“God. Stay tuned for that.”
This is an actual phrase uttered during the Fox News debate before commercial.
Thursday’s double-header of debates was long on entertainment and short on content.
Loosely the first “children’s table” debate went as follows:
- Cutting personal insult about how the candidate deserved not to be at the big kids’ table, disguised as a question
- Thoughtless probing at candidate’s deepest insecurities
- Strange hypotheticals about what the candidate would do in the unlikely event that he or she were elected (Carly Fiorina had evidently mapped out in her mind exactly what her hypothetical future presidency would be. She did not even bother to speak in the subjunctive when describing “day one” and “day two” and you had the feeling that she could have kept going well into Day 435 if pressed. In general, she came off as the best-prepared — the most swipe-rightable of a weak lot — except for the part where she talked about tearing down “cyberwalls”, one of those phrases that simultaneously suggests to old people that maybe you understand this Internet thing and frightens young people that you absolutely do not understand this Internet thing and will break it if you get anywhere near it.)
- Debate concludes with all candidates trying to see who could claim to have been the closest to Ronald Reagan. “I was a child of Ronald Reagan,” Santorum said. (Big, if true!) Ronald Reagan whittled me from clay and breathed life into my veins, Graham insisted. I was born from Ronald Reagan’s thigh, Fiorina added. Perry tore off his glasses, then his face, and announced that he was Ronald Reagan and was very disappointed in all of you. Or he would have, if he’d remembered to.
But the primetime debate was another kettle of fish. At least initially the questions were fairly on-point. Bush got the question about the wisdom in hindsight of going to war in Iraq. Trump was asked about his views on women (rude), business (bankrupt!), and whether he’d run as a third-party candidate (yes!). Walker was made to double-down on his hard-line pro-life stance. They asked Ben Carson to explain why he thought he would be able to run the country when he had never run anything else. “In fact, the thing that is probably most important is having a brain,” Carson explained. Actually. If running for president doesn’t pan out, he’s got a role waiting for him in “The Wizard of Oz.”
There were animated exchanges — one between Rand Paul and Chris Christie, over which of Christie’s hugs had been the most memorable (was it hugging Obama? or the Sandy hurricane victims?); another between Donald Trump’s hands, gesticulating wildly at all times. There were impassioned arguments — Kasich, for instance, on his Medicaid expansion.
But then came the last few questions.
Getting questions from Facebook is not necessarily a guarantee that the questions will be incoherent softball wastes of time. But it’s not a way to guarantee they won’t be, either. And this time, they were.
“We have to stand you by,” Megyn Kelly said, “because after the break, we’re going to let the candidates make their closing statements, their final thoughts, and God. Stay tuned for that.”
Once they were back: “An interesting closing question from Chase Norton on Facebook, who wants to know this of the candidates: ‘I want to know if any of them have received a word from God on what they should do and take care of first.’ Senator Cruz, start from you. Any word from God?”
Really? This was not some sort of elaborate set-up for Jon Stewart’s “Daily Show” farewell? This was a real question during the first major primetime Republican debate? “Any word from God?”
Cruz managed to cobble together the not-too-embarrassing answer that “Well, I am blessed to receive a word from God every day in receiving the scriptures and reading the scriptures. And God speaks through the Bible.”
Then we entered what I like to refer to as the Who Had The Worst Upbringing? contest portion of the evening.
CRUZ: I’m the son of a pastor and evangelist and I’ve described many times how my father, when I was a child, was an alcoholic. He was not a Christian. And my father left my mother and left me when I was just three years old. And someone invited him to Clay Road Baptist Church. And he gave his heart to Jesus and it turned him around. And he got on a plane and he flew back to my mother and me.
KASICH: Well, Megyn, my father was a mailman. His father was a coal miner. My mother’s mother could barely speak English. And their son today stands on this podium in the great state of Ohio not only as the governor, but a candidate for president of the United States. (CHEERING AND APPLAUSE) I do believe in miracles.
WALKER: “Well, thanks, Megyn. I’m certainly an imperfect man. And it’s only by the blood of Jesus Christ that I’ve been redeemed from my sins. So I know that God doesn’t call me to do a specific thing, God hasn’t given me a list, a Ten Commandments, if you will, of things to act on the first day. What God calls us to do is follow his will. And ultimately that’s what I’m going to try to do.”
Is this the GOP debate or a tent revival? Or the start of a deservedly unpopular Horatio Alger novel?
Forget separation of church and state. We don’t even have separation of church and debate. At the rate we were going, I expected Donald Trump to fall to the ground and start speaking in tongues.
And it didn’t stop. Next was the question of veterans and how they related to God. Had there been more time, the candidates would doubtless have been asked to weigh in on such difficult subjects as motherhood, America, and apple pie.
I’ve seen more difficult questions at the Miss Universe pageant, and that used to be a Trump affiliate.
“So I put the question to you about God and the veterans, which you may find to be related,” Kelly asked.
Rubio: Well, first, let me say I think God has blessed us. He has blessed the Republican Party with some very good candidates. The Democrats can’t even find one. [laughter] And I believe God has blessed our country. This country has been extraordinarily blessed. And we have honored that blessing. And that’s why God has continued to bless us.
Bless you. Thank God you were here to tell us this. I’m confused — were we blessed, or were we extraordinarily blessed? Both?
I don’t mean to make light of this but — really? This is how we’re spending our primetime?
Then the testimonials picked right back up.
Christie: “I was born into a middle class family in New Jersey. My dad came home from serving in the Army after having lost his father, worked in the Breyers ice cream plant in Newark, New Jersey. Was the first person to graduate from college. He put himself through college at night. My mom was a secretary.”
Rubio: You know, both of my parents were born into poor families on the island of Cuba. They came to America because it was the only place where people like them could have a chance. Here in this country, they never made it big, but the very purpose of their life was to give us the chance to do all the things they never could. My father was a bartender. And the journey from the back of that bar to this stage tonight, to me, that is the essence of the American dream.
Honestly, hearing Trump announce “I WAS BORN INTO LUXURY AND IN LUXURY I REMAINED” would almost have come as a relief at this point.
Time is currency in these debates. What Fox does with its time is not a matter of indifference. These people are running for the highest office in the land (except for Donald Trump, who is running for his own amusement). But the least you can do is not ask them questions that are aggressively idiotic. “How much do you love God? Has God spoken to you? How American are your dreams?” are not questions that belong on a stage with this kind of stakes, even when the stakes are divided among 17 contenders.
We learn nothing from this that we would not learn by asking, “And your stump speech — could you recite a little of that, please?”
After the debate, Donald Trump said that Megyn Kelly “behaved very badly” and called her questions “mean” and “inappropriate.” What debate did he attend?
This is an abrogation of responsibility. If you’re going to have such critical control over the process — determining who gets Primetime Placement and who is consigned to the children’s table — at least ask actual questions. They’re not much to ask. It’s not as though there’s nothing going on in America right now.