IN BOULDER THEY WERE; BOLDER THEY WERE NOT
In yet another manifestation of the Republican Party being trapped in an alternate universe of its own making as its chances of taking back the White House in 2016 diminish because of the black hole it has worked tirelessly to become, the party leadership and its feckless roster of candidates have now gone postal over presidential debates. The problem, of course, is entirely of their own making.
Debates by their very nature tend to be messy and transitory affairs and not necessarily an accurate portrayal of the state of a political party. The boob tube's harsh glare can be unforgiving, as Republican candidates were again reminded after the CNBC-hosted debacle last week in Boulder, Colorado.
The air of comity, if not outright we're-all-in-this-togetherness during the first Democratic debate on October 13 was an accurate snapshot of a party that is fairly comfortable with itself, holds the upper hand nationally, and shows no signs of letting go. The focus of the debate was on the economy, and the candidates did just that, often in spirited style, in advocating economic points of view that while differing individually were focused on closing a widening income gap to bring relief to the middle class as well as making Wall Street more accountable. All five candidates had an opportunity to look good, and for the most part they did.
Then there was the stench of animosity and rampant lying that stank up the last Republican debate, as it had the first two, which also was an accurate snapshot, in this case of a party that has lost its way. The most recent GOP debate also was supposed to focus on the economy, but most of the prime-time minutes were wasted on non sequiturs, bashing the CNBC moderators and the "liberal" media in general. Rather than focus on the economic needs of Americans, the candidates whined and whined some more. All 10 candidates had an opportunity to look good, but none truly did. The glib Marco Rubio was declared the winner because he "won" a fight over dirty linen with Jeb Bush.
Yes, the media does screw up sometimes, but it reports on realities inconvenient to politicians who routinely lie and distort. Like Ted Cruz, who led the Shoot the Messenger frenzy.
"The questions that have been asked so far in this debate illustrate why the American people don't trust the media," Cruz helpfully noted in a non-response to a question on the just-inked budget deal in Washington. "How about talking about the substantive issues the people care about?"
Okay, Ted, let's talk about substantive issues.
Like how about where you and your wannabe competitors are on growth, wages, and economic security? There wasn't a peep about that during the debate. Like where are you guys on regulating Wall Street? Ditto. What did happen was a mind-numbing discussion of fantasy sports websites, which included the news that Bush's fantasy football team is undefeated in league play even if his campaign is 0-3 in debates. There also was a shopworn call for cutting taxes, complaints that the government does too much to redistribute wealth to low- and middle-income Americans, and of course too little to help the rich, the same old-same old outdated and reality-denying bullcrap that the party has embraced since Ronald Reagan was president.
Meanwhile, Mike Huckabee has gone so far off the rails that he makes experience-free frontrunners Donald Trump and Ben Carson sound reasonable. Huckabee's contribution to the Booger in Boulder was to say he would cut health-care costs by curing Alzheimer's, diabetes, heart disease, and cancer.
Let's be clear the Republican line that the CNBC moderators were at fault is specious. CNBC is a Wall Street-friendly, right-leaning network. For the most part, their moderators asked tough but fair questions and pushed candidates to explain themselves when they gave substance-free answers, which they often did. The problem was that the moderators couldn't manage the candidates, who like a sandbox full of unruly youngsters, kept ignoring pleas from the grown-ups to behave, while some had even complained before the debate began about the quality of their green rooms.
All of the whining led to a ridiculous attempt at damage control by the Republican National Committee.
On Friday afternoon, RNC chairman Reince Priebus announced a divorce with NBC, the sister network of CNBC, for "asking leading questions" during the debate. Ohmygosh. Cutting ties with NBC News, and by extension Telemundo, which were partnering for a February 26 Republican debate, will backfire since nobody will be happy except the sand throwers. The move is another self-inflicted blow by the RNC, which under Priebus has been trying to make nice with the Hispanic voters many of its candidates keep alienating -- another symptom of a party that is at war with itself.
"This is nothing but a TV show wrapped in commercials, with the political candidates as the talent. Who is that serving?" harrumphed Doug Watts, communications director for the Carson campaign, of the debates, of which a masochistic 12 in all are scheduled, to the Democrats' more reasonable six. The debates have been ratings bonanzas, but a slo-mo disaster for the GOP, and it is likely the remaining debate schedule will be scaled back.
