Drunkblogging The Missing Donald Debate

Donald isn't missing. He's merely pining for Megyn Kelly.

That out of the way, let's cut straight to the chase(r).

Less Trump, more cocktails -- what could be better?

Although I half-expect Donald to drop-in "unexpectedly," with a wink and a ratings nod from Roger Ailes. What do you think?

Or have I become too jaded and cynical after more than a decade of drunkblogging these debates?

Or is it even possible to be too jaded and cynical this election cycle?

So many questions. Maybe tonight, just days before the Iowa caucuses, we'll get an answer or two.

Here we go...

Trump really was supposed to be Godot, the man who never showed up but everyone obsessed over anyway -- Kabuki Theater of the Absurd, as I called it the other day. But other than some awkward "Oh my God, that was supposed to be funny?" comments from Ted Cruz, Trump's absence wasn't much... present.

Rubio seemed enlarged by that absence, Cruz seemed diminished by it.

Everyone else played their parts the same way they've played them through all the previous debates. That's for good and for ill, but mostly for naught. No matter your (or my) personal preference, the GOP doesn't seem likely to nominate a Bush, a Carson, a Christie, or a Kasich.

I hate to talk about the polls, because I hate to talk about the polls -- but the time has come to do just that.

The most recent figures from Iowa show that with historical turnout, either Cruz or Trump wins in a squeaker. If Trump manages to revolutionize Iowa turnout -- and I don't dismiss the possibility -- then he wins in a blowout.

But it doesn't feel like Cruz helped himself tonight. If anyone did, it was probably Rubio, but that's probably too little, too late.

This is where I should mention that out of seven competitive GOP Iowa caucuses, Iowa voters have picked the nominee only three times -- and only once has the nominee gone on to win the general election.

You watch enough of these things, and you get a feel for the ebb and flow of the candidates, but also for the moderators. And my final thought tonight is that Fox wanted to host a Donald Trump circus, and failing that, tried to force the circus format on the remaining candidates.

It didn't work. If you've been following these drunkblogs, then you've seen debates hosted by networks that were more biased, but you might not have seen a debate as weird and awkward as tonight's.

At the last debate we saw Trump at his grownup best. Tonight, he wasn't there at all, and it was as though Fox tried to make up for it by being as outlandish (if that's the right word) as Trump at his adolescent worst.

And it just didn't work, for me or for the candidates.

How did it work for you?

Soon, we'll know how it worked for Iowa caucus-goers.

Closing statements after the break.

"Closing statement" of course really means "30-60 second cheerleader version of my stump speech."

"We have so much natural gas now," say Carson -- and without irony on the evening Trump refused to appear.

Cruz -- remember him? -- is asked to defend his stance against ethanol mandates.

"We should pursue all of the above... and Washington should not be picking winners and losers."

You would think somebody with a jillion YouTube subscribers would suck slightly less on video.

"I don't blame Hillary Clinton at all... for Bill's behavior."

-Rand Paul

I do, to the extent she enabled his abuse by heaping even more of it on his victims.

At what point do the Powers That Be tell half of these jokers that it's over, and they're not even welcome at the Undercard (which has been quietly cancelled)?

Earlier I tried to describe that "missing" thing from Cruz that's always bugged me, and now here's a similar mini-rant about Rubio.

What he says is often great, sometimes even inspiring. But you can always see the wheels spin, like an old BASIC program.


20 GOTO 10

And just plug in different values for A and B as needed.

He's good, but so rehearsed that if you watch these things as often as I do, it starts to grate. I know that's not true of most voters who don't pay as close attention as often, but you have to wonder if they'll eventually start to notice, too.

Christie just segued a perhaps-unpopular answer about gay marriage into an applause line about bombing ISIS.

Well played, sir. Well played.



But I hope you were right there with me on that one already.

Chris Christie for AG.

President Hillary will have to pardon SecState Hillary...

Rubio is stealing my material like a real-life Amy Schumer.

(I kid, I kid.)

We're now to the part of the debate when everybody says how they'll beat Hillary.

I wish just one of them would say they've got an in at the FBI.

A question to Carson!

It's a YouTube question about immigration, from the kind of legal, armed-forces-serving, entrepreneurial immigrant which not one person on this stage would want to keep out or send back to anywhere.

Dumb. Rigged. Dumb. Rigged.

Rubio calling out Cruz for his red-meat pandering, and it's a fair cop -- and until tonight my only real beef with Cruz.

Cruz now playing to conservative talk radio listeners, which is probably not a dumb move given the nature of caucus voting.

But that would reduce the opportunities for grandstanding by highly paid spokes-journalists.

Now Cruz is getting the video montage treatment like Rubio got.

It's revealing stuff, but feels less like a debate and more like a 60 Minutes piece.

