Why Fox News' GOP debate was such a smashing success
This time of year, political junkies begin to do two things: The first is watch primary debates; the second is complain about having to watch primary debates.
We all did that first thing on Thursday night. But very few of us did the second. Because last night's Republican primary debate was actually pretty good!
There are a number of reasons for that.
Number one: The Republican Party has a stellar bench this time around, with candidates who are deeply qualified. Chris Christie might be down in the polls, but he's a smart guy with substantive ideas and a strong track record, and he can certainly hold his own on a debate stage. The same is true for Marco Rubio, and Ben Carson, and Scott Walker, and Jeb Bush, and Rand Paul. Some (Rubio) had a better night than others (Paul), but none of them were painfully awkward or mind-numbing. They were even occasionally interesting and stirring, which, sadly, seems to be a relatively high bar to clear for primary contestants.
Another reason for the debate's smashing success: The Fox News team actually asked substantive questions, and, given the number of candidates, often managed to leave them enough time to give substantive answers. Given the bad rap for superficiality and sensationalism that Fox News often gets from the media elite — not always unjustifiably, I'll say — this is worth noting. The debate was good because of the debaters, but also because of the people asking the questions.
Which brings us to the third reason — and she gets a whole reason — this debate was great to watch, which is Megyn Kelly. Much has been written about her talent and her star power, and it showed last night — and not just in her testy exchanges with Donald Trump. Some people simply have a talent for shining on screen, and Kelly has it in spades. Kelly is perfectly comfortable in front of a camera, she has grace, she has repartee, and she isn't any of the three flavors of journalists you always get in these things: conservative pundit, progressive pundit, and painfully self-consciously down-the-middle interviewer.
And okay, reason number four: As much as it pains me to admit it, Donald Trump made the debate fun to watch, and not just in a "laughing at him" sort of way. The man is worse than a clown, he is possibly pure evil, and the media should never have given him a platform to begin with. But, let's face it, after so much time at the top of the polls, he does represent a genuine phenomenon, whether it is Perotism reborn or something else. He did belong on that stage, and he is entertaining to watch.
There is a painful irony here: This is a cycle where the Republican Party has some of the most credible potential presidents in its history, but popular anger at politicians, whether specifically the anger of conservatives at a sellout establishment, or more generally the anger of dissatisfied voters, means that it is the least credible candidate who is at the top.
But however painful the Trump phenomenon is, and however questionable some of the choices Fox made in its selection of candidates, last night's debate turned out to be fun, interesting, and even occasionally substantive. Given how rare this is — and given how many more of these things we people who inflict these things on ourselves still have to watch — it's worth not only noting, but celebrating.