Seven kamikaze pilots on political suicide missions, Donald ducking the action – and the REAL debate winner revealed… MAUREEN CALLAHAN's wickedly barbed verdict on Fox News' reality show from hell

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It was like watching seven kamikaze pilots on a two-hour political suicide mission.

Could Reagan’s Air Force One – suspended over the candidates of the second Republican debate, held at the former commander-in-chief’s Presidential Library in Simi Valley, California – have been a better metaphor?

An 88,000-pound fuselage, a storied aircraft that carried the kind of Republican president the party wishes would alight, just hanging there. The threat of falling, crashing, taking out everyone with it — the only survivor Donald Trump.

For the winner of Wednesday night’s debate didn’t even show up.

His instincts are maddeningly unerring, and in skipping the debate again he made sure that he — not the economy or the migrant crisis or rising crime or the Russia-China-Iran axis — was the top trending topic on stage.

‘Donald,’ said the pugnacious Chris Christie, addressing the camera head-on, ‘I know you’re watching. You can’t help yourself. You’re not here tonight, not because of polls’ — of course not, because Trump is polling at 58 percent among Republican voters, blowing away nearest rival Ron DeSantis by 43 points — so why this absurdist theater?

But still, Christie tried to match Trump, tit-for-tat, in name-calling.

It was like watching seven kamikaze pilots on a two-hour political suicide mission. Could Reagan¿s Air Force One ¿ suspended over the candidates of the second Republican debate, held at the former commander-in-chief¿s Presidential Library in Simi Valley, California ¿ have been a better metaphor?

It was like watching seven kamikaze pilots on a two-hour political suicide mission. Could Reagan’s Air Force One – suspended over the candidates of the second Republican debate, held at the former commander-in-chief’s Presidential Library in Simi Valley, California – have been a better metaphor?

An 88,000-pound fuselage, a storied aircraft that carried the kind of Republican president the party wishes would alight, just hanging there. The threat of falling, crashing, taking out everyone with it ¿ the only survivor Donald Trump

An 88,000-pound fuselage, a storied aircraft that carried the kind of Republican president the party wishes would alight, just hanging there. The threat of falling, crashing, taking out everyone with it — the only survivor Donald Trump

For the winner of Wednesday night¿s debate didn¿t even show up. Trump's instincts are maddeningly unerring, and in skipping the debate again he made sure that he ¿ not the economy or the migrant crisis or rising crime or the Russia-China-Iran axis ¿ was the top trending topic on stage.

For the winner of Wednesday night’s debate didn’t even show up. Trump’s instincts are maddeningly unerring, and in skipping the debate again he made sure that he — not the economy or the migrant crisis or rising crime or the Russia-China-Iran axis – was the top trending topic on stage.

‘You’re afraid of being on the stage and defending your record,’ Christie said. ‘You keep ducking these things… We’re going to call you Donald Duck.’

Doesn’t quite have the ring of ‘Sleepy Joe’ or ‘Crooked Hillary’, does it? The line fell flat.

Ron DeSantis gave it a try.

‘Donald Trump is missing in action,’ DeSantis said. ‘He should be on this stage tonight. He owes it to you to defend his record, where they added $7.8 trillion to the debt, that set the stage for the inflation that we have.’

But Trump was in Detroit, speaking at a rally for striking United Auto Workers, and what he said almost doesn’t matter: In the ultimate power move, he took his stratospheric polling numbers, bolstered by every indictment and judgement that comes down on him, and spent his time with a vanishing American class – the working men and women of the heartland who have long felt abandoned by Democrats and Establishment politicians.

Back in California, there was very little charisma on stage, very little purpose – and instead of joining forces to round-house The Donald, the would-be nominees turned on each other.

Most, it seems, failed to watch back their game-day footage from the first debate.

DeSantis still does that creepy little self-satisfied smile after making a point. His whole body jerks a little, like he’s electrified by what he assumes is his wit or incisiveness.

Mike Pence was as stiff and bloodless as ever, his complexion ghastly.

Vivek Ramaswamy, whose immovable hair grows ever higher, brings to mind nothing more than ‘Spinal Tap’: He has one volume, and it’s always at 11.

