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Rich writes: "There were ten candidates onstage in the CNBC prime-time Republican debate, not to mention the other four candidates who appeared earlier in the kiddie-table debate. Did the GOP winnow the field?"

Republican candidates at their debate earlier this week. (photo: Mark J. Terrill/AP/Corbis)
Republican candidates at their debate earlier this week. (photo: Mark J. Terrill/AP/Corbis)

Is the GOP Cracking Up?

By Frank Rich, New York Magazine

30 October 15


Most weeks, New York Magazine writer-at-large Frank Rich speaks with contributor Alex Carp about the biggest stories in politics and culture. This week: the third GOP debate.

here were ten candidates onstage in the CNBC prime-time Republican debate, not to mention the other four candidates who appeared earlier in the kiddie-table debate. Did last night winnow the field?

For the past couple of weeks, we’ve been treated to a steady barrage of articles and opinion columns in virtually every major publication touting Marco Rubio as the most talented, the most likely, the most obvious survivor in this overcrowded field — the sole Establishment candidate who can survive the onslaught of the Trump-Carson crazies and walk away with the prize. The only flaw in the Rubio case is that there has been no evidence that his fellow Republicans particularly like him; as a first choice among GOP voters, his poll numbers are more or less in the 10 percent range (though, we’re assured, he’s everybody’s second choice).

Last night was Rubio’s opportunity to prove his case. He grabbed more speaking time than anyone except the tenaciously tedious Carly Fiorina. And he is nothing if not slick and glib. His response to every tough question is always the same. He invokes his father, a bartender, and his mother, a hotel maid. He sanctifies himself as the living proof of the power of the American dream. The litany sounds automatic at this point, but who knows? Maybe it plays. If his rise among actual voters, as opposed to pundits and political professionals, is to come, it must start now. Particularly since the once-favored candidate among Establishment Republicans, the fallen Jeb!, had the least speaking time last night, leaving Rubio an enormous opening to poach whatever remains of his onetime mentor’s support (and donors). John Kasich, who might also have inherited some of Jeb!’s mantle as the adult Republican in the room, and who seems far more substantive and accomplished than Rubio, came across as shrill and angry in tone in the debate (even when his words were not so).

So now we’ll see if Rubio’s anemic poll numbers start to rise. Meanwhile, the overall question about the GOP in 2016 remains the same. Do Republicans, especially those who vote in primaries, want a center-right candidate who has actually worked in government, or do they want a rank outsider?

No matter what the pecking order, the fact is that half, or a bit more than half, of the Republican electorate still is telling pollsters that it doesn’t want a Rubio, Bush, or Kasich. It wants Ben Carson or Donald Trump or (for a while) Fiorina. I think we can say that Fiorina is done; her brief vogue ended because she is both a world-class scold and the most unconvincing populist imaginable. (She not only laid off 30,000 employees at HP but nearly destroyed the company for those who remained.) Trump is wearing thin, but even at his thinnest, he’s still outpolling most of his opponents by double digits. And Carson — the new favorite — well, he makes Trump sound like Disraeli. As the debate once again demonstrated, he babbles platitudes, generalities, and utter nonsense; lies about his own history (including as a peddler of a suspect patent medicine); and seems to regard his own ascent in politics as akin to the Second Coming. If he and Trump continue to lead the GOP field, the Republican Party has a true crack-up on its hands, with its traditional donor class and corporate infrastructure in irresolvable conflict with its radical base. It’s worth noting that the miracle man who is supposed to paper over this conflict in Washington — Paul Ryan — received scant respect from the presidential hopefuls last night. If Trump and Carson both fade, it would seem that the only acceptable alternative to the base would not be Rubio but the far-right Ted Cruz, whose debate performance was just as slick.

One other point about last night: The lustiest cheers of the evening, some of them generated by Cruz, were for the candidates’ attacks on “the media” in general and the debate moderators in particular. CNBC surely did everything it could to prove the candidates’ case. Without explanation, the debate was preceded by nearly 15 minutes of banter by ill-informed and bombastic commentators, including the Trump ally (and aspiring Senatorial candidate) Larry Kudlow. Among the questioners at the debate itself were Jim Cramer, a poster boy for the reckless excess and conflicts of interest that found their apotheosis in the Wall Street crash of 2008, and Rick Santelli, whose 2009 on-air rant about American “losers” inspired the tea-party movement. The whole event felt like a disorganized amateur night, and one can only imagine Roger Ailes howling with delight at every wrong turn. I would be bitter about the fact that the debate took me away from too much of Game 2 of the World Series, though, given that I am a Mets fan, maybe that was a blessing in disguise.

