The latest episode of the Republican party’s ongoing presidential nomination reality show was the best one yet, but it might yet be too little and too late to save this series from an unsatisfying conclusion.
Telecast by the Cable News Network in Mercury Radio Theatre’s “War of the Worlds” fashion as an actual presidential debate, the episode featured two of the last survivors on the Republican party island, Florida Sen. Marco Rubio and Texas Sen. Ted Cruz, ganging up against the thus-far series favorite, self-proclaimed billionaire real-estate and gambling mogul Donald J. Trump in an entertaining showdown. Ohio Gov. Rick Kasich and retired neurosurgeon Dr. Ben Carson were also featured, and were quite boringly reasonable and level-headed in their brief moments, but they were just “and the rest,” as the first seasons of Gilligan’s Island’s theme song would have put it.
Regular fans of the show already know that Trump’s long experience in professional wrestling and reality shows have given him a decided advantage over the neophyte politicians who are now dancing with the stars, along with his unprecedentedly strong stand against illegal immigration and the fact that he’s not one of those neophyte politicians who are part of the “establishment,” which has long been established as the unseen villain of the series, and thus far his would-be rivals have mostly been preoccupied with sniping at one another. On Thursday night’s episode, though, all of these plot lines saw intriguing twists.
Both Rubio and Cruz demonstrated some professional wrestling moves and reality show savvy of their own, with Rubio noting that despite an unprecedentedly hard line against illegal immigration Trump has a longstanding practice of hiring illegal immigrants, and Cruz happily accepting Trump’s inadvertent compliment that nobody in the hated “establishment” likes him, and both provoking Trump into the face-making and rudely interrupting with shouts of “liar” histrionics that always get the show’s sizable anti-Trump audience booing and hissing.
Rubio got the better of the attack on Trump’s previous preferences for foreign workers, and when Trump objected to Rubio’s revelations that Trump had not only hired Polish workers for the dangerous asbestos removal to build the towering achievement of the Trump tower and had also stiffed them on their wages Rubio seemed to win the exchange by asking viewers to look it up. When Rubio noted that Trump had also preferred to hire Ukrainian maids for his Florida resort rather than American applicants willing to do the job, he was able to add the biographical detail that his own mother was a legal immigrant who had become an American citizen and supported him on his rise to a presidential contender by working as a hotel maid in Florida, and Trump was reduced to the open-borders argument that he merely hiring people to do work that Americans wouldn’t do. When he tried to strike back by noting Rubio’s involvement with the “Gang of Eight” that had sought to do the work of the open-borders crowd, much hated by all the show’s fans, Cruz was able to effectively jump in and note that Trump had been a big contributor to all of the Democratic members of the gang, and that only he of the three had been consistently righteous in his opposition.
Rubio at long last brought up that phony-baloney Trump University scam that’s winding its way through the courts, and the four bankruptcies and and made-in-China Trump ties and alluded to all the other failed Trump ventures of the invincible deal-maker, and Cruz noted that Trump’s claims that it’s all a lie is in itself a lie. Trump claimed to be a strong defender of Israel even as he defended a recent claim that he’d be neutral in a dispute between democratic and capitalist and humane Israel and the theocratic and no-economy-at-all-because-it’s-too-busy-hating-Israel Palestine, and Cruz noting Trump’s history of donating to anti-Israel politicians all the way back to Jimmy Carter. Trump tried to revise a minor plot line from a few weeks ago when Rubio started repeating himself, and wound up repeating himself to a point that the audience laughed along with Rubio. Between the two, Rubio and Cruz also brought up that Trump has been all over all the place on his health care plans, is losing in his beloved polls to the very vincible villain Hillary Clinton, won’t release the tax returns that might reveals he’s not such a successful businessman or generous philanthropist, has clearly lied about his views on the Libyan war, and donated $100,000 to the Bill and Hillary Clinton foundation that is one of the Republican’s juiciest issues.
In response Trump tried to revise another even more minor plot line about how Cruz had sullied Trump’s good friend Carson with a “tweet” of a CNN report about Carson’s withdrawal he was saved from Cruz noting how Trump had ridiculed Carson’s as “pathological” and akin to a child molester only by the intervention of CNN’s generally inept moderator. Another panelist from an affiliated Spanish-speaking network kept asking all the candidates if they “get it’ that the Republicans have to endorse an open-borders platform, which worked to Trump’s advantage, but overall it was a rough night for Trump.
Which won’t matter to Trump’s fans, of course. If their hero anti-immigration hero has a long history of hiring immigrant workers, well, that’s just because he’s a shrewd businessman, which is what’s need to make this country great again. If he’s not such a shrewd businessman as he’d have you believe, well, any source that would report such a thing is obviously not in favor of Trump and is therefore biassed against him, and you gotta hate any media that hate such a media star who’s going to make America great again. If Trump’s anti-Israel that just proves he’s not a stooge of Zionist conspiracy that’s bringing in foreign workers to drive wages down, and if Trump did that he’s just a good businessman. Who cares if he’s for socialized medicine or not, just so long as he builds that damned wall, and if he uses foreign workers to do that it’s just because he’s a good businessman. If he wrote a $100,00 check to his most recent wedding guest Clintons’ money-for-favors foundation, well, that’s just because he got snookered into thinking it was for some good work in Haiti or one of those places where no one ever does a publicized audit.
The far louder than Rubio-and-Cruz-combined media will be saturating the public with even more lurid tales of Trump’s business dealings and personal foibles just after he clinches the nomination, and will starting noticing that his refreshing political incorrectness is actually just downright rude, but until then his fans can revel in how he’s playing the media. With a potentially decisive number of delegates up for grabs in the impending “Super Tuesday” primaries are the next big episode in this series, that might be sooner rather than later. The good news for Trump is that Rubio and Cruz did about equally well, meaning they’ll continue to split that vast majority of the anti-Trump vote between themselves, and Trump’s 35 to 40 percent will prevail.
If the rest of the participants in this bizarre reality show had played their parts differently we might have would up with a sequel that featured a more-or-less conservative against one shade of socialist or another, which would have made an interesting show, but instead we might wind up with a corrupt semi-socalist and the semi-capitalist who paid her to attend his latest wedding in the worst episode of “Let’s Make a Deal” ever.
— Bud Norman