First came the Lindsey Graham cell-phone smash-up, then came Ted Cruz cooking bacon on his AR-15, then this. The IJ Review‘s 2016 viral game is so damn strong right now. What can BuzzFeed possibly do to up the ante, especially after the Bobby Jindal push-up debacle? Getting Mike Huckabee or Rick Santorum to cross-dress and hang out for an afternoon with Caitlyn Jenner might do it, but short of that, what?
Easy prediction: Tonight’s debate will be a huge letdown, especially for the 90 percent of us who are watching mainly to see Trump throw a chair at someone. Each candidate will have just five to seven minutes to speak, and having seen Rick Perry’s Trump-baiting strategy go nowhere poll-wise, the rest of the field won’t be inclined to waste their time picking a fight with the celebrity in the center square. They’ll ignore Trump to focus on their own message unless he takes a shot at them, and even then they’re likely to come back at him only briefly before returning to their talking points. This is their chance to introduce themselves to voters, after all; using that to yell at Trump instead would be an opportunity wasted. Trump himself may be disinclined to spar (for once) because this is his own chance to show people that he’s a semi-serious contender, not just a political insult comic whose main virtue as a candidate is his willingness to call professional politicians “losers” to their faces. I think Drew’s right: Most Trump answers tonight will boil down to “I will solve that problem and it’ll be amazing,” not “Jeb Bush’s running mate will be a Mexican rapist” or whatever.
If there are going to be fireworks, they’re more likely to come from struggling candidates like Rand Paul and/or Chris Christie clashing over policy. That sort of spectacle is potentially good for both of them — it’s attention-grabbing and it appeals to their respective bases in a way that simple Trump-bashing wouldn’t. What better way for Christie to introduce himself to Republican hawks than by slamming Rand? What better way for Rand to reingratiate himself to doves than by slamming Christie? The rule tonight, I think, is that brawling is fine so long as it enhances your brand in a useful way. Brawling with Trump doesn’t do that for anyone except Jeb Bush, whose chief appeal to his own base is merely that he’s “the safe choice” for the nomination. Fighting with Trump, the loose cannon, underscores that. For anyone else, it’s a waste of time.