early and often

What You Missed in the 11th GOP Debate

GOP Presidential Candidates Debate In Detroit
Two adults who want to lead the most powerful nation on Earth. Photo: Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images

With Donald Trump poised to become the Republican presidential nominee, Fox News and the remaining GOP candidates finally worked up the nerve to launch an all-out attack on his incoherent policies. Trump’s performance in Thursday’s debate wasn’t good, but at this point it probably doesn’t matter. We now live in a world where presidential candidates shrug off the formerly fatal sin of flip-flopping, repeatedly hurl childish insults at their rivals, and joke about the size of their penis. Check out the best and worst moments below (but let’s be honest: if you don’t want to see the American political process turned into a reality show, they’re all the worst).

Biggest Sign It’s Time to Send the Kids to Bed
Letting the children stay up to learn about how our democracy functions sounded like such a good idea. Then Donald Trump, a person who is likely to be the GOP presidential nominee, kicked things off by defending the size of his penis.

Best International Blame Shifting
Would Trump like to manufacture his clothing collection in America? Sure.

But countries like China and Mexico make it so cheap to move business abroad! In other words:

Photo: Frinkiac.com

Biggest Moderator Lie
As “Little Marco” and “Big Donald” engaged in taunts middle schoolers would find childish, Chris Wallace admonished them, saying “Gentlemen, gentlemen. You’ve got to do better than this.”

Best Pointless Appeal to Trump Supporters
Ted Cruz said he knows they’re “angry at Washington” and Trump “uses angry rhetoric,” but “for 40 years, Donald has been part of the corruption in Washington that you’re angry about.” He continued, “you’re not going to stop the corruption in Washington by supporting someone who has supported liberal Democrats for four decades, from Jimmy Carter to John Kerry to Hillary Clinton. You’re not going to stop the corruption and the cronyism by supporting someone who has used government power for private gain.”

That makes sense, but hasn’t Cruz read Trump’s hat? He’s totally going to make America great again!

Most Anticlimactic Donald Trump/Megyn Kelly Moment
No one tuned in to see Trump act like a mature adult.

Least Effective Trump Attack
In what some believe was an ambush, Kelly made the front-runner watch three video clips highlighting his egregious flip-flops. The question was engineered to send Trump over the edge, but he managed to survive by adopting a bizarrely calm demeanor, and offering a reasonable defense of flip-flopping. “You have to show a degree of flexibility,” he said. “If you’re going to be one way and you think it’s wrong, does that mean the rest of your life you have to go in the wrong direction because you don’t want to change?”

Greatest Achievement in Debate Moderating
It took a few tries, but eventually Kelly’s command of the facts about Trump University and her willingness to do her job (unlike some other networks’ moderators) produced the Trump freak out everyone was waiting for.

Biggest Admitted Flip-Flop
When Kelly noted that Trump called for more visas for highly skilled workers in the CNBC debate, while his website complains that would “decimate American workers,” he readily admitted that he’s changed his stance. “I’m changing it, and I’m softening the position because we have to have talented people in this country,” he said. When asked if he’s “just playing to people’s fantasies” on the issue, a tactic described in The Art of the Deal, he denied it.

Biggest Unacknowledged Flip-Flip
Trump said he would not allow the New York Times to release the audio recording of an off-the-record conversation in which he may have said he doesn’t really stand by his extreme immigration positions. Why? “I don’t think – I have too much respect – if I deal with you off the record, if I deal with Bret or Chris off the record, I have too much respect for that process to say, just release everything. I would not do that.”

As Rubio noted, Times editors would probably release the transcript if Trump asked them to. And it’s hard to believe that Trump has “too much respect” for the journalistic process when just a few days ago, he was talking about making it easier to sue media companies that write negative things about him.

Most Surprising Trump Response
When asked to name a few of the unspecified “best people” he says he’ll consult on national security matters, Trump actually came up with some names. “I think Richard Haass is excellent. I have a lot of respect for him,” he said. “I think General Keane is excellent. I think that there are – I like Colonel Jacobs very much. I see him. I know him. I have many people that I think are really excellent but in the end it’s going to be my decision.”

Most Misguided Threat
When asked about claims that the military would refuse to carry out illegal orders issued by President Trump, such as killing terrorists’ family members, Trump said, “They won’t refuse. They’re not going to refuse me. Believe me.” It’s unclear exactly what he meant by that (later he suggested he could convince officers to commit war crimes thanks to his superior leadership skills), but perhaps attempting to bully members of the military is a bad idea.

Most Confusing Moment for Millenials
John Kasich, who loves referencing all the conservative icons he’s encountered in his career, said: “I was there when Ronald Reagan rebuilt the military. I worked with him. I was there when Ronald Reagan rebuilt the economy. I was there, and I worked with him. I knew Ronald Reagan. And I’ll leave it right there with what comes after that. You can figure that one out.” Really? Kasich might be overestimating younger voters’ familiarity with the 1988 vice presidential debate.

Most Novel Way to End LGBT Discrimination
Kasich argued that on LGBT rights, “we need to learn to respect each other and be a little bit more tolerant for one another.” For instance, gay people keep suing business owners who deny them service, but they should try to be more understanding of others’ homophobic views.

Best Hippie-Bashing
When Cruz (aka “Lyin’ Ted”) condescendingly tried to get Trump to calm down by saying, “breathe, breathe, breathe,” Rubio asked, “When they’re done with the yoga, can I answer a question?” Cruz said he sincerely hoped they wouldn’t, and Rubio responded with another Trump jab: “Well, he’s very flexible, so you never know.”

Outstanding Mistake by an Ensemble
Expect to see this footage of everyone promising to uphold the GOP pledge to support the Republican nominee when Rubio, Cruz, and Kasich refuse to endorse Trump, or when the Establishment blocks Trump’s nomination and he launches a third party bid.

BONUS: Most Awkward Intervention
During his post-debate interview, a visibly annoyed Trump informed Bill O’Reilly that he thinks he’s “become very negative.” Why? “I don’t know, you’ll have to ask your psychiatrist … I think you get a little carried away with yourself.”

What You Missed in the 11th GOP Debate