The Buzz

Instead of insult fun, the Republicans gave us a night of (delegate) math

These fellas mostly got along on in Thursday’s Republican presidential debate.
These fellas mostly got along on in Thursday’s Republican presidential debate. AP

For fifth grade boys across the country, it must have felt like Santa died Thursday night.

No digs at anybody’s manhood, or lockerroom-type boasts about anatomy. No one told to shut up. Not so much as a “you’re doing so bad in the polls even your mama’s voting for me” joke.

This was the Republican presidential field on its best behavior to date.

Gone were the rude interruptions, the “little Marco” and “big Donald” cracks, the suggestion that somebody use their indoor voice or manage their temper with a bit of yoga.

Rather, the field took an hour or so of prodding from CNN’s moderators before taking after each other. Even then, it was mild stuff by the standards of 2016. Does this mean we have to go back to watching “Real Houswives”?

Not so fast. This reality show still has some scraps to play out.

Top guy Donald Trump reminded us that he’s not afraid to paint the Muslim world — “I think Islam hates us” — with a broad brush.

John Kasich, the governor who must win his Ohio home on Tuesday or stay there to watch the rest of the race, argued America has an interest in not alienating 1.6 billion people in the world. Marco Rubio, likewise on the spot in his Florida base, suggested “presidents can’t just say what they want” without international consequences.

It’s an issue America hasn’t reached consensus on. Predictably, we see this through our blue and red lenses. Democrats largely want their president to be careful not to criticize the religion as a whole. Republicans are more eager for the commander in chief to “speak bluntly.”

Beyond the relative civility, the newsiest horse race development came from the candidates weighing in, if not with absolute clarity, on what should happen if none them win outright before their summer convention.

Trump, the guy with the most delegates, said the nomination should belong to the guy with the most delegates.

Party rules differ. Sure, they’re all about counting delegates. They’ve set the figure needed to win at 1,237. That’s half, plus one, of all 2,472 delegates. You might also call it a simple majority. Trump described it Thursday as an “artificial, random number.”

Ted Cruz, who has about three-fourths as many delegates as Trump and the most realistic chance to catch him, said folks had better look to him if they want to stop the New Yorker. “There are only two of us that have a path to winning the nomination, Donald and myself,” Cruz said. Cruz predicted disaster if the convention overturned “the will of the people” but left open the possibility that he could run second in the primaries and still walk out with a nomination.

That discussion got Google users curious, triggering the first spike in the search term “delegate” math in, wait for it, four years.

Whether Trump scores an outright primary win raises anxiety for some in the GOP. A Trump triumph puts other GOP candidates for lower offices in a bind. He doesn’t line up with with the party line. And polls suggest he’s more disliked than liked. By a long way. But if he enters the Cleveland convention with a plurality and leaves without the Republican crown, a large bloc of voters will be unhappy.

Meantime, Trump talked took credit for high turnout in the primaries and noted that Ben Carson, whom he mocked at length when the retired brain surgeon briefly passed him in the polls, was endorsing him.

Tone down your debate all you want. If you didn’t like the candidates going into Thursday, you woke up feeling the same way Friday morning.

Ana Marie Cox, she of the clever snark and former Wonkette fame, put together a debate scorecard for MTV that observed Kasich “will be remembered for being the first person to say ‘a battery can unleash an entirely different world’ who was not talking about sex toys. She called Rubio “a disgruntled sulk” who’s now apparently running for governor of Florida. Cox saw the Cruz candidacy as “Like Trump, but with more words.”

She noted that after the debate Trump called the night “elegant … which is how he describes any event during which he declines to describe his,” well, we remember too well. Her grade for the relatively subdued frontrunner: “A car dealership noodle when there is no wind.”

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Kurt Woerpel/MTV

Scott Canon: 816-234-4754, @ScottCanon