Well, the first CNN Debate is over. The struggle here is writing any sort of analysis that pretends that it wasn’t obvious to everyone watching that none of the other three candidates are in the same league as Bobby Jindal. As Jules Winnfield once noted (paraphrased), not only were they not in the same ballpark or league, they weren’t playing the same sport.
Where to even begin with [mc_name name=’Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC)’ chamber=’senate’ mcid=’G000359′ ]? For the last 15 or 20 minutes of the debate Graham was at least physically present. For the first hour (at least), Graham looked like someone had slipped him some Valium or perhaps an overdose of Zoloft. He stared off into space, he rambled, he looked totally and utterly lost. It was disconcerting because, whatever you say about [mc_name name=’Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC)’ chamber=’senate’ mcid=’G000359′ ] as a Presidential candidate, the man is used to being on TV and normally he comes off as a more or less normal person. Not so tonight.
The worst part of the entire night was his painfully awkward exchange with George Pataki over birthright citizenship in which he bizarrely seemed to yell random words during Pataki’s rejoinder. During this exchange, Santorum interjected that his immigration bill went nowhere in the Senate because at the time, the President was in favor of comprehensive immigration. Graham leaned into the microphone and yelled “GEORGE W. BUSH,” then looked around expectantly for applause but instead got only stony silence. Later, he seemed genuinely surprised that he got no applause for invoking [mc_name name=’Sen. John McCain (R-AZ)’ chamber=’senate’ mcid=’M000303′ ]. It’s really sort of stunning how disconnected from the pulse of the Republican electorate [mc_name name=’Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC)’ chamber=’senate’ mcid=’G000359′ ] is. Graham’s most forcefully delivered line of the night was about how sick he was of people saying they want the government shut down.
Pataki, if anything, was worse. Looking for all the world like the preacher from Poltergeist 2, he was immediately nailed to the wall by Hugh Hewitt on the first question (about refusing to support Trump, which is a defensible position but Pataki didn’t want to own it), and never really got up off the mat. He constantly tried to interject himself into exchanges between other candidates with points that were not germane to the discussion in place. His biggest applause of the night came when he criticized Kim Davis for refusing to do her job (surprisingly). But then he seemed to suggest that if Congress didn’t like the Supreme Court ruling, they could change it. Pretty characteristic of Pataki’s fog throughout the night.
Rick Santorum was, I mean, Rick Santorum. He seemed to spend a lot of his time exasperated that people didn’t know about all the things he has proposed over the years. The simple reason for that, of course, is that almost none if it actually accomplished anything, a point successfully made by – of all people – [mc_name name=’Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC)’ chamber=’senate’ mcid=’G000359′ ]. Santorum seemed irritated and condescending all night, probably remembering how, for a couple of weeks that should never have happened, he was once a Republican frontrunner. But his most memorable moment of the night was when he forcefully advocated for a higher federal minimum wage and claimed that Republicans didn’t care about ordinary people. So….
Really, Jindal was the only candidate on stage capable of of displaying a grasp of policy details, talking about actual accomplishments, or, quite frankly, of coming off as a socially well adjusted person. He stood head and shoulders above the other candidates on stage, all of whom displayed with painstaking clarity why they did not belong on the “big” debate stage.
Moving forward, the answer to the debate conundrum is obvious – move Jindal up to the big stage and eliminate the JV debate once and for all. Apart from Jindal’s contributions tonight, the rest of the show was just too painful to watch.