It’s hard to see how things could get worse for Jeb Bush. He has been forced to cut campaign staff and expenses. He is relying on his brother and his parents to reassure donors. At a South Carolina town-hall meeting last weekend, he attracted criticism by complaining about the job of running for president, saying that he has “a lot of really cool things” he could do rather than suffer the indignities of trading jabs on the campaign trail. Did last night help him at all?

No. Bush is finished. I’d argue that he was never a real candidate to begin with, for all the money and Establishment support he attracted. There are three basic requirements for running for president: a cause or causes you vehemently want to advance, the proverbial fire in the belly, and an enthusiastic group of grassroots supporters who want to propel you to the White House. Bush had none of the three.

His campaign has been a study in incompetence that has mainly dramatized the candidate’s sense of entitlement. He was utterly blindsided by the single most obvious obstacle he was destined to face — addressing the record of his brother’s administration. As Elizabeth Drew laid out the evidence in a devastating New York Review of Books blog post last week, there were many reasons why Bush should have been prepared for the question Donald Trump raised about 9/11. The period between George W.’s inauguration in January 2001 and 9/11 was rife with national-security failures as the Al Qaeda threat grew daily. Rather than address those failures, Jeb took the position that it was impertinent to raise the question. He was similarly caught off guard by repeated questions about his brother’s instigation of war in Iraq.

What’s also remarkable is how little Jeb is aware of the changes in his own party. He has seemed perpetually surprised by the heathens in the GOP’s midst. He should not have been. His own father, with his race-baiting Willie Horton campaign against Michael Dukakis, helped invite in the crazies. His brother and Karl Rove gave sotto voce encouragement to the gay-bashing forces of the religious right, and looked the other way as Sarah Palin paved the way for Trump, Carson, and Cruz. Yet Jeb still clung to a belief that the old-school patrician ethos of his parents could run to his rescue in 2016. History will look back at him, if it looks at all, as a world-class fool and the last exhausted gasp of a GOP that no longer exists. your social media marketing partner


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-101 # caphillprof 2015-10-30 09:28
Hypothetical: If Democrats, Liberals and Progressives had to elect one of the many Republican candidates for President, . . . Trump is the only one adult enough to move the Republic away from the abyss.
+125 # wrknight 2015-10-30 09:36
...and toward the other abyss.

As an aside, the word "adult" here is totally inappropriate.
+20 # PCPrincess 2015-10-30 09:58
I'm willing to admit you are right. I'm also willing to say what everyone should see: Bernie Sanders is our ONLY hope to turn this train wreck around. With all respect to Mrs. Clinton, she is NOT the progressive that Bernie is and her election would result in eight more years like Obama's. I don't think this country could survive that without serious repercussions. Now to the reason I replied to your comment; you are correct, and in fact, I'd vote for Trump before I'd vote for Hillary, because I do believe that underneath all the pandering (by both candidates), He would actually have the balls to say Hell NO to seriously flawed policy because he is less interested in the lobbyists cash and the corporate influence than Hillary might be.
+68 # m s 57 2015-10-30 10:22
Trump IS the abyss.
+56 # DD1946 2015-10-30 10:51
Adult is not a word I would use for Trump!
+21 # bmiluski 2015-10-30 11:29
Ha, ha, ha, ha, ha caphillprof.... ....good one. You should go on the road with that as a stand-up.
+23 # Texas Aggie 2015-10-30 15:43
Off hand I can't think of anyone who is or was a candidate on the republican side who can be classified as an adult. Not even Kasich has a record that would place him in that category, and his record DOES show that he isn't a whole lot different from Ryan as far as economic matters go, so he won't be moving anyone from any abyss.
+26 # Salus Populi 2015-10-30 16:46
In essence, they are all Donald Trump, just not as in-your-face about it.
+2 # ericlipps 2015-10-31 08:20
Quoting caphillprof:
Hypothetical: If Democrats, Liberals and Progressives had to elect one of the many Republican candidates for President, . . . Trump is the only one adult enough to move the Republic away from the abyss.

That hypothesis falls flat just about every time the Rump opens his mouth. He's the Ross Perot of 2016, except that where Perot was rejected by the Republican Party and had to run as an independent, Trump is popular enough with the base and with business to make a real showing in the GOP (so far; how he'll do when people actually start casting ballots in the primaries is anyone's guess). Trump is running a vanity campaign, just as Perot did.