The divorce was followed by an emergency meeting Sunday night in suburban Washington to give Watts and advisers to most of the other campaigns another opportunity to whine while further while trying to leverage more control over upcoming debates. The campaigns drew up a list of demands, including opening and closing statements of at least 30 seconds; "parity and integrity" on questions, no so-called lightning rounds, approval of any graphics that are aired, and the right to cut out the RNC and negotiate directly with the networks, yet another sign of a party at war with itself.
The networks are likely to be at least somewhat accommodating because the debates are so well watched and they can charge premium ad rates. That certainly will be the case when GOP sock puppet Fox News hosts the next debate on November 10 in Milwaukee.
Finally, lets note that Hillary Clinton endured 11 hours of grilling the other day before the Benghazi Select Committee while this bunch of babies couldn't even endure two hours of questions that were, by comparison, responding for the most part with answers notable for their utter vapidity.
THE WAVE HAS BROKEN
I have been writing for years that a demographic wave is headed for the American electoral shore and the Republican Party will drown if it doesn't adapt. Well, the wave has broken and the party hasn't adapted.
Anyone waking from a long coma who watched the debates should have been struck by how progressive the Democrats seemed and how antediluvian the Republicans were by comparison, and that its failure -- no, make that determined refusal -- to welcome blacks, Hispanics and other minorities spells national electoral doom in 2016 and in the foreseeable future.
Democratic pollster Stanley Greenberg validates this view in America Ascendant, a new book arguing that Democrats shouldn't be afraid to advocate for "very bold policy changes" because of its emergent cultural diversity.
"A rural, white, married, evangelical, religious" Republican Party, Greenberg writes, is waging a "furious counter-revolution" to blunt the rise of a more diverse, liberal populace, but is actually working to further marginalize itself. "The Republican Party essentially exists -- particularly in the last decade-- to deny that new American majority the ability to govern based on its values."
This effort has alienated the party from many Americans, according to Greenberg, who says a GOP "implosion" is already underway.
A "shattering loss" for Republicans in 2016, comparable to Democrats 1984 loss which eventually gave rise to Bill Clinton's successful 1992 moderation, Greenberg argues, could lead the GOP's "embrace of immigration and the country’s diversity."
Now that would be a welcome development, but one that the Repubican Party's white nativist pitchfork brigade is not likely to take lying down. This in my view would inevitably lead to the emergence of a hard right-wing third party that would further marginalize the GOP.
SHED NOT A TEAR
Andrew O'Hehir in Salon:
"Watching Jeb Bush beached amid the flotsam and offal of [the] gruesome Republican debate on CNBC, looking less like a deer in the headlights than like some rubbery deep-sea creature out of its element, severely decompressed and struggling to breathe, I almost had an emotion. I'm not claiming that the GOP frontrunner who never was merits our pity or compassion, and I don’t want to default to clichéd utterances about how Jeb! seems like a decent guy despite his disagreeable positions and sinister backers. He doesn't, actually. Bush’s record as a capable administrator within the crocodile-infested swamp of Florida politics has been greatly exaggerated. If he were such a good guy, maybe he'd have walked away from his family dynasty and the political party it has perverted and done something useful with his life."
I found myself struggling with not dissimilar emotions at the depths of the George W. Bush presidency. I wanted to feel bad for the guy even as he dragged the country down because of a What Did I Do? cluelessness that always seemed to be lurking just below the surface. Jeb! comes off the same way.
This, I suspect, is a well-practiced boy Bush trait. I can picture Babs kissing their little boo-boos and drying their tiny tears when they were in knickerbockers. And I'll be damned if I'll summon even an atom of sympathy for the end of the Bush Dynasty, which may mercifully be at an end.
Politix Update is an irregular compendium written by veteran journalist Shaun Mullen, for whom the 2016 presidential campaign is his (gasp!) 12th since 1968. Click HERE for an index of previous Politix Updates.
IMAGE FROM DONKEYHOTEY/FLICKR. USED WITH PERMISSION.