Well, that was all kind of...interminable. For a time there in the middle, I thought Ben Carson had strolled out to perform some elective surgery. I guess we kind of agree that Carly Fiorina won, since she did manage to convey some real or at least manufactured-real passion on about three or four occasions.
But you wanna know who really won that debate? Hillary Clinton. Go ahead, go ahead, laugh all you want. Yes, her stock is selling awfully low right now. Nate Silver says, accurately, that she is in a “self-reinforcing funk” right now and that there’s no obvious way out for the time being.
But consider. She is still the overwhelming favorite to be the Democratic nominee. She still leads the Republicans in a strong majority of the general election head-to-head matchups. And that’s after two horrible media months in which, by Silver’s count, she has endured 29 negative news stories while enjoying just one positive one. All that, and she’s still mostly ahead.
And being the Democrat, she has the Electoral College advantage that any plausible Democrat has these days because the GOP has just positioned itself too far right to win states that it regularly won back in the Nixon-to-Bush Sr. era. That advantage is either 257 electoral votes that tilt strongly Democratic, or 247, if you put Iowa and New Hampshire on the fence as, for example, Larry Sabato does. I do not, because those two states have both gone Democratic five of the last six times, which is trend enough for me. The comparable Republican number, the “natural” Republican Electoral College vote, is 206. If Clinton holds every state that’s gone Democratic in five out of the last six and sneaks by in Virginia, boom, Madam President. She doesn’t even need Ohio or Florida.
All that speaks to the advantages she still enjoys, even with the quicksand she’s been stuck in lately. But all that isn’t why she won the debate. She won the debate because these people are jokers. Donald Trump, come on. I mean, look: I’ve come to believe here lately that he’d be a better president than most of them in some ways. I could picture the Trump whom Jonah Goldberg detests nominating someone to the Supreme Court who is not a knuckle-dragger. But that doesn’t erase the fundamental and self-evident preposterosity of the idea of President Trump. He slipped Wednesday night. That moment when he said he’d know plenty about foreign policy in good time was embarrassing.
Ben Carson. Yes, he seems like a nice enough man. But he had nothing interesting to say. Carly Fiorina had good lines. She’s well prepped for these things. But if she actually did call “the supreme leader”—did you notice how she called him that, just like the quisling Obama does?—on her first day in office and change the terms of the Iran deal as radically as she suggested, Tehran would have a nuclear weapon in about four months. She was also well prepped on her Hewlett-Packard tenure, how to answer the disaster charge (she walked away with a $40 million parachute, by the way). But that doesn’t change the fact that it was bad, and not just because of the economy. Her Compaq decision, among others, had a lot to do with it. If we’re sizing up business people, she is less qualified than Trump.
As for the “serious” ones, Jeb Bush and the others, they are in their way even worse. Unlike the outsider triumvirate, they know actual facts about governmental policy, and yet they still persist in uttering this fantasy gibberish to assuage the hard right base. It’s one thing for Trump to say he can bully the Ford Motor Company in one day to keep a plant in Michigan. He probably truly believes he could. But it’s quite another for Bush to say his brother “kept America safe.” Yes, he did. Except for 9/11. Well, whatever. And what were those brainwashed idiots doing applauding that line? This is the kind of thing that only conservatives believe, because it’s just obviously not true, and everyone else knows it.
There were a few moments of quasi-reality. Rand Paul and John Kasich were sort of interesting on foreign policy, which we can assume hurt them badly. But basically, the whole thing was ridiculous. The jokers are ahead, and they haven’t offered a serious proposal among them. The allegedly serious ones are mostly just doing what Mitt Romney did, to his peril, in 2012, jumping up in front of the base saying, “See, I can be crazy right-wing, too!”
Meanwhile, Clinton has offered serious policy proposals one after the other. No Republican even comes remotely close, with the partial exception of Paul, who has been rewarded for his quasi-seriousness with what, 3 percent support. Compare, for example, Clinton’s tax proposal to Bush’s. Yes, they both want to end the carried-interest loophole for hedge-fund managers, which is the headline.
But look beyond the headline. In a July 12 speech, Clinton paired that announcement with a series of other steps that would do what eliminating the carried-interest loophole is designed to do: try to alleviate inequality. Bush, in contrast, tossed elimination of the loophole in there as a look-good sop in a package of tax proposals that otherwise will exacerbate inequality and continue the party for the 1 percent that his brother so diligently advanced.
I could go on, and on. But suffice it to say: Clinton is putting forward policy after policy that address America’s great problems. These people are just making stuff up. Eventually, issues will matter. And voters will see what they saw in 2008 and 2012, two elections when Republicans couldn’t believe they lost to such a lightweight. In 2016, they’ll say we can’t believe we lost to such a corrupt blah-da-de-blah, and the answer will be the same as it was then: You people aren’t in the real world where most Americans live.
The best line of the night? Rick Santorum, at the JV debate. When he said his party is all about business owners but won’t talk to workers. The 11 on the main stage failed Santorum’s test, except with respect to government workers who feel their religious beliefs are being violated. Clinton passes his test, and by Election Day, it will matter.