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.

10 IF QUESTION = A THEN STUMPANSWER = B

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.

Kasich.

Drink.

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