After listening to the first 20 minutes of last night's GOP debate, I felt an odd compulsion to get up and lock my front door and double-check that the shotgun was still loaded. That's how bad it was.
But I'm still not buying it. They may be living in a country and society teetering on the edge of total ruin, a nation just one presidential election away from the zombie apocalypse, but if so it's a country that they've invented in their own fear-addled minds. In fact, their joint performance last night called to mind the famous Kipling line about "if you can keep your head, when those about you are losing theirs ..."
In today's GOP, a leader willing to keep his head is someone in denial about how bad things have gotten.
And frankly, the tone of the debate never got any better. Anger and fear, fear and anger. They were angry at the world, at each other, at the Democrats, at the media .... Even Jeb Bush, the man who said that he was only going to run if he could do it joyfully, tried awkwardly to join in. (Think of Jeb doing the Electric Slide -- yeah, that's how he looked.)
But somebody up on that stage is going to be the GOP nominee. And if you look only at the poll numbers and their trajectory, without knowing anything about the candidates involved, you would have to assume that "somebody" would be this Donald Trump fellow.
Here's the latest from the Wall Street Journal/NBC News poll, released just before the debate:
Trump has had the lead for six months now, with a brief interlude for Ben Carson. His lead is growing, not shrinking. Back in March, 74 percent of Republicans in the WSJ/NBC poll said they could not envision themselves supporting Trump. Today, 65 percent say they could, in line with Rubio (67 percent) and Cruz (71 percent). And in GOP media organs such as National Review, you're starting to see pieces with headlines such as "Why I'd Vote for Trump If He Were The GOP Nominee." The party faithful are being prepared, just in case.
But as we all know, Donald Trump is NOT just some generic candidate. He's Donald Trump. And I continue to believe it unlikely that the GOP will really nominate him to be president. But we'll see, and we may see pretty soon.
The Iowa caucuses -- now a little more than two weeks away -- are often a poor predictor of the eventual winner, in part because Iowa itself is a poor microcosm of the rest of the country. But this year they may give us the critical piece of data needed to game this thing out. We've seen what the polls say, but the polls can't tell us whether the people who say they will vote for Trump will actually turn out to do so. In political terms, if they don't vote they are mere illusions.
That is the great unanswered question, and as a caucus state, Iowa is a great gauge of that question. If Trump supporters turn out on a cold Midwest night to participate in the caucus process in numbers sufficient to give him at least a strong second, then this thing is real and the zombie apocalypse may really be upon us.
And if it isn't real, then apparently we get Ted Cruz.