On his way into the big presidential debate, Ben Carson told reporters his plan was “to be me.” Excellent idea — way better than planning to be Chris Christie.

“We are on the verge, perhaps, of picking someone who cannot do this job!” cried Gov. John Kasich of Ohio at the moment the contest began. Kasich had actually been asked to name his biggest weakness, but the thought of Carson’s tax plan and Donald Trump’s immigration plan seemed to send him a little off topic.

“He was so nice, he was such a nice guy,” sneered Trump at Kasich’s howling. “But then his poll numbers tanked.”

Hard to believe the race is still barely beginning — one week until one year until presidential Election Day! But you can’t say things have been boring. “What the hell are you people doing to me?” Trump demanded in Iowa, where he’s no longer in the lead. Perhaps we will look back on this as the moment when the former star of The Apprentice fired a state.

But about Wednesday night’s debate — the topic was economics, and the big takeaway was probably that when there are 10 people onstage, nobody is going to have to explain how that flat tax plan adds up. When in doubt, complain about government regulations.

Carson appears to have a particular genius on this front. Asked what to do about the pharmaceutical industry’s outrageous pricing policies, he mildly said: “No question that some people go overboard when it comes to trying to make profits,” and then he careened off to the cost of government rules on “the average small manufacturer.”

Every seasoned politician is good at answering a difficult question with the answer to something entirely different. But Carson — who isn’t supposed to be a politician at all — was possibly the champ. Where do you think he picked that up? It’s a little unnerving to think this kind of talent is useful in the operating room.

Because Carson’s voice always sounds so moderate, responses that make no sense whatsoever can sound sort of thoughtful until you replay them in your head. Asked why, as an opponent of gay marriage, he serves on the board of a company that offers domestic partner benefits, Carson said that he believed “marriage is between one man and one woman and there is no reason that you can’t be perfectly fair to the gay community.” He then proposed, in his measured tones, that “the PC culture … it’s destroying this nation.”

Republicans who have been terrified by Trump and Carson, and in despair over Jeb Bush, keep pointing hopefully to Marco Rubio. During the debate, Rubio demonstrated great verbal talent when it came to explaining why he seems so bad at things like, say, managing his personal finances. (His parents were humble working folk who did not leave him a fortune.) Also, his stupendous absentee record in the Senate is not all that much worse than some other people who have run for president.

“But Marco, when you signed up for this — this was a six-year term and you should be showing up to work,” interjected Bush, who seemed as if he had suddenly shaken himself from a nap. Bush’s only two moments of energy involved Rubio, who he seems to hate, and fantasy football, which he really, really enjoys.

Jeb Bush is not going to be the Republican presidential nominee. Neither is, let’s see — Christie, Rand Paul, Carly Fiorina or any of the other supporting cast members. Ted Cruz did have a big moment when he answered a question about raising the debt limit by attacking the questioner. That went over so well that by the end of the two-hour session, the left-wing media had overtaken government regulators as the greatest threat to the future of American democracy.

Or do you think it could actually be Carson? The guy who seems to blame gun control for the Holocaust?

One of the theories on why Carson can’t win — besides the fact that he’s utterly loopy — is that even a lot of Republican voters will be unnerved by his plans to undermine Social Security and Medicare. But his ideas aren’t actually all that different from those of most of the other candidates, who want to raise retirement rates or cut out everybody under, say, 45. “It’s not too much to ask of our generation after everything our parents and our grandparents did for us,” said Rubio.

Hard to imagine this going over well in middle-aged America, but the whole party is on the same page. Except for Mike Huckabee who — yes! — is still in the race, out there somewhere. And Trump, who says everything will be fine after he makes “a really dynamic economy from what we have right now” and builds that wall at the border.

Somebody has got to be nominated. Happy Halloween.

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(5) comments

Don Duke

At least the republicans have debates.

Pierce Knolls

"Or do you think it could actually be Carson? The guy who seems to blame gun control for the Holocaust?": http://jpfo.org/filegen-a-m/deathgc.htm#chart

Diane Denish

Clown car is almost too nice for this group of candidates! Gail Collins brings a focus to the circus fun but really, these candidates along with the Benghazi committee and Kevin McCsrthy have been the best entertainment value this month! Give them enough rope...and well, you know what happens . Thanks Gail and the New Mexican!

Peter Neal

Yeah, the alternative to the "clown car" is a nut job socialist who would bankrupt the country Venezuela style, or a pathological liar who says what voters want to hear. Interestingly, you did not deny the blatant left wing bias in the mainstream media, in which the New Mexican actively participates.

Peter Neal

The nerve of people who bitch about "corporate media", or Faux News", when the mainstream media is jam-packed with left wing propaganda like this. Gail Collins and her ilk might as well just volunteer to work for the DNC or one of the Democrat Presidential campaigns.

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