Last night's CNN GOP debate, held at the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library, made it quite clear that the rules of political engagement have changed.
This presidential campaign, thanks to Donald Trump and his willing accomplices—other GOP candidates—is about retweets and the demise of respectability and responsibility.
We weren’t five minutes into the debate before Republican frontrunner, Donald Trump, hurled his first insult and this time it was directed at Senator Rand Paul.
“First of all, Rand Paul should not even be on the stage. He’s number 11,” Trump declared before he began to answer the night’s first question.
Paul, trying to remain unflappable pointed out just how “sophomoric” Trump’s insults are, slamming him for attacking other candidates personal qualities and looks.
But Trump couldn’t let Paul have the last word—his retort to the comment that he is sophomoric? “I never attacked him on his looks, and believe me there is plenty of subject matter right there,” he quipped.
While the audience seemed to eat up each of “The Donald’s” one-liners and meme worthy antics, the other 10 candidates tried desperately to turn the attention from the latest installment of the “Real Housewives of D.C.” to policy and issues.
Former Hewlett Packard CEO, Carly Fiorina was by all accounts the winner of the three-hour marathon debate. After the CNN rules were changed allowing her to participate on the main stage, she pulled no punches. When asked by moderator Jake Tapper to address the comment Trump made about Fiorina’s face saying, “look at that face! Why would anyone vote for that?”—Fiorina didn’t back away saying, "women all over this country heard very clearly what Mr. Trump said."
Fiorina continued to be the night’s star by going after Planned Parenthood. With regard to an alleged video showing Planned Parenthood employees discussing the sale of fetal body parts she went all the way in. "I dare Hillary Clinton, Barack Obama to watch these tapes," Fiorina said. "Watch a fully formed fetus on the table, its heart beating, its legs kicking while someone says, 'We have to keep it alive to harvest its brain.' This is about the character of our nation, and if we will not stand up and force President Obama to veto this bill [to end federal funding of Planned Parenthood] shame on us."
It was clear that Fiorina had put in some serious preparation for last night’s debate which was in clear contrast to Trump’s off the cuff style which has him responding to serious questions regarding national security with “I’ll just do it”, or “I’ll make the country rich again” while simultaneously plugging his book and his show The Apprentice. Fiorina’s clearly articulated responses made Trump look like nothing more than an infomercial huckster.
There were others that made their presence known. Former Arkansas Governor Mike Huckabee made it apparent that he is not so much running for President of the United States but rather President of the Kim Davis fan club. “We made accommodation to the Fort Hood shooter to let him grow a beard,” Huckabee said. “We made accommodations to the detainees at Gitmo — I’ve been to Gitmo and I’ve seen the accommodations that we have to the Muslim detainees who killed Americans. You’re telling me that you cannot make an accommodation for an elected Democrat county clerk from Rowan County, Kentucky?”
Former Florida Governor Jeb Bush, who really needed to perform well as his polling numbers keep trending downward came up short and stiff. Bush was positioned right next to the boisterous showman Trump that only made him look uncomfortable and rigid.
Bush came across as a first time politician—stumbling over his words, unable to drive any of his points home. His best remark of the night came when he came after Trump for putting his wife in the middle of the campaign. "To subject my wife into the middle of a raucous political conversation was completely inappropriate, and I hope you apologize for that, Donald," Bush said. "Why don't you apologize to her right now." Of course Trump declined.
Governor Chris Christie also tried to distinguish himself from the pack making a point during his introduction to have the cameras placed on the audience and not him because this upcoming election is about “ the people”. He worked overtime last night trying to paint his campaign as the anti-Trump, one that is invested in the American worker not showmanship.
“While I'm as entertained as anyone by this personal back-and-forth about the history of Donald and Carly's career, for the 55-year-old construction worker out in that audience tonight who doesn't have a job, who can't fund his child's education, I've got to tell you the truth. They could care less about your careers, they care about theirs," Christie said. "Let's start talking about that on this stage and stop playing -- and stop playing the games."
As he continues to lead in the polls, it seems that some Americans are moving further away from caring about substance and facts and closer to giving Trump the rose he's been looking for.
Watching this debate wasn't entertaining but instead a scary preview to who could be leading this country if we aren't vigilant—I for one am more than ready to vote someone off the island.