Meltdown in the Motor City

Editor’s Note: This article previously appeared in a different format as part of The Atlantic’s Notes section, retired in 2021.

At one time it seemed that once the Republican field shrank, the debates would get more reasoned, calm, and predictable. In fact, the opposite seems to be happening. The four remaining Republicans gathered in Detroit Thursday night for a debate that turned out to be the most acrimonious—and raunchy—so far. The crew liveblogged the whole thing as usual. Here’s my instant reaction:

It was only minutes into Thursday night’s Republican debate when the frontrunner hit a new low.

"Look at these hands. Are these small hands?” Donald Trump said, referring to an attack leveled by Marco Rubio. “He said if they're small, something else must be small, and I guarantee you there’s no problem.”

In an often bewildering campaign, the frontrunner discussing the size of his penis was still shocking. If many viewers chose to tune out after that incident, they would have been forgiven. Those who stuck around were treated to a seesaw debate, which featured some of the most probing questions asked of the candidates so far, but also included heated exchanges of childish insults and incoherent shouting.

Trump’s flexibility with the truth is well-known. More interesting is Trump’s flexibility with policy, for which the evening proved a key test. Will voters care about the specific stances that Trump takes and his fidelity to them, or do they care more about his attitude?

Read the whole thing, and the entire liveblog, here.