The Surrealist Republican Debate Scorecard

A debate about foreign policy in which no actual treaties were discussed. A debate about the most dangerous threats to America and no discussion of home-grown terrorists. A debate about national security that didn’t delve into the costs of war. A nonsensical debate demands a surrealist scorecard.

Mike Blake/Reuters

Lindsey Graham

Style: B+

Went through all the vocal and emotional registers available to Southern men (a lot) to prove how much he cares about 1) beating Trump and 2) invading ISIS territory. Don’t believe he’s for real? To prove his seriousness, he’s going to come by each and every voter’s house and hold up a boombox to serenade them—probably with recordings of artillery fire.

Substance: D

Personally apologized to “our Muslim friends” for Trump. Personally thanked the Muslims serving in the U.S. military. Introduced the “Princess Buttercup Doctrine.” Inveighed against the religious tests for immigrants! On the other hand: Wishes Dubya was still president.

Overall: A lollipop stuck to the seat of a seersucker suit.

George Pataki

Style: D

As the least interesting of the three blue-state governors left, he is an especially tall walking redundancy. Kind of like “the Freedom Tower, a symbol of our freedom.”

Substance: D

Against banning Muslims, for spying on Muslims. Introduced the parallel between Trumpism and the 19th century Know-Nothings, but didn’t explain why that was bad.

Overall: A fly trapped between window panes (with a view of the Freedom Tower).

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Rick Santorum

Style: D

Spoke in stilted, staccato phrases, spat out of a lipless slash. He is not enjoying this one bit. Not one bit.

Substance: D-

Grimaced and shook his head during a brief, weird tangent into the fitness of women to serve in combat: Ew, girls! Is all for religious liberty as long as it doesn’t mean tolerating other people’s religions.

Overall: Under-ripe banana.

Mike Huckabee

Style: C-

Running to be the president of Cracker Barrel, perhaps will settle for Secretary of Folksy or Ambassador to Aphorism.

Substance: F+

Mostly execrable policy positions leavened with admirable if random rant against millennials and their desire for health care and, you know, freedom. Ingrates.

Overall: Grandpa farts.

Jeb Bush

Style: B-

Brought his one-liners and a spare spine! Formerly a paint swatch for “colorless,” showed some genuine relish in needling Trump.

Substance: C-

He bravely questioned the wisdom of assassinating the civilian family members of terrorists. We are at that point in the process when, compared to the wackadoodles, Bush’s bloodless, establishment conservatism seems rational rather than simply tired.

Overall: That nagging sense you’ve forgotten to turn off the stove.

Carly Fiorina

Style: C

Can list Apple products and date of introduction with great precision if to little point; wore an enormous cross necklace because vampires, probably. Occasionally tried to shout things about unity when things got messy and thus showed at least a passing familiarity with diplomacy, the supposed topic of the debate.

Substance: D

She remembers the 9/11 attacks! She remembers it hard.

Overall: Biting down on aluminum foil.

Marco Rubio

Style: B-

It’s bittersweet to watch a child star grow up in the public eye; the Haley Joel Osment of the GOP is finally out of the awkward tween years and seems both less stiff and more assured when he spouts his chickenhawk surveillance-state nonsense.

Substance: C-

Showed some impressive slipperiness in engaging Cruz on “amnesty” for undocumented aliens, something neither of them support right now, but a point that matters a lot for the party’s large xenophobe faction. Hopes to terrify people into supporting bulk data collection.

Overall: Realizing that the music you grew up with now qualifies as “oldies.”

Ted Cruz

Style: D+

Smiles like the villain in a SyFy movie, which is to say, like a human-lizard hybrid. Oozes an oily substance that can be mistaken for sincerity in bad lighting.

Substance: D

Got exactly what he needed out of the night: Trump’s approval, despite having a relatively small sliver of actual policy overlap when it comes to non-wall-building issues. Wants to carpet-bomb “wherever ISIS is,” but selectively, so that it doesn’t sound as bad.

Overall: A triangle whose angles add up to more than 180 degrees, a mirror that reflects no light.

Ben Carson

Style: D

Asked to begin with a moment of silence, which turned out to be a preview for his performance.

Substance: F

Repeatedly called for “boots on the ground,” a euphemism that can make it easy to forget that the boots are worn by living humans—but, fortunately, was grilled about his specific willingness to murder innocent children in the course of making war. He is very willing!

Overall: Worthless nutritional “supplements.”

Donald Trump

Style: A+

Why the fuck not? He was 100 percent Trump, 100 percent of the time. Sarah Palin word salad in a baggy suit and spray-on tan, he plans to govern via reaction GIF.

Substance: F-

He talks about foreign policy like the guy who gives directions to the taxi driver, loudly and slowly in case the driver doesn’t speak English. Doesn’t tip. Wants to kill innocent people and shut down the Internet, not necessarily in that order. Has been accused of not knowing what “the nuclear triad” is, but, on the other hand: “The power and the devastation are very important to me.”

Overall: Dogshit ground into your living room carpet.

John Kasich

Style: D

Shouty, with enormous flipper hands. Would be a better Left Shark if wore the costume.

Substance: D

Something Ohio something something.

Overall: [this space intentionally left blank]

Chris Christie

Style: C-

He’s just a straight-talking guy here to straight-talk to you about some straight talk! Enough with this yakkity yakking, what do you think this is, a debate?

Substance: D

Why debate civil rights issues when you can just arrest some people, listen to some phone calls, close down ISIS’s bridges? Dismissed conversation about the limits of data collection as “how many angels can dance on the head of a pin,” forgetting that the pin in question goes straight through the Constitution, the angels are civil liberties, and, most importantly, he has no real foreign policy experience.

Overall: Stale marshmallows.

Rand Paul

Style: C-

In the nasally tone of the guy comparing the world-building in Battlestar Galactica to that of Game of Thrones, Rand Paul is going to make sure you know he knows more than you. Or at least that he thinks he knows more than you. Almost everything is a “fundamental question of our time,” including what he had for lunch.

Substance: C-

Got in a Bridgegate joke; can’t believe he’s losing to these statist blowhards.

Overall: Hair crisp with gel.