The Meaning of the Debate I Didn’t Watch

2016 Republican Presidential DebateI guess the big news from last night’s debate is that there isn’t any big news. Ed Kilgore provided a great overview of the whole thing in six parts: one, two, three, four, five, and six. But at the end of the second part, he wrote, “Hard to believe there’s another hour of this!” That was just what I thought at the end of the first hour of the Monday forum. And you can see the effect. The later live blogging is less dense, because it all becomes so exhausting. The main thing that comes out of it is that nothing big happened. In fact, reading it, the most consequential moment seems to be one of the few things I saw in passing.

The only real question for the debate was whether Trump was going to do something that really damaged his standing. As I see it, that could have happened in two ways. He could have been caught flat footed and said something that was stupid even by the standards of the Republican Party base. Or he could have been too staid and non-Trump like. Well, he seemed to avoid that. What’s more, The Toronto Star reported, Donald Trump Hogs Airtime at GOP Debate. They noted that, “No clear winner in debate of top 10 Republican candidates for US presidential election, but front-runner Trump kept focus on himself.” Indeed. The Washington Post provided the times. Trump got ten and a half minutes. Bush got less than nine. And the rest all got less than seven — Rand Paul only five!

If you read this blog with any frequency, you cannot be surprised to learn that I think this is all hooey. Regardless of who the Republicans nominate, he will win the general election if the economy tanks. And regardless of who they nominate, he will lose if the economy stays strong. But that’s just an overview. The candidates do matter on the margins. And Democrats have a built in advantage. All else equal, they will win presidential elections. And the worse the Republican candidates, the better it is for the Democrats. So I am interested in what the Republicans are doing to themselves. And I think that it is great for the country — but awful for themselves.

Just after the debate, Brian Beutler wrote, The Republican Party Can’t Escape Its Past. In the article, he noted that the fundamental problem is that the Republican Party has not gotten over Romney’s infamous 47% video. That was where he said that 47% of the people took no responsibility for their lives. This was based upon the fact that they didn’t make enough money to pay federal income taxes. It was an extremely vile thing to say. The problem with it is that the Republican Party believes that it’s true: 47% of the country are “takers.”

This isn’t just the politicians or even the base. The conservative media is totally behind the idea. This is ironic given that the listenership of conservative media is mostly angry people on Social Security and disability. They are the biggest single part of the 47%, but they don’t see it that way. It’s basically just a racist dog whistle: “those people” get it and they don’t deserve it. So is it any wonder that Donald “I’m very rich” Trump is so popular with the base?

But the rest of the party has a hard time countering him, given that what he says in blunt ways is all that they say more carefully. They can’t say, “Donald Trump is wrong about immigration!” They have to say, “Donald Trump is wrong to talk about immigration in that way.” It isn’t the same. In fact, it sounds bad to base voters who think that the only thing wrong with politics is that politicians won’t “tell it like it is.” So it doesn’t look like the debate changed much of anything. And that’s great for the Democrats.

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About Frank Moraes

Frank Moraes is a freelance writer and editor online and in print. He is educated as a scientist with a PhD in Atmospheric Physics. He has worked in climate science, remote sensing, throughout the computer industry, and as a college physics instructor. Find out more at About Frank Moraes.

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