The Republican debates have been massively successful in one way — bringing in a huge audience.
Donald Trump has helped to draw record numbers of Americans to their TVs for a few hours every few weeks. And what they saw resembled actual politics about as much as The Apprentice resembles actual business or Trump resembles an actual statesman.
Inspired by their fearless leader, Republican candidates have delved into a dystopian fiction where they imagine the America of 2015 as infinitely worse off than we were amid the multiple crises President Obama inherited. The truth is the economy isn’t great — unless you compare it to the rest of the world or the rest of the century. And while U.S. soldiers are no longer dying in Afghanistan or Iraq, the threat of ISIS has combined with the continued trauma of mass shootings to create a real sense of unease at home. Republican candidates have sought to exacerbate that unease by raising ISIS to the level of an existential threat, although more Americans die every day from gun violence than have died from terrorism in the United States in the 14 years since 9/11.
Since President Obama took office, more than 12 million Americans have gained jobs, 17 million have gained health insurance, and undocumented immigration is at its lowest point in decades. A deal has been made that could peacefully prevent Iran from getting nuclear weapons. Oil prices are low, as access to renewable energy is exploding thanks to the president’s stimulus program. And diplomacy with Cuba signals an end to calcified approaches that failed for more than half a century. Life isn’t perfect, but the improvements under Obama create a conundrum that has required Republicans — hoping to stand out in a field so large that it resembles the cast of the Bachelorette before they start kicking out non-white contestants — to invent the disasters they’d like to run against.
The most recent foreign policy debate reached an apex of insanity that forced many observers to note Republicans were just in a competition to tell the scariest story. Bloomberg‘s Jonathan Bernstein summed up: “They’re not saying the Republican candidates are promoting foolish policies; they’re saying the entire debate, with only a handful of exceptions, was an exercise in fantasy.”
The deception and propaganda masquerading as tough tough talk began at the first debate and just keeps getting worse. Here are the five worst moments so far.
5. Carly Fiorina connects the Iran Deal to Planned Parenthood.
Never have so few sentences been so wrong and so disturbing. Fiorina wasn’t just ginning up war using debunked talking points — she was framing brave women and men who devote their lives to providing basic reproductive health care as enemies of America.
4. Donald Trump insists vaccines cause autism.
“The following medical groups agree that there is no link between vaccines and autism: The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the National Institutes of Health, the American Academy of Pediatrics, the World Health Organization and the Institute of Medicine. Whether alone or grouped together (such as Measles Mumps and Rubella), vaccines don’t cause autism. The medical community is clear,” Todd Graham wrote. But now this completely irresponsible and possibly deadly bit of conspiratorial fiction has been elevated to the mainstream by the frontrunner for the Republican presidential nomination.
3. Chris Christie vows to start a nuclear war.
Chris Christie opened the GOP debate by saying how scared Americans should be of ISIS — and then consoled them by promising to start World War III as president, as Senator Rand Paul pointed out in a rare moment of sanity on the Republican debate stage.
2. Christie implicates Planned Parenthood and Hillary Clinton in murder.
This list could just be filled with Chris Christie moments. The “moderate” governor — seeking to shake off the criminal conspiracy perpetrated by his top staffers, the multiple New Jersey credit downgrades, and his Obama hug — has repeatedly sunk to abysmal rhetorical depths that include scaring Americans into believing their Social Security won’t be there because of “theft,” when he has embraced actual theft against New Jersey state workers. But this was his very worst moment. He elevates the fringe notion that abortion is murder — which would make 1 out of 3 American women murderers — into mainstream rhetoric by implicating Hillary Clinton and Planned Parenthood in a crime in order to sell body “parts.” Just weeks later a man killed a police officer, an Iraq War vet, and a mother of two, in an attempt to shoot up a Planned Parenthood clinic. His reasoning for doing so (“no more baby parts”) closely echoed the comments of Christie, Fiorina, and other Republican candidates made repeatedly on debate stages.
1. Trump professes his love for nuclear weapons.
This answer isn’t just disturbing because Trump doesn’t seem to know what the nuclear triad is. It gets worse. He ends his answer by saying that with nuclear weapons, “the power, the devastation is very important to me.” This seemed to be an ode to being able to blow things up, while covering for his ignorance of something a presidential candidate should know. But it turns out that Trump was really saying that he’s eager to make the weapons part of his arsenal. “What good does it do to have a good nuclear triad if you’re afraid to use it?” Trump spokesperson Katrina Pierson clarified later.
And here’s a bonus supercut of the debates from Gawker:
Photo: Republican U.S. presidential candidate businessman Donald Trump (R) reacts to a comment from Dr. Ben Carson (L) and reaches over to him in the midst of the Republican presidential debate in Las Vegas, Nevada December 15, 2015. REUTERS/Mike Blake