The Surreal Republican Debate Scorecard

The only kind of grades these people deserve.

01.15.16 7:21 AM ET

Carly Fiorina

The human bobblehead made me wonder just how bumpy the road to Iowa will be, especially figuring her subtle but complete burn of the primary process—all she had to do was point out that the last two winners of the Iowa caucuses weren't on the main stage, but next to her. Went *there* by referencing Hillary and Bill's marriage—by comparing it to her second one. Talks like Aaron Sorkin’s idea of a female Republican candidate, forcefully and with random emphasis. Could get my vote if she teaches me how to use liquid eyeliner.

Style: B

Substance: D

Overall: Christmas air freshener in the clearance aisle.


Mike Huckabee

Jews! Old people standing on concrete floors! Main target audience: Republicans who think Ted Cruz is too immature to be president. Asked about domestic violence and gun control, he replied with a deep cut about an ATF boondoggle—surreal game recognizes surreal game. Wants to use the tax code to train dogs, or something.

Style: D

Substance: F

Overall: Curdled cheese grits.


Get The Beast In Your Inbox!
By clicking "Subscribe," you agree to have read the Terms of Use and Privacy Policy
Thank You!
You are now subscribed to the Daily Digest and Cheat Sheet. We will not share your email with anyone for any reason

Rick Santorum

Apparently so busy campaigning he can’t get his hair cut. Semi-mullet provides "party in the back" joke opportunities you will have to take on for yourself. Argued that promoting manufacturing jobs was a great way to solve global warming (I mean, if it existed). Un-conservatively proposed one job that government should take over from the private sector: snooping on its citizens. Really told off Bristol Palin and other single parents who are ruining America for everyone.

Style: C

Substance: D+

Overall: The last little bit of duct tape on the roll.


Ben Carson

Definitely his best debate, he even remembered to nap. Should he win, will be remembered for time immemorial as the president who expanded the War on Terror into the Comment Section Theater, because Internet trolls are Muslims, apparently. Talked about making his mom the Treasury Secretary so she could oversee tax policy and budgets, which shows a lack of understanding of the Treasury Department, tax policy, budgets, and possibly his mother. Bravely defended rich people from Democrats, noting that when things go wrong in our economy, “It’s not those evil rich people. It’s the evil government.” One wonders why people who think government is “evil” are always campaigning to run it. Oh, and “I just wanted to say I have a tax plan too, and many people like it.”

Style: C-

Substance: D

Overall: Sticky rice


John Kasich

Something something budgets Ohio. Still needs to do something with his large and spastic hands. Or, rather, he needs to do not as many things with them. Shamelessly pandered to the youth vote by name-checking Strom Thurmond, noting that when it comes to foreign policy, “it’s strength, but you’ve got to be cool.” Can’t stop doing his Jimmy Stewart impression.

Style: D

Substance: C

Overall: Zuzu’s petals, dried into dust



Marco Rubio

Someone upped his Adderall scrip and the bright but shy little boy we first met in 2010 is now a cocky adolescent, complete with overly focused eyes and curled lip. Busted into the Ted Cruz-Donald Trump wrestling match with a reference to interrupting Court TV, a rehearsed reference but so on-point I give it two snaps and a “what-what.” His energy got increasingly manic and paranoid (Obama is definitely coming for his guns). After a while I assumed it wasn’t Adderall but maybe he was snorting rails off the podium—eventually we’d come back from commercial to find him in a dark closet stuffing socks in the crack under the door. Managed to poke a few holes in Cruz but only after Trump had softened him up. Used his closing statement to advertise ventriloquist skills: “Now as I travel the country people say what I feel.”

Style: C+

Substance: D

Overall: Adult acne medication


Chris Christie

Nothing says “maturity” like calling the President a “petulant child,” then threatening to kick some ass. Got asked a question about bridges but not the one he should have been asked. And, in fact, turned a question about how to build public infrastructure into a riff on re-patriating corporate profits. Dinged Cruz and Rubio for having a “Senate floor debate” because I guess that’s even less dignified than a GOP primary? Rubio tried to jump in and Christie really zinged him: “You already had your chance, Marco—you blew it.” Clearly, Putin would wither into a tearful, quaking mess if he had to face that kind of skillful wordplay! Overall, I think our major diplomatic weakness is a deficit of schoolyard taunts and really forceful pointing. Was disappointed when the audience failed to join in, Rocky Horror-style, once Christie began the phrase, “I was a prosecutor on…”

Style: C+

Substance: D-

Overall: Bacon about to go bad


Jeb Bush

Is beginning to physically fade from the stage, like Marty McFly. It’s as though his mom and dad only had one child who was meant to become president! Tried to get some knocks in against Obama, saying “the idea that somehow we’re better off today…is totally an alternative universe,” which is pretty fancy string-theory talk for someone who’s not sure about evolution. Has gone from attempting to out-bully Trump to politely suggesting, “I hope you’ll reconsider.” No record remains of his actual appearance, check the video, I promise you he’s not there.

Style: N/A

Substance: ?

Overall: Sasquatch


Ted Cruz

Is gonna regret going up against New York, but not before he wrings every last dime of donations from the banking industry he can. Claims not to have seen It Follows, but I bet he has. Called his lack of disclosure about a million-dollar loan from Goldman Sachs a “paperwork error,” which sounds innocuous enough except “a paperwork error” is what put Al Capone in jail. Was so fully prepared to answer questions about his citizenship he literally made out with Maria Bartiromo for a few minutes before getting started, and then sent her flowers. It ended badly, though, because she asked him about New York values. Silly girl, a “New York value” is when an investment bank gives you a low-interest loan! Is going to be a “commander-in-chief who is focused like a laser”—a laser beam with a shark attached. If you lived here, we’d be at war with Iran by now. Bragged about having his tax plan endorsed by Arthur Laffer and sorry I can’t top that.

Style: C

Substance: C+

Overall: A paper cut


Donald Trump

Despite bickering, Trump and Ted Cruz actually have lots in common, including having faces that look like they could be pulled off to reveal a true identity. Trump’s phrasings remain a master class in unartfulness. “Where are the women?” he wondered at one point, I’m pretty sure not for the first time, nor the last, “Where are the women?” Gracefully accepted “the mantle of anger,” but might return it if it clashes with his tie. Gave us heretofore unforeseen insight into his friendships, which include Muslims and tractor-buyers; both groups support high tariffs and bans on immigration. (I think we might really be talking about one rich Muslim with a hobby farm.) Said there was a “question mark over Cruz’s head,” but really should not be one to talk. As he put it later: “I want to use that same ‘up here’”—he pointed to head—“whatever it may be, to make America great again.” Indeed. If he can put the science behind his hair to work for America, well, anything is possible.

Style: A+++++


Overall: Unlicensed “I [heart] NY” T-shirt, stained with gravy and tearing at the seams.