And one has to wonder whether the real difference between the two is simply that the Donald looks better on TV than Perot did.
+1 # LtDan65 2015-11-02 00:18
Thank you for the (not too) humorous post.
+79 # wrknight 2015-10-30 09:34
The GOP cracking up is not a thing in progress, it is a fait accompli.
+14 # Texas Aggie 2015-10-30 15:44
Your keyboard to God's ears.
+7 # bmiluski 2015-10-30 17:08
Yeah, but let's be careful what we ask for because we might get it.
+3 # CL38 2015-11-01 11:56
GOP cracking up started 40 years ago and without treatment, will continue to get much worse.

Those who voted them in are equally as crazy to give them power and leadership positions.

We have a country-wide mental health crisis. If we fail to face this reality, the gop is determined to destroy what's left of the US.
+98 # Dongi 2015-10-30 09:41
Either Hillary or Bernie could demolish these clowns. I am going for Sanders cuz we need a progressive at the helm and there are important things to be done. Like get the god damned money out of politics so we can get sustained progress and reform. Sanders is a beautiful person and has built an admirable career taking care of the general welfare. We need more, much more of this.
-24 # harleysch 2015-10-30 14:10
I hate to say this, but Hillary would be vulnerable to a slick GOP campaign, if for no other reason that it is now on record that she lied, when she told us the Benghazi terror attack was a "spontaneous protest" against a video.

The fact that the Repubs have not used this yet (except for a reference from Rubio) does not mean they will not. In fact, it opens up the whole question of the complete and total failure of our "humanitarian" intervention into Libya, which has left half the country in the hands of Al Qaeda and ISIS.

The GOP hasn't used this yet because so many of them have been vigorous supporters of regime change. If their nominee is not part of the pro-regime change crowd, Hillary's lying on Benghazi will affect her chance of defeating the GOP, no matter how lame their candidate may be.
+17 # janla 2015-10-30 15:52
Hillary answered the question about why she gave out differing reports during her last (but probably not least) Benghazi hearing - that she shared the information as it came in, but that in the early hours and maybe even days, her people were not exactly sure what the attack was all about. How many times does she have to say this?
+2 # Caliban 2015-11-02 03:06
Many times, I fear. And you and others objective enough to know she is no closet Republican will have to support this effort.
+89 # reiverpacific 2015-10-30 10:04
"History will look back at him, if it looks at all, as a world-class fool and the last exhausted gasp of a GOP that no longer exists." (quote).
Right. This sorry cabal of power-grasping pretenders' mirror is "cracked from side-to-side", as "God's Own Party" has slid rapidly from "Conservative" -at least reasonably relevant and debate-worthy, to "Reactionary" -totally closed to anything remotely Democratic, bent on moving the country backwards to Feudalism, including corporate and real slavery, not just of black, brown and red but poor and lower-middle whites, bereft of all sense of humanity and reason, prepared for eternal war on "the other", increasing prison time, perpetrating the death penalty, the fact of healthcare as a privilege, quality public education as unnecessary, job-creating efficient infrastructure and transport a "waste of public funds".
The current Oligarchy is but a bump in the rapidly accelerating slide to the bottom.
Only Sanders can slow or stop this before the subject crowd of slick wannabe corporate puppets becomes the future!
+18 # mayordoug 2015-10-30 13:09
reiverpacific, as always, you put into words thoughts that this old Scot wishes he could! Thanks
+8 # PABLO DIABLO 2015-10-30 10:30
HUMP the TRUMP. Vote for THE DONALD and get the American Empire over with once and for all.
+26 # Shades of gray matter 2015-10-30 10:33
The GOP obituaries are premature, misguided, wishful thinking by people looking for excuses to not W.O.R.K.(4 letter word)at DC housecleaning, nailing shut the revolving doors for devolving hoors. GOP retains the necessary $$$ and the requisite unifier, motivator: "We're the Party of WHITE people." Marco could have a few problems with some of them, no? Many GOPers, when polled, are still exercising a "protest" opportunity; they will be AT THE POLLS on Election Day. Register, get your Absentee Ballot, ASAP.
Ka-sick didn't just "seem" shrill; he is the most dangerous one on the stage, as already shown. Some seriously sick liars on the stage. Lying wins elections, though.
+20 # Old4Poor 2015-10-30 12:19
It is hard to get past Kasich's announcement comments which included bombing Iran.
+6 # JJS 2015-10-30 18:20
It is my contention that the US Constitution anticipated these assholes because assholes have been around since day one. Self determination and incremental change. Let's corral and herd these cracked cats out of the mainstream and into the pen.
+67 # chapdrum 2015-10-30 10:42
Perhaps I'm overstating the situation, or just naive and ill-informed- but in my lifetime (since Nixon), this party has always been a charade from top to bottom, and a profound imposition on the Constitution and American democracy. This latest crop of charlatans is perfectly consistent with what they actually stand for -- gaming the system for their personal profit and power.
It is tragic that we are perpetually obliged to take any of them seriously.
+36 # Old4Poor 2015-10-30 12:21
Nope, neither overstating nor naive and ill-informed.

