The ritualistic debate holds a special place in American political lore, recalling Great Moments from History like the Lincoln-Douglas debates over slavery, and the Nixon-Kennedy debate over Tricky Dick's 5-o'clock shadow.
In reality, though, only political junkies remember such "legendary" debate events as "Where's the beef?" and "I am paying for this microphone!" The sad truth is, most primary debates happen long before anyone makes up their minds, and by the time the actual presidential debates roll around, most everybody has. They don't normally make a lot of difference unless someone self-destructs.
They probably won't make much direct difference this time around either, although the spectacle that the Republican debates have become certainly is exposing our candidates to a great many people who normally wouldn't take any interest in politics.
However, there's an interesting side effect of the debates permitting far more candidates than normally would be allowed, and far younger and fresher ones than generally appear on that exalted stage: We are getting introduced to a whole new side of leaders we'd normally never see.
From this perspective, it's beginning to look like the biggest winner of the debates - no, not of the nomination itself, but the one the debates benefited most overall - might just be the very unexpected Carly Fiorina.
There is no chance that Fiorina will win the nomination. It's relatively unlikely she'll be chosen as Vice President either, and if so, only by virtue of an idiotic bow to political correctness.
Her standout performance in the debates, though, has made Fiorina a contender for great things in the future.
Consider where she stood at the beginning of the process: Nobody in America knew anything about her except that she was the CEO of Hewlett-Packard, during which time HP stock dropped by 65% and 30,000 employees were laid off.
We complain that Barack Obama has no executive experience whatsoever, but is it really an improvement to switch to someone who had that experience and muffed it? It's like the absurd debate question about Hillary Clinton's "vast experience," when virtually everything she's touched has turned to toxic waste.
But a debate is not a forum for actual accomplishments, it's an opportunity to show off your wordsmithing talents and, at the very least, reveal to us the substance of your debate prep. In the first debate, Carly wasn't even invited to the main event, she was given a consolation prize in the kiddie pool of no-hopers. Her riveting performance there so gripped the media that they had to report on it, and ultimately, to bend the rules to get her into the main debate with the big boys.
This doesn't always work well: we recall Bobby Jindahl, the erstwhile wonder boy who has never recovered from an appalling job of delivering the Republican response to Obama's first State of the Union address. Sarah Palin also struggled in her unaccustomed exposure to the main spotlight.
Not only did Carly shine when her moment came, she has gotten better and better. Indeed, in the most recent debate, while she didn't engage in the verbal fireworks of a Trump or a Cruz, we were stunned to discover ourselves agreeing with virtually every word she spoke Not only that, she spoke more clearly and understandably than such experts as Rubio or Paul.
Consider her answer to a question about job creation:
I think about a woman I met the other day. I would guess she was 40 years old. She had several children. And she said to me, you know, Carly, I go to bed every night afraid for my children's future. And that really struck me. This is America. A mother is going to bed afraid for her children's future.
And the reason she's afraid for her children's future is because we've had problems for a long time. Yes, problems have gotten much worse under Democrats. But the truth is, this government has been growing bigger and bigger, more corrupt, less effective, crushing the engine of economic growth for a very long time. This isn't about just replacing a Democrat with a Republican now. It's about actually challenging the status quo of big government.
Big government has created a big business called politics. And there are lots of people invested in the status quo of that big business called politics. Specifically, we need actually to do five things to really get this economy going again. We need to go to zero-based budgeting so we know where every dollar is being spent, we can challenge any dollar, cut any dollar, move any dollar.
We were awestruck by this amazing rhetorical tour-de-force. In three short paragraphs, she a) cited a "real people" story that every American can understand and 99% identify with; b) bluntly told the Tea Party truth that establishment Republicans are almost as bad as the Democrats, and c) put forward a proposal that might plausibly do some good which everybody can understand. No babbling wonkery, no rabbit trails, no arcane technical details, but a storyline that even low-information voters can follow.
In fact, she seemed positively Reaganesque - until her next at-bat, when instead she channeled Teddy Roosevelt.
Well, first Obamacare has to be repealed because it's failing the very people it was intended to help, but, also, it is crony-capitalism at its worst. Who helped write this bill? Drug companies, insurance companies, pharmaceutical companies, every single one of those kinds of companies are bulking up to deal with big government. See, that's what happens. As government gets bigger, and bigger -- and it has been for 50 years under Republicans and Democrats alike -- and business have to bulk up to deal with big government.
So, we have to repeal it. It's tens of thousands of pages long, no one can possible understand it except the big companies, the lawyers, the accountants, the lobbyists that they hire to protect their interests.
Again, in less than a minute, Carly was able to express what years of Republicans have failed to wrap their tongues around, and to do it in a way that appeals to the fears of both the Tea Party and Occupy Wall Street. Add up the American voters who fear the government, big business, or both, and you not only have a safe margin of victory, you probably have a clear supermajority.
She deployed every persuasive technique in the book, from the thought-provoking rhetorical question:
Ask yourself this question, how is it possible that the federal government gets more money each and every year, which the federal government has been doing, receiving more money every year for 50 years under Republicans and Democrats alike, and yet, never has enough money to do the important things? The answer? All the money's always spoken for.
To the appeal to authority, on why we don't have to participate in negotiations when we know we'll lose:
Ronald Reagan walked away at Reykjavik.
To even the use of moral argument:
What's even worse is that a Clinton presidency will corrode the character of this nation. Why? Because of the Clinton way: Say whatever you have to, lie as long as you can get away with it.
Yes, in Carly Fiorina's ever improving and increasingly riveting debate performance, we can clearly see the hand of a master at work.
The question in our minds is: whose? First-class skills in persuasive speaking are obviously helpful in reaching the highest of corporate executive ranks, but normally they're not sufficient. Is it truly possible that Carly's verbal gymnastics held HP's hard-nosed engineers spellbound for a full six years while their stock lost 2/3 its value?
Or, is Carly's true skill one which so many Republicans since Reagan have forgotten but every executive at any level must have: an ability to choose the right people?
We can't even recall all the times an up-and-coming conservative politician relied on the advice of a professional elite Republican consultant who thinks conservatism is for the rubes, and went down to defeat.
Virginia's ex-Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli proves how this results in an Epic Fail: on his first big-league campaign for Virginia governor, he hired big-league advisers who told him he needed to hide his conservatism, which put him 20 points behind the proud extreme Democrat and Clinton spinmeister Terry McAuliffe. Only in the closing weeks of the campaign did Cuccinelli dump the bad advice and present himself as himself - with the result that on Election Day, he lost by only 3%. That's a truly monumental swing, when you consider it was in the face of his own advisers and the Clinton machine and the united voice of the leftist media. This swing was not quite enough for him to actually win, but noteworthy nonetheless.
Ms. Fiorina, unique among elites who fancy themselves politicians, appears to have realized that it makes more sense to cater to actual voters than to her cocktail-club and executive-suite peers.
Does this make her an actual conservative? It's difficult to believe that true-blood conservative views have survived an entire career at the upper reaches of a major California corporation without ever once peeping into public view and immediate censure.
On the other hand, it's hard to imagine a conventional elitist liberal doing such a remarkably forceful and note-perfect imitation of an intelligent conservative - unless there were a brilliant true conservative behind her lurking in the shadows as her trusted adviser.
We've never heard of such a person, but we sincerely hope that one exists! America needs this man, and so does whoever the eventual nominee turns out to be. Perhaps Carly will be generous enough to loan him out when she's through with him?
Over the past five years, the editors have been secretly working on a book that summarizes the fundamental viewpoints of Scragged.