Republicans Debate: Jeb/John/Carly/Don/Rand/Ben/Marco/Ted Merge and Divide

At last a little clarity. On most issues the Republican candidates are in lockstep. JeJoCaDoRaBeMaTe merge and unify, usually on the far right of the ideological spectrum.

We don't have to debate economic policy anymore, JeJoCaDoRaBeMaTe believes in giant tax cuts and some spending cuts. Austerity and supply-side economics, discredited around the world, will return if any of them are elected. Kasich sorta warns about the size of tax cuts; Paul sorta calls out the big spenders, but it's on the margin.

We don't have to debate minimum wage. Increasing wages for the working poor is a giveaway by government that will destroy jobs and personal initiative. JeJoCaDoRaBeMaTe rejects both moral and economic arguments that increasing demand will create more jobs than tax cuts. Again, a small demurrer from Kasich.

We don't have to debate military strength. We're now weak and pusillanimous. JeJoCaDoRaBeMaTe will take on Putin and ISIS with more guns and more sorties and more boots on the ground. Except for Rand Paul, a principled outlier.

We never had to debate Obamacare, it's a failure and will be repealed. JeJoCaDoRaBeMaTe has made Obamacare the posterchild for the deep anti-Obama emotion that grips the Republican electorate, and that's that. Never mind about replacing it. Those answers were a little bizarre. State pools and unregulated insurance companies, sayeth Carly, we've never tried either.

Some divisions emerged. We have a real divide on immigration. For the first time the united front split, on both humanitarian and practical grounds. Jeb finally stood up. Kasich too. Don and Ted pounced, especially nailing Rubio's feet to the floor. The political calculus here is a dramatic one. The dissenters are betting that the Republican electorate can accommodate a candidate who supports "amnesty," as they call it. The majority are standing by the intense nativist repugnance for immigrants.

Last night's real news, and the real divisions, are less about issues than about persona. JeJoCaDoRaBeMaTe disappeared and eight individuals stepped up: Sleepy Ben Carson, Iron-Ass Ted Cruz, Slick Mario Rubio, Wonky Jeb Bush, Fabulous Donald Trump, Tight-Grin Carly Fiorina, Plodding John Kasich, and Liberty Rand Paul. It makes sense, given their ideological conformity, that style and personality will mean more. And not a bad thing for Republican electoral prospects. Hillary is close to invulnerable on issues; Republicans have and will continue to attack her personality and character. The right team of candidates will make that easier.

The campaign now seems set in stone. If it's a contest of ideas and attitudes the Republicans are again painting themselves into an ideological corner that will make it hard to attract a majority of Americans.

If it's a referendum on Hillary, it's too soon to predict. Who said debates never proved anything?