Nothing conveys the way media outlets view the debate among Republican presidential candidates better than their choice of headlines to describe the proceedings. If you only had two minutes to form an impression of what the GOP field said by skimming the news, this is what you might see in the lead.
- A Foxy, Rowdy Republican Debate — NYT
- The candidates offer quite a show. — Economist
- GOP insiders: Donald Trump is biggest loser — Politico
- The good, the bad, the ugly — Vanity Fair
- The POLITICO wrongometer — Politico
- Fact Checking The Early Republican Debate — Huffington Post
- How It Played | Benghazi Bingo — NYT
From them the reader might understandably conclude that the debate was a food fight among a random collection of zany, or slightly demented mental midgets. That the whole thing is a waste of time, like a cartoon feature before the real show featuring titans of progress like Hillary Clinton, Bernie Sanders and Joe Biden. That’s when the “reality based community” comes out to judge the real horse show.
For now it’s just the jokers. It’s true that a few pundits were apparently impressed by what they heard from the GOP, but most came to their senses before they made the mistake of taking them seriously. Eli Stokols of Politico writes: “Carly Fiorina shines — but will it matter? The former tech exec steals the show at the undercard. So what?”
On a stage filled by several faltering also-rans, Carly Fiorina stood out for her seriousness, fluidity and willingness to attack not just Democrats but her Republican opponents as well. …
But it’s unclear whether outdebating her six struggling rivals on the undercard will do much to elevate her in the sprawling GOP field, especially with the prime-time debate still to come Thursday night certain to dominate Friday’s headlines.
The former Hewlett-Packard CEO has struggled to gain traction, despite her steady campaigning in New Hampshire and ability to impress many in the party’s donor class.
“So what?” It ain’t gonna matter in the scheme of things. The reason why the Republican lineup are clowns and Trump and Fiorina are uber-clowns is because they showed up without anyone “sending them”. And whoever heard of that? Ultimately they haven’t got a chance but are too dumb to know it.
The former HP executive might be miles smarter than Hillary Clinton in the conventional sense, yet dumb as a bag of hammers because she doesn’t know the way the game is played. The real game.
The media’s assessment is in its way a restatement of one of Fiorina’s main accusations: the political class has stopped caring about voters for a long time and become its own self-licking ice cream cone. The entire debate, including its subplots — Trump vs Kelly, Fiorina vs the rest — is about the dissatisfaction of the electorate with the Washington political elite. But who cares because the debate and all the words in it were a “play within a play”, a drama acted out inside a larger drama.
The voters know or suspect it’s a show. But the candidates are acting like it’s real when they should know better. You could say the situation resembles Christopher Nolan’s movie Inception, in which people fall asleep and dream within dreams. There are reveries at one level wrapped up in other dreams and the only thing that is truly “real” is the outermost layer of consciousness, the last world you wake up in. All the rest don’t really exist.
Many of the pundits are betting that when Carly Fiorina and Ben Carson wake up they’ll understand that they never had a chance at all, which is why they were clowns all along. And think of the surprise of Scott Walker, or Cruz, Rubio or even Perry when they snap out of it. Look at them on the stage with all the snappy comebacks and high falutin’ idealism. Did they think any of that mattered?
The last world you wake up in is big money, giant lobbies, demographic blocs and voter groups clamoring to get paid off. That is the ultimate ground of political reality; that’s real. That’s why, despite their complete mediocrity, the only “serious candidates” on either side are Jeb Bush and Hillary Clinton because they know, as the media knows, where everything finally goes.
But wait a minute. Suppose it’s the cynics who are dreaming, in the mistaken belief that their little paradise of fakery will last forever; unreasonably attached to the idea there will always be someone to send someone, and whole dreidel turns like a snake eating its tail.
What a surprise that would be.
Thus perhaps that is what the Republican debate and the commentary on it is all about. They’re arguing over who’s dreaming and who’s awake.
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