Attention parents: The remaining Republican presidential candidates debate in Detroit tonight, so if your cable box has a parental controls option, you might want to block access to Fox News Channel.
The last time the Republican presidential candidates gathered on stage to debate, it took less than an hour for the whole thing to devolve into an out-of-control dumpster fire of insults and attacks. That was with the somnolent Ben Carson still on the dais and before Marco Rubio started making jokes about the size of Donald Trump’s … umm … hands.
Rubio and Texas Sen. Ted Cruz were at times so anxious to attack Trump that all three of them were shouting over each other as CNN host Wolf Blitzer tried to rein them in, with little success.
Tonight, the four remaining candidates take the stage two days after Trump won a sweeping Super Tuesday victory. How ugly will it be? Consider:
- Trump has won two-thirds of the states that have voted so far, and time is running out to prevent him – a candidate that many Republicans see as a mortal threat to their party’s long-term survival – from collecting enough delegates to clinch the nomination without a floor fight at the convention.
- Since the last debate, Rubio has insulted Trump’s face, mocked his hair, and questioned his honesty, He also suggested that the billionaire former reality television star’s supposedly small hands indicate that he has a small penis.
- The debate will be hosted by Fox News Channel, and one of the questioners will by Megyn Kelly. After the first debate of the cycle, Trump suggested that Kelly had been unfair to him, and suggested it might have been because she was menstruating at the time.
Yes, the chances that this will be a PG-13 affair, at best, are high.
Asked if there was any reason to expect something other than a two-hour food fight tonight, Republican consultant Ford O’Connell emailed, “Nope! Cruz and Rubio are very likely to follow the same game plan again.”
O’Connell said that Trump’s opponents have all recognized that taking down The Donald is not, and has probably never been, a matter of proving that he’s an unstable policy lightweight with questionable judgment.
“They recognize that Trump's power is the vision he is selling - make America great again,” he wrote. “And if they are going to undermine that vision they have to undermine Trump.”
He noted that Trump’s last high-profile attacker, former Florida governor Jeb Bush, had been unable to dent the Trump image by bashing him on policy grounds.
“That doesn't work against Trump,” O’Connell said, “because he is a feeling, not a set of policy positions.”
The last hope for restoring some dignity to the primary may be former Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney, who is expected to deliver a speech in Utah on Thursday morning in which he will criticize the tone of the campaign so far, and according to reports citing sources close to Romney, lay much of the blame on Trump.
Perhaps the censure of the former candidate of the Republican establishment can tame a rogue candidate whose base is the anti-establishment wing of the party. Maybe Trump, who has described Romney as a failure and a loser, will unexpectedly bow to his gravitas and raise his tone. And it could be that Trump’s opponents, inspired by Romney’s example, will pivot back to policy arguments.
But the smart money is on more dick jokes.