Donald Trump Was the Dominant Chimpanzee at the GOP Debate

Here’s Jane Goodall talking about chimpanzee aggression:

I listened to this today because it reminds me of last night’s Republican debate. Those pundits who rank Republican debates for “winners” and “losers” are missing the point: Donald Trump is dominating these debates completely. At the opening of every debate Trump plays the music, and then the other candidates dutifully dance along to it. The debate two weeks ago saw Trump lead the way with attacks and bravado, and then every other candidate joined him in a brutal screaming match. Last night’s debate delivered a more subdued Trump who talked about issues and tried to seem presidential, and Rubio, Cruz, and Kasich mimicked him step for step.

Screen Shot 2016-03-11 at 12.45.47 PMExperts like Goodall will one day be able to examine these debates as a perfect example of primate dominance. Nobody else can “win” these debates because Trump “wins” them as soon as he walks on stage. He sets the rules, he creates a favorable situation for himself, and then he proceeds to meet the expectations he’s set. When you’re the competitor, the host, and the referee, odds are good you’re going to win the game.

At the same time, Trump’s more subdued tempo last night unveiled some fairly horrific facts about the field of Republican nominees. Turns out, when Republicans are not screaming their policies—when they’re saying them in a normal voice—everything is much more horrifying. USA Today, PBS NewsHour, and the Associated Press all published long lists of untruths and misconceptions shared by the candidates last night. It’s fair to say, I think, that absolutely no policy was un-mangled, from Social Security to Obamacare to Trump’s admiration of China. Trump’s refusal to disavow the violence at his rallies was perhaps the nadir of a pretty roundly low evening.

The primary narrative out of every single Republican debate has remained the same: the GOP is the party of exclusivity. They hate immigrants, Islam, women, Democrats, losers, welfare recipients, and pretty much any group you can think of except for rich white men. With every debate, another possibility for outreach collapses behind these candidates. And the ever-more-violent Trump rallies are the frightening physical manifestation of a party that hates anyone who is different.

This morning, my friend and former colleague Lindy West wrote a brilliant opinion piece for the New York Times about the propensity for Trump supporters to claim that their candidate says what they’re afraid to say:

It’s an odd construction. Once you say, “He says what I’m afraid to say,” and point to a man who is essentially a 24/7 fire hose of unequivocal bigotry, you’ve said what you’re afraid to say, so how afraid could you have been in the first place? The phrase is a dodge, a way to acknowledge that you’re aware it’s a little naughty to be a misogynist xenophobe in 2016, while letting like-minded people know, with a conspiratorial wink, that you’re only pretending to care. It’s a wild grab for plausible deniability — how can I be a white supremacist when I’m just your nice grandpa? — an artifact of a culture in which some people believe that it’s worse to be called racist than to be racist.

There’s no news out of last night’s Republican debate: Trump is winning a game of his own design; the party is pushing  away everyone who is not white, Christian, straight, and male; and we’re one more debate closer to a general election that will likely tip over into unprecedented chaos. In other words, it’s just another day in the primate house.

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Paul Constant
Paul Constant has written about politics, books, and film for Newsweek, The Progressive, the Utne Reader, and alternative weeklies around the country.