Carly Fiorina projected herself as Margaret Thatcher. Jeb Bush projected himself as mostly ineffective. Ted Cruz, Marco Rubio and Donald Trump argued with one another like junior high school kids who think they’re the smartest ones in the room.
Yes, it was another entertaining debate of the GOP’s best and brightest. You know, the people who are vying to be the next leader of the free world.
One indelible image of the night came during the junior varsity debate among the five men who are clinging to something other than rational ambition. Their poll numbers continue to anchor the lowest region of the charts. The topic of the evening in both debates — foreign policy, national security and what to do about Islamic State terrorists — was certainly in Sen. Lindsey Graham’s wheelhouse. The topic actually is the only thing in Graham’s wheelhouse, and one of the evening’s most surreal moments came as he reiterated his main theme. The U.S. has to go kill the terrorists before they come over here and kill every one of us, he exhorted time and again. He delivered that line once more with a squeal and a vertical bounce for emphasis. Like a manic jack-in-the-box, that is.
The Las Vegas debates probably did little to move any candidate’s needle before the turn of the year and the coming of the Iowa caucuses.
It’s hard to see Bush advancing in the polls after another inconsistent performance. He scored a few darts against Trump — “you can’t insult your way to the presidency,” he said in some form more than once, perhaps making his speech writers proud. But then he fumbled the landing with a wandering and squishy closing statement.
Cruz and Rubio both probably solidified their positions as viable challengers to the leading man, Trump. Yet each exposed weaknesses of the other that they will have a hard time explaining.
Trump’s continued ploy of bluster, egotism, detail avoidance and shallow one-liners surely will soon begin to take its toll. Surely? Trump’s inherent negativity — we’re all a bunch of losers — will certainly, eventually undermine his projection that only under his administration can we win again. Whatever winning means.
And Ben Carson continued to curry the notion that he is wholly unqualified to lead the nation in this time of peril and need.
Ultimately, no one can argue that this spectacle of a presidential campaign hasn’t made 2015 a rather special, if not depressing, year in American politics.