The Long Truck Wreck of the Second GOP Debate(s)

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So I did it. I made it. I watched the entirety of CNN’s first Republican debate on Wednesday night, downed a stout shot of Irish whiskey with a shaking hand, and then plowed through all three ghastly hours of the second CNN Republican debate, taking copious notes all the while … and then woke up this morning and watched them both again, just to make absolutely sure I’d actually seen what I thought I saw.

I think I might be dying. My stomach feels as if it is crawling slowly up my chest cavity, packed to bursting with bile, in search of my heart, so it can cover the poor broken beating thing with poison and spare me the need to encompass what it was I saw. If it can’t find my heart, I believe my stomach intends to ascend the summit of my neck and snap my brain stem like a twig. It will be a mercy either way for the both of us.

Do you know the story “The Picture of Dorian Gray,” written by Oscar Wilde at the end of the 19th century? If you don’t, here is the tale in brief: Dorian Gray owned a portrait of himself, and was a man who slowly descended into evil behaviors. After every cruel act he committed, the visage of himself in that portrait changed, became more monstrous and ghoulish and twisted. The darker his soul became, the more ghastly the portrait became.

If there are any portraits of the GOP candidates who disgraced their respective stages on Wednesday night with hate and greed and pandering and fear, those portraits would be uglier today beyond measure if Oscar Wilde’s pen had its say.

Where to begin? The first debate – the Junior Varsity debate, not to put too fine a point on it – was a debacle, with Gov. Pataki coming forward as the only candidate possessing a lick of sense. Jindal and Santorum embarrassed everyone silly enough to have voted for them, but Jindal managed to out-Santorum Santorum by proclaiming – in regard to the 14-year-old Muslim kid in Texas who brought a clock to school and was accused of being a terrorist – that Christians are the ones being oppressed in the United States. Somewhere in the ether, Jesus facepalmed hard enough to break His nose.

Donald Trump was not present at the first debate, but half the conversation was about him. “Mr. Pataki, Donald Trump said” and “Mr. Jindal, Donald Trump said” and “Mr. Santorum, Donald Trump said,” and on and on. You’d think Trump was moderating the damned thing, or hovering over the assemblage like a large orange bat with tragic hair.

Lindsey Graham was the real show, however. He wants to re-insert thousands of US ground troops into Iraq. The refugee crisis in Europe is Obama’s fault, because apparently the first decade of this century never actually happened. Iran must be turned to glass by way of pyrotechnic military violence as soon as possible. ISIS fighters are hiding in your toilet paper roll, and will kill you deader than yesterday as soon as they cut through that second ply. He went to a manicurist on Thursday to clean the splinters from his fingernails after having done such vigorous work clawing the bottom of the barrel.

One item of note, and I don’t think this was an accident: They lined the four candidates up in descending order according to height, with Pataki at the far left podium and Graham at the far right. When the camera panned back to catch them all, Graham looked for all the world like a pinkie toe. The image gave me a small budget of joy.

The second debate … oh, dear God, the second debate … it opened with Rubio making a crass joke about the catastrophic drought affecting California and the West, and went downhill from there. Once again, Trump questions dominated. “Mr. Rubio, Donald Trump said” and “Mr. Bush, Donald Trump said” and “Ms. Fiorino, Donald Trump said,” all night long. Carly Fiorino, to her credit, ate Trump’s lunch on more than a few occasions before blathering about Benghazi nonsense when Hillary Clinton’s name came up.

One thing was made perfectly clear: They all want to go to war, everywhere, all the time. The eleven GOP candidates in the second debate were like the actualized id of Lindsey Graham: War in Iraq, war in Iran, war in Syria, war and war and war and, oh, did I mention war?

Dr. Ben Carson was calmly awful. Bush was barely there. Rubio actually did well, voice occasionally quavering with emotion, as he expounded on his twisted world view. Mike Huckabee was, is, and will always be simply terrible. Paul looked like he’d gotten into a fight with bad hairdressers and lost, and spoke just as absurdly. Walker visibly shrank seven inches over the course of the evening. Kasich was grindingly competent, which will get him nowhere with the GOP primary-voter base. Christie was New Jersey in a suit. Fiorina dominated in the shroud of her incompetence, Trump was, as ever, Trump … and Cruz, as I have said before, continued his role as a Batman villain.

I could plow through every sloppy detail, but most of you already know this oft-repeated mess of a story. Reagan was invoked as if he was an anointed saint during the Iran discussion, as if Reagan hadn’t sold missiles to Iran in order to fund the slaughter of Central American civilians. The answer to the wildly complex immigration issue was to build a wall, or mass deportations, or maybe deportations with the shade of a prayer of return … with a hint of the dark truth salted in: We can’t actually do this, because it will damage the agricultural industry. Economic inequality will be solved by making rich people richer.

Planned Parenthood must be de-funded at the expense of basic health care for women, and shut down the government if you must to get that done. At one point, Carly Fiorina actually linked Planned Parenthood to Iran, and my soul died just a little bit. Best of all, thanks to the presence of Jeb, the reputation and record of the deplorable George W. Bush was heralded and defended, and those sentiments received the loudest vomits of applause during the entire affair.

It was a long night, and a longer morning. It’s going to be a long year. If this is the best crew the Grand Old Party can summon, we have a long way to go. At this point, the GOP campaign for president is the World Wrestling Federation in Gucci shoes, complete with thrown folding chairs and the absolute absence of reality. Wednesday night’s marathon two-lane truck wreck did nothing whatsoever to dispel this notion.

Ever seen chickadees fight in the hedges? Pecking and squawking and feathers flying? It was like that. For hours.