Just when it seemed this US Presidential race couldn’t get any more spectacular, on Saturday evening CBS News hosted the latest TV debate between the remaining Republican candidates. It was whizz bang stuff, full of insults, sharp debating points, bursts of brilliance, low blows and some epoch-defining nonsense from Donald Trump. Here’s how it looked to me, as a Britisher now heading back across the Atlantic to the (equal) insanity of the Brexit debate…
1) Rubio recovered. Following the young Senator’s robotic performance in a previous debate last weekend that dented his reputation, he needed to be good this time. And generally, despite a touch of nervousness at points, he was. The Reaganite passages on aspiration and tenacity were particularly powerful, to such an extent that it was possible to glimpse the beginnings of a post-Obama winning message for the Republicans, if – and it’s a big if – they can shake off Donald Trump.
2) Whisper it… the Left loves Trump, for what he is prepared to say about the Republican Establishment. The insurgent candidate tore into George Bush’s record on security, even blaming him for 9/11 (which is like blaming FDR for Pearl Harbour). The people to blame for 9/11 were flying those planes and sitting in caves in Afghanistan. He also called Bush a liar on Iraq and WMD. This prompted a host of left-wingers, presumably watching the debate to rubberneck at the ensuing car crash, to declare that this Trump chap has a point. For once, tweeted Mia Farrow, Trump was right. Might Liberals for Trump catch on? Yes, if it helps Hillary or Bernie get to the White House.
3) The debate was gripping, at times in an awful way. As one observer put it on Twitter, the overall effect was akin to watching a family gathering gone wrong, at which it all comes out after decades of suppressed rage.
4) Trump’s temper is terrible and getting worse by the day it appears. His “liar” tirade against Ted Cruz managed the impossible, in that it elicted sympathy for the not particularly appealing Cruz. On almost every subject, Trump rambles and bellows like an annoyed person at a bar. On economics I could not make head nor tail of what the fellow was going on about. Even when Trump makes a kind of sense, as when he suggested that political reality requires a temporary deal with Russia to combat ISIS, it was done is such an unstatesmanlike manner that it sounded nuts.
5) While Ben Carson may be a nice man, as a political proposition he is extremely boring. His answers induce only sleep. By the end he was just burbling on in the corner. Who is still voting for this man?
6) Jeb Bush is still there and in this debate he performed well, getting under Trump’s (orange) skin and defending immigrants who want to get on. In this high tension election it was a brave and laudable intervention.
7) I want to warm to John Kasich, on the grounds that he has government experience as a respected Governor of Ohio and he tries to be positive. This time it just didn’t work for him. He ended up sounding like a naive teacher trying and failing to get the class to stop arguing.
Now, back to Blighty.