They have come close to ruining the country and still may.
+58 # Dgreenb1 2015-10-30 11:00
If you told a Roman citizen 250 years into the Roman Empire that in 150 years it would cease to exist, he would probably have fallen Down laughing. Then 150 years later- gone.

If we want to see this country survive we have to fix it. A start would be to limit the effect of money in politics- as difficult as that might be.
+13 # wrknight 2015-10-30 13:08
You want a radical suggestion? Treat public office as a civic duty instead of a privilege. Chose our elected officials the same way we chose people for jury duty.
* Random selection (only needs to meet legal eligibility requirements)
* Same salary as jury members (employers make up difference)
* No perks
* Single two year term
* Return to old job guaranteed

* Eliminates campaign financing
* Eliminates corporate influence in elections
* Frees up money for better use
* Saves time
* Eliminates campaign speeches and lies
* Better representation of the people
* Gives everyone an equal chance to be president
* Probably reduce corruption

* None

The argument that you would get unqualified public officials is moot because it is not possible get worse public officials than we get with the present election system.
+5 # tgemberl 2015-10-30 14:47
"The argument that you would get unqualified public officials is moot because it is not possible get worse public officials than we get with the present election system."

I think you're probably exaggerating a little bit. I'm assuming your proposal would have different levels of officials. In other words, the qualifications for president would be different than the qualifications for dog catcher.

In the ancient Roman Republic, officials only held office for one year, but normally they'd start out at the lowest office level (quaestor) and gradually progress to higher offices. They had a Senate made up of the various officials, but normally the Senate was just a place to discuss laws. The people voted on them. The Senate could only give orders in an emergency.

I think we should consider moving in that direction. If ordinary citizens have no say in what their laws are, how can we expect them to take part in democracy?
+2 # ericlipps 2015-10-31 08:25
Rome didn't have a democracy, only a republic. The vast majority of its inhabitants were not citizens and could not vote.
+2 # tgemberl 2015-10-31 11:44
They did have slaves, but I don't know if that disqualifies them from being a democracy. I believe a large part of the population was middle class. My understanding (no expert, I'll admit) is that "Republic" in the modern sense means the representatives make the decisions, not the citizens. In Rome, it was the citizens.

Keep in mind that one of the reasons the Republic fell was precisely that Rome got a lot more wealthy as its empire grew. Farming used to be done mainly by citizens, but by the Late Republic it was mainly by slaves on big plantations. As wealth got more powerful, their democratic system couldn't function anymore. For democracy to work, a large proportion of the population must be middle class. We are probably facing the same danger.

Equality is important for democracy because the citizens need to be independent and able to make their own decisions. If you get to the place where poor people are paid to vote a certain way, as they are in certain parts of Alabama, you're in trouble.
+2 # tgemberl 2015-10-31 12:05
While I'm "brainstorming, " I thought I'd mention that might explain the phenomenon of people like Ben Carson. Maybe some blacks have turned conservative because they've experienced situations where they were expected by powerful people to vote a certain way, usually liberal, and they've rebelled against that when they experienced financial success. I personally think they're wrong to turn conservative, but maybe it's understandable if you look at it that way.