Most of the candidates, it seems, failed to watch back their game-day footage from the first debate. DeSantis still does that creepy little self-satisfied smile after making a point. His whole body jerks a little, like he’s electrified by what he assumes is his wit or incisiveness

Most of the candidates, it seems, failed to watch back their game-day footage from the first debate. DeSantis still does that creepy little self-satisfied smile after making a point. His whole body jerks a little, like he’s electrified by what he assumes is his wit or incisiveness

Chris Christie tried to match Trump, tit-for-tat, in name-calling. ¿You¿re afraid of being on the stage and defending your record,' Christie said. 'You keep ducking these things¿ We¿re going to call you Donald Duck .¿ Doesn¿t quite have the ring of ¿Sleepy Joe¿ or ¿Crooked Hillary¿, does it? The line fell flat

Chris Christie tried to match Trump, tit-for-tat, in name-calling. ‘You’re afraid of being on the stage and defending your record,’ Christie said. ‘You keep ducking these things… We’re going to call you Donald Duck .’ Doesn’t quite have the ring of ‘Sleepy Joe’ or ‘Crooked Hillary’, does it? The line fell flat

He talks fast and loud in an aggressive manner that screams I KNOW MORE THAN YOU DO, even as he says that America needs to divest from China though he himself did business there — some of that linked to Hunter Biden — or that just because Russia invaded Ukraine ‘it does not mean that Ukraine is good’, or that TikTok is a threat even though Ramaswamy himself is on TikTok, convinced after a dinner with the problematic influencer Jake Paul.

Nikki Haley, who rolled her eyes at Ramaswamy more than once, spoke for most of us watching: ‘Every time I hear you, I feel a little bit dumber from what you say. We can’t trust you.’

Tim Scott told us that what he lacks in executive experience he makes up for in committees. He sits on five of them: The Committee on Finance, the Committee on Foreign Relations, the Committee on Aging… No need to name them all. But he promised that these assignments left him ready to lead in moments of national crisis.

Scott tried to make sparks with Ramaswamy — China, Hunter, business dealings — and Haley, to whom he owes his Senate seat: ‘Talk about someone who has never seen a federal dollar she didn’t like.’

‘Bring it, Tim,’ she blasted.

Oh, how Tim tried, bringing up the infamous $50,000 curtains in the New York City residence Haley used as Ambassador to the U.N.

‘You got bad information’, Haley said, reminding him that they dated back to the Obama administration. ‘You’re scrapping’.

Everyone on this stage was scrapping. Over at the other far end, dangling like a forgotten ornament, was Doug Burgum, governor of North Dakota.

Did you even know that this guy is running? But there he was, face strangely shiny, waving his arms and shouting and trying to get a word in… why?

A Quinnipiac poll in June found that 90 percent of Americans had no idea who Burgum was. He is the uninvited guest who refuses to leave.

Vivek Ramaswamy, whose immovable hair grows ever higher, brings to mind nothing more than ¿Spinal Tap¿: He has one volume, and it¿s always at 11. He talks fast and loud in an aggressive manner that screams I KNOW MORE THAN YOU DO. Nikki Haley spoke for most of us watching: ¿Every time I hear you, I feel a little bit dumber from what you say'

Vivek Ramaswamy, whose immovable hair grows ever higher, brings to mind nothing more than ‘Spinal Tap’: He has one volume, and it’s always at 11. He talks fast and loud in an aggressive manner that screams I KNOW MORE THAN YOU DO. Nikki Haley spoke for most of us watching: ‘Every time I hear you, I feel a little bit dumber from what you say’

Then again, does it matter? If this second debate proved anything, it’s that no one on this stage will be the nominee. Consider that moderator Dana Perino’s final question was lifted from the reality competition show ‘Survivor’.

‘It’s now obvious that if you all stay in the race, former president Donald Trump wins the nomination. None of you have indicated that you’re dropping out. So which one of you onstage tonight should be voted off the island?’

No one but Christie answered. ‘I’d vote Donald Trump off,’ he said.

Here’s the rub: You can’t vote off a player who isn’t there. You can’t beat someone who not only isn’t competing with you — Trump’s not even playing the same game.

How fitting, then, that we ended with a reality show question — a nod, intended or not, to America’s very first reality show president. The island of which they spoke, filled with these would-be contenders, felt more like the Island of Misfit Toys.

To paraphrase Trump’s most famous ‘Apprentice’ catchphrase: ‘You’re all fired!’




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