Finley: GOP debates compete with WWE

Nolan Finley
The Detroit News

As a kid I went to a Big Time Wrestling match in the old Olympia arena. The fervor of the brawling got a hold of the woman sitting in front of me, and she grabbed her husband in a headlock and began pummeling his face.

Afterward, the crowd hurried down to the ring to dip their fingers in the blood on the mat and taste it to see if it was real. It was marvelous fun.

I’ll be at the Fox Theatre tonight in downtown Detroit for the Republican debate, and expect to be filled with nostalgia for those Olympia nights.

The GOP face-offs aren’t cutting into CSPAN ratings, but they must be killing the WWE. USA Network should angle for the next debate and ask Vince McMahon and The Undertaker to moderate. Though that might give Donald Trump an unfair edge, since he and McMahon once staged a proxy Battle of the Billionaires bout.

Think about that. The guy setting the pace during the Republican debates climbed through the ropes to belly-bump with the brains behind the world’s most outrageously fraudulent “athletic” event.

Is it any wonder Trump brings those same rules of engagement to the debate stage? He treats the presidential race as a higher stakes rasslin’ match. Watch for the fake blood tonight.

And at least two of his opponents, notably Sens. Ted Cruz and Marco Rubio, are all too willingly to play tag team.

Scoring of these debates centers on who lands the best verbal jab. Men who hope to occupy the most powerful office in the world have abandoned all pretense to decorum and stand up there for two hours shouting, “You lie!”/“No, you lie!”

Nothing is off limits. Tricky Teddy hurls one smarmy distortion after another, calling his opponents Donald and Marco, as if they were pals. We’ve learned about Rubio’s high-heeled dancing boots and his tendency to choke under pressure. And about Trump’s sweatiness and small fingers.

Meanwhile, John Kasich tries to command the high ground, where, unfortunately for him and us, the cameras rarely reach.

If Americans’ think rude and obnoxious bullying is the key characteristic they want in their next president, this format will serve them well.

But if they hope to judge the candidates by more traditional measures, say competency and intelligence, good luck to them.

It all used to be somewhat amusing. That was back when we still believed the GOP race would eventually turn rational and a candidate who actually could be president would emerge.

But now, with Trump gaining more steam with every hateful, ignorant remark, those who subscribe to the core values of the Republican Party are getting queasy.

The debates should serve not just to pitch the Republican base, but to begin building the broader case that it’s time to return a conservative to the White House. They should be selling big ideas for stemming the national slide and fattening the pockets of everyday Americans. The candidates should walk off the stage with their dignity intact.

Instead, the GOP is staging a Raw Smackdown. A Spring Slam. I can imagine the ghosts of Bobo Brazil and The Sheik kicked back in the rafters of the Fox, having the time of their eternal lives.

Nolan Finley’s new book, “Little Red Hen: A Collection of Columns from Detroit’s Conservative Voice,” is available from Amazon, iBooks and Barnes & Noble Nook.