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So was that a debate or a wrestling match?

As everyone knows, there was an imitation TV wrestling match in Detroit last night otherwise known as the latest Republican presidential debate. If you missed it, I can report that the wrestlers show more ethnic diversity, and wear more colorful costumes.

I watched some of the debate on television. Long ago, I learned that being as such events is usually the second best thing to watching it on TV. You can read and listen to more detailed accounts of it elsewhere, but here’s what you really need to know:

First, the three other candidates spent most of the debate insulting and denouncing Donald Trump, and saying he would be the worst candidate in the history of the world. 

However, none of them indicated a willingness to get out, sacrificing their own puny prospects to save the country. No, Ted Cruz, John Kasich, and Marco Rubio each all thought the others should get out and back them.

They all insisted they could win, even Kasich, whose high-water mark in this campaign has been a second-place finish in Vermont, the nation’s smallest state.

Then, after a night of attacking Trump and a day in which they got Mitt Romney to clumsily do the same, they all said they would back the Donald if he became the nominee.

Well, if you want to see what real political scheming looks like, the latest season of House of Cards starts tonight. By the way, the entire debate gave short shrift to the particular issues affecting Michigan. About the only memorable thing I heard was Kasich’s assertion that the Detroit Public Schools are run by the mayor, which is totally false.

Given that Detroit always casts more than 90 percent of its vote for any Democratic presidential nominee, it’s not hard to see why they wouldn’t care. I do feel the need, however, to somewhat defend Donald Trump for a nanosecond. The stories today all note that he began the debate with, quote, “a crude sexual reference.” In fact, he was responding to a bizarre and tasteless claim about his manhood made recently by the man he calls Little Marco.

Trump merely felt the need to assure us he had no problem in that area. I suddenly had the image of the ghost of George Washington apologizing to Great Britain and saying,

“You were right. We aren’t ready for self-government.”

However, I was at a more fascinating event earlier last evening. The Michigan Political Leadership Society brought Republican Karl Rove and Democrat Jim Messina, former top strategists for Presidents George W. Bush and Obama, to discuss this year over dinner.

While they engaged in a certain amount of partisan flag-waving, both agreed that while the system itself props up both major parties, the parties themselves are broken. Rove noted this is the first election in which both likely nominees are viewed negatively by a majority of the public. Messina said that in presidential politics, the single most important thing that you have to have is a positive and inspiring vision for the future of the country.

Nobody seems to be offering that this year, except maybe Bernie Sanders in a cranky way. As we prepare to vote Tuesday, perhaps that should worry us most of all.

Jack Lessenberry is Michigan Radio's political analyst. Views expressed in his essays are his own and do not necessarily reflect those of Michigan Radio, its management or the station licensee, The University of Michigan.

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