A note - Blogging isn't free. Right now I provide gifts to my writers as a way of thanking people for writing. I would like to be able to afford to give them some sort of renumeration, even if it is small, for making this blog what it is. I'm in talks with a friend who may be able to help connect this blog, which has been in existence for one year now, with more religious communities dedicated to interfaith dialogue. Your donation will do a lot toward making that happen.I got really in to the Republican Party debate this week. It wasn't because I'm about to be a conservative again - I have simply seen too much of life for that to ever, ever happen again. It was great entertainment - Trump was a bizarre goofball, Rand Paul was erratic and deranged (remember when he was up and coming? Not anymore!) and everyone else was a blend of bizarre anger and alienation. The only two who seemed somewhat presidential were Florida senator Marco Rubio and Ohio governor John Kasich.
Neither Rubio or Kasich are filling the sort of crowds Bernie Sanders is or getting the sort of money necessary to stand up against Trump's $4 billion. That means that Trump has it unless some sort of Republican establishment intervention happens, a move that would just further make conservatives appear confused and disoriented.
I used to be a conservative. I interned with conservatives in Washington D.C. I channeled that for this essay, which I wrote immediately after the debate to make sure enough of my old conservative was in the writing. I am a little more optimistic for the Republicans in this than I've been in the days since - they have way more candidates than the Democrats but Bernie Sanders has continued getting Obama level momentum with his speeches all while the Republicans are a strange spectacle albeit a large one. A progressive magazine I like didn't accept it, maybe because it got a little too in to it. Judge for yourself.
The August 16 spectacle of the Republican presidential debates was interesting indeed. The Republican Party has one strong strategic advantage over the Democratic Party – more candidates.
The main debate featured ten candidates, while ten others featured in a prior debate. Fox News correlated things according to popularity – Trump was given center stage due to his popular poll numbers. The time candidates were given likewise matched the candidates popularity – with Donald Trump at over eleven minutes and Rand Paul dead last.
Paul and Trump butted heads hard and, knowing Paul's background, it wasn't hard to see why. Paul is the son of Ron Paul, a very ideological libertarian who has organized his belief system along ideological principles for decades. For both Pauls, it's very clear: limited government, individual liberty and responsibility and a non-interventionist foreign policy.
Paul clearly puts a lot of effort in to maintaining his ideology, leading him to often be at odds both in front of liberals and conservatives. All that effort to remain ideological, didn't help as far as the first GOP debate was concerned – his debate time was the lowest of any candidate at only 5 minutes and 25 seconds. Paul seemed angry with outbursts aimed at Donald Trump over health care and his intentions as a candidate, Chris Christie over the Patriot Act and anger in his final comments aimed either at Fox News or the audience as he reiterated several times, citing all the media appearances he made in the build up to a presidential bid, “I've been to Detroit, I've been to Ferguson, I've been to Baltimore. I'm a different kind of Republican.”
Despite his tantrums, Paul is unlikely to really be remembered for anything in this first debate except for challenging Trump harder than anyone else. The rifts were intense – while talking about health care, Donald Trump said that he had supported a single payer health care system but didn't think Obamacare was ideal. This made Paul, a hardcore libertarian, explode with fury - “The Republican Party’s been fighting against a single-payer system for over a decade” and suggesting he may want to go off the stage. Trump retorted smartly, “You’re having a hard time tonight.”
Bernie Sanders tweeted in response, “Did @realDonaldTrump just support a national single-payer health system? Well. He was right on something. #DebateWithBernie”
Trump was a spectacle and a spectacle that did not stop shining during the night. John Kasich, the governor of Ohio, was the most complimentary, saying politely that Trump had tapped in to something among voters. Paul was the most flagrant in challenging Trump openly (Jeb Bush didn't come close, despite reports that he privately called him an asshole and had asked “What is with this guy?”) while Mike Huckabee made a clever wink wink hit at him towards the end, “It seems like this election has been a whole lot on a person who has been very high in the polls, who doesn't have a clue about how to govern, a person who has been filled with scandals and could not lead,” pausing before adding, “And of course, I'm talking about Hillary Clinton."
Despite the spectacle of Trump, other candidates did make themselves seen and heard. The most eloquent seemed to be Kasich, who put on an air of moderate conservatism by saying “the courts have decided” and “Just because someone doesn't think they way I do doesn't mean I stop loving them” when asked about same sex marriage, while Marco Rubio provided a stark contrast to the other prima donnas on stage by talking about the structural changes in global economy and how people working paycheck to paycheck live since Obama was elected. Rubio was impressively calm and collected and spoke in a style oddly like the presidential candidate Barack Obama did in 2008.
Of all the candidates, the only one who really seemed like he could realistically be seen in the Oval Office was Marco Rubio. Despite Trump's bizarre high poll numbers, Republican voters may see how high stakes are when the time toward actual nomination nears and pick a candidate who actually seems like he is concerned with policy and not being a walking reality show.
The first Republican debate was an interesting albeit bizarre spectacle, certainly. As much energy as they had, all the candidates seem deranged and watching them in action was a bit like watching an argument at a mental health clinic.
Progressives and radicals are wise to consider the dynamics there – Democratic candidate Bernie Sanders has a very powerful current of buzz around him but the only other candidates seem to be Joe Biden, Hillary Clinton and Maryland Governor Martin O'Malley. The Republican Party as a whole certainly has more momentum, even if it is strange momentum indeed.