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The Republican debate and the degradation of US politics

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Reprinted from WSWS

Republican Elephant
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The appearance of the Republican presidential candidates Thursday night in Houston, Texas was described by CNN as a debate. But there was no actual debating, in the sense of a discussion of issues or the offering of contrasting political programs. Instead, viewers were confronted with a repulsive display of the degraded state of official politics in the United States.
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The three leading candidates -- billionaire demagogue Donald Trump, Senator Marco Rubio of Florida, and Senator Ted Cruz of Texas -- engaged in a barrage of name-calling, mudslinging, insinuation and insult that marked a new low in an already dismal series of such political freak shows.

Rubio set the tone with a series of prepared attacks on Trump's business career, baiting him as an employer who hired illegal immigrants despite the real estate mogul's current posture as the arch-hater of immigrants. (Trump advocates deporting 11 million undocumented immigrants). None of the candidates criticized Trump's fascistic proposals to bar Muslims from entering the US or his support for waterboarding and other forms of torture.

Trump responded in kind, insult for insult, and generally fell back on boasting of his personal wealth as the ultimate answer to all criticism. From there, the "debate" descended even further into the realm of reality television, with simulated rage, threats and bombast pitched to the most backward and demoralized elements in American society.

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Not only the candidates, but the CNN moderator, the reactionary pro-war hack Wolf Blitzer, and the audience, which responded to the verbal brawl with shrieks and catcalls, contributed to the demeaning spectacle.

American bourgeois politics has never been particularly edifying. However, Thursday's spectacle marked a new low, a fact that was acknowledged even by some veteran media commentators. Bob Schieffer of CBS observed, "I thought things couldn't get lower than they'd already reached in this campaign. I mean, the political discourse, but last night it went even below where I thought it could possibly go. I mean, no discussion of the issues, but people arguing, screaming, hollering. It was like kids out behind the barn rather than a political debate."

The degraded character of Thursday's event did not stop the media from treating it seriously afterwards, hailing Rubio's performance as a stunning political comeback. This was a prearranged narrative. The Republican Party establishment is belatedly trying to check Trump's momentum after his surge to frontrunner status, winning three of the first four contests and leading in most polls for 15 more statewide primaries and caucuses in the coming week.

Senator Lindsey Graham, who pulled out of the presidential race in the fall after failing to attract support in the polls, told a charity fundraising event in Washington Thursday night that Trump's lead in the primaries and polling meant, "My party has gone batshit crazy."

But the endorsement of Trump Friday by New Jersey Governor Chris Christie, who dropped out of the presidential campaign just over two weeks ago, is a signal that the "Stop Trump" movement is getting little traction. Trump is expected to sweep the Super Tuesday contests and is now favored to clinch the nomination before the end of March.

The level of discourse continued downwards in the 24 hours after the debate. Rubio accused Trump of being a "con artist" and suggested that he had wet his pants during the debate. Trump called Rubio a "nervous Nellie," a "lightweight" and a "choker."

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Trump also threatened the media at a press conference, declaring that if he became president, "I'm going to open up our libel laws so when they write purposely negative and horrible and false articles, we can sue them and win lots of money" So that when the New York Times writes a hit piece, which is a total disgrace, or when the Washington Post, which is there for other reasons, writes a hit piece, we can sue them and win money""

One of the three, Trump, Rubio or Cruz, will likely become the Republican presidential nominee and potentially the next US president. The background of each of these individuals testifies to the decline in the caliber, even by American political standards, of the personnel advanced by the US corporate-financial elite to fill its most important government position.

Trump is, as he endlessly proclaims, a billionaire, who made his fortune servicing the personal needs of the wealthy through hotels, luxury apartments, resorts and casinos. After a series of financial near-disasters, including four corporate bankruptcies, he cemented his position, both monetarily and as a celebrity, through "The Apprentice" and "Celebrity Apprentice" reality TV programs, in which Trump as CEO hired high-level assistants from a list of applicants. It was there that he perfected the bullying, blowhard persona that is currently on display at campaign rallies and debates.

Cruz and Rubio are both first-generation Cuban-Americans who took slightly different paths. Rubio graduated from the University of Miami law school and went straight into local Republican politics, dominated by the fascistic anti-Castro exile milieu. He moved up from city commissioner to state representative before being chosen as House Speaker under then-Governor Jeb Bush.

Cruz came from a Texas milieu of ultra-right Christian fundamentalism and went straight to the highest levels of the Republican Party in Washington. After graduating from Harvard Law School, he clerked for Chief Justice William Rehnquist before working on the House Republican effort to impeach President Bill Clinton. Soon after, he participated in the Bush campaign's efforts to halt vote-counting in Florida in the 2000 elections, which led to the Supreme Court's notorious Bush v. Gore decision handing the White House to the loser of the popular vote. Denied a leading position in the Bush administration, he moved back to Texas to become solicitor general.

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Patrick Martin writes for the World Socialist Website (wsws.org), a forum for socialist ideas & analysis & published by the International Committee of the Fourth International (ICFI).

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