On Thursday, the four remaining Republican presidential candidates engaged in one of the wildest and most raucous debates of the 2016 cycle yet. The face-off took place in Detroit, a city still reeling from the after-effects of the Great Recession, but for the most part, the focus was not on economic issues — it was on GOP presidential front-runner Donald Trump.
The Donald took huge hits from all the sides, even from the moderators, and, as usual, he too lobbed his fair share of insults. With the notable exception of Gov. John Kasich, who proudly labeled himself the “adult” in the room, none of the candidates walked away unscathed. Who knew that the absence of the unpredictable Dr. Ben Carson would not diminish the oddball antics of the GOP contenders in the least?
And even if the debate on Thursday will do nothing to dramatically re-shape the contours of the Republican primary race — which many pundits have concluded — it did provide some astonishing, jaw-dropping moments for the viewers who tuned into Fox News to watch it.
Trump’s ‘guarantee’ on penis size: Just when you thought the level of political discourse couldn’t get any lower, early in the debate, the conversation devolved into euphemisms regarding the size of Donald Trump’s manhood. Sen. Marco Rubio’s “small hands” insult from the campaign trail was resurrected, and a clearly rattled Trump went on a cringe-worthy tangent about his extremities. “And he referred to my hands, if they are small, something else must be small. I guarantee you there is no problem. I guarantee,” Trump announced. Whew, so glad we settled that.
“Little Marco,” “Big Donald”: In a back-and-forth that felt like it belonged on a children’s playground and not a presidential debate stage, Trump and Rubio repeatedly spoke over each other prior in resonse to a question regarding the real estate mogul’s tax policies. An irritated Trump took to calling the Florida lawmaker “little Marco,” and the senator, who on the stump had been mimicking the front-runner’s name-calling, retorted by calling him “Big Donald.” As the Fox News moderators struggled to take control of the candidates, what’s left of the so-called Republican establishment must have been doing a collective face palm.
What … was … that on Cruz’s mouth?: One of the most uncomfortable moments of the debate came while Sen. Ted Cruz was delivering an answer on how to cut government waste. His words were upstaged by an unidentified white globule on his mouth. The Internet began buzzing almost immediately — was it undigested food? Spittle? An errant booger? A bit of tooth? Whatever it was, to many viewers’ dismay, we can safely say it’s a part of Cruz now.
Moderators can debate, too: Fox News continued to ape the late Tim Russert’s signature move of showing candidates their own contradictions and inconsistencies in real time. This led to some awkward moments where it seemed like the moderators were as much a part of the debate at the candidates themselves. Fox News anchor Chris Wallace mixed it up with Trump in a lengthy argument over how the real estate mogul’s budget numbers just “don’t add up” — at one point cuing to a second prepared slide to make his point. And Trump’s frequent nemesis Megyn Kelly may have more effectively indicted Trump’s handling of his namesake university than any of his competitors.
Cruz the cop? Political junkies are used to candidates who inflate their résumés to some degree, but Cruz’s assertion that he’s “spent much of his life in law enforcement” was confusing to say the least. Cruz has a long career as attorney, and he was a Supreme Court clerk — but that’s not law enforcement. He was adviser to the Bush-Cheney campaign, but that wouldn’t qualify either. He may be counting his six month stint as an associate deputy attorney general at the Department of Justice, but whether that counts as law enforcement is questionable, too.
Jerry Springer’s crowd shows up in Detroit: The debate audience was loud and distracting throughout the night, booing and hollering during both questions and answers. Some members of the crowd could even be seen craning their necks to get themselves on camera between the heads of moderators. The overactive atmosphere only added to the perception that a circus-like vibe has permeated the GOP primary fight, with a lot of the shots fired on stage playing better to the live audience than many of the viewers watching at home.
Trump makes the case for being “flexible”: After spending more than six months on the campaign trail castigating President Obama and his opponents for being weak because they’ve shown a willingness to negotiate policies, Trump made a stunning about-face on the debate stage amid discussion of an off-the-record conversation he had with The New York Times, during which he allegedly said he would be willing to reconsider his steadfast support for building a border wall to eliminate illegal immigration. Trump made the case for “flexibility.” “There’s always give and take. There’s always negotiation,” Trump said. Who knew?
Cruz coaches Trump through yoga: The whole debate over “flexibility” led to one of the most bizarre exchanges later in the debate. Cruz, who tried to remain above the fray for most of the night, tried to mock Trump by telling him to “breathe, breathe, breathe,” while the front-runner called him “Lyin’ Ted.” Rubio asked incredulously, “When they’re done with the yoga, can I answer a question?” And Cruz declared “I really hope that we don’t — we don’t see yoga on this stage.” So there you have it, the GOP’s war on yoga continues.
Rubio will support a man he calls a “con artist”: In a way, one of the most shocking moments of the night came near the end, when all of Trump’s opponents, despite all their heated rhetoric about how unfit he is to be president, reluctantly said that they would still endorse him should he become the Republican Party’s nominee for president. That answer was especially surprising coming from Rubio, who has taken to using the hastag #NeverTrump on social media and has repeatedly referred to Trump as a “con artist.” Meanwhile, according to Business Insider, Trump has a double-digit lead in every primary contest in the next two weeks. Contested convention here we come!