Can you believe it’s the start of debate season already? It feels like just yesterday that Tim Pawlenty refused to attack Mitt Romney on stage (Obomneycare!), prompting him to lose the Iowa Straw Poll to Michelle Bachman and thus be driven from the race before even a single caucus or primary. Right? Wasn’t that exciting? Right?
But for real, we’re getting not one, but two GOP debates tonight. Of course there’s the main event, your top ten serious contenders, your Jeb Bush, your Donald Trump. But we’re also getting a second debate, a who’s who of barely registering in the national polls. Remember Rick “I can’t name three federal agencies” Perry? He got bumped to the B-stage! George Pataki is debating! Ha! And Rick Santorum too!
It’s a lot. Sixteen viable candidates. One stage. (And then one much smaller stage at five o’clock, when nobody is home from work yet.) How are you supposed to make sense of it all? Don’t worry, I’ve got you covered. Here are 4 things to look out for in tonight’s debate(s).
1. Tea Party Speak
It’s been five years now since the start of the Tea Party, and what do we have to show for it? Well, I guess it’s a part of the mainstream now, because we’ve got like, what, three? Four official Tea Party candidates? Wait, what’s an official Tea Party candidate? There’s Rand Paul, and Marco Rubio, and Ted Cruz. Are they officially Tea Party?
It turns out it’s not that easy. See, there’s no official Tea Party. In fact, the Tea Party isn’t really a thing, so much as it is a state of mind, or a general feeling of discontent. Are you pissed? You might be Tea Partying. Do you feel like the government is all up in your business? That’s another giveaway. Do you ever wake up in the middle of the night in a cold sweat, blurting out words like, “Liberty! Constitution! Freedom!” I mean, like I said, there’s no official diagnosis, but all signs point to a classic case of TP.
It’s much the same way with politicians. No one seriously seeking the presidency will admit to being a Tea Partier, but you’re going to hear an awful lot of talk about “founding principles” and “patriotism.” It’s all a way for Tea Party candidates to talk to Tea Party citizenry without actually putting on a tri-corner hat festooned with teabags. Keep your ears sharp for this right-wing doublespeak.
2. Outrageous Claims
Let’s face it, even on the elite stage, there are still ten people all vying for the spotlight. Even if camera time were distributed equally amongst the candidates, that would only amount to something like four or five minutes per person. And of course the time isn’t weighted equally. For example, if someone like Donald Trump wants to keep talking past his allotted time, do you think a blinking yellow light is going to be enough to make him zip it? Unlikely.
Which is why each Republican hopeful is going to try to maximize what precious airtime they manage to squeeze out of this debate. One surefire strategy to garner a lot of attention is to look straight in the camera and start speaking crazy. I’m talking wild promises here, anything to get the based riled up enough to maybe consider voting for you come primary day. Or at the very least they’ll hope to get some name recognition. (John Kasich? Never heard of him.)
So just as you had Mitt Romney four years ago making proclamations like, “I pledge to repeal Obamacare on day one,” you’re going to hear a lot of similarly unrealistic promises. Mike Huckabee is probably going to vow to ban gay marriage via executive order. Ted Cruz might challenge the Ayatollah to a bare-knuckled boxing match. You might say, “That’s crazy!” and that’s the point. Crazy sticks out, and for Republicans, crazy is a trait widely seen as admirable.
3. Jeb Bush Is Going To Be Really Boring
What’s Jeb Bush really going to be able to do here? The answer is nothing. It’s because Jeb Bush is boring. He’s Mitt Romney 2.0, the establishment Republican candidate financed by established Republican money. In fact, that’s all he has going for him at this point, just millions upon millions of campaign dollars. And that’s it.
Have you ever met anybody that’s genuinely excited about Jeb Bush? No, of course not. And I’m not just talking about your typical liberal circle-jerk here, call up your crazy Aunt Joan, see what she thinks about Jeb Bush. “Well,” I can here her saying now, “I don’t know. He’s no Sarah Palin.”
Jeb Bush is going to get up there and spout your regular boring Republican platitudes. He’ll talk about the right to rise, he’ll say stuff to try to backtrack from his, “I don’t think women need half a billion dollars in health money,” remarks, and he’ll walk away without having really done much of anything on stage. But he’ll still raise close to a billion dollars, and so he’ll be in this thing for a while yet. But if you don’t want to fall asleep during the debate, do yourself a favor and press the mute button whenever the cameras cut to Jeb.
4. Donald Trump
What can you say about Donald Trump? He’s leading in the polls. He can make outrageous claim after outrageous claim, and his poll numbers only seem to rise. People said he wouldn’t run. Nobody really took him seriously. And yet here he is. At this point, he’s like a force of nature. He commands the vast majority of the media spotlight, and he’s forced every other GOP candidate to participate in his game of who can shout louder. There’s no predicting what he will or won’t say. Which is really the only reason why anyone is going to watch tonight’s debate.
Much like a supermassive black hole at the center of every galaxy, Donald Trump is bending the entire game to fall into the event horizon of his unorthodox campaign. What will Donald Trump say? How will the other candidates try to pin down Donald Trump? Who’s going to challenge the Donald? Go ahead and check any news web site right now. I promise you that every debate article will be framed around Trump.
Which is why this is all so entertaining to watch. The Republicans don’t like Trump because he represents everything that they truly are. They have no problem flirting with racism and xenophobia, but they’ve never had a mainstream candidate actually get up on stage and call Mexicans rapists. Now that Republican voters are all jazzed up, the regular politicians are trying to scale back, as if they don’t have any role in whipping their crazies into a frenzy.
The fact is, Donald Trump is the candidate that the GOP deserves. Because why beat around the Bush? (haha) Seriously, why not just get out there and say what you really mean? That’s what Trump is doing, and he’s crushing it. He’s exposing the Republican Party for what it really is. And that alone is worth watching.