By the end of last night’s debate, Rand Paul had been reduced to smirking and reciting the Real Fiscal Conservatism rulebook—You can’t spend trillions on the military and be a real conservative, so are you a real conservative?—like a five-year-old who’d caught a playmate in the irreconcilable thoughtcrime of claiming to like both Michelangelo and Shredder. All smug, hapless, doomed piety. Somebody lean over to poor Rand and whisper in his ear. Tell him who really eats the cookies he leaves out for Santa Claus.

Rand, my good piss son, policing the dogmatic fidelity of Marco fucking Rubio is not a winning strategy. Neither policy coherence nor ideological orthodoxy is the currency of the 2016 presidential campaign; if they were, the stage would’ve been empty. Marco Rubio doesn’t just like both Michelangelo and Shredder; he says he has a plan for both of them to win. At the same time. That’s ridiculous and impossible, and that’s why he was there. More to the point, it’s why he got to stand closer to the center of the stage than Rand Paul.

The problem with checking for consistency between the professed political identities and the policy positions of this buncha friggin’ psychos is that it misses the deeper and more important consistency they embody. They can propose damming to a meager trickle the flow of money into government and promise no decline in the U.S.’s military might and decry deficits. They can inveigh against government policies overburdening small business and pledge to deport the millions of immigrants whose insecure status American small businesses have been exploiting for sub-living-wage work for longer than anyone on that stage has been alive. They can claim to have met General William Westmoreland in Detroit on Memorial Day, 1969 and to be inhabitants of the physical universe where Westmoreland was in Washington, D.C. that day. Not only can they do all this; they’re expected to.

Look at the stage, man! Look at who was standing on it, and how they were arrayed. Listen to what the hell they said, Rand! Pecos Ben Carson, given a glamor spot in the middle of the lineup, wants to return to the entrepreneurial spirit of America’s slavery era and thinks we can get there by implementing the taxation policies of the biblical fathers he thinks stored their grain in the fucking pyramids. Donald Trump, right next to him in the first-class section, can’t keep a hotel solvent in New York City but thinks he’s gonna get the Mexican government to build him a wall along the length of the southern U.S. border. Carly Fiorina, whose executive career is an unbroken litany of abject failure and incompetence, who laid off 30,000 people at Hewlett Packard to facilitate the stupid, go-nowhere corporate merger that eventually got her fired, described herself as “a chief executive who’s had to make tough calls to save jobs and to grow jobs” and said:

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Let me just say, I know more about innovation and entrepreneurship than anyone on this panel because I have led innovative businesses in the most highly competitive industry in the world for decades.

In Carly Fiorina’s entire post-collegiate life she has only ever worked for giant, sluggish, underperforming corporations. She has as much experience with innovation and entrepreneurship as the fat groundhog collecting acorns off my porch. Less, even. The groundhog is self-employed.

The point, here, is this: Behaving as though these people—selected for their ridiculousness, rewarded in proportion to the bald stupidity and provable falseness of the things they say—answer to a constituency that gives the least damn about fiscal responsibility doesn’t set Rand Paul apart from the rest of them. It’s his membership card! His insistence that policy positions must be reconciled to intellectual pillars of political conservatism in the 2016 presidential campaign is the baldly stupid and provably false thing for which he has been rewarded. It’s no less ridiculous than Carson’s biblical tithing or Fiorina’s three-page tax code. In a lunatic asylum, the guy going If you’ll just listen to me, I can prove all these people are nuts! is just as bugfuck as everybody else.

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Here is the thing. The central and sacrosanct tenet of 21st century conservatism—the core ethic against which to judge a Republican politician’s fidelity and consistency—is not fiscal prudence, or the preservation of social tradition, or even cold post-human market rationality. It’s flailing, entitled hostility toward the very notion of reason. Trump and Carson are at the middle of the debate stage, Fiorina and Rubio and poor Rand Paul on it at all, because what they say is ridiculous, because them saying things about policy and policymaking is itself ridiculous, because they rather obviously are the most ridiculous people to take seriously when they say pretty much anything at all. They’re there to express an idea: Refusal.

Do you want to stay here and play some more?
No!
Okay, well, then, let’s pack up our stuff and head home.
No!
Uh, well, sweetie, we have to either stay or go.
I don’t want to!
You don’t want to what?
I don’t know!

Tired and cranky, arms crossed, glassy eyes pinched shut, heads swiveling back and forth in simple stubborn refusal. You can’t make me! I don’t wanna! Refusing everything. The point is refusal. Hey Carly, what are you refusing? Whadda you got?

The thing those eight clowns were put there to conserve isn’t money, or tradition, or individual liberty, or some proud American heritage. The constituency that burst into applause for a corporate reject when she pledged to give weapons of war to one half of the world and make war on the other half empirically and emphatically does not give a fuck about any of those things. The thing being conserved is a fantasy, and a privileged, childish one: that the universe bends itself to the pieties and self-assurances and red-faced insistences of the entitled; that truth comes from authority and not the other way around; that I don’t give a good goldang what some fancypants “math” book says, under my roof two plus two equals five and don’t you forget it.

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“If you’re a profligate spender, you spend money in an unlimited fashion for the military, is that a conservative notion?” Rand Paul asked. The answer is: Yes, because it is a ludicrous affront to reason. So is decrying military spending in a Republican presidential debate. So is participating in a Republican presidential debate at all. So is running this shit back every four years like we still might find out it works. It’s an electorate of conservatives. The fantasy persists.

Photos via AP


Contact the author at albert.burneko@deadspin.com or on Twitter @albertburneko.