The Kiddie Table Debate

Well, the JV debate was by turns painful and interesting. When the first four questions were about Donald Trump, with lots of follow-up, I thought “Here we go again–just like the Fox debate” (though Pataki really got nailed on the “loyalty pledge” hypocrisy, and I wondered why Jindal didn’t get the same question). But the format enabling inter-candidate interactions kept the Kabuki down a bit. The long discussion of immigration was strange, with three of the four candidates (everybody other than Graham) basically endorsing self-deportation.

Then things got really weird when Bobby Jindal turned a question about the Muslim kid who got arrested for bringing a clock to school (he couldn’t bring himself to agree the authorities’ “vigilance” was excessive) into an extended discussion of Kim Davis and then the need to defy Supreme Court decisions. Pataki and especially Graham schooled Jindal and Santorum on the Supremacy Clause. and Marbury v. Madison. Jindal burnished his demagogue credentials by asking how many jobs “us Christians” were going to be denied (you know, what’s one to do if you can’t be a baker or florist or county clerk?).

One thing the debate made clear that was never in doubt is that Lindsey Graham really, really wants to have a bunch o’ wars in the Middle East. Another is that Rick Santorum–who gave Graham a pretty good run for his money in the bloodthirst sweepstakes–is the only person in the country who thinks Republican voters are looking for the most experienced candidate.

Assuming this was his goal, Jindal did a very good job of standing for Trumpism without Trump, or a “politically correct conservative revolution” as he called it the other day. Aside from supporting defiance of the Supreme Court and an interpretation of the First Amendment that would create a separate Jesusland country where half the laws wouldn’t apply, Bobby leaped onto the two latest crazy trains in Washington: a demand that the Senate abolish the filibuster for the sole purpose of getting the Iran Nuke Deal disapproval onto Obama’s desk, and the demand that the “defund Planned Parenthood” crusade be taken to all the way to a government shutdown. If I’m not mistaken, he even said “we need to get rid of this Republican Party.” Graham called him out expertly for pandering to conservatives with promises he can’t keep, and some of the donors and Establishment types in the room probably nodded. But this isn’t the way the wind is blowing in the GOP right now.

It will be interesting to see how many and which of the candidates at the main event debate–other than Ted Cruz and Mike Huckabee–take this tack and try to “take down Trump” by preempting elements of his appeal.

One more thought: the only two “economic” topics discussed were taxes, where they all want to close loopholes and lower rates, and a higher minimum wage, which Santorum supports and the rest of them oppose. There really wasn’t much for people worried about their jobs. But I guess in a few minutes we’ll hear Scott Walker promise to help them by taking away their right to collective bargaining.

Ed Kilgore

Ed Kilgore, a Monthly contributing editor, is a columnist for the Daily Intelligencer, New York magazine’s politics blog, and the managing editor for the Democratic Strategist.