Anyone tuning into the Republican debate in Florida on Thursday night expecting the kind of exciting fireworks of the last debate might have been disappointed. Not a peep about anyone’s penis or hand size, short stature, tendency to sweat, or dishonest business practices, and no Ted Cruz telling Donald to stop interrupting and breathe. The four Republican candidates still standing seemed to have made a collective decision to be civil to one another, act more serious and debate actual issues. And yet still, they managed to spout a fair amount of alarming nonsense.
Here are nine notably absurd and jarring moments from the debate.
1. Donald Trump made a point of telling everyone he has watched the Democratic debates about highfalutin' things like Social Security and it is soooooo boring. (Not exciting like his favorite shows, “Survivor” and “The Apprentice” and “The Bachelor.”)
2. Marco Rubio made it very clear that although his parents came to this country unskilled and uneducated and were welcomed and are part of what made this country great, he is firmly committed to slamming that door shut to unskilled immigrants from here on in.
3. Trump doubled down on his statement this week that “Islam hates us.” When Jake Tapper asked, “Did you mean all 1.6 billion Muslims?” Trump answered, “I mean a lot of them.”
Tapper gave him one more chance and said, “Do you want to clarify that?” But Trump really thought he had already been plenty clear, and insisted that any attempt to argue with him was political correctness.
Making this doubly notable was that it somehow made Marco Rubio and Ted Cruz seem like moderates about Muslims, because they think there are Muslims we can work with to defeat ISIL. They are not moderates about Islam. Neither is John Kasich.
4. Both Cruz and Rubio turned a question about whether we should commit the war crime of killing terrorists’ families into an opportunity to bash Obama for “gutting the military.” Kind of a headscratcher. Then again, the Republican candidates had the misfortune of debating on the very day when news came out that Obama’s approval ratings are up dramatically. Bummer for them.
5. Cruz managed to make Trump seem relatively reasonable about negotiating between Israel and the Palestinians.
When Donald said, “I’m pro-Israel, but I would like to make a deal,” Cruz retorted, “That’s just like Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama.”
Trump talked some more about deals and how he likes to make them and how no one would make better deals than he because he is the best dealmaker who has ever lived, which gave Cruz the opening to express his utter anti-deal ideology.
“We don’t need smarter, better deals,” he said. “We need leadership.”
6. Rubio doubled down on his climate denialism, again, despite lots of Florida officials begging him to acknowledge its obvious devastating impact on the state. (Florida is sinking, y’all!) Rubio’s position is that you can’t legislate weather, and that’s all it is, no matter what all those scientists say. It's weather. He asserted that trying to do anything whatsoever to stem climate change and sea level rise would “destroy the U.S. economy.”
John Kasich responded that that seems a bit overstated. Just a tad.
7. Asked to respond to Gen. Colin Powell’s statement that the current Republican campaign is making the U.S. a laughingstock around the world, Ted Cruz says America is a laughingstock because of Obama. CNN moderator Jake Tapper, for whatever reason, lets him ramble on in that non-answer.
8. Trump was asked if his constant praise of strength might reveal a tiny authoritarian streak, like when he says Putin is a strong leader and China was strong in putting down the Tiananmen Square rebellion.
Trump rambled on and insisted he is just saying they are strong. Strong is not necessarily good. Then extolled strength some more, and came out against weakness, and said it's not a good or bad thing, it's just a thing.
9. Trump was asked if he is taking a tone that has encouraged violence against protesters at his rallies.
Trump gave a two-part answer: “People come to my rallies and they are very angry, and they love this country,” firstly.
And secondly, he said the protesters deserve it. “We have some protesters who are bad dudes.”
Then he feebly tries to change the subject to how great our police officers are in this country. But no one seemed to be buying that.