The Fox News Republican Presidential Debate Show, in Super 3D

Fox News hosted a fake presidential debate among a bunch of yokels who couldn’t get elected president if you offered all the voters in America free MAGA hats for going to the polls. The guy who stockpiles those hats in his gold bathroom, as camouflage for the boxes of national security documents he stole from the White House, was not present at the debate, because, like all runaway frontrunners, he knows there is nothing for him to gain by being there. I did not watch the debate, because, to borrow a line from the late Norm Macdonald, I just found out today that I only get the one life.

However, I happened to stumble across a headline, coming from Fox News itself, offering this fascinating (if grammatically challenged) teaser: “GOP candidates give a show of hands if they would support Trump if convicted.” Okay, I admit I’m weak. I bit the hook.

Eight people who will not be president were standing on the stage. Two people who will not be journalists were sitting before them. Non-journalist A, who identifies as male, introduced the topic thus: “But we are going to take a brief moment and talk about the elephant not in the room.”

Unless that phrasing was meant as an oblique jab at Chris Christie, it was a typical moment of modern journalistic illiteracy. Can anyone understand, let alone correctly employ, an English idiom anymore? Donald Trump is not “the elephant not in the room.” The entire purpose of the expression, “the elephant in the room,” is to refer to something or someone who is a huge presence within the current context, though being, as it were, physically absent in the sense of being unspoken of. In other words, the thing or person who is nominally absent but casting an important shadow over the proceedings is precisely what is meant by the elephant in the room. I know I shouldn’t have to explain this, but then again I shouldn’t have to explain why a man whose life was put in jeopardy by Trump’s inciting angry mobs to chant for his hanging because he was a “coward” who let them all down might not wish to support Donald Trump, should Trump end up as the Republican nominee again — and yet apparently I do have to explain that one too, to the death threat victim himself, so I guess nothing is too obvious to require explanation these days.

Anyway, the male-identifying non-journalist, after that brilliantly stupid introduction, passes the torch to his female-identifying cohort, who explains the elephant in question:

Former president Trump has been indicted in four different states, on 91 counts. He will be processed tomorrow in Georgia at the Fulton County Jail for charges relating to the 2020 election loss. 

Then she abruptly ping-pongs the script back to her sidekick, and we all suffer whiplash as non-journalist A picks up the story again for some reason:

You all signed a pledge to support the eventual Republican nominee. If former president Trump is convicted in a court of law, would you still support him as your party’s choice? Please raise your hand if you would.

No sooner had the non-journalist finished his question, than the three candidates voting themselves most likely to be chosen as Trump’s running mate — Vivek Ramaswamy, Nikki Haley, and Tim Scott — enthusiastically raised their toadying hands. Someone on the end next to those three, whom I presume goes by the name of Doug Burgum (don’t know for sure, but I just checked a list of candidates online, and by process of elimination, I think that’s who it is, since he’s the only face I don’t recognize), looked at those three toadies, and fairly quickly, though less committedly, joined them. Next, Ron DeSantis, apparently deciding that all things being equal, better whipped than woke, raised his right hand at half-mast, as though hoping some people might not notice it. Finally, Mike Pence — yes, he of “Hang Mike Pence!” fame, the one whom Trump would have allowed to be killed on January 6th, 2021 without raising a hand to save him — caved in and added his lips to the ring-kissing contest, as though being last made him look stronger, rather than making him look like a slavish squish. 

Interestingly, only the two characters on the far left of the screen (no pun intended), Asa Hutchinson and Chris Christie, refrained from joining the ranks of the self-extinguishing. Christie, however, waved his hand to the moderators wishing for a chance to speak, which was apparently mistaken by the male-identifying non-journalist, along with some in the boisterous Trump-cult-infested crowd, as a hand raised in support of supporting a convicted criminal for president. (At this point, the others, having demeaned themselves enough, quietly lowered their hands, except Ramaswamy, who went all in on the bootlicking as though it were his natural calling, smiling widely while keeping his hand in the air like the schoolboy who never stops volunteering in class, whether he knows the answer or not.)

Figuring, I suppose, that supporting Trump now, after all that has passed, would make him look like this year’s Ted Cruz, Christie decided to distinguish himself from the rabble by commenting, in what should have been the universal sentiment but instead instantly made him the least popular man in the room, that “Someone’s got to stop normalizing this conduct…. Whether or not you believe that the criminal charges are right or wrong, the conduct is beneath the office of President of the United States.” 

In other words, the standard tribal rebuttal, “But the charges are politically motivated,” is just a weakling’s evasion of reality, this year’s version of “But Hillary.” What Trump did — regardless of what anyone else does, or why they do it — is unpresidential and unworthy of someone wishing to serve as an elected leader of the country, whether he is charged with a crime or not.

I don’t give Christie too much credit here, since he literally carried Trump’s jacket in 2016, and is therefore one of those “respectable Republicans” responsible for fostering this monster and its mythology. But he is not wrong this time. A day late and a dollar short, but not wrong. 

Asa Hutchinson, for his part, followed Christie’s remarks by amplifying the self-evident (to all but Republican primary voters): “Obviously, I’m not going to support somebody who’s been convicted of a serious felony.” In a remarkable moment of moral clarity, someone on the stage had the brains to cut through the question’s nonsensical premise, “You all signed a pledge to support the eventual nominee,” saying, in effect, “Well, yes, I signed a pledge, but that pledge was made on the implicit condition that the nominee not be an axe murderer, Vladimir Putin, or a man convicted of federal crimes related to inciting violence against Congress or stealing classified national security documents.”

Summary: Two people on the stage, who have zero chance of winning the nomination, decided to go down with some of their pride intact. The other six, who also have zero chance, went ahead and declared before all the world that they, furthermore, have less than zero pride or dignity. Trump will be the nominee. The Republican Party will fall all over itself trying to explain why his jail term should not be allowed to start until he completes his next presidential term in January 2029. Trump will lose the 2024 election to Joe Biden’s instruction cards.

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