Fox has got to make up its mind what kind of even it's hosting.

It took me aback so much I nearly spilled my drink.

Well, that's half-true.

Rubio called out on amnesty, defending himself forcefully.

But after his self-inflicted Schumer debacle, it's almost impossible to trust him on the issue.

And this is coming from somebody who prefers Cruz more than any of the others.

This matches my impression so far, although I've arguably had both more scotch and more gin than most people in the focus group.

Rubio says he's never supported cap and trade, or even thought it was a good idea.

Anyone want to fact-check that for everybody while I refresh my drink?

Reminder from Bret that Kasich is one of two remaining sitting governors in this race.

We got Kasich and Christie. We had Walker and Perry.


Cruz talking commonsense reform for health insurance. His best moment of the night so far, but on an issue not quite at the top of Iowa voters' concerns.

Kinda almost sorry I missed the undercard.

On now to cutting spending.

First, Christie: Name something government shouldn't be doing at all?

Christie says he'd cut off Planned Parenthood, which would reduce our deficit by virtually zilch. Asked to name anything bigger, he doubled down.

This is the big surprise of the evening so far.

Follow the money.

Jeb would have been a fine '90s President, a play-it-safe reformer, tinkering at the edges of the Reagan Revolution.

But that was half my lifetime ago.

Question to Jeb is about policing charitable organizations that say they're helping vets.

Start with Trump's organization?

I KNEW he reminded me of someone!

Kasich is talking.

Other than that, what is he doing on this stage?

Question to Carson: Has GOP messaging inflamed Islamophobia?

Carson is handling it with his typical grace, and with untypical passion.

Nice -- but where was this Carson six months ago?

Rubio has the opportunity here to explain to Fox and Megyn the difference between Hate Speech and Conspiracy to Commit Terror...

...and he's pulling it off.

Rand: "Should we be bombing both sides in [the Syrian Civil] War?"

Something about letting God sort them out...

Cruz... stop complaining.

He was supposed to stand up and be the grownup tonight.

Whoa -- Bush "got us into" a war in Afghanistan?

Chris Wallace, that was a shameful thing to say.


Cruz... drop it, it isn't your turn.

Christie on Clinton's email: "She put America's secrets at risk for her convenience."

No, she put America's secrets out in the open for Russian and Chinese hackers, for reasons perhaps so sinister I'd rather not even try to fathom them.

There's something missing from Cruz, and I've never been able to put my finger quite on it. But when he talks about eradicating ISIS, he sounds more satisfied with his words than he sounds serious about the mission.

Does that make sense? Anyway, that's my read on it.

"I've had more 2AM phone calls than everybody here put together, making life or death decisions, putting a team together."

If a small part of your tiny, dark, political heart doesn't grow three sizes when Dr Carson says these things, you might be worse than the Grinch.


I almost never disagree with Stephen Miller's tweets, but Rand needed to show some passion when family is involved.

The question is to Kasich, which makes this a fine time to top off my Bowmore.

"I don't think you have to give up your liberty for a false sense of security."

Rand Paul, speaking sense to a country which unfortunately just loves a false sense of security.

It's turning into a fight between Rubio and Cruz for Rand Paul's voters.

Who wins? Anyone?

To Rand Paul: Isn't Cruz the REAL heir to Ron Paul's philosophy in the GOP?


It's good to see Rand on this stage again, but his answer to a question involving his own Dad reminds me of that Mike Dukakis flub about the death penalty after a hypothetical murder of his wife -- bloodless.

Christie: You can stand for principles AND get things done.

Jeb: "Bret, we're just starting."

Jeb is far past starting to hemorrhage campaign cash. He's run an expensive and top-heavy campaign -- just like Hillary's.

To Rubio, and it's another soft lob: Tell us how you'd unite the party Trump is destroying.

"This campaign is about the greatest country in the world and the man who has systematically destroyed much of what made it special."

And segue into an attack on Clinton, and her thoughts about appointing Obama to SCOTUS.

Followup question to Cruz: Tell us more how Trump sucks.

Again, I paraphrase.

A soft lob to Cruz: "Explain to the people of Iowa how much more you love them than that guy who didn't show up tonight?

I paraphrase.

The "fly-to country" line was canned cheese.

Bret Baer flew through the intros, and tonight's broadcast was mercifully free of the SUNDAY! SUNDAY! SUNDAY! opener ABC News is so inexplicably fond of.

No opening statements, either.

Google paid Apple a billion dollars in 2014 to keep their engine as the default on iOS. You wonder what Fox got for tonight's Google Debate?

If you're watching the pre-post-whatever show, you're going to have to drink the image away of Bill O'Malley and Donald Trump sharing vanilla shakes together.

Do you have anything cask strength handy?