Is Ted Cruz the best alternative to Trump that the Republicans have?

Another GOP debate, and yet another opportunity for the presidential candidates to display the full blossom of falsehoods, idiocies and misdirections that constitute the party these days. Ben Carson declared that doing brain surgery qualified him to take on ISIS. Carly Fiorina forgot that Gen. David Petraeus lost his job because he was having an extra-marital affair with his biographer, not because he told President Obama things he didn’t want to hear. And Donald Trump repeated the lie that “friends, family, girlfriends” of the 9/11 hijackers returned to Saudi Arabia just prior to the terrorist attacks.

In short, just another day in GOP Land.

Because this debate was focused on foreign policy, the candidates served up a big, heaping dish of fear for the audience to savor. The constant refrain was how unsafe we are and how much safer we will be if swagger were to become our national security policy.

By now, of course, no one watches the debates to understand the fine points of policy distinctions among the candidates, largely because many of their positions are too incoherent to be described as policy at all. The debates largely serve to see who can best tap into the dark id that is the Republican voting base.

In that sense, Jeb Bush should pack it in now. Bush, who seems to embody the word “ineffectual,” tried in vain to position himself as the serious candidate in direct opposition to Trump. But Trumps unabated lead in the polls suggests that the base isn’t interested in serious.

The man who did himself the most good in the debate was probably Ted Cruz, the creepy Senator from Texas who owes his career to gay money. At this point, Trump, Cruz and Marco Rubio constitute the strongest candidates, and Cruz is positioning himself to be the last man standing.

Scarily enough, that’s a real possibility. Cruz has pulled neck and neck with Trump in polls in the first battleground state, Iowa, largely by pulling in voters deserting Ben Carson. Cruz has also garnered a formidable list of supporters, many of them from the same (antigay) ilk. He’s raised more money than any candidate not named Bush, and he’s consciously copying the data strategy that won Obama election in 2008. For a candidate whose colleagues in the Senate loathe the idea of him winning the nomination, Cruz is well positioned to do just that.

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