Republican forum: Not as much of a clown car as I had expected

nhcandidateforumMaybe it was the format: Each of the 14 Republican candidates for President was questioned individually in 5- to 6-minute segments, with no audience reaction allowed and no opportunity to address the other candidates. Maybe it was the intelligent, non-gotcha questioning by clearly conservative, but very calm, radio talk-show host Jack Heath. Or maybe I’m just going soft in my older age [nah!]. Whatever the reason, I came away from last night’s New Hampshire Republican presidential forum with the impression that this year’s array of Republican candidates is more intelligent and less wacko than I have been led to believe.

Don’t get me wrong: I disagree with almost every policy espoused by almost every one of the candidates. Some of what they said is just plain not supported by facts [e.g., Scott Walker’s Wisconsin economic miracle; Ted Cruz’s statement that Jimmy Carter “abandoned the hostages in Iran”]. Much of what they said is not about helping people or doing constructive things: they all want to repeal Obamacare, cut back on Medicaid, cripple government’s ability to function, and give corporations whatever they want whenever they want it. And some of what they said is downright dangerous [e.g., Lindsey Graham’s saber-rattling abut Iran]. If I had to pick the one candidate whose ideas made any sense to me, it would have to be Rand Paul—but I would never vote for him.

I watched the whole thing, live on C-SPAN. I took notes. I scoffed and sniffed and snarked and talked back to the tv. The conservative moderator teed-up their answers with softball questions. And in a twist that I found rather humorous, a disembodied voice introduced each candidate’s segment by reciting a bit of puffery [“Carly Fiorina was CEO of the 11th biggest technology company in the world”] that was rather obviously supplied by the candidates’ own propaganda wings. And clearly, they had all been well-coached and prepped on issues that they’ve probably never really thought about before deciding to run for President [Bobby Jindal on the Iran nuclear deal, to name just one].

Maybe these candidates were just on their best behavior in a friendly environment. But none of them sounded like the idiots that I had expected [and, admittedly, hoped for]. I acknowledge that not drooling or going completely blank is a very low bar. But they all did better than that. Even Chris Christie was uncharacteristically subdued and rational.

And that’s the surprise. Judging from what I read and see, virtually daily in the media, I was expecting much more craziness and much less articulateness. We’ve become accustomed to click-bait headlines [“You won’t believe what Mike Huckabee said today about women!”] and out-of-context quotes cherry-picked for shock value. Today, we’re going to see and read a lot of morning-after analysis, replete with the funniest or the most outrageous or the most misinformed sound bites.

We may get a clearer picture of the candidates’ campaign personalities on Thursday [August 6, 2015], when Fox News hosts its candidate debate. I suspect that we’ll see a lot more belligerence and right-wing pandering at that event. But for now, one of my takeaways from the first forum is that there’s a disconnect between the selective narratives we see in media reports [on both sides] and the reality of who people actually are.