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Wednesday, December 7, 2016

Republicans always say nobody respects America anymore. No kidding. Given that CNN televised last week’s GOP presidential debate to a waiting world, it’s no wonder we don’t command respect.

After all, it’s one thing to see the most powerful nation on Earth choosing its leaders via a television game show. It’s quite another to contemplate the parade of grotesques and mountebanks enlisted as contestants.

The spectacle was enough to induce dread that’s less political than downright existential. “As flies to wanton boys are we to the gods,” Shakespeare wrote. “They kill us for their sport.”  

The good news is that former Treasury official under Ronald Reagan, Bruce Bartlett, is probably correct when he says: “Any Republican who can win the White House can’t win the nomination, and no Republican who can win the nomination can win the White House.”

There the 11 candidates stood in front of the sainted Reagan’s presidential airplane with massive wildfires roaring only a few miles away — climate change deniers every one of them. Marco Rubio, supposedly one of the smart ones, made a dumb joke about bringing his own water.

That would be the same President Reagan who sent a birthday cake to Iran’s Ayatollah and sold him guided missiles. Today’s GOP unanimously opposes President Obama’s multinational arms control agreement with Iran.

Of course, Reagan also once claimed to have taken part in liberating the Nazi death camp at Buchenwald, although the closest he got to Europe during WWII was a French restaurant in Beverly Hills.

But why be churlish? Pundits and voters have always judged politicians by varying standards. Reagan probably got a pass because people believed his emotional response to newsreel footage of concentration camps was sincere. Yet Al Gore got lampooned for something he never actually said about inventing the Internet.  

Besides, by the standard of last week’s GOP debate, Reagan was a veritable apostle of truth. You thought Donald Trump was a braggart and a blowhard? Then you probably cheered to see Carly Fiorina take him on.

Look at that face!” Trump told Rolling Stone. “Would anyone vote for that? Can you imagine that, the face of our next president?!”

Of course he came under fire for saying that. Why he didn’t simply say the reporter misunderstood him is hard to guess. It’s not as if people take Rolling Stone at face value. Maybe there’s a tape. But pretending he was talking about her grating personality didn’t fool anybody.

During the GOP debate, Fiorina’s deadpan response was a perfectly timed masterpiece of understatement.

“Women all over this country heard very clearly what Mr. Trump said.”

Silence.

“She’s got a beautiful face and she’s a beautiful woman,” Trump replied. Yeah, right. Did anybody watching believe him?

But then being Donald Trump means never being able to say you’re sorry. I’d estimate his emotional age at 12.

So now Carly Fiorina is the newest GOP sensation, whose secrets of corporate success she put fully on display. Fiorina gives a great interview, having mastered the art of appearing decisive even when she has no clue what she’s talking about.

Certitude’s easily faked with memorized talking points. For example, Fiorina vowed to shake a fist in Vladimir Putin’s face by holding military exercises in the Baltic. Evidently she was unaware that the U.S. and NATO have conducted joint maneuvers there yearly since the 1970s. The most recent 17-nation Baltic war games ended last June. The Russians complained.

Virtually everything she said about national defense was similarly nonsensical — not that GOP game-show viewers knew.

But when things start to go bad — as they did during her doomed tenure as Hewlett-Packard’s CEO — Fiorina evidently begins making things up. Who could not be moved, for example, by her horrifying description of a videotape supposedly exposing Planned Parenthood?

“I dare Hillary Clinton, Barack Obama to watch these tapes,” she said. “Watch a fully formed fetus on the table, its heart beating, its legs kicking while someone says we have to keep it alive to harvest its brain.”

Terribly dramatic, but also, as Michael Hiltzik documented in the Los Angeles Times, purely imaginary. No such Planned Parenthood video exists. Challenged on ABC’s Good Morning America, Fiorina simply doubled down, challenging her critics to prove a negative, which ain’t how it works.

Similar stonewalling, accompanied by personal attacks on her questioners’ motives, ultimately resulted in Hewlett-Packard’s board of directors voting unanimously to give Fiorina a $21 million “golden parachute” and show her the exit. Trump appears mostly right about Fiorina’s dubious business record, just as Fiorina was correct about the casino tycoon’s multiple bankruptcies.

It’s a mystery why Trump failed to mention that Fiorina’s whole rags-to-riches, secretarial-pool-to-executive-suite story is also totally bogus. Her father was Dean of the Duke School of Law and a Nixon-appointed federal Appeals Court judge.  

It’s possible Trump’s saving ammunition for the next exciting GOP matchup. Alternatively, he may be reluctant to have Fiorina bring up his inheriting $200 million from his real estate mogul father.

Either way, the two GOP frontrunners clearly deserve each other.

Photo: Donald Trump talks with Carly Fiorina after the conclusion of the debate. REUTERS/Lucy Nicholson

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