What You Missed in the 12th Republican Debate

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Republican Presidential Candidates Debate In Miami Area
Thanks for the often terrifying memories. Photo: Joe Raedle/2016 Getty Images

For about an hour tonight, it looked like the final installment in this election’s completely bonkers series of GOP debates would be a letdown. Donald Trump was clearly out to prove that he’d be the most presidential commander-in-chief since Abraham Lincoln, and it seemed Ted Cruz, Marco Rubio, and John Kasich have given up. Rather than hurling childish insults at each other, the candidates engaged in a boring discussion on topics including Social Security, trade, and the economy. Afterward, Republicans patted themselves on the back for holding their most substantive debate yet, but as Vox explains, “the things the candidates actually said were, by turns, wrong, misleading, misinformed, confused, or ridiculous.”

Things got more entertaining toward the end, as the candidates bungled points about math and science, knocked the Trump pledge that’s been compared to the Nazi salute, and failed to condemn the reported incidents of violence at the front-runner’s rallies. Actually, “entertaining” isn’t really the right word. Let’s go with “alarming.” Here are the highs and lows.

Biggest Sign That the Republican Party Is in Trouble
Republican National Committee Chairman Reince Priebus kicked off the night by declaring, “I want to get something really clear, because there’s been a lot of talk about this. This party is going to support the nominee, whoever that is, 100 percent. There’s no question about that.” The fact that he felt that needed to be said does not instill confidence.

Most Surprising Revelation About Ben Carson
Shortly before the debate began, there were reports that Carson would endorse Trump on Friday morning. What we didn’t know is that Trump is “going to have Ben very involved with education, something that’s an expertise of his.” We just assumed Trump promised him surgeon general.

Shrewdest Argument Against Trump’s Claim That “Islam Hates Us”
Trump doubled down on his remark to CNN this week, saying “there’s tremendous hatred” coming from the Islamic world. When asked to respond, Rubio noted that many American-Muslims have fought and died for their country, and we need to be able to work with our Muslim allies around the world. And in case that doesn’t elicit sympathy from GOP voters, he argued that Trump’s attacks on Muslims are endangering Christian missionaries working overseas.

Proof That Rambling About Deals and Lawsuits Can’t Solve Every Problem
When asked to elaborate on his policy toward Cuba, Trump said he’d close the U.S. embassy in Havana, and “we have to make a good deal and we have to get rid of all the litigation that’s going to happen.” In one of his best debate moments, Rubio pointed out that doesn’t make any sense. “First of all, the embassy is the former consulate. It’s the same building. So it could just go back to being called a consulate,” Rubio said. “Second of all, I don’t know where Cuba is going to use, but if they sue us in a court in Miami, they’re going to lose.”

Best Argument Against Trump’s Hand-Raising Pledge, Aside From the Nazi Thing
Many people were disturbed by footage of Trump asking supporters to raise their right hands in a gesture reminiscent of the “Heil Hitler” salute, but that’s not what upset Cruz about Trump’s pledge. “I think that’s exactly backwards. This is a job interview,” Cruz said. “We are here pledging our support to you, not the other way around.”

Biggest Attack on Science
Rubio’s home state is being washed away, and the Republican mayor of Miami, who’s endorsed the senator, would like him to “acknowledge the reality of the scientific consensus about climate change” and “pledge to do something about it.” The noted non-scientist refused, as there’s “no law we could pass that would have an impact on that,” and attempting to do so would make Floridians’ electricity bills go up. Also, “America is not a planet, it’s a country.” You can’t argue with that logic.

Biggest Attack on Math
When Tapper pointed out that Kasich can only become the nominee if there’s a contested convention, he countered, “you know, math doesn’t tell the whole story in politics.” Then Trump said that whichever candidate has the most delegates should win because 1,237 delegates is an “artificial” and “random number” selected by some party big wig. It’s actually a majority, or half of the total number of delegates, plus one.

Most Frightening Response to Violence at Trump Rallies
When asked if he’s encouraging violence at his rallies, Trump said “I hope not, I hope not.” Then he went on to suggest that the alleged assaults at his event might have been justified because people come to his rallies with “tremendous passion and love for the country” and “an anger that’s unbelievable.”

That’s a pretty predictable response from Trump, but as New York’s Jonathan Chait notes, what’s truly disturbing is that the other three candidates basically agreed with him. Kasich pivoted, saying, “I worry about the violence at a rally period,” but people “are worried about their jobs.” Rubio said he’s “concerned about violence in general in this society,” which is why law-enforcement officers “deserve our respect.” The worst response came from Cruz, who said “we’ve seen for seven years a president who believes he’s above the law, who behaves like an emperor, who it is all about him and he forgot that he’s working for the American people.” So somehow people getting roughed up at Trump rallies is President Obama’s fault.

Biggest Sign Trump Is Suffering From That Memento Condition
In his post-debate recap, Trump called tonight’s affair “very elegant,” adding, “We needed this kind of a debate. We needed this kind of a tone.” If anyone can identify that un-presidential jerk who made a dick joke at the last debate, send Trump a note on Twitter.