I’d spent the night watching a couple hockey games, then after the Kings retook the lead in the west with a win over Montreal, I switched to MSNBC for news of the debate. Everyone was talking about Marco Rubio’s weak performance and Donald Trump’s yuge penis. I was bewildered and curious, but tripping on a Benadryl and seizure med cocktail I drifted off as Chris Matthews was babbling about Lawrence of Arabia. The movie, I think. Clever boy. Dreamless hours passed. I woke with a start to Joe Scarborough’s theme music. Born on the Bayou, I think, choogling on down to New Orleans, and several very sleepy journalists were talking about Marco Rubio’s weak performance and Donald Trump’s yuge penis. The BBC’s Katty Kay, in a perfect Received Pronunciation redolent of Oxford and the tonier restaurants, told us she was so mortified by the debased and phallic (her terms) content of the GOP debate that she had to fight the urge to shower to wash off the filth. She was so fraffly bothered you’d think she was back on the sub-continent in the wrong train car. The flies, the heat, the filth. For a moment I was almost proud of The Donald and Little Marco, but it was just the Irish in me, and it subsided later, in the shower, scrubbing and scrubbing. I never realized what a clean freak a Democrat could be.
So I just saw a replay of that portion of the GOP debate in Texas where it degenerated into complete anarchy, kind of like the examination scene in A Day At the Races, but instead of the Marx Brothers you had three obnoxious assholes who want to be president. Then I switch stations and it’s an old Tonight Show. Johnny Carson is talking to William F. Buckley, and Buckley is using words I’ve never heard before, big huge words. It’s 1980 and he’s lecturing Johnny on conservatism which, he doesn’t know yet, is right on the cusp of its golden age. He was Mr. Conservative back then, the smartest guy in the world, a conservative so intellectual he could hate communists in iambic pentameter. They’d bring him out to argue with Gore Vidal or trade bon mots with Truman Capote. But today, after watching that debate, it’s like William F. Buckley was from another planet. Do they even have conservatives like him anymore? What happened? Was it Rush Limbaugh that made things so stupid? I like to think so, but it’s certainly more than that. Still, you could imagine Rush on stage here with the three stooges, pitching in, shouting at Cruz, calling Rubio names, yelling louder than Trump. But not William F Buckley. I can’t see him on that stage, I can’t see him asking questions, I can’t even imagine him in the same room. But I do wonder just what Bill Buckley would say, watching Trump, Cruz and Rubio on PBS yell insults at each other. Maybe he’d say the superstition that the hounds of truth will rout the vermin of error seems, like a fragment of Victorian lace, quaint, but too brittle to be lifted out of the showcase. Not that I have a clue what that means, but at least he didn’t say sweat.
William F. Buckley watching the debate at Cato the Elder’s elysian pad.
I remember catching part of one of the early GOP debates and realizing that Marco Rubio scared the hell out me. He was too electable, and he could take big bites out of a potential Democratic majority in just the right places (e.g. Florida, New Mexico, Colorado and Ohio, Wisconsin and Pennsylvania) to give the GOP enough electoral votes in November. I breathed a sigh of relief, though, as he was stumbling and obviously wasn’t in this for the long haul this year. I said–either in a Facebook post or on my blog, I can’t remember–that the threat of Rubio won’t be this year, but in four years, or eight. Now he comes in second in South Carolina (after a weak fourth place finish in new Hampshire) and is obviously here to stay for a while. Two thirds of Republicans in South Carolina voted against Donald Trump. Rubio, Cruz and three losers split that two thirds. One of the losers, Bush, a hundred million bucks in the hole, drops out and his supporters despise Trump. Kasich can’t stay in much longer and it’s hard to see his supporters flocking to Trump either. Carson’s supporters I don’t know about. But as this race goes along, and as Trump still leads in polls nearly every upcoming race through the end of March, I’m wondering if half of that two thirds of Republicans will shrug and follow Trump, giving him the numbers he needs to win the nomination, or will they wait till Cruz and Rubio battle to the death and throw all their support to the winner. If either can hold on, and begin to win primaries by the end of March, then they could beat Trump. And we might be left with Marco Rubio, and I think Democrats who laugh at him underestimate his potential appeal to lots and lots of people who otherwise would vote for a Democrat. Cruz is not a genuine threat. He’s too doctrinaire, roo mean, too strident, and too unlikeable. Trump is not a genuine threat, he’s just loathed by too many people. Rubio, though, might have a Reaganesque appeal, in which case we Democrats have positioned ourselves too far to the left to win. If Rubio could appeal to moderate independents, a Democrat, any Democrat, could lose. A conservative Republican president is not something I like to think about. Hence Marco Rubio is the biggest threat to Democrats, liberals and progressives that the Republicans currently have. Let’s hope Trump keeps winning.