Even though FOX was replaced by CNN last night, the second GOP debate had some of the same problems as the first one, with an additional problem all of CNN’s own devising: It was far too long. Spending three hours watching the candidates swap platitudes, soundbites, and non-sequiturs is more akin to an “enhanced interrogation technique” than anything likely to enlighten voters. As in the first debate, no one asked a question about trade, even though voters have shown great interest in that issue. And there were too many questions on foreign policy, all from a neocon perspective. An early question, for example, assumed that the candidates should be worried about Russian involvement in Syria, even though more Russian involvement in Syria would be directed against ISIS, the enemy of Russia’s Syrian ally. Apparently, ISIS embodies a special type of evil: It must be destroyed, but it can only be destroyed by America. Although most of the candidates say they want to see ISIS destroyed, they don’t want to see ISIS destroyed by Russians, or Syrians, or Iranians. This is a recipe for plunging us into another Mideast war, perhaps even a two-front Mideast war, especially since most of the same candidates also want to threaten Russia, arm opponents of the Syrian regime, and reimpose sanctions on Iran. The discussion of Syria and ISIS was of a piece with the absurd inflation of the threat posed by an Iran whose defense budget is over 30 times less than ours and the equally absurd pandering over Israel.
It did not help that the debate was held at the Reagan Library. Republicans are beginning to sound like the Democrats who ran against Herbert Hoover for decades. As Peter Brimelow has pointed out, Reagan solved the major problems he was elected to deal with—rampaging inflation and the threat of Soviet communism—and he solved them so comprehensively that we can’t even remember they were problems. That is all to Reagan’s credit. Reagan did not solve the problems we are facing some 35 years after he was first elected, and some of his proposed solutions are not just ill-suited to our times but were wrong even then. (Reagan’s amnesty for illegal immigrants comes to mind.) Voters rightly want to hear how candidates will solve the problems of today, not how much they admire someone who solved problems a generation ago. It’s no longer morning in America; it’s far closer to midnight.
Thomas Piatak is a contributing editor to Chronicles: A Magazine of American Culture. He writes from Cleveland, Ohio.