As our post-circus wrap-up suggests, none of us here at MoJo Politics were particularly blown away by Thursday night's GOP presidential debate in Orlando. At various points, candidates trumpeted easily debunked conspiracy theories, declined to recognize the service of a military veteran, and went at each others' throats over the issue of allowing undocumented children to go to college.
But don't take it from us. After last night, even conservatives are starting to freak out about the Republican field. Here's Bill Kristol's special editorial at the Weekly Standard, one of the leading publications of the Republican establishment:
THE WEEKLY STANDARD’s official reaction to last night’s Republican presidential debate: Yikes.
Reading the reactions of thoughtful commentators after the stage emptied, talking with conservative policy types and GOP political operatives later last evening and this morning, we know we’re not alone. Most won't express publicly just how horrified—or at least how demoralized—they are. After all, they still want to beat Obama—as do we. And they want to get along with the possible nominee and the other candidates and their supporters. They don't want to rock the boat too much. But maybe the GOP presidential boat needs rocking.
The e-mails flooding into our inbox during the evening were less guarded. Early on, we received this missive from a bright young conservative: "I'm watching my first GOP debate...and WE SOUND LIKE CRAZY PEOPLE!!!!" As the evening went on, the craziness receded, and the demoralized comments we received stressed the mediocrity of the field rather than its wackiness. As one more experienced, and therefore more jaded, observer wrote: "I just thought maybe it's always this bad...they're only marginally worse than McCain and Bush."
Kristol goes on to suggest that Perry's performance was "close to a disqualifying performance." Before Kristol writes another epic poem calling for New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie to get into the race, though, it's worth noting that 1.) The debate started at 9 p.m., finished at 11 p.m., and was going head to head with Man, Woman, Wild on the Discovery Channel, and 2.) See point 1. Last night's debate was disspiriting for any number of reasons, but very few people watched it except for those of us who had to, and it likely did nothing to diminish Republicans' chances next November.