I believe one of the problems with the Democratic Party here in the Deep South is an excessive conformity. We had one very promising candidate who could've been the first black governor of Alabama kicked out of the Democratic Party because he didn't want to vote the party line. He turned Republican (pretty foolish) but is now trying to reenter the Democratic Party.
-55 # jazzman633 2015-10-30 11:42
If you want your country back, vote Libertarian.
+18 # Old4Poor 2015-10-30 12:22
Not a solution to anything other than stopping all the needless military involvements worldwide.
+27 # Art947 2015-10-30 12:41
Are you suggesting to vote for the sickness that is Rand Paul and his father? I think NOT!
+1 # Buddha 2015-11-04 15:22
Ah, Libertarianism, the embodiment of greed and narcissism...a belief system where every person is an island and should be allowed to do whatever they want...on an Earth in ecological decline with 7B people, far above our sustainable carrying-capaci ty, as those "corporate people" rape and pillage every last resource remaining...
+27 # torch and pitchfork 2015-10-30 13:14
The Democrats are going to hold on to the White House, it's up to them to regain a true control of Congress to get anything accomplished, otherwise it's back to gridlock.
+18 # phrixus 2015-10-30 13:20
"Is the GOP Cracking Up?" Seriously? You need to ask?
+1 # ericlipps 2015-10-31 08:27
It's already cracked. It's on the way to shattering outright. And what rough beast, its hour come round at last, slouches toward Washington to be born?
+8 # chapdrum 2015-10-30 14:27
"John Dean, Richard Nixon's former legal adviser who blew the lid on Watergate. Now an outspoken critic of the Republican Party, Dean describes Nixon as 'a president who had a criminal mentality...[he ] sought revenge against his perceived enemies, was going to use his presidency to that end. Had he not have been removed from office, there’s no telling what he would have done to his so-called enemies.'"
P.S. Frank Rich: You have GOT to be kidding.
+15 # Robbee 2015-10-30 15:09
how big are rubio's financial issues? asked -

Senator Rubio, you yourself have said that you’ve had issues. You have a lack of bookkeeping skills. You accidentally inter-mingled campaign money with your personal money. You faced foreclosure on a second home that you bought. And just last year, you liquidated a $68,000 retirement fund. That’s something that cost you thousands of dollars in taxes and penalties. In terms of all of that, it raises the question whether you have the maturity and wisdom to lead this $17 trillion economy. What do you say?

says RUBIO: Well, you just – you just listed a litany of discredited attacks from Democrats and my political opponents, and I’m not gonna waste 60 seconds detailing them all.

Discredited attacks? As Florida Republican Joe Scarborough said Thursday morning:
“Marco just flat-out lied to the American people, there,” he continued. “And I was stunned that the moderators didn’t stop there and go, ‘Wait a second, these are court records. What are you talking about?’”

- rubio kicked this can down the road - how long will he do that? the longer he drags this out, the worse he looks

when diane reame accused him of dual-israeli citizenship, bernie immediately squashed it

when he's asked about socialism, bernie won't duck the question and change the subject - this is bigger than benghazi and emails, it has legs!

rubio is a brow-mopping, water-swilling duck; the longer he drags his personal scandal out, the bigger it gets!
+7 # Robbee 2015-10-30 15:25
rich has an impressive take on the faulty dynamics of the bush 3 campaign - it is so bad i wonder if a credible non-candidate like paul ryan could ride into the zombie convention, on a wave of extreme dissatisfaction with running candidates, and snatch the nomination - if he does, of course bush 3 would make a formidable veep - go bernie!
+7 # Robbee 2015-10-30 17:59
winnow the field? 14 candidates cannot all have a reasonable chance of winning - and yet the only one who tried to commit political suicide was bush 3, who attacked his star pupil, who promptly kicked his ass for trying it! - definitely not the smarter brother! it's a tie! - has establishment support and plenty of funds - go bernie!
+4 # davehaze 2015-10-30 20:49
Okay, we have the bat-shit elected Republicans, the clown-car hopeful Republicans, and we have the old-time (Sixties) Republicans in Democrat clothing, of course, Obama and the Clintons.

Don't believe me.
+4 # diamondmarge7 2015-10-30 21:33
The title is a RHETORICAL QUESTION, right?
+1 # diamondmarge7 2015-10-30 21:43
I see that nobody else has seconded PCPrincess 'motion" --her ideas re BERNIE. I agree with hear 100%. In fact, I am spending wonderful time and glad to do it, promoting Bernie's candidacy, and donating, and in general DOING ALL I CAN TO INSURE HIS NOMINATION. Unless the corrupt GreedyOldParty f*cks w/every single voting machine-or, before that, if DebbieWasserman Schultz, the absolutely cringe-worthy lickspittle for HRC, tries her hand @ f*cking up Bernie's chances by some trickery @ the DemsConvention, BERNIE is the only honest adult in the race. I specify the words HONEST and ADULT. PLEASE pledge to write in Bernie's name and enroll 2 others to do the same Thanx
+2 # ericlipps 2015-10-31 08:30
But he's not a Republican, and this post is about whether the GOP has gone crazy, not whether the Democrats have.

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