Thursday night's Republican debate played not so much as a cage fight as an episode of "The Real Housewives." Which may be an insult to all those women involved in the Bravo franchise — they are, after all, paid to provide the public with the petty squabbles and diva moments that so many viewers find entertaining.
I kept waiting for someone to overturn their podium, to haul out the B-word and flounce off the stage in a maelstrom of ripped-off mics and "I'm done with this 'bleep'" invective.
Each of the four men on the stage in Detroit, on the other hand, were attempting to convince American voters that he should be the leader of the free world. That he could fix the seemingly insurmountable problems the various candidates have spent months describing, unite a divided Congress, reassure a discontented nation, and make the U.S. a country the world respects once more.
Instead, three of them spent most of the evening squabbling like a bunch of over-sugared second graders, using vocabulary that stopped just short, and I mean just, of "liar, liar, pants on fire," while the fourth occasionally stepped in to say he wasn't so much angry as he was disappointed.
Speaking, I have to believe, for all thinking Americans, Fox moderator Chris Wallace made a plea early on for something approaching civility if not actual policy debate. "Gentlemen, you have to do better," he said, barely audible in the din over the din of Sens. Marco Rubio and Ted Cruz uniting forces in an attempt to beat Donald Trump at his own game.
It was too late of course. Trump had already set a new standard for political discourse by answering Rubio's veiled insinuations about the businessman's small hands being indicative of, well, other parts of his anatomy.
"I guarantee there's no problem," he said, all but pointing to his crotch. "I guarantee."
Gentlemen, please, you have to do better than this.
But no, the point is, they did not.
For months, these candidates have accused the media of fomenting discord among them. And it's true that, when presented with a continuing mass of candidates so large and stubborn in their refusal to drop out that until recently debates were staged in two tiers, many of the moderators asked questions designed to have one candidate face off against the other.
The personal savagery with which the candidates did so, however, was up to them.
Having long ago rejected any traditional definition of pride, Trump entered this race with absolutely nothing to lose. Vitriol has long been his medium of choice and with the daring glee of a graffiti artist hanging over Mt. Rushmore, he used it to scrawl his name all over the campaign.
After Trump's victory on Super Tuesday, Rubio and Cruz decided it was time to get some spray tan, er, paint of their own. After a week of campaign trail taunts, they spent Thursday night meeting Trump insult for insult, interruption for interruption, accusation for accusation in front of a crowd so raucous it was impossible to believe an open bar was not involved.
Openly opting for the high road, Gov. John Kasich spent much of the evening in silence, stepping in now and then to remind everyone of his relative reasonableness.
They hissed, they squabbled, they pulled at each other's hair to the point that you could almost visualize "UnReal's" cynical producer gazing into a monitor with dollar signs in her eyes. And then, impossibly, when asked if they would support the Republican nominee no matter who he was, each of them said "yes."
Having spent three hours attempting to convince the American public that Donald Trump was a con man, an embarrassment to politics and, most important, a megalomaniac not to be trusted with our nuclear arsenal, Cruz and Rubio said yes, of course they would support him if he got the nomination. And Trump, who has spent months calling Cruz and Rubio losers, liars and morons, said the same.
Because as every "Housewife" knows, the show only works if, at the end of the day, everyone puts aside their differences and pulls together.
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