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The VICE Guide to the 2016 Election

The GOP Fought Last Night Over Whether Obama Should Replace Antonin Scalia

Scenes from the final Republican debate before the South Carolina primary.
February 14, 2016, 8:17pm
Photo by Ruth Fremson/Pool via Bloomberg via Getty Images

For more on the 2016 Presidential Elections, read our past coverage here.

Last night's ninth GOP debate may go down in history as the one that either cemented Donald Trump's vice grip on the throat of the modern Republican party, or the patient zero moment when the Party Establishment right finally decided they'd had enough of The Donald's shit.

Ironically however, that may be less due to Trump's brand of insult and windmill-punch-attack debate style, and more because the Republican frontrunner decided he would continue what Jeb Bush mentioned is Trump's main strategy: "This is a man who insults his way to the nomination," Jeb (!) said.


The entire debate kicked off under the shadow of the passing of Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia, and CBS moderator John Dickerson—who did an admirable job last night steering a ship of preening howler monkeys shrieking at one another—opened the program by asking the six presidential candidates about whether or not President Barack Obama should name Scalia's replacement during his final year in office.

Ben Carson opined that "the Constitution doesn't address" the current situation of an outgoing president nominating a new Supreme Court Justice in an election year, adding that "the fact is, the Supreme Court is obviously a very important part of our constitutional system." Thank you, doctor.

Trump merely offered that Scalia's death is "a tremendous blow to conservatism, a tremendous blow to our country" and that it will be up to Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell to stop Obama from filling his seat. How? "Delay, delay, delay," Trump hissed.

When Ted Cruz lobbed a stinker to the audience, claiming that "we have 80 years of precedent of not confirming Supreme Court justices in an election year," Dickerson fact-checked the Texas Senator, leaving Cruz with the face of a college debate champ who has just been called out in front of a room full of homecoming queens. When Dickerson and Cruz bickered about whether Justice Anthony Kennedy was appointed in 1987 or in February of 1988, with Dickerson saying "I'm just trying to get the facts straight for the audience," Cruz's stumped stature called forth roaring boos and jeers from the crowd. When voters cry foul at fact-checking, it's a weird time indeed.


From there things largely devolved into a series of bungling crossfire and snarling point-counterpoints. One of the most notable moments came after Marco Rubio claimed that Cruz didn't understand what was being said on Univision because he doesn't speak Spanish. There were audible guffaws of the "ooooooh… burn" variety off-camera, and Cruz was visibly upset by the charge, leading to an embarrassing and comical "oh I speak Spanish pandejo" retort in the native tongue that was largely laughed off by Rubio, and likely any member of the electorate paying attention to the debate and expecting a modicum of seriousness.

Overall Rubio seemed to have a mildly strong night, and often went on the offensive to try to prove it, most likely in an attempt to shake off the fried skin on his back left from the Chris Christie roasting he suffered in the last GOP debate in New Hampshire.

For more on the 2016 Elections, read our New Hampshire Primary dispatches from rapper and VICE politics correspondent Bun B

Carson, in all his pluckiness, was quick to constantly remind viewers and voters on a variety of questions to "just go to my website," in a series of "I'm surprised I'm still even being invited to these things and wasn't prepared to speak" type of responses. Later, when asked if financial executives behind the economic turmoil in the country should be held responsible, Carson went off on a tangent before offering, "If you want to get rid of poverty, get rid of all regulations." At one point Carson even mentioned bombing oil refineries and killing innocent civilians in the Middle East was just a part of president-ing, because being the leader of the free world, for Carson, involves assessing "what is acceptable collateral damage and what isn't." Later, when Dickerson asked Carson to say something politically incorrect that voters need to hear, he offered the barn burner "Free college is not an economic starter." OK. Sure.

The biggest fireworks were not between Trump and Cruz—the two candidates leading the GOP field in most polls—although it wasn't all quiet on that front either. When Cruz went after Trump on the real-estate mogul's previous support for Planned Parenthood—Trump has said he'd look at the "good aspects" of the group's non-abortion services for women—the frontrunner grimaced, telling Cruz: "You are the single biggest liar on this stage, you're probably worse than Jeb Bush." Boos all around.


But it was Trump's commentary on the September 11 attacks that topped the entire debate. Rubio had just finished pushing the ridiculous bandwagon fallacy of "George Bush kept us safe," when Trump returned, asking, "How did he keep us safe" when the Twin Towers came down during his presidency? Under the roar of disapproval of the crowd, Trump could be heard saying "That is not safe, Marco, that is not safe."

By the time Trump and Jeb! got into it, it was getting personal and ugly fast, with Jeb cawing, "I'm sick and tired of him going after my family." As if wanting Trump to double down, Bush mentioned that his mom is one of the strongest people he knows, with Trump barking "maybe she should run." By the time Dickerson questioned Trump's usage of profanity on the campaign trail, an embarrassing and yet totally prescient question in the demagoguery of this current election cycle, Trump didn't even side-step the matter. "On occasion, in order to highlight something, I use a profanity," he said, and ended by saying something about being a good student in school, but "not using profanity is easy."

Sean Spicer, the chief strategist for the Republican National Committee, went on CNN after the debate and defended Trump to a degree, saying he'd rather the GOP be forced to debate the use of profanity, than have a "78-year-old socialist and a candidate that the FBI is opening an investigation on." But even sad-clown fallen conservative media mogul Glenn Beck has taken to saying he'd worry about his own safety if left alone with "psychopath Trump."

Overall the case could be made that Jon Dickerson won the night, if for no other reason than his awareness of just what he was signing on for when he agreed to the moderator gig. At one point, like most of the crowd and the country watching, Dickerson seemingly couldn't take the petulant screaming and infighting on stage and half-jokingly said "I'll turn this car around" as a way to get a grip on the moment. In short, the real loser of the night was anyone in the Republican party that will have to use smelling salts to get up off the floor of their respective polling place and actually vote for the nominee. Especially if that nominee is Trump.

Kasich, in his only truly memorable moment of the night (besides punching back at Bush at one point who was going after his Medicaid record in Ohio by saying, "Hold on there, Major") summed up what everyone in America, and the world, was feeling throughout all the bickering, tantrums, and bad form by the talking steak sandwiches on the stage last night. "I gotta tell you, this is just nuts, isn't it?" he asked with a depressed giggle. "Jeez, oh man."

It sure is, Governor. It sure is.

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