The drunk-uncle-at-Thanksgiving metaphor used to work for Donald Trump not just because of the drunk uncle, but also because of Thanksgiving. The uncle is special because you don't have to sit through him ranting about racist stuff but once a year. If the uncle were to show up every couple of weeks, his boorishness would become not just offensive, but tedious. That's Trump's problem in the fourth Republican primary debate. He's recycled his jokes so much he's boring us, and himself.
Tonight, Trump has shown none of the joy or spontaneity that made him such a delight in past debates. That’s melted away, leaving just bitterness, like his claim that it is both possible and a good idea to round up and deport millions of immigrants. "We're a country of laws. We either have a country or we don't have a country. ... They're going to have to go out and hopefully get back," he droned. As Trump more famously said, "Bor-ing!"
What made Trump's candidacy fascinating was not his sexist jokes or bragging, but his violation of political taboos. He poked holes in Jeb Bush's claim that his brother "kept us safe" despite 9/11. He said George W. Bush was so unpopular that in 2008 even a Republican like Abraham Lincoln couldn't have been elected president. He made fun of his competitors for flying all over the country to beg rich guys for money. He was glib when talking about how much he loves God.
Not tonight. At one point, Trump even sounded like a typical primary candidate. There were many different tax proposals represented on stage, he said, and while the candidates might disagree on which one is best, "each one of those tax plans is better than the mess we have right now." And I thought he wasn't here to make friends! Trump got in some digs at Ohio Governor John Kasich—"You should let Jeb speak," and "I don't have to hear from this man, believe me." He asked of Carly Fiorina, "Why does she keep interrupting everybody?" But he said nothing that was truly surprising. And Rand Paul owned him as he ranted about the Trans Pacific Partnership not addressing China's currency manipulation. Like a restless college bro home for the holidays, Paul interrupted to say wryly, "We might want to point out that China's not part of this deal." Maybe it's time for the uncle to go to bed.