Presidential candidate debates from two political parties last week demonstrated a world of difference.
It was the best of times, it was the worst of times. In the first of two presidential candidate debates last week softball questions gently thrown by Fox Business facilitators turned into a knock-down, drag-out fight among seven GOP candidates. Donald Trump came out on top, Marco Rubio failed, and all the others except Ted Cruz disappeared. Several of them complained about the lack of release of ten sailors who were released the day before, after only 16 hours.
The “big time” GOP debate began with bashing the President of the United States. Cruz accused President Obama of “betrayal,” and Chris Christie described him as “a petulant child” before he claimed he would kick his “rear end out of the White House.” Rubio charged that the president “doesn’t believe in the Constitution.” Then they battered Hillary Clinton, who Jeb Bush described as “just a disaster.”
The real fight, however, started as Bush talked about “backbench senators” and Trump’s “unhinged comments” and Rubio attacked Christie as a liberal. Then they got serious, delving into birther and flip-flopping accusations toward their candidate colleagues. GOP solutions were more guns, more income inequality, and more anger and violence. Marco Rubio actually said that everyone needs to buy guns because ISIS is coming to your house.
Both debates took place in South Carolina where black people comprise 27 percent of the population. Both debates occurred the week before Martin Luther King Jr. Day and were staged just one block from the historic church where a white man killed nine black people during a prayer service less than seven months ago. Yet the word “black” was uttered only twice among GOP candidates: black lung and black market. Also missing during the GOP debate was any reference to issues of specific concern to over half the population—women. The result was a pack of jackals in a cage where they were tossed red meat from laissez-faire moderators and wild audience applause.
Recent presidential debate moderator Hugh Hewitt, however, managed to even out-bizarre the GOP candidates. In talking about positions espoused at the GOP debate, Hewitt said:
“Fact checking doesn’t matter in these things. What matters is personality, an aura and your command presence. And of all those two, the best command presence last night was Donald Trump and Marco Rubio. And I keep marveling at how Donald Trump can dominate a television screen.”
The fact-free zone of GOP presidential campaigns is not new: Mitt Romney used this style against President Obama in 2012. It’s just that Republican pundits now admit that their candidates are welcome to make up anything that they want on the spot, leaving the audience misinformed rather than just ignorant. Jeb Bush explained he knew Clinton was going to be indicted because “I only get my news from Fox & Friends, so that’s all I get.”
The fact-free approach has become so blatant that full-time fact-checking would result in volumes rather than articles. They even lie about falsehoods easily checked, for example Cruz’s answer to a question about his not disclosing a $1 million loan from Goldman Sachs, his wife’s employer at the time, for his 2012 campaign. He first talked about how hateful the New York Times is and then launched into pretending he had done so. The problem was Cruz’s failure to list any bank loans on his FEC report. All his publicity about how he and his wife had scraped the bottom on their financial barrel to fund the campaign was bogus. So was Chris Christie’s claim that he didn’t support Sonia Sotomayor for Supreme Court justice, a claim disproved by a New Jersey Star-Ledger headline.
Even Mitt Romney is disgusted with the candidates. He called the Republicans “nuts” for not raising the federal minimum wage, something he calls part of GOP orthodoxy. “As a party, to say we’re trying to help the middle class of America and the poor and not raise the minimum wage sends exactly the wrong signal,” Romney said. None of the GOP candidates pays attention to Romney, however, some of them suggesting that this wage should be $0. Fiorina thinks that the law is unconstitutional.
Rand Paul boycotted the “also-ran” table, but Carly Fiorina tried to carve out a place for her by abandoning her promise to make no personal comments about Clinton. Fiorina’s attack: “Unlike another woman in this race, I actually love spending time with my husband.” Mike Huckabee wants to train poor people as if they were dogs. The comments just came coming.
“Politician turned reality show star endorses reality show star turned politician.” That’s Ari Melber’s response to Sarah Palin’s endorsement of Donald Trump. The newest NBC/WSJ poll shows that almost two-thirds of Republican voters could vote for Trump, an increase of 42 percent in the past ten months from 23 percent to 65 percent. The same NBC/WSJ poll shows that 42 percent of voters view the GOP less favorably compared to 19 percent who like it better.
University of Massachusetts PhD candidate Matthew MacWilliams conducted a poll to determine what lies behind the “Trump phenomenon.” His research showed that education, income, gender, age, ideology and religiosity had no significant bearing on a GOP voter’s preferred candidate—only authoritarianism trailed by the less significant fear of terrorism. Authoritarians obey, rally to, and follow strong leaders while responding aggressively to outsiders. Trump promised to “make America great again” by building a wall on the border and closing mosques through iron-fisted solutions to sometimes manufactured dismay, agitation, and fear.
Writer Rick Salutin compared Trump’s rise to that of European dictators in the 1930s. Trump’s favorite word is “strong”; Chinese and Japanese are “killers”; and the nation has been lost because of “stupid,” “weak” leaders. Trump mocks opponents’ weakness through “low energy.” According to Trump, the growing economic inequalities affecting whites comes from non-whites who are poised to become the majority within the U.S. The unchallenged occupiers at Malheur National Wildlife Refuge (OR) are prime examples of “Trumpers”—trigger-happy, anti-Islamic, and power-hungry. Trump doesn’t need a platform of informed policy because of his “patriarchal self-proclaimed omnipotence.” Like Hitler, Mussolini, and Franco, Trump knows the value of “spectacle and incendiary propaganda” appealing “to emotion, not reason.”
“Those who say a Trump presidency ‘can’t happen here’ should check their conventional wisdom at the door. The candidate has confounded conventional expectations this primary season because those expectations are based on an oversimplified caricature of the electorate in general and his supporters in particular. Conditions are ripe for an authoritarian leader to emerge. Trump is seizing the opportunity.”
Even if Trump doesn’t win the primary, he has poisoned GOP campaigns. Benjy Sarlin wrote:
“Trump has defined the Republican primary and the debate showed just how far he’s shifted the conversation. His rivals — even the supposedly more moderate candidates running on their appeal outside the party — are adopting a darker tone, more bellicose rhetoric, and shifting their positions to the right as the contest continues.”
Another reason for the possibility of Trump becoming president is ignorance. Jimmy Kimmel honored MLK Day in his Lie Witness News segment to interview people what they thought about the announcement that Martin Luther King, Jr., who was murdered in 1968, was endorsing Donald Trump.
One woman answered, “I figure if he’s going to endorse Donald Trump for president, then maybe he thinks he will be a good president,” one woman said. Some people thought King should have voted for President Obama, and others believed were surprised when they were told that King didn’t vote for Barack Obama, and others thought that Malcolm X and Hillary Clinton vacation and play golf together at Martha’s Vineyard.
In the Democratic debate, two leading candidates and one polling at two percent argued about how to improve the country. Bernie Sanders is mad at the system, wants universal healthcare, and doesn’t get paid by Wall Street for speeches; Hillary Clinton wants to improve the health care law, thinks that Sanders doesn’t fight enough for gun safety laws, and supports President Obama’s policies. Martin O’Malley complained about not getting enough questions. Discussions were intense as they criticized each other’s positions, but the event was nothing like the free-for-all cage fight of the GOP candidates just three days earlier. It was the “best of times” because it was opposite of the GOP debate.
Now we’ll wait for the first primary results after the Iowa caucus on February 1.