Getting my GOP on, debate style.

January 28, 2016 marked the final GOP debate before the Iowa Caucus, and less importantly, the day before my 26th birthday. I’d like to say I was important enough to snag a ticket on my own, but let’s be honest… I begged my well-connected coworkers for a couple of seats. Not ashamed. So there I was, at the Iowa Events Center in the heart of Des Moines, anxious for Debate No. 1 (formerly known as the undercard debate — thanks undercarders, for making us feel guilty) to begin.

Totally. Geeking. Out.

After some friendly banter with the B-list moderators, the first set of candidates filed on stage: Rick Santorum, Carly Fiorina, Mike Huckabee, and…. Jim Whothehellisthat? Whispers spread throughout the crowd as we collectively struggled to recognize this presidential contender. Jim quickly cleared up the confusion, noting that he hadn’t really been to Iowa this election cycle. His focus was on New Hampshire. Surely this man knows that our caucus is bigger, better, and comes before New Hampshire (thanks, Raygun). Needless to say, Jim was labeled a non-factor moving forward.

Rick, Huck, and Carly were their typical selves. Carly took a couple swings at the moderators — Trump style — while Huck and Rick got blasted for their intention to attend Trump’s counter-programming event later that evening. Bad move, boys. The commercial breaks were really the most entertaining — Jim tried to join the big kid pow-wow with his fellow candidates a couple of times and quickly realized that he was not welcome. Mostly I was looking forward to the upcoming bathroom and dinner break before the main event.

Around 7:45, the room filled up and the crowd got amped for the Varsity event. Bret Baier, Megyn Kelly, and Chris Wallace gave us a run-down of logistics and debate etiquette and seven candidates graced us with their presence: Ted Cruz, Marco Rubio, Ben Carson, Jeb Bush, Chris Christie, Rand Paul, and John Kasich.

The elephant not in the room — Donald Trump — was the basis for the first question up. Cruz pontificated on Trump’s absence in his typical snide and off-putting style: “Let me say I am a maniac and everyone on this stage is stupid, fat, and ugly. And Ben, you’re a terrible surgeon,” Cruz chirped, seeming quite satisfied with his “wit.” I was not satisfied. I think Ted’s voice actually triggers my gag reflex, anyone else have that problem?

Weighty commentary on foreign policy, criminal justice, immigration, entitlement reform, and more, made this debate one of the more content-heavy in recent memory. Cruz didn’t think so, and even threatened to walk off the stage, feeling attacked. The crowd actually cheered for him to leave. The remainder of the debate was a bit icy for him. Sorry, Ted.

A few commercial breaks in, Megyn Kelly enticed the crowd with an ambiguous statement about an addition to the debate “that we’ve never seen before.” The next three minutes were hell. My mind raced.

What could it be? Why don’t I even have a guess as to what it could be? I hope it’s not Trump. It can’t be Trump. Live-streamed fact checking? That would be awesome. Can Google do that? I bet Google can do that. Google should do that.

We’re back! Rubio is up, and… CLIPS! Yaaaassss. FOX shows us what flip-flopping looks like in a series of hard-hitting video clips and statements that came straight from the horse’s mouth. Genius. Cruz gets hit with clips too — double genius. Horror-stricken candidates struggling to rebut their past selves. The room was electric.

This is where my man, Christie, really steps up.

“I want to ask the people of the audience. Like, I’m standing here, I — I watched the video of Senator Cruz. I watched the video of Senator Rubio. I heard what they said. And this is why you need to send someone from outside of Washington to Washington.”

Amen!

The moderators dropped a few more gotchas on the candidates after the clip parade of Rubio/Cruz waffling. Bridgegate for one. C’mon, isn’t that played out? Three investigations, people. Bush family heritage was another. Leave poor Jeb(!) alone, he’s not responsible for W. Some babble about Rand not embracing his father’s politics. Rand supporters in the crowd chanted “President Paul” wildly whenever there was a gap in time or they were displeased with the line of questioning. I can still hear it ringing in my ears.

Aside from the typical tomfoolery, it was a great evening for any political enthusiast. Ben Carson even serenaded us with an oddly-cadenced recitation of the preamble to the Constitution.

Definitely a bucket list event for me, although I hope to attend many more over the span of my career.

In my humble opinion the results are as follows:

Movin’ on up:

  • Christie: I’m biased, I know. But you gotta love this guy — keep telling it like it is, Governor!
  • Rubio: even facing his own flip-flops on the big screen, this guy seemed to smooth talk his way back in the audience’s favor.
  • Jeb: found a bit of courage and a slight sense of humor in the absence of The Donald.

Hangin’ in the middle:

  • Carson: tried to sound like he knew what he was talking about a couple of times. Still very sleepy.
  • Rand: his loyal Liberty voters will not be silenced.
  • Kasich: nothing groundbreaking here, this guy’s market is NH.

Abandon ship:

  • Cruz: one of his worst nights yet; call the wammbulance for old Teddy.
  • Trump: hey, you can’t win if you don’t compete.