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Thursday night was — against all odds and the prevailing narrative in the media — a real victory for the Republican party.
What was framed in the lead-up as an embarrassing glut of meaningless candidates revealed itself to be, for the most part, a serious and diverse field both in terms of policy and demographics.
What many expected to be a fireworks show between a fractured and fractious party and its unlikely reality star frontrunner was actually a largely civil exchange of ideas. Finally, a party often criticized (especially by conservatives in Hollywood) as impossibly deficient in stagecraft and presentation managed to introduce nine articulate, polished and thoughtful candidates — and Donald Trump.
Of course, thoughtfulness and polish aren’t what Trump is going for and, to his credit, he performs his renegade, shoot-from-the-hip, speak-truth-to-power role with alacrity. Ten years-plus as a reality TV star has taught him an instinctive sense of stagecraft and storytelling, just as years hosting his own show on Fox News has honed the wit and forcefulness of Mike Huckabee.
Of course, just that Republicans are having debates at all is a minor victory when you consider the announcement this week that Democrats would not take the stage next to each other for at least 10 weeks. And really, that’s the true victory of the evening — how it juxtaposed the current state of the Republican political machine with that of the Democrats. After seven years in power, the Democratic Party doesn’t seem ready for primetime.
Compare tonight’s largely gaffe-free performance to Hillary Clinton‘s stumbling campaign these last months — or decades. Compare the clear and articulate policy prescriptions offered by tonight’s candidates to Hillary’s constantly evolving positions on everything from gay marriage to … EVERYTHING ELSE.
Just consider the presence of such a dynamic field to the top-down stranglehold the Clintons seem to have on their party’s nomination. As Marco Rubio so perfectly put it tonight when asked about God, “[God] has blessed the Republican Party with some very good candidates. The Democrats can’t even find one.”
Tonight’s crop also did a great job challenging the tired charges Democrats so often level against the GOP. Where Democrats often declare Republicans the party of rich, white men, the GOP tonight presented a female CEO, a black brain surgeon and two sons of Cuban immigrants.
While Democrats often present conservatism as a regional movement, on stage were candidates from California, Ohio, Wisconsin, Florida, New York and Michigan. Democrats accuse Republicans of being fractious, but almost every candidate tonight agreed to support the eventual nominee.
Perhaps most impressive was that the moderators of tonight’s event seemed to do everything in their power to trip up the candidates — hosts from Fox News, no less, a network that many Hollywood liberals would expect to serve up softball questions to Republicans. Can anyone imagine a Democratic debate hosted by MSNBC personalities where the candidates would be so challenged on electability, inconsistent policy positions, and charges of sexism and racism?
The one failure of the evening was the “Happy Hour” debate, a tragic piece of political theater that seemed almost deliberately designed to undermine the candidates that participated. The emptiness of the arena during this early broadcast seemed to get more stage time than any of the individual candidates, and the hosts seemed less interested in policy than they did in procedure — basically probing the candidates on the mechanisms of the race and their own perceptions of their alleged limitations rather than giving them an opportunity to define their positions.
While Carly Fiorina and, to a lesser extent, Gov. Bobby Jindal managed to overcome the poor staging of the event and present themselves as serious voices in the movement, most of the other candidates struggled to overcome those limitations.
On the whole, Republicans will start the day Friday invigorated by the performances and re-energized about their chances against a Democrat Party that seems past its prime.
The political wilderness Republicans have found themselves in these last few years seems to have sharpened them, just as the excesses of power seem to have dulled the competition, and what seemed a long shot only a few months ago seems more and more like a real possibility today: That the party of individual liberty and prosperity might once again occupy the Oval Office.
Filmmaker Jeremy Boreing is head of Friends of Abe, a private group of 2,500 conservatives who work in the film, TV and music industries. His most recent movie was ‘The Arroyo,’ which he wrote and directed.
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