Wilding At The Reagan Library

September 16, 2015 5:56 p.m.

We generally don’t think of Republicans as the folks to go in for alternative lifestyles or outre sexual practices (at least not openly). But here we are, mere hours away from round two of the televised ritual humiliation of what were until a few months ago the top contenders for the Republican nomination – and at the hands of a former reality TV star with an exalted hairdo, who sometimes goes by his first name only. What’s surprising is how similar the mood going into tonight’s debate seems to be to the one going into the first debate on Fox back last month.

The setting seems to be this: Donald Trump is at the head of the pack. That’s unnatural. He doesn’t deserve to be and should not be. Someone has to destroy him. Last time Fox News took it upon itself to be the executioner and I think we can all agree that it failed spectacularly, though it took a few days for many commentators to realize that was what happened.

Now, the candidates are saying they’re going to do it themselves. But I really wonder – read: I cannot wait to see – how they’re actually going to go about this because they are raising insanely high expectations. As a general matter it’s really hard not to come off looking stupid if you go completely nuts on someone in a debate when they’re winning and you’re losing. Someone who’s winning has lots of options – from playing off the attack, leveraging the support the polls show him or her having or simply telling the attacker to try not to have a seizure on stage with him. The attacker has few options, by definition: otherwise, they wouldn’t be telegraphing that they’re going to beat up on the other guy or ‘destroy’ him or whatever else. You do and say all these things because you’re desperate. That’s obvious. And people see it.

Perhaps you come up with some insanely great zinger and something which very improbably no one has thought of before and you make everyone take a second look at Trump, decide they don’t like him and decide that you – on the basis of your zinger – are awesome and should be the nominee. Maybe. Not likely.

Rand Paul, who is now polling at something like 1%, says he thinks Trump “deserves both barrels. I want to make sure everyone in the whole country knows he’s a fake conservative.”

Paul drove this point home by saying he was going to a shooting range to warm up for his attack on The Donald. He even posed for pictures (click here to see) at the range with women with very large breasts and semi-automatic weapons. It’s quite an image: archetypal symbols of the giving of life and the taking of it and perfectly pitched toward the GOP base id. But in the context of Rand being roadkill in the nomination race and Trump clearly the alpha, it cannot help but make him seem ridiculous. It’s really hard to imagine what exactly Rand is going to do or say that is going to live up to that advance billing. I half expect him to try to smuggle a shoe bomb up on to the stage and blow himself and Donald up as some sort of sacrifice to Reagan and Conservatism. Who knows?

Spittle and mouth froth do not a campaign make. Rick Wilson is right that someone’s got to destroy Trump or the GOP is in for a world of hurt. But I don’t think any of these folks on the stage are up to the task. And a debate stage, from a position of weakness and up against someone who if nothing else is quick on his feet on live TV, is just the last place anyone is going to be able to pull that off.

All that said, did I mention: I can’t wait to see them try.

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