The man who can regurgitate everything did not win last night’s America’s Got Talent. In other news, there were two debates, pitting the fifteen remaining Republican candidates against each other in two separate battles royale lasting almost six hours of my life that I will never get back.
Since I watched it so you wouldn’t have to (you can scroll through our debate live-blog a little further down in the Spectacle), here are five things you need to know about last night’s debate.
1. Carly Fiorina and Marco Rubio vastly improved their positions: It was hard, last night, to look like an adult — harder still if, like Ben Carson, your debate attire was selected for its ability to cause uncontrollable seizures in CNN’s core audience. The first several questions in both debates centered around comments made by Donald Trump, which ultimately favored candidates who were not Donald Trump, particularly Carly Fiorina and Marco Rubio. Both were able to take swift control of their responses, answer with an air of calm, and display a grasp of their respective subject matters. Carly and Marco both needed to perform at the top of their game last night and both fulfilled expectations, to say the least. Their performances weren’t perfect — Carly seemed overly enthusiastic about getting Jake Tapper’s attention and Marco Rubio still speaks more like a law professor than a person who should be inspiring millions to alter the future of America by reweaving the very fabric of our nation — but they most definitely led the field.
2. Donald-mania may be over: If there was one uniting factor among the candidates at the “Big Table” debate last night, it’s that they were all gunning for The Donald — and they definitely scored a few direct hits. Trump was unable to best Carly on his comments about her face, he got into protracted disagreements with Jeb Bush that ultimately reflected badly on both candidates, Marco Rubio effortlessly wiped the floor with Donald Trump’s coif on foreign policy and Jake Tapper was careful to question Trump’s stance on vaccinations which led to a horrifying moment where everyone in America questioned not just Trump’s grasp of science, but his grasp of reality. Even Mike Huckabee was able to look professional by comparison, and that’s not an easy thing to do given that Mike was itching to talk to Tapper about his miracle diabetes cure, something he’d apparently make a national health standard. The only one who didn’t get the better of Trump was Rand Paul, who spent the evening looking terrified and uncomfortable.
3. There was probably no reason to have the first debate: Last night, because of the questioning pattern (Tapper singled out a candidate and then directed follow-up questions at whichever candidates the person answering named directly), a few candidates got lost in the ether. And then, a few other candidates lost themselves. For instance, did you know that Rick Santorum was running for President? Did you know that George Pataki was still in politics? Did you know that Lindsey Graham‘s entire platform revolves around bombing the ever-loving snot out of a Middle Eastern country (not that he’s wrong, really)? We were able to answer all of these questions last night, though we were never really seeking the answers. Bobby Jindal did a nice job of taking Graham to task for his Establishment tendencies and spineless response to the President over the Iran deal and defunding Planned Parenthood, but other than a short moment of satisfaction as Graham sneered his way through a hapless response, the first debate was a waste of time, energy, mansweat and hair gel.
4. Ted Cruz and John Kasich had a tough night: Ted Cruz and John Kasich are both really strong candidates…when they’re not in the same room as anyone else. Cruz has a tendency to break the fourth wall and talk directly to the audience, which gives him the demeanor of a used car salesman — an effective one, mind you, as I would totally buy a Toyota from him with half an engine missing and a clearly rolled-back odometer, but a used car salesman nonetheless. He came off last night as slightly smarmy and a bit off-kilter, as though he were overly confident that being Ted Cruz was enough to put him ahead of the rest of the field. The problem? Self-promotion is a speciality of literally everyone on that stage. As for Kasich, whatever he was saying was quickly lost in a strange series of facial expressions, which he made in quick succession every time he was called on, as though being in a debate was some sort of surprise.
5. No one is definitively out of the game just yet. Sure, there are a few who should hang up their campaign banners and close up shop, but there’s also a reason no one should drop out: the current front-runners are all in their respective positions for no obviously good reason. Besides the obvious (Trump), Jeb Bush was unable to distinguish himself as anything more than a legacy extension of the previous two Bush administrations and Ben Carson is clearly out of his element, making all three as vulnerable to the whims of middle American sentiment as they are to the random alignment of constellations. Mars is in retrograde right now or something. This could all be Rick Santorum‘s game tomorrow. Or Scott Walker’s, who I literally forgot about until right now.
The next debate, I believe, is Democratic. And I can’t wait.
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