If the candidates vying for the Republican Party’s nomination succeeded at anything on the debate floor last Thursday, it was making our party look even more ridiculous — and further damaging our chances for the presidency.
When the top 10 Republican candidates met for the first GOP debate of the 2016 campaign season, a few — such as former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush, Republican and Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla. — succeeded in getting their points across and in generally seeming reasonable. Most of the others, however, accomplished just the opposite. And it wasn’t only Donald Trump.
It’s a given that Trump, with his polling numbers at an impressive 20 to 24 percent, is damaging to the Republican Party. But many other candidates were no better on Thursday. On the debate floor, Sen. Rand Paul, R-K.Y. utilized much of his speaking time to undermine Trump, saying that he “buys and sells politicians of all stripes.” He later engaged in a heated argument about the Patriot Act with New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, and yet another with Trump concerning a “single-payer system” for healthcare. Both featured a great deal of yelling. Rather than undermining Trump, Paul only appeared as undesirable as the candidate he was trying to tarnish.
Though Paul may have been the only one to jump into the bullpen and raise a red handkerchief, he wasn’t the only candidate who embarrassed his party by mimicking Trump’s style. Both Christie and Ohio Gov. John Kasich seemed to be yelling at times. Former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee sounded absurd when he said the military’s purpose was to “kill people and break things,” and neurosurgeon Ben Carson seemed off-point in a political setting when he noted that he was “the only one to separate Siamese twins.” Shock value, it seemed, had replaced rationality as the foundation of some candidates’ arguments.
Even Bush’s leadership skills were somewhat compromised by Trump. When asked whether he had referred to Trump as a “clown, a buffoon,” he was rather quick to deny the allegation. Instead of speaking the blunt truth about Trump, he settled for saying that “Trump’s language is divisive.”
If the GOP candidates hope to overthrow Trump, they are going to have to rethink their strategy. Tarnishing the image of the Republican Party will not do it. Then again, this may be a deeper problem for the GOP: The fact that the Grand Old Party has elevated Trump to first place suggests that it may already be beyond repair.