Dearly beloved, we are gathered here to say our goodbyes to the undercard debate.
It fought to valiantly until the very end, but reality was just too much for the little debate that just couldn’t.
It will be remembered for its moments—and its winner.
Sen. Lindsey Graham’s eye rolls and interruptions cracked up the crowd. He was self-deprecating—“by the end of this debate, this will be the most time I spent in any library”—even as he brought seemingly every question back to his favorite subject: radical Islam.
“I’m not worried about her attacking me,” the South Carolina senator said of Kentucky county clerk Kim Davis, who was jailed over her refusal to marry same-sex couples, at one point during the debate. “I am worried about radical Islamic terrorists here who are planning another 9/11. We’re at war, folks. I’m not fighting a crime.”
Regardless, gone was the sad, morose Graham of the first Republican JV debate. This time, funny and sarcastic Graham showed up.
The line of the night might have came when Graham referenced the virility of the late pro-segregation Sen. Strom Thurmond to make a point about the need for more legal immigration.
“Strom Thurmond had four kids after age 67,” Graham said, smiling. “If you’re not willing to do that, we need to come up with a new immigration system.”
Even the refs complimented Graham’s performance. “You’re having a good debate,” moderator Hugh Hewitt told him at one point.
When former senator Rick Santorum, in his angry, slightly petulant way, touted a bill he introduced eight years ago—before he lost his Senate seat by 17 points—Graham rolled his eyes.
“How many Democrats support your plan? How many Democrats did you have on your bill?” Graham asked as Santorum sputtered. “I can tell you, none.”
Santorum fired back, “The point is that I had a bill.”
“That went nowhere,” Graham finished.
The moderators did their best to pretend that the other Sixth Sense candidates were alive.
At times they sort of looked it.
In what is likely their final moments on an official debate stage, they tried valiantly to attract attention.
George Pataki, who was in attendance, boldly stated that Kim Davis should lose her job—and, of course, he was New York governor on 9/11. Santorum, who yelled most of his responses to questions, said Republicans should champion a minimum wage increase. Gov. Bobby Jindal, who did his best impression of high-energy candidate, talked about the evils of Planned Parenthood.
Everyone went after Donald Trump, of course, since that is basically part of the Republican debate contract at this point. Santorum was The Donald’s only defender.
But at the end of the day, the winner was Graham in a face-off he could not afford to lose. The debate served its purpose once again, highlighting a candidate who had not gotten attention in the first few months on the campaign trail—see: Fiorina, Carly.
But as the herd populating the “happy hour” debate stage has thinned—former Texas governor Rick Perry dropped out last week—it’s hard to believe this particular event has a lot of time left.
As for the candidates left behind this time, well, at least we’ll have the memories.
Santorum is survived by press releases touting his visit to every Iowa county, Jindal by low poll numbers as he wraps up his second term as Louisiana governor, and Pataki…by the fact he was governor on 9/11.