The Thunderdome: Debate II, Hot Mic-Gate, and the Future of the GOP

John Barrator (Co-Founder, New Fifth Estate): Welcome back to the Thunderdome, where we will be discussing the second debate and the status of this absurd adventure of an election. Jack is fresh off of tricking a bunch of deplorables into registering to vote and, because James is working for the feds, I assume he has been on his couch all day. Let’s get started with initial thoughts on the second debate. Floor is yours, gentlemen.

James McQuillan (Co-Founder, New Fifth Estate): many thoughts on this debate, but, man, I think the optimal descriptor for me would be “jarring” — it was just so, so far removed from anything close to civil discourse or an exchange of policy ideas. A “debate” the likes of which I hope we don’t witness ever again, quite frankly.

Jack C. Patrick (Co-Founder, New Fifth Estate): If anything, I would be convincing the deplorables not to vote.

John Barrator: I believe that’s called “voter fraud.” So, as a general observation, James, you are dead on point. I do not believe there was a single minute in the debate where the candidates running for President of the United States of America engaged in a discourse about the relative merits of their policies.

James McQuillan: Yeah, the main topic about which there was any semblance of rational discussion was on health care. It was clear Trump had remembered some of the standard-issue GOP talkers for that.

Jack C. Patrick: Trump has no interest in, nor knowledge of, policy, which makes it difficult to discuss.

John Barrator: He really has no incentive to start delving into policy details. His only shot is to provoke enough fear in enough American voters to carry the day. Which is to say, he has no shot. I’ll also go on the record as saying that I hate the town hall format and think that President Trump should ban audiences at debates in his first set of executive orders.

Jack C. Patrick: The only factually correct thing Trump said in the entire debate was that Russia, Iran, and Assad were working together. Unfortunately, he incorrectly stated that they are attacking ISIS rather than Syrian rebels and civilians.

James McQuillan: We can circle back to foreign policy (and other issues that actually matter) later. But first, in true 2016 fashion — let’s discuss the first thirty minutes of this sucker; or, when Trump unleashed a string of insults ranging from categorically untrue to morally repugnant.

John Barrator: If there was any doubt as to Trump’s stance on the first use of nuclear weapons, I think he answered it in the first thirty minutes of this debate. It was maddening. It was sickening. It was dishonest. And it was a fucking disgrace. I do not know if I will ever be able to forgive the man for what he has single handedly done to political discourse in this country throughout this campaign. The first thirty minutes reflected the climax of that progression. This is not to say political discourse was good before Trump, but he took a race to the gutter, blew a hole in the street, and dragged everyone into the sewer.

James McQuillan: That is a grade-A rant, John. Impressive stuff. I agree, though — and I thought Hillary’s answer immediately after Trump stumbled through an explanation for his prior comments THAT CONDONED SEXUAL ASSAULT was the best I’d heard from her in months. It was clear, concise, and was a perfect rebuttal to everything he’s not in a presidential candidate (and human being).

John Barrator: It has been a long day. And my ability to bottle up the many, many failings of Trump as a person and as a candidate is long gone.

Jack C. Patrick: Trump, like most billionaires, has refined tastes. He enjoys insulting people and describing sexual assaults. This debate provided a platform for the former, in which he took every opportunity to say the meanest things he could think of to Hillary.

James McQuillan: On the latter, what impact do we think the leaked tape — hot mic-gate, if you will — will have on the last four weeks of the campaign?

John Barrator: I would just like to point out that we are barely into this thing and I’ve already ceded moderator duties to James because I am incapable of restraining myself. Much like Paul Ryan has been utterly incapable of restraining Trump.

Jack C. Patrick: Clearly the tape will lead to Trump’s victory, as he is now unshackled.

John Barrator: In all seriousness, I think it had an amplified, but slightly different, effect than his many earlier statements that people found horrifying. But this time I think it has lasting consequences that galvanized his loss. His hardcore supporters found ways to justify it, per usual. This time, however, it appears as though a huge group of these unicorn independents have officially fled, along with the sizeable group of Republicans who were already looking to get out from under his orange, bloated specter. And at this stage in the election, that is fatal.

Jack C. Patrick: That video ended the election. He was already losing in the polls before, but that video caused mass defections from Republicans in a way that other statements did not. He is done.

