While the pundits score last night's Republican debate, who zinged who, who looked "Presidential," who garnered the greatest applause lines, and gee whiz, weren't those moderators great?, a larger truth is unsurprisingly being obscured. In a friendly room packed with partisans and batting practice softballs, the hard right ideas that were articulated in Milwaukee - on taxes, on immigration, on foreign policy - may have played well, but arguing for the massive deportation of the undocumented, the starvation of federal tax revenue while spending mindlessly on the military, and shutting down entire federal agencies, will not play well in Peoria come general election time.
And this is a problem that any of the candidates on stage last night will struggle with. Marco Rubio can repackage his stump speech into small sound bites for a 90 second answer that go largely unchallenged by a friendly Fox Business News panelist, but he will have to answer to an ocean of advertising and pushback regarding his inexperience, his flip flop on immigration, his no-exemption stance on abortion, and his tax plan if he is nominated for President. The same is true for Ted Cruz (my pick for who will win the nomination), who wants to shut down five government agencies (though he only remembered four - must be something in the water in Texas) and whose religiosity will be a turn off for millions of Americans.
Of course, if the primary electorate somehow toggles toward the mainstream, the relative moderation of a guy like John Kasich will cause the right wing elements within the Republican Party to blanche and the limp effort by Jeb Bush thus far suggests that but for his last name, he would have been written off long ago. Chris Christie was a rising star once upon a time, but between his middling record in New Jersey and the embarrassing "Bridgegate" scandal, he has been relegated to the "kid's table" debate and is now an also ran. The rest of the field are non-starters on the national stage. Trump is a bloviating egomaniac, Fiorina appears allergic to the truth and is a fact checker's wet dream, and Ben Carson does not appear to know more than a thimbleful of information about anything that one needs to be President.
And this does not even take into account the "Blue Wall" of states that have voted Democratic in each of the last six Presidential elections and will hand Hillary Clinton 90 percent of the electoral votes she will need to be elected, leaving her free to contest the handful of states to get her to 270. Couple that with the extreme views being espoused during these debates - instant fodder for devastating 30 second attack ads - the demographic shifts that continue to favor the Democrats, President Obama's surging popularity and the contrasting economic success of the two most recent Democrats in the White House versus the past three Republicans, and you start to see why the Republican debates are just exercises in deciding who will lose next November.
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