The Corner

Nobody Won the South Carolina Debate — Conservatism Lost

I’m done. Until the fundamental dynamic of the GOP primary race changes, I’m done with parsing debate winners and losers. So long as Donald Trump dominates an overly-large field of ambitious, fratricidal competitors, we will continue to see absurdities like the following:

1. Trump — the Republican front-runner, no less — borrowing language from and Daily Kos to advance the absurd “Bush lied, people died” Iraq War narrative, attacking his fellow Republicans with far more fury than even Hillary Clinton can muster.

2. Trump repeatedly and loudly holding George Bush responsible for 9/11 and the fall of the World Trade Center.

3. An extended GOP defense of Obamacare’s Medicaid expansion, courtesy of Ohio’s extraordinarily sanctimonious John Kasich. Using talking points that Democrats would envy, he cloaked his embrace of an inferior, third-class government insurance program in the language of compassion and fiscal responsibility. In an ordinary race, Kasich would be long gone — shoved aside by genuine conservatives and an afterthought even in moderate New Hampshire.

4. Trump (yes, him again) actually extolling the virtues of Planned Parenthood on a GOP debate stage. As a businessman who built a “world-class company,” surely he understands that injecting hundreds of millions of dollars into a business helps the entire enterprise stay afloat. That’s what taxpayer subsidies for Planned Parenthood do for the nation’s largest abortion provider, even if taxpayer dollars don’t “directly” subsidize abortion.

5. An actual presidential candidate acting like an angry drunk — interrupting candidates, calling them names, and creating a social dynamic where the other GOP candidates either ignore him — and look weak — or engage him and risk lowering themselves to his shouting and name-calling level. 

If there is any silver lining in this very dark cloud, at least Jeb Bush and Ted Cruz showed — in select circumstances — that they could confront Trump at his screaming, ranting worst and prevail. While Marco Rubio improved on his last debate performance, I’m still waiting on the day when he steps up and takes on the front-runner. As for Kasich and Carson, I frankly wondered why they were there. Do either of them think they have the slightest chance of being the GOP nominee?

On a day when an American lost a great patriot — a Supreme Court justice who defended the Constitution and upheld its vital principles until the very day that he died — it was particularly sad to see the hijacking of constitutional conservatism in a race that is quickly degenerating into a dangerous farce at the very time when the nation so desperately needs principled, courageous leadership. Dear candidates, if you can’t win, step aside. If you can win, step up. Otherwise, we are lost.

David French — David French is a senior writer for National Review, a senior fellow at the National Review Institute, and a veteran of Operation Iraqi Freedom.

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