The third Republican debate was a nightmare from start to finish but ‘nightmare’ has been the theme of the race thus far. So much bile has been directed towards Donald Trump that you might think he’s to blame for the rule that in the land of the blind, the swivel-eyed loon is king.
For much of the night, Trump pouted, winked, but otherwise looked generally bemused about being there. At the end he boasted that it was only through his negotiating skills that the debate lasted two hours and not three. If he’d said that was still two hours too long I would not be entirely sure he’d be wrong. Little on show convinces that these are the best possible candidates for the Republican nomination and not extras playing morgue victims in the CSI Halloween special.
The very first question was a sign of the horror show to come. ‘In any job interview, you get asked: what’s your biggest weakness,’ asked the SNBC host with the Eddie Munster hair. ‘So in thirty seconds […] what is your biggest weakness and what are you doing to address it?’
Thanks to his position on the left (losing) end of the stage, the corpse of John Kasich’s campaign found itself suddenly gifted with a final chance to taste life. ‘Good question,’ proclaimed the corpse and proceeded to spend the next twenty nine seconds groaning about Democrats and completely ignoring that good question.
The moment summed up the pressing problem with current politics in America and, indeed, the problem of politics anywhere that the American-styled plague has spread. Kasich’s response was disdainful of the process of listening to a question and providing an articulate reply. His rant went from scriptwriter’s pen to his mouth without passing through a single brain. The often rude, occasionally witty, but always commanding personality of Donald J. Trump just can’t fail to stand out in a race largely run by such scripted examples of the undead.
The weakness of the field is perhaps the reason why Ben Carson apparently leads the race. As the complete opposite to Trump, he must draw support from people who like ‘reserved and quiet’ rather than ‘vulgar and loud’. Beyond that, his success is the biggest mystery of all. He might be a retired brain surgeon but Carson has the personality of a slightly reticent proctologist. He also has the remarkable ability to project his voice so that it sounds like it’s coming out the back of his head. It’s a great trick for Halloween but not for a potential President of the United States.
The ground Carly Fiorina gained in the previous debate was largely lost by her underwhelming performance during this debate. She admitted her biggest flaw was not smiling enough but, when she did smile, it resembled a practical special effect in the new Star Wars movie. She also gifts me with a chance to write the previously improbable line: Donald Trump had the second least convincing hair on the stage. She wore her hair like a cheap car wears expensive hubcaps. It’s a perennial problem of America’s politicians. They emerge from the pack by being spirited, different, and unscripted, but once they catch the public’s attention, they feel a need to act professional again. Life drains from their eyes and their hair turns back into sculpted cheese.
Speaking of life disappearing from a person’s eyes: did Jeb Bush ever have life there to begin with? I’ve followed Bush’s career from a distance and foolishly believed the rumours about him being the brightest of the Bush clan. Admittedly, the bar is set fairly low but I never expected it to be knuckle high to a grasshopper. Wednesday night must finally confirm rumours of his political demise. ‘Ineffective’ doesn’t begin to describe his performance. His lectern at least looked like it belonged on stage. He didn’t.
As for the rest: Mike Huckabee seems like a lovely guy but we all know he’ll soon turn into one of those sweat stained pastors wanting to make Christ our witness before pulling his favourite faith healing rattlesnake from his satchel. Rand Paul might be the king of the filibuster but he reminds me of slow speaking Droopy every time I see him. Perhaps he has that Mick Hucknall trick of looking small but actually being seven feet tall but the point remains that he never fails to underwhelm. Ted Cruz, meanwhile, has the vampirism vibe and his main contribution was sucking a little blood from the CNBC hosts, much to the delight of the crowd.
That leaves three candidates whose stock gained value on the night.
Marco Rubio has been largely absent from the previous debates but last night managed to make some points that seemed to stick. Rarely is youth an advantage in politics but Rubio’s message about getting things done at least fits his character of a man in a rush.
Chris Christie, meanwhile, played the John Candy role of the big hearted guy who keeps shouting ‘group hug, everyone!’ He might already have set his sights on being the next Vice President. He did everything to avoid making enemies of his potential running mates. One of the few high points was Christie slapping his podium and crying: ‘Fantasy Football! We have ISIS and al Qaeda attacking us and we’re talking about fantasy football?’
Finally, Trump was Trump. He made the odd gaff, such as not knowing the blurb written on his website, but don’t be surprised if he re-emerges as frontrunner after this latest non-debate. It was the kind of night when you could ask them about polar ice and they’d reply by listing their favourite members of The Muppets. And Trump is great on The Muppets. Simply the Best. He’ll give you Muppets like you’ve never dreamed of. Period. And what’s more: he’ll make the Mexicans pay for them. Happy Halloween!