James McQuillan: I know it’s a futile exercise to attempt to unpack any of the hypocrisy inherent in Trump’s campaign, but I was particularly floored by this one: Trump, for weeks, threatens to bring up Bill Clinton’s past of alleged sexual misconduct, and then does so with that surreal publicity stunt before the debate — which is two days after HE IS CAUGHT ON VIDEO CONDONING SEXUAL ASSAULT. The man has absolutely no sense of shame, self-awareness, anything. Really staggering.

John Barrator: That line of attack is probably the most naked display of sexism in a campaign founded, in part, on sexism. Not one soulless Trump surrogate has been able to effectively make an argument that Bill’s failings as a husband can be imputed in some way to HRC’s qualifications as president. A point on the Trump surrogates, quickly, I really do not know how they sleep at night. I mean, I understand hitching yourself to a wagon in the hopes that it will carry you to a position of power. But come on. There’s no way these people can look in the mirror in the morning and like what they see.

James McQuillan: We could do a full Thunderdome just on the Trump surrogates, but let’s circle back to a point Jack just made: do we think this election is actually over (*knocks on wood*)? If so, how does Trump carry the campaign to term?

John Barrator: Yes (*breaks knuckles knocking on wood*). I think we see more of what we saw at this debate, at a more furious pace. I hesitate to say Trump has reached bottom, but I think he has. There is nothing short of shooting someone on Fifth Avenue that he could do to drop lower. Wait…oh god….let’s talk about something else.

James McQuillan: Fair point. Let’s hit one last item semi-related to the debate: the ongoing implosion of the Republican Party in the United States. Hot mic-gate (I’m going to get that phrase some traction) set off an unprecedented situation in which dozens of elected GOP officials rescind endorsements and repudiate their standard bearer 28 days before a national election. What are our takes here?

Jack C. Patrick: I hate my own opinion on this, but I think the Republican Party will most likely resume business as usual post Trump with few repercussions. NeverTrumps have already disassociated him from the rest of the party and will not hold him against them. Moreover, the truly crazy wing of the Party likely won’t have such a crazy option next time around. Trump’s fame and fortune allowed him to flout the Party in a way that few others could.

John Barrator: If you do not count not winning another national election for the foreseeable future as a repercussion, then I am actually inclined to agree with you, Jack. What I am most worried about is how the disgusting ideals that Trump brought to the surface manifest themselves. The Trump outlet is gone. And he is, in many ways, a unique mouthpiece. His brand of deplorable charisma is not likely to be repeated in another candidate. So I wonder if we see something like another Tea Party movement, but with a darker edge.

James McQuillan: Nah, Trump Media Network will be a fine destination for fact-free news.

Jack C. Patrick: But the Republican Party has been the home of white nationalists for some time now without major repercussions for the Party (pre-Trump). I am yet to see evidence that the makeup of the Party has changed in a meaningful way.

John Barrator: They can pair with Sputnik News for all your alt-right needs. The biggest question in my book is what do the otherwise “normal” Republicans who decided not to defect do — and do they face real consequences as a result? We would do well to remember who supported this monster for a long time.

James McQuillan: I’m more with John on this one — I think Trump’s candidacy has exposed and widened a deep chasm in the party. The country-club, free-trading, John Boehner GOP on one side; the alt-right, white nationalist, Steve Bannon GOP on the other. And I’m not sure there’s any GOP politician yet in the public eye with the ability/wherewithal to successfully bridge that divide to the point where a national coalition could be formed.

John Barrator: I just wish the Kasich’s of the world would have the courage to amputate that arm. For all the profoundly negative subcultures that we have talked about, I believe there are genuinely good people in Republican party that want the best for this country. And we benefit greatly from a real marketplace of ideas divorced from racist and sexist poison. Unfortunately, that would mean a permanent power shift that makes this very unlikely.

Jack C. Patrick: Those two sides of the Party have comprised the Republican Party for as long as we have been alive. I think the lack of a Trump-level crazy option in the next election will rectify any schism that exists right now.

James McQuillan: All good points. And an especially bipartisan one from you there, John — you could have copied Hillary at the debate and complimented Trump’s children, instead of actually saying anything positive about him.

John Barrator: His sons look like characters in a bad sequel of American Psycho. Unlikely to happen anytime soon.

Jack C. Patrick: After winning this Thunderdome, I will be directing a Special Prosecutor to look into John.

John Barrator: I would be in jail if Jack was the moderator.

James McQuillan: We’ll wrap there. Thanks for joining us in the Thunderdome. Until next time, folks.