To be blunt: Jeb Bush can't construct a sentence without fumbling. Chris Christie can't answer a single question without turning to the camera and scolding Hillary Clinton. Ben Carson has nothing to say and seems to lack the energy to even try.
John Kasich appeared at first to be the adult in the room, but now pouts when he isn't called upon and has only succeeded in making Ohio's governorship seem like a very small job. Marco Rubio also appears small – and that's not a reference to physical stature. Over seven debates Rubio has relied upon unconvincing canned excerpts from stump speeches.
Ted Cruz had a golden opportunity without Trump in the room, and he muffed it badly. He tried to be funny by threatening to walk off stage to join Trump, and the Des Moines audience almost booed him into the parking lot. He tried to go anti-moderator, like Trump, by criticizing the nature of the questions, and fell flat. On the issues, to the extent there were any, he sounded like a snake oil salesman.
Is it any wonder that Trump remains atop this strangely barren field?
Republican voters who continue to tell pollsters they prefer Trump show all the signs of a bad, modern-media audience. They enjoy a good "reality show," as long as everything about it – just as on television – is as far removed from reality as possible.
They enjoy the brutality of mixed martial arts in which few holds, if any, are barred. They attend car races with the not-so-secret hope of witnessing a crash. They play video games which are fast, furious and completely artificial. They partake in social media because it is quick, easy and disposable.
They are just like Donald Trump.
But that leaves all the other GOP candidates along with more than half of Republican voters. It is they, not Trump, who after all this time and all of these debates, are more difficult than ever to explain.
(c) Peter Funt. Distributed by the Cagle Syndicate.