At last night's GOP slugfest, what emerged was not a platform but 10 candidates deflecting, fingerpointing, and demonstrating genuine fear of a Dem they've decided is our next president.
On Wednesday nights in the fall, I like to do one thing: tuck into a neat splash of Balvenie single malt Scotch, and turn on my American Horror Story. Yeah, I know the show takes weird, literally incredible and gross twists and turns—I signed on for all of them—but how Ryan Murphy and Brad Falchuk have catapulted us from that beautiful, hell-creepy Art Deco hotel in L.A. to a stage in Boulder, Colorado, I dunno … I am just going to have to take a leap of faith with them on this episode. It seems he’s making Kathy Bates’s Iris emerge from her suicide attempt to live in a worse purgatory than being the desk clerk at the blood-soaked Hotel Cortez by inhabiting the skin of Arkansas’s former governor and racist tweeter Mike Huckabee. And why is Denis O’Hare’s Liz Taylor wearing Rand Paul’s wig? Hooray! I thought Lily Rabe wasn’t going to be in this season’s AHS, but lo and behold, there she is, playing Carly Fiorina … wait, that really is Donald Trump.
Oh, crap. I am looking at the clock: My show isn’t on for another hour. I’m watching a different horror show, one that might even be too gruesome for Murphy and Falchuk to touch, this one on CNBC, with ten GOP presidential hopefuls scrambling hysterically on a sinking Titanic, wielding deck chairs in search of a dry and safe place to plant them. One of them sneaks away and jumps on a life boat by appearing to pull himself together as the least crazy, least combative, and most coherent—and that guy, is Marco Rubio.
Now let me be clear, he is not the least offensive. There is no such person up there. Donald Trump could be cast as Rubio’s anger translator, a la Key and Peele. When CNBC moderator John Harwood asked the Donald if he was running a “comic book version of a presidential campaign,” it was really a question that should be put to each candidate. Yes, Trump insists that the U.S. needs to build a wall across the Mexican border (hey, China did it and ours wouldn’t have to be so big), and get Mexico to foot the bill. “People say, ‘Oh, how are you gonna get Mexico to pay?’ A politician can’t get them to pay,” said Trump, “I can.” At least he’s honest about being delusional.
But how is that crazier than Rubio’s calm assertion that the mainstream media is a “super-PAC” devoted to protecting liberals? Or that the House Select Committee’s 11-hour interrogation of Hillary Clinton, led by Trey Gowdy, was anything but a fishing expedition? That it actually exposed Hillary as “a liar”? If it exposed anything, it was that the GOP couldn’t figure out what their angle was. As Rolling Stone‘s Matt Taibbi, who is far from being a Hillary fan, asked, “The overriding implication of the Benghazi hearing seemed to be that Hillary Clinton was so crass, unfeeling, and politically self-involved as to not care if members of her State Department were massacred. Hillary has a lot of flaws, but we’re supposed to believe that she doesn’t have a problem with dead Americans? Seriously?”
Rubio is a silent killer, like carbon monoxide. And he, not current front-running clowns Trump or the self-described volatile Dr. Ben Carson, is going to be the GOP presidential candidate next November. I hope to God not our president.
Look, I am by no means a policy wonk or political analyst. And perhaps being an outsider in this instance is an advantage and not a flaw for two reasons. For one, three of the ten people on that stage are not politicians—Carson, the brain surgeon who doesn’t believe in climate change, aside, lies even as he’s having the facts being flung into his face; Carly, who couldn’t answer why America should hire a CEO who was fired from the company she tanked; and of course, Donald, whose policies rely on his ego, and who is finally falling in the polls. The other seven are former and present senators and governors who blame the government for stealing money from Americans, while forgetting, it seems, that they are willingly employed by it, and are among the perps. And when backed into a corner, blame the mainstream media. And warn that a world with Hillary is far more terrifying than climate change (which humans have nothing to do with, by the way). At least they were all on the same page there. The rest of the time, they were ready to pull up sleeves and beat the crap out of one another, and the moderators for cutting them off.
This was the opposite of the Democratic debates, where even the worst of the five was at least engaged in a conversation, even as he whined about not getting enough airtime, where, as former Baltimore mayor Martin O’Malley said, “On this stage you didn’t hear anyone denigrate women, you didn’t hear anyone make racist comments about new immigrants, you didn’’t hear anyone speak ill of anyone because of their religious belief. What you heard was an honest debate of what will move us forward, to lead to a clean electric grid by 2050, and employ more of our people, rebuild our cities and towns, educate our children at higher and better levels, and include more people in the economic and social life in our country.”
So, no, I wasn’t watching politics play out on this stage. I was, indeed watching a horror show, of nine men and one woman fight, with no platform, no coherent plan for the future of our economy, our welfare, despite the debate being called “Your Money, Your Vote.” If you want to know more about their policies (or anything about them) each of them would say, go to their websites, which they constantly plugged as if they just discovered the internet. Or should I say, the World Wide Web.
They didn’t adhere to the time limits—not by a long shot—nor did they answer, or even seem to hear, the questions asked of them. Part of the blame goes to the moderators, who asked such inane questions as “What are your weaknesses,” and even a question about fantasy football. Then again the moderators’ job was unenviable, dispatched like new teachers into a classroom filled with entitled, rich kids whose parents have never taught them the meaning of “no.” And let’s be honest: The questions hardly matter. Candidates come with their own agendas—it’s not like any one of these contenders were listening. They had their mental teleprompters on and their gloves off. But, as The New Republic’s Jamil Smith tweeted last night to RNC Chairman Reince Priebus, who kvetched about CNBC, “Complaining about the referees is for the media, not the players. It’s a loser move, @Reince.”
I’ll say this much: Rubio kept his eyes on the prize. He shook off Jeb!, who told the young senator to do the job he was elected to do (Rubio has missed more votes than any of his running mates in the Senate), and used it as another opportunity to take a jab at both the media and the Dems (President Obama, Bob Graham, and John Kerry). Rubio came in ready for a fight, determined to leave there a winner. And he did. Not with a brilliant platform, but by appearing the most mediagenic among a stage full of blubberers.
But you know who is going to win the election next November? They do. They told us with fear in their hearts: that woman, that terrible woman who is more threatening and dangerous than melting ice caps and Iran and socialism and ISIS all rolled in to one. In other words, the GOP’s idea of a true American horror story.
It’s not just about the stories. Journalism is also about who is telling them.
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