1.) It was the best debate to date, at least within the narrow context of GOP politics, with candidates making good use of more generous response times. Culling the field from 10 to eight was a necessary move, even if Chris Christie doesn’t like it. Politics ain’t beanbag.
2.) Again, within the context of a GOP debate, nobody did badly. Not even Jeb Bush. But he still comes across as his older brother without the macho bluster, and I’m not sure there’s a strong market for that skill set.
3.) Marco Rubio cemented his status as the establishment’s frontrunner; neither Donald Trump nor Ben Carson did anything to undermine the curious appeal they apparently have for certain segments of the GOP electorate. Overall, the story lines of the race did not change; the debate merely pushed us further along toward whatever final outcome it holds.
4.) Everybody agreed that Reagan was a great hero who had saved the country, and Hillary a great villainess who would utterly destroy it if allowed to be president. The crowd practically hissed every time her name was mentioned. For Republicans, the transition from Barack Obama to Hillary as their designated target of mass revulsion is clearly going to be seamless.
5.) Everyone also agreed on massive tax cuts that disproportionately benefit the rich, and on the importance of studiously ignoring the massive deficits that such a policy would create. Oh, and all regulations are bad.
6.) The two candidates at the fringe of the debate lineup, John Kasich and Rand Paul, demonstrated why they will remain outliers with their willingness to challenge party orthodoxy. Kasich dared to voice the awkward truth, that nobody was going to deport some 11 million illegal immigrants, most of whom have been here for years now, while Paul was the lone voice questioning a major defense buildup and a more militarily aggressive posture. As a result, Paul has permanently consigned himself to the narrow niche previously filled by his father and has no chance of ever being the nominee.
7.) Any sense of humility or caution that the disastrous invasion of Iraq may have once instilled in the Republican Party has now evaporated, and military adventurism is once again the exhilarating drug of the day.
8.) Ted Cruz ventured into further into economic la la land with his embrace of the gold standard and denunciation of the Federal Reserve. He seems completely unfamiliar with the history of extreme booms and busts that preceded and in fact required the Fed’s creation.
9.) As a party, the GOP is in the process of enshrining an extremely dangerous economic doctrine into party orthodoxy. They will not agree to restrain the growth and power of the major banks, because that would be government intervention. They will also refuse to bail out those banks when — not if but when — the banksters’ greed and thirst for risk leads them astray, because that too would be government intervention. As a result, the bailout that prevented the Wall Street crisis of 2008 from turning into a complete meltdown of the credit market would not be politically possible today. And I don’t think the billionaires subsidizing the party truly appreciate the Frankenstein’s monster they are creating. They apparently think that what they heard last night was just populist bluster that would be set aside in a crisis. That is a bad miscalculation.