The Michigan Republican primary season kicked off on Thursday night at the Fox Theater, one of the few presentable public venues left in downtown Detroit.
The theater (pronounced thee-ay-tor in local parlance) was packed with vociferous Republicans who came to cheer and jeer The Donald, Little Marco Rubio, Ted Cruz and Governor John Kasich of Ohio. Most of the people in the hall were imports from out of town; Republicans who live within the city limits are as rare as Jehovah’s Witnesses in Mecca.
Back in the early sixties, when I was in high school, the Fox was a palace of dreams, especially during Christmas vacation, when the Motown Revue came to town for a glorious annual home stand. A two dollar ticket ($2.50 for evening performances) got you Marvin Gaye, The Supremes, The Marvelettes, The Temptations and Little Stevie Wonder. Smokey Robinson and the Miracles closed the show. Not only that, there was a free movie.
The Motown stars themselves were role models, at least on stage. The label’s own, Barry Gordy, insisted that his stars comport themselves publicly with maturity and manners. There was a lot of flash to these shows, but no cheap vulgarity. A performer who openly mocked fellow artists would have found himself out on the street. One who alluded, by word or gesture, to the size of his penis (or the female equivalent) would have been dragged off the stage and summarily executed by a firing squad of Motown executives.
There was never a need for such harsh punitive measures. The young stars of Motown were not saints, but they were professionals. Their audience wasn’t comprised of saints either, but we expected a certain level of sophistication and style from Smokey, Marvin and the Temps—an expectation that was delivered night after night.
The candidates on stage at the Fox on Thursday did not meet those standards. They were, by turns, crude, predictable, shallow and nasty. They weren’t star material. They weren’t even audience material. A teenage Ted Cruz would have skipped the Motown Revue to study for an extra credit civics quiz. Donald Trump would have been out cruising Woodward Avenue in his dad’s Cadillac while giving the finger to kids with cheaper cars. Marco Rubio would have spent the night practicing his dance moves in the mirror. As for John Kasich, he would have taken his sweetie bowling.
On Tuesday, Michigan voters are going to be obliged to choose among these four Republican candidates, now fully grown and ready, in their opinions, to lead the free world. Kasich says he’s qualified by virtue of his sterling performance as governor of Ohio, a proposition that will be tested when his constituents vote in the Ohio primary on March 15. Ted Cruz’s main qualification is that he isn’t Marco Rubio. Rubio’s running on the insinuation against Trump.
As for Trump, well, he’s probably all right if you don’t mind a president who opens his first State of the Union address by slapping the Speaker of the House, firing a couple shots in the air and mooning the public.
Me, I don’t have the problem of voting in Michigan. But if I did, I know what I’d do. I’d write in Smokey Robinson.
Zev Chafets is a Fox News contributor. His latest book is "Remembering Who We Are: A Treasury of Conservative Commencement Addresses" (Sentinel 2015).