Here’s what happened at last night’s Republican presidential debate:
Donald Trump defended the use of waterboarding and said, “If we want to go stronger, I’d go stronger, too … we should go tougher than waterboarding.” The crowd of Republican partisans at Detroit’s Fox Theater lustily cheered these remarks.
Trump also refused to back down from his pledge to target and kill the families of individuals who carry out terrorist attacks.
When asked about the lead water crisis in Flint, Marco Rubio gave credit to Governor Rick Snyder for his response. He also became indignant at the fact that Democrats are “politicizing” the issue, because he doesn’t “think someone woke up one morning and said let’s figure out how to poison the water system to hurt someone.” He called the attack “unfair.” Rubio also briefly noted that what happened to the residents of Flint was “a terrible thing.”
John Kasich got angry when it was suggested that he supported raising the federal minimum wage. The current federal minimum wage is $7.25, which works out to about $15,000 a year in annual salary.
Ted Cruz said that Detroit is a great city that has been “utterly decimated” not by de-industrialization, white flight, housing segregation, or state and federal inattention, but instead “by 60 years of failed left-wing policy.”
Trump referred to Rubio as “little Marco” and Cruz as “lying Ted.” Marco Rubio called Trump, “big Donald,” and Cruz told Trump “ to count to ten and “breathe.”
Trump said the military would agree to carry out even illegal orders from him if he becomes president, “They won’t refuse. They’re not going to refuse me. … If I say do it, they’re going to do it. That’s what leadership is all about.”
Cruz criticized President Obama for tying the military’s arms behind its back by forcing it to abide by rules of engagement, which are also generally known as the laws of armed conflict and are intended to limit civilian casualties. He called this “immoral.”
Rubio said “criminals don’t follow gun laws. They’re criminals. By definition, they ignore the law,” which kind of makes you wonder what’s the point of having laws at all.
Trump defended the sanctity of off-the-record interviews a week after saying libel laws should be loosened so he can more easily sue newspapers.
Kasich said a gay couple who is refused wedding services by a photographer on religious grounds should “find another photographer” because we need to “be a little bit more tolerant for one another.” In this statement, Kasich was suggesting that gays should be more tolerant of people who discriminate against them.
Cruz said that “we need a president who stands with the American people” and also repeatedly said he would repeal every word of Obamacare. On a related note, it was announced Thursday that 20 million “American people” have received health care coverage because of Obamacare.
Rubio said to voters who are supporting Bernie Sanders, “America doesn’t want to be a socialist country. If you want to be a socialist country, then move to a socialist country.”
Trump bragged about the size of his penis.
Rubio, who has called Trump a con man, a betrayer of conservative values, and unfit to be commander-in-chief, said he would still support Trump if he becomes the Republican nominee.
Cruz and Kasich said they too would support Trump.
After all this, I could talk about Rubio’s underwhelming debate performance; Cruz’s far more effective slashing attacks, undercut by his generalized unlikability; Kasich’s grating earnestness, but unwavering commitment to taking the high road; and Trump’s bombast, know-nothingness and utter domination of the proceedings. I could talk about the full-scale assault he took from Cruz, Rubio, and Fox’s Megyn Kelly over his failed Trump University and how any other candidate would have been grievously wounded, but knowing Trump he’ll probably move up in the polls.
I could mention that earlier in the day Mitt Romney, the 2012 Republican presidential nominee, launched a devastating attack on Trump, who responded by suggesting, in part, that if Trump had told Romney to get on his knees in return for his endorsement four years ago, he would have done it. I could mention that this was perhaps the most surreal, unimaginable day in modern American political history and that was before the debate even started.
I could mention that the Republican Party is officially the Humpty Dumpty Party — and that all the king’s horses and all the king’s men are not going to be able to put it back together again.
I could even try to tell you who won and lost the day.
But really, after reading about what happened last night, isn’t the answer pretty obvious?
America lost. Again.Michael A. Cohen’s column appears regularly in the Globe. Follow him on Twitter @speechboy71.