The best Republican debate of the year was also the last. It confirmed what we’ve all been thinking: the central question in this election is what you think about businessman Donald J. Trump. He’s catapulted to the top of the national polls and many state polls despite having never held office and uttering comments offensive to women, Mexicans, Muslims, and John McCain. None of the previous debates have stopped Trump’s momentum and I don’t believe this one will either. He’s an unpredictable, turbulent, occasionally charismatic force. Where his campaign goes will be the story of the election, even if he loses (or foregoes) the Republican nomination.
The speed with which prominent Republican officials and conservative spokesmen condemned Donald Trump’s proposal to ban Muslims from entering the United States revealed the true stakes in the 2016 election. The future of the GOP as we know it is in question—not the party’s political future but its ideological one. Donald Trump’s candidacy is already intensifying party divisions. Nominating him would alter the character of the Republican Party in a fundamental way.
Anyone who spends time on social media will have encountered one of those posts in which the writer uses a life cycle event to expound on how wonderful his family and, by extension, he is. The occasion of a spouse’s birthday, or of the birth of a child, triggers an outpouring of sentimental and bathetic pap meant to demonstrate the depth of feeling, the trueness of heart, the purity of intention, the nobility of status possessed by the writer.
They’re not kidding when they say it’s difficult to hold the White House for three terms in a row. So much depends on the incumbent: Is he deemed a success or a failure? Is he loved or derided? The candidate seeking to replace a president of his own party is betting the country doesn’t want to change. Bush 41 bet correctly—in 1988. Al Gore and John McCain did not.
The winner of the atrocious CNBC debate was Dr. Ben Carson. He came into Boulder on the upswing: taking the lead in Iowa polls and in one national poll, doing well in fundraising, and connecting with enthusiastic crowds. Nothing happened on stage to slow his momentum. Indeed, nothing happened at the CNBC debate to change …
Rumble in the Jungle this was not.
On one side: Paul Ryan, who said he’d only run for speaker of the House if Republicans were unified, open to reforms, and respectful of his family life. On the other: the House Freedom Caucus, which had influenced John Boehner’s decision to retire and Kevin McCarthy’s withdrawal from consideration. The Freedom Caucus had a reputation. Combative, aggrieved, empowered.