Leaving aside any notion of the Republican debate being a serious examination of policies and prescriptions for the future of this country, let's appreciate it, for the moment, on the level it deserved - Reality Television Entertainment. Twitter noticed the strange production quality of the debate early: the large stage in front of a large (and fairly energized) crowd, three moderators with different versions of skepticism on each of the faces. Each of the moderators/judges provided a different challenge for the contestants/candidates: for some it was a blunt 'why are you here, exactly?' and for others it was a list of specific character flaws for them to explain. I'll will give credit where credit is due - the moderators knew their material and they kept the debate flowing smoothly (once beyond that weird train wreck of an opening). One could imagine any number of scenes falling into a loser edit when they eventually drop out.
This cross-cutting resulted in some real moments of tension. The exchange between Christie and Paul proved illuminating. I initially judged the New Jersey governor the winner of the exchange because he reached the Guiliani 9/11 button first but upon reflection I have to admit, times have changed. The events of nearly 15 years ago no longer carry the same charge even for Republicans - at least to the degree that they can automatically shut down a debate. On that score I'm happy to be wrong.
Jeb bored the hell out of me, honestly. He doesn't seem as obnoxious as his brother but no where near as interesting either. If W was the frat boy doing keg stands in the common room, Jeb strikes me as the accounting major they stuck behind the tap. So in wrestling terms, that would make him and Kasich the 'faces,' of the rumble. But as pleasant as faces might be, they don't sell the tickets. True wrestling fans come for the heels, the chair-throwing, back-stabbing, insult-hurling villains.
So who was the heel? The obvious choice would be Trump of course, but I prefer my villains to be a shade less cartoon. His buffoonish bluster might be wearing thin or maybe we can look forward to a third party run but no matter - this guy is not going to be president. He doesn't represent an actual threat.
Next we have Walker and Cruz who one-up Trump simply by being nearly as arrogant but twice as sincere. Walker has the whole up-from-the-bootstraps, chip-on-the-shoulder aspect that makes him this cycle's Voldemort. He basically disappeared in the debate though so we'll have to wait to see if he's able to rise to the challenge of truly national level bullying. Cruz is so completely self-satisfied with his limited gifts it's hard not to pity the guy. He actually seemed to believe that the biggest problem in combating ISIS is word-choice. On the other hand, give this pompous twerp actual power and he'd be a disaster so let's call him Doctor Von Doom.
I'll also give another point to Megyn Kelly for her very effective take-down of Trump. Although I'd mention that as vile as Donald's comments are, that's low-hanging fruit. On the post-debate round this morning, I watched a painfully sincere and eloquent Marco Rubio explain why he felt women didn't have the right to make decisions about their body, yes - even in the case of rape and incest. That's true villainy - a smiling, charming zealot insisting a few words lodged in his head mean you can't make decisions about your own life.