The GOP field self-destructed last night

Near the conclusion of a deeply damaging slugfest that weakened every candidate on stage, Congressman Ron (“Dr. Demento”) Paul outrageously trashed the Gipper’s memory in response to pre-debate Herman Cain comments about trading Guantanamo terrorists for a hypothetically kidnapped American soldier. Newt Gingrich shouldered his way into the discussion and seized the opportunity to defend Reagan’s legacy (and to plug a documentary the former Speaker co-produced with his wife Callista) by reminding the audience that the most popular Republican of the last 50 years actually regretted sending weapons to Iran in return for American captives.

When a big CNN debate that’s supposed to focus on America’s future concludes with an utterly irrelevant dispute about a 25-year-old scandal that tarnished the reputation of a conservative saint, then you know it was a terrible night for the party. One of the savviest political observers I know (who’s been working for Republicans since the Nixon era) sent a terse text message offering an appropriate reaction to the Destruction Derby: “GOP, RIP.”…

All in all, only Democrats (and Jon Huntsman, who boycotted the proceedings over primary scheduling disputes) could have enjoyed this evening of mean-spirited sniping over mostly irrelevant issues.