In a feat of stupidity, boredom, or perhaps fun making quips with my beloved wife, I watched almost all of the Republican debate last night. As I wrote in my last debate post mortem, I am much less interested in the horse race aspect than in the larger, deeper things the debate illuminates.
At the very least, it revealed, yet again, the negative orientation of the conservative movement. The candidates were practically frothing at the mouth over things they were against and wanted to destroy: Barack Obama, Planned Parenthood, the Iran nuclear deal, the Affordable Care Act, etc. They were all pilloried mercilessly, and there were many repeated promises to attack these things on "the first day in office." Ted Cruz in particular seemed obsessed with "forcing" the president to bend to his will in a way that speaks to some really deep seated hatred on his part. Cruz also outdid everyone by going after John Roberts, a conservative who orchestrated the destruction of the Voting Rights Act, which apparently wasn't good enough for old Teddy boy. Perhaps he would prefer to resurrect the corpse of Roger Taney so the court could once again have a "true conservative" as chief justice.
Speaking of resurrecting corpses, the debate further illuminated the transformation of Reagan into the Lenin of the Right, a secular god or saint who must constantly be praised and bowed down to. Every candidate tried to associate themselves with the Gipper, which was ironic considering that: 1. They gnashed their teeth over amnesty, which god Reagan himself had granted, 2. Many proclaimed the War on Drugs to be a failure, a war Saint Ronnie had prosecuted to the utmost 3. They talked about Social Security as something in need of replacement when Reagan had raised taxes (treason!) to keep it solvent. Reagan's actual historical record has now become completely meaningless.
I may have said this before, but the debates have shown that the current Republican party has maintained its neocon footing when it comes to foreign policy, with Rand Paul the rule-proving exception. The others were enthusiastic about going to war in Syria, antagonizing Iran, escalating with Russia, building up the military, and "projecting strength." Of course, the assorted chickenhawks were too chickenshit to actually come out and say they wanted war, even if that would be the inevitable result of their policies. I do really wonder what all this bluster is for. When a bully like Chris Christie snorts and declares with such passion in his voice about being a "strong leader" I get the fear. If there is a new Republican presidency expect the Cheney/Rumsfeld/Wolfowitz agenda to be back in full force, even if its authors are too disgraced to hold any of the cabinet positions.
Last, but perhaps most importantly, last night revealed why neophytes and demagogues like Carson, Fiorina, and Trump are doing so well in the polls. This has less to do with voters being "fed up" than with the fact that their options within the ranks of established politicians are a bunch of uninspired dolts. They seem incapable of saying anything that doesn't come out as some kind of garbled talking point. Paul is a haughty pedant, Christie hated in his own state, Bush looks like his mommy made him be there, Ted Cruz is the guy you walk across the street to avoid in real life, Rubio often has deer in headlights moments, Kasich is about as exciting as tapioca pudding, Huckabee a Bible thumping bigot, and Walker is both disliked in his own state and comes across as a feckin' idiot. The reason Carly Fiorina, a failed CEO with zero political experience, looked so good is that despite her complete lack of time in office she is actually a smart person and not a goddamned moron. (The same goes for Trump and Carson. They are pretty ignorant, but they are not dumb, which in Carson's case goes without saying.)
Sure, Trump appeals to certain issues that matter to the base like immigration while exploiting some economic populism. However, I think his main appeal (like that of Fiorina and Carson) is that he seems like someone who is not either a dolt or a failure, and is capable of speaking like a human being, as awful and hateful a human being he is. I wish I could have laughed at last night's clown show, but the knowledge that one of those people could very easily be the next president makes me choke on my laughter.