The terrible, horrible, no good, very bad Republican debate

Shameful. Disgraceful. Embarrassing. Sickening.

I suppose there are viewers who found Thursday night’s Republican debate in Detroit entertaining, but halfway through last night’s carnival of personal, childish insults, I actually felt nauseous. One of the four men on the debate stage — well, three of the four men on stage last night; I feel for you, John Kasich, I really do — will be the Republican nominee for president, and thus potentially will be president.

To compare Ted Cruz, Marco Rubio and Donald Trump to the Three Stooges is to insult the Three Stooges. Nonetheless:

The debate was also insufferable, but that adjective applies mostly to the live audience — booing, hissing and cheering — and, as usual, Cruz.

Though Cruz’s insufferableness did set up the only moment of genuine wit in a debate that began with Trump bragging about the size of his penis:

“Donald, please. I know it’s hard not to interrupt. But try. Breathe, breathe, breathe,” Cruz told Trump as Trump talked over him. “You can do it. You can breathe. I know it’s hard. I know it’s hard.”

Rubio, off camera and delivering the night’s second-best line: “When they’re done with the yoga, can I answer a question?”

Cruz: “I really hope that we don’t see yoga on this stage.”

Rubio, with the night’s best line, referencing an earlier answer by Trump: “Well, he’s very flexible, so you never know.”

Fox News has been solid through all the debates it has hosted. Last night’s moderators — Bret Baier, Megyn Kelly and Chris Wallace — were prepared, knowledgeable and obviously had watched John Oliver’s takedown of “Donald Drumpf” earlier in the week:

Kelly was especially sharp. Her exchange with Trump, in which she pushed Trump to explain his statements in three video clips showing him contradicting himself on Afghanistan and other issues, was the kind of debate question we should see more often.

And yet, as much as I appreciated the questions asked by Fox’s panel, a point arrived where it seemed as though Fox was doing the hapless Republican establishment’s bidding and trying to take down Trump. The moderators didn’t press Rubio and Cruz with the same detail or vigor. For example, Cruz repeated his pants-on-fire claim about Obamacare as a killer of millions of jobs and no one challenged him on it.

Trump is winning, but as The Associated Press reported, he’s not yet on track to secure the Republican nomination. The Republican establishment desperately continues to search for a way to stop Trump without suffering severe blowback from Trump’s voters, who already suffer, not entirely unreasonably, from the sense of betrayal.

And yet, despite all the fretting — despite the #NeverTrump movement on Twitter — if Trump wins the nomination, Republicans will be there to rally behind him. At the end of last night’s debate, Cruz, Rubio and Kasich (listed here in order of the begrudging enthusiasm, from least to most, with which they answered the question) said they would back Trump if Trump were the nominee.

Trump might be a phony and a fraud and a con artist. But he’s the Republicans’ phony and fraud and con artist. So the personal insults may not prove to be so personal after all. It’s just politics.