The Republican Party, partially but not entirely thanks to Donald Trump, just gave us perhaps the most entertaining debate in presidential primary history. And it also showcased a field of talented politicians. But the problem is that everything was within a framework of a still-broken party.
By the end of the night, all nine of the non-Trumps demonstrated why they belonged in the main event. Each of them has solid skills for this kind of thing. To my eyes, Marco Rubio probably had the best night of the group (and many on Twitter seemed to agree), but everyone had at least a couple of moments to shine.
It’s impressive: This style of debating, under these conditions, is not as easy as several of them made it look. Only Mike Huckabee had debated at this level before. Rand Paul, in particular, has only run for office once before, but he was quite strong throughout. Most candidates (including Hillary Clinton, Barack Obama and Mitt Romney, to name a few) took several tries to get up to speed when they began running for president.
And at least a few of the GOP candidates (John Kasich, Jeb Bush, Rubio) have taken governing seriously; they’re not just show horses.
None of this takes away from the obvious fact that the party is still a mess. We had nothing resembling a real agenda for governing from anyone on the podium. Years after Obamacare passed, none of them can even pretend to have a health-care policy. The economic plans that they want to talk about are mostly bromides and cliches. On foreign policy it’s braggadocio along with contempt for Barack Obama.
Yes, there were a few exceptions, from some candidates on some specific issues (such as Bush on immigration, Paul on civil liberties, Rubio on a few things). But Republicans have shown no signs at all that they are close to being able to succeed at governing.
This excerpt is from Bloomberg View.