GOP is no longer a political party. The Republican debate marked its soul leaving its body.

The Ronald Reagan Presidential Library – site of Wednesday night’s second GOP presidential primary – was an apropos place for the Republican Party’s soul to leave its body.

It was about time, if we’re being honest. And it happened early, as biotech entrepreneur Vivek Ramaswamy and South Carolina Sen. Tim Scott, two people who will never be president, began bickering and babbling over each other while Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis tried, and failed, to scold them for not talking about “issues.”

Like the party they represent, that moment and much of the debate that followed was chaotic, unintelligible, irrelevant and frustrating.

The stage was clearly the kids’ table, filled with a noisy collection of also-rans spouting hackneyed right-wing nonsense – DEATH PENALTY! BORDER WALL! BURN COAL! – with no real policy prescriptions.

GOP debate also-rans prattle on as Trump stays away, also prattling on

Making the moment more tragic, the candidate leading the pack by about 40 points skipped the debate to give a rambling speech in the Detroit area that would put any sane voter to sleep.

Oh, and that leading candidate, former President Donald Trump, is facing 91 state and federal charges and was just found liable on business fraud in New York this week.

RIP GOP. Don’t worry, you’ll have time to shut the government down before you ascend.

The totality of Wednesday night’s display sparks a simple question: Is this really the best one of America’s two main political parties can offer?

The answer appears to be yes, though if I were a member of that party, I’d demand better.

Bad week for Republicans: The GOP gives America a debate, an impeachment hearing and a government shutdown. Oh my.

Trump makes show of UAW support ... by speaking at non-union plant

Trump, in keeping with his penchant for dishonesty, was in the Detroit area ostensibly to show support for striking United Auto Workers union members. But his speech was at a non-union plant in the suburbs in front of several hundred people who were invited.

NBC News reported that few striking workers were there, with one former autoworker saying, “I don’t know where they’re at. But there are several – a handful.”

It didn’t matter much. Trump prattled on about his various legal woes: “I never heard of the word 'indictment,' now I get indicted like every other day.” (Humble brag.)

Former President Donald Trump speaks at Drake Enterprise in Clinton Township on Wednesday, Sept. 27, 2023.
Former President Donald Trump speaks at Drake Enterprise in Clinton Township on Wednesday, Sept. 27, 2023.

He talked generically about the president being the worst president in the history of the planet, saying Joe Biden’s “surrounded with radical left Marxists and crazy people, fascists. Bad people.” (Sounds bad.) Trump referenced “Barack Hussein Obama.” (No longer president.) And he expressed concerns about boats with electric motors, asking, “Do you get electrocuted if the boat sinks?” (No, you don’t.)

Why can't Republicans do better than Trump? GOP debate had no answers.

Over at the debate, which started while Trump was still woe-is-me-ing, the candidates were busily failing to convince anyone they have what it takes to overtake Trump’s bizarrely commanding lead.

Former Vice President Mike Pence said he’ll repeal the Green New Deal, which was never passed in the first place. DeSantis continued giving social media users a chance to make his forced, awkward smiles into viral GIFs. The lot of them hammered away cruelly at transgender youth and adults, dehumanizing them.

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GOP candidates at the debate should be dominating Trump, but no

Their main opponent is a guy sitting atop a veritable mountain of alleged illegality, and except for a few barbs here and there, the best they can muster is loose bickering, lame insults and rehashed tough-on-immigration, tough-on-crime, back-the-blue lines.

This group of seven candidates – particularly someone like Nikki Haley, a former South Carolina governor who's also a former U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, the only one grounded in some form of reality – should be grinding Trump into hamburger. He has weakness upon weakness, and he is, as his "union" speech reminded us, a raving nut ball.

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But no. You’ve got the madman and a coalition of cowards, and that fact was on vivid displayed Wednesday night.

The GOP is no longer a political party. It’s a loud, obnoxious mess, buoying a dangerous authoritarian figure who will soon be facing trials in multiple jurisdictions.

Reagan would smartly and undoubtedly avert his eyes.

USA TODAY Opinion columnist Rex Huppke.
USA TODAY Opinion columnist Rex Huppke.

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This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Why can't Republicans do better than Trump? GOP debate had no answers