Was that a Republican Debate or a Circus Side Show?

The second Republican debate happened last night for three and a half hours. And I don’t know if I would call it a debate really. Especially in the first thirty minutes or so, it seemed like a circus side show—a contest to determine which Republican candidate could be the most obnoxious class clown.

And if that was in fact the contest, the obvious winner was, you guessed it, Donald Trump. Numerous still frames of the faces he made during the debate have been circulating the internet since last night, and each of the frames is comedy gold. That is, unless you actually want to believe the Republican presidential campaign is anything more than reality television. In that case, the still frames—and in fact the whole debate—are quite depressing.

The length of the Republican debate, and its lack of moderation, created a free-for-all environment that regularly and inevitably degenerated into ad hominem attacks, empty and unsubstantiated self-promotion, and stale inanities. Did the executives over at CNN want to make all the Republican candidates seem like bickering schoolmates or playground bullies? Probably. CNN’s president considers the debate an unmitigated success, despite the many professional detractors:

CNN President Jeff Zucker defended the length of the debate, saying that with 11 candidates the network needed the time to get deep into the issues.

“I think we had a really excellent night,” Zucker declared. “We feel great about it. Listen, we think it was an incredibly substantive debate that covered a lot of issues and that’s what it’s supposed to be. It’s exactly how long we wanted it to be and covered all the issues we wanted it to get to.”

Few seemed to agree.

“I’m not sure what the goal was,” said [Marco Rubio’s campaign manager Terry] Sullivan. “But certainly it devolved into a catfight between some candidates in many ways, and it was much more about who said what about whom and name calling and one-liners than it really was about substantive policy. It seemed only focused on creating fights.”

That does seem to have been the aim. And on those terms, it was wildly successful. I couldn’t handle it. The happiest I was the whole night was when I turned the debate off midway through. It was a huge temporary relief.

But then I remembered that one of these candidates would be the GOP’s choice for president. And my relief transformed quickly into anxiety.