The Republican Debate Was Alternately Horrifying and Boring

All right, fine. This guy won. Are you happy?

All right, fine. This guy won. Are you happy?

I stand by my prediction from this morning: tonight’s Republican debate was all about fear. Candidates proposed war with just about every country we’re currently not friendly with, including Russia. They implied that terrorists and criminals were behind every rock and around every corner, ready to leap out and take everything we hold dear. They accused all refugees and Muslims and immigrants of being criminals or murderers or worse. It was a horrifying display.

Even stranger, tonight’s debate was a bizarre blend of deadly dull and horrifying—there was a point when the candidates were jostling over who would be most eager to kill innocent children that I felt an alarming blend of boredom and shock that I’ve never quite felt before. I guess you can get used to anything.

So if you’re still keeping track: Trump and Cruz probably “won” the debate, insofar as they projected their message of fear and hatred as clearly and as relentlessly as possible. Marco Rubio sweat it a little bit; he’s not going to lose his favored son status with the establishment, but a few Rubio fans might have walked away from the debate on shaky feet. Jeb Bush had the best debate of his campaign, but it won’t matter. His stammering closing statement was still ugly, and he didn’t make a case for why anyone should pass Rubio over for him. Christie was strong enough to pick up a point or two in New Hampshire. Rand Paul was about as good as he’s ever been, but it won’t help him at all, either. Kasich, Carson, and Fiorina all failed to justify their continued existence on the debate stage.

But really none of that matters. What matters is that the candidates didn’t discuss the economy at all. They barely mentioned climate change, or guns. They talked about Americans feeling unsafe, but they didn’t talk about any shooting besides San Bernardino. After a while, it turned into one long beige blur, intermittently anchored by a horrifying statement or two.

There’s only one more of these debates before the Iowa caucuses. This is a relief. I don’t know how much more of this acrid bile I can swallow before my insides get hollowed out.

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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.