DETROIT — Thursday’s Republican presidential debate made us all dumber.
It was a disgrace. As people wake up in capitals around the world Friday morning, in London and Addis Ababa and Riyadh and Beijing and Seoul, newscasters will be forced to find a way to discuss, in their local euphemisms, Donald Trump’s dick size.
The exchanges on the stage at the Fox Theater in Motown centered on erstwhile reality television star Donald Trump, who found, as usual, a way to be even more outrageous than he has been in previous debates.
Sen. Marco Rubio—a 44-year-old U.S. senator! A grown man! With children!—had made fun of Trump’s hand size, implying that his manhood was not so large.
“I have to say this. He hit my hands. Nobody has ever hit my hands. I have never heard of this. Look at those hands. Are they small hands?” Trump responded, on a nationally televised debate to become leader of the free world.
“And he referred to my hands, if they are small, something else must be small,” Trump deadpanned. “I guarantee you there’s no problem. I guarantee you.”
There was shouting inside the debate hall and out. As a light snow fell on Woodward Avenue across from Ford Field, progressive protesters growled about their issues of the day: their objections to “racist” Trump; their demand for a higher minimum wage; calls for an immediate solution for the lead-poisoned people of Flint.
But the shouting and chanting was statesmanlike compared to the childish theatrics indoors. You could practically hear your brain cells crying out in pain as they died out, answer after answer.
There were insults, and Donald Trump defending war crimes, and Cruz treating the businessman like a small child. Trump called Rubio “little Marco,” and Cruz “lyin’ Ted.”
It was beyond satire. The first question, to Trump, was about former Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney, who had delivered a scathing speech challenging Trump’s fitness to become president.
“He challenged you to answer with substance, not insults. How do you answer Mitt Romney, sir?” asked Fox News moderator Chris Wallace.
“He was a failed candidate,” Trump shot back. “He failed miserably, and it was an embarrassment to everybody.”
When Rubio challenged Trump on whether he’d answer a policy question substantively, the businessman responded like an adolescent: “Don’t worry about it, little Marco.” Rubio fired back: “Let’s hear big Donald.”
It was like a kindergarten brawl: a lot of cheap insults, a lot of whining, culminating with the need for everyone to have a time out. Sen. Ted Cruz—a 45-year-old U.S. senator! A grown man! With children!—treated Trump much like he would his two young daughters.
When Trump tried to interrupt him during an answer, Cruz responded patronizingly, “Donald, learn not to interrupt. It’s not complicated—Count to 10. Count to 10.”
“Yelling and cursing people doesn’t make you a tough guy,” Cruz said, as if lecturing an infant on the playground.
Meanwhile Trump one-upped everyone by defending torture, and insisting that the military would follow through with illegal orders if he gave them. Trump had previously said that his national security policy would involve targeting the innocent family members of terrorists and the use of interrogation methods even more extreme than waterboarding.
“They won’t refuse. They’re not going to refuse me. Believe me,” Trump said. “We should go for waterboarding... and tougher than waterboarding… I’m a leader, I’ve always been a leader… if I say do it, they’re going to do it.”
And on targeting the family members of terrorists, a potential war crime? “I have no problem with it,” Trump said.
The businessman struggled to square these authoritarian instincts with one of his key selling points: that he’d be the man who could make a deal with Congress, with China, with Vladimir Putin. He has a “strong core” that is also “flexible,” he said.
“You can breathe,” Cruz told Trump, during yet another shouting match. “I know it’s hard.”
“When they’re done with the yoga, can I answer a question?” Rubio butted in.
“I really hope we don’t see yoga on this stage,” Cruz responded.
“Well he’s really flexible, so you never know,” Rubio quipped.
On a day that former governor Romney gave a speech in Utah decrying Trump’s excesses, the dumbest presidential debate of all time took place. It must have made much of the American public yearn for a less stupid time—when the biggest controversy of the day was Romney’s car elevator and awkward word choices. How quaint that all was.