So, the third debate in the Republican race.
What did we learn?
Well, firstly we learned that the moderators were pretty lousy. They tried to control the candidates by asking an implausible number of quite ridiculous questions and then seemed stumped when those candidates refused to listen to them. If anything, the debate proved how wrong it is to try to turn such an event into prime time television entertainment. Was it all down to media bias? No, not at all. It was, instead, down to the fact that the media wants high ratings and really can't care less for actual policies.
Still, they were all there, onstage, the most important Republican candidates, so they could at least try to make the most of things. Did they?
Well, here are some of things that stood out.
Firstly - and most importantly - there was the Bush v Rubio clash. A clash that Rubio won handsomely. When attacked by a clearly awkward Bush on his voting record in the Senate, Rubio pointed out the obvious: "Someone has convinced you that attacking me is going to help you". And then Rubio simply turned to the camera to talk about "the future of America", leaving Bush gasping like a fish out of water.
The most interesting moment of the debate, however, was offered by Ted Cruz. When asked about the national debt, he decided to totally sidestep the question and instead did a Gringrich, using all of his time to attack the media. "How about talking about the substantive issues?" Cruz asked rhetorically, thereby ignoring the obvious fact that he had been invited to do just that. And then, without so much a pause, he went on to complain that he didn't actually get to answer the original question.
It was, frankly, a rather extraordinary display, but one that sat well with the audience, who cheered him on loudly. It seems to have turned him into a "winner" of the debate in the eyes of quite a few pundits, but to be frank, I very much doubt that it will get him anywhere. The whole thing was unoriginal and clearly quite contrived. It was also, at heart, little more than whining.
As for the rest, well, Carson managed to stay awake. He may even have understood a few of the questions posed to him, although it's difficult to say. Trump started fairly Trumpish by attacking Kaisich, but then settled into what I surmise must be his "presidential mode". Since he doesn't actually have a presidential mode, that meant that he was quiet for a surprisingly long time.
So, who won? In my book, probably Rubio, but not by all that much. Who lost? Easier to answer: the now-not-so-joyful turtle, Jeb¡.
It will be interesting to see what happens next. Where will we be when the next debate comes along (November 10th)? For Bush, the real question is whether he will be able to shore up (or at the very least hold onto) his establishment backing, or whether the donors will quietly start to sneak off to the likes of Rubio, Christie or even Kasich.
Even now, I feel that Bush is a strong contender, but I must admit there is a real possibility of him not even making it to Iowa or New Hampshire.
It is perhaps this which best describes him, a clip of Bush talking about something he'll never ever forget, and then forgetting what it actually was:
(Thanks to Alexandra Petri for pointing that one out to me!)