that was what I was looking forward to.
In the same spirit as a “Politicians Anonymous” meeting, the debate began with each candidate stating their name (because it’s kinda tough to keep track of all 1,647 candidates) and giving an opening statement.
And in between Trump calling Senator Rand Paul ugly, championing the progressive tax code, and lying about lobbying for a change to Florida’s gambling laws, the other candidates actually managed to articulate their vision for recovering the spirit and drive that has made America exceptional.
In fact, when the presidential hopefuls finally got around to discussing issues rather than feeding the Trump-inspired rating machine, it became pretty apparent that the Republican bench is impressively deep in intellectual diversity. And, let’s face it, that’s something we can’t say about the Democrats. I mean heck, they have Bernie Sanders and Hillary Clinton as their top-tier candidates? Aside from a pantsuit and some cotton-candy/ Gene-Wilder-style hair, there’s not really much that differentiates the two. When Joe Biden is considered a potential savior for 2016, you know the intellectual machinery of the Democrat Party is pretty much running on fumes.
By the end of the night, former Hewlett-Packard CEO Carly Fiorina managed to prove she had earned her seat at the grown-up table. She got a chance to demonstrate her foreign-policy chops, spoke with confidence about taking on the political insiders of Washington D.C., and brushed off childish Trumpisms with class.
Senator Marco Rubio demonstrated that he continues to be an articulate bridge between the American dream and the Republican Party, even if his conservative credentials give the Republican base a little trepidation. Overall, he’s a well-spoken ambassador for American exceptionalism, and he was able to put his skills to work on a number of occasions.
Former Florida Governor Jeb Bush demonstrated that he’s about as in-sync with the conservative base as your average, run-of-the-mill (Common-Core-approved) Spanish teacher. His answer about using mental health as a reason to infringe on the Second Amendment was probably not tested in a conservative focus-group beforehand, and it showed.
Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker actually decided to show up to this debate. If his goal was to improve upon his last debate performance, he clearly succeeded. If his goal was to make the vast majority of Republican voters stop asking the question “which one is Walker?,” he probably fell a little short.
Ohio Governor John Kasich apparently doesn’t do as well without home-field advantage.
Rand Paul is like the unlovable Ayn Rand champion at a Bill Buckley fan club meeting. His libertarian bent was on full display as he clashed with mainstream Republican positions regarding foreign policy. But, unfortunately for his presidential aspirations, his highlight for the evening probably came when Trump decided to attack his looks. That moment is likely the only legitimate reason his name might end up in a few headlines today.
Ben Carson managed to showcase his wit, likeability, and intelligence; but it also became apparent that he might be a little too soft-spoken for the rambunctious world of reality-TV style campaigning.
Oh, and Trump is still Trump. Crony, petty, progressive, and (apparently) inexplicably popular.
All in all, “Sparring with the Stars” last night was somewhere in between informative and entertaining. At least half of the Republican hopefuls on stage seem to be honing their messages with precision and clawing their way into the minds of primary voters. And all the intellectual diversity on stage is fostering a primary culture that will likely strengthen the eventual nominee for a general election.
At the end of the day, the emerging contestant should be well equipped to take on Hillary, Bernie, or even Biden in the upcoming season of “American Idol President.”