Jeb Bush finally lands some punches, Donald Trump tones it down, and more.
Televised presidential debates are, in the parlance of Daniel J. Boorstin, “pseudo-events” that have very little, if nothing, to do with answering the question, “Which participant is best qualified for the presidency?” Life would be so much easier if the presidency were about who does best “while standing under klieg lights, without notes, to answer in two and a half minutes a question kept secret until that moment, [that has] only the most dubious relevance — if any at all — to his real qualifications to make deliberate Presidential decisions on long-standing public questions after being instructed by a corps of advisers.” It’s not, but these debates, where we’ve shrunk answer times down to 30 seconds, are how we’ve decided to make the important decision of who will lead the country.
Here are just a few of the highlights from a debate that continued the GOP’s streak of surprisingly interesting and informative discussions. The undercard debate, which featured former New York Gov. George Pataki, Sen. Lindsey Graham of South Carolina, former Sen. Rick Santorum of Pennsylvania and former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee, was boring and unnecessary. One of my children asked me which of the four candidates I would prefer, and I told her she’d never asked me such a difficult question. (And she had just asked me a few minutes before if I’d ever been jailed!)
Trump Tones Down
A few hours before the debate, a friend said he’d be “interested to see if Trump stays at maximum levels of Trump or if he would trim his sails just a little bit to try to look presidential.” He toned it down, with a few notable failures, and it worked really well for him. He even managed to restrain himself once or twice when the old Trump would have lost his cool and gone full clown-show.
He continued to respond to tough questions by resorting to big picture answers, a technique that infuriates political professionals but plays fairly well with many voters, and took advantage of opportunities to discuss his thoughts on immigration and its relationship to national security. It’s even stronger ground for him than immigration discussions about the economy, and he was somehow helped, rather than hindered, by having more thoughtful candidates on stage who discussed the issue at a high level. Trump had a string of embarrassing lines about how he’d shut down part of the Internet in his fight against ISIS, but his overall point about fighting terrorist evangelization on the web was conveyed well enough.
His surprising response that he would not run third-party, while as meaningless as any other position he’s taken, was a brilliant tack. The pseudo-event industry will chew on that until the next time Trump feeds them.
But while the media continues to obsess over Trump and be outraged by him, he put in one of his best debate performances yet.
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