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Who Really Won the GOP Debate? That Airplane.

Did a decommissioned Air Force One come across as more presidential than a stage full of actual candidates?

Wednesday night’s GOP presidential debate was full of high drama and–if we’re being honest here– relatively low impact. After a marathon three hour session designed to pit candidate against candidate, none of the participants could rightfully claim a decisive debate victory, much less establish themselves as an uncontested front runner for the Republican presidential nomination. Yes, Carly Fiorina had a very good night, and sure, Trump-mania may finally be showing signs of dying down, but when all is said and done, the Republican party still has a long way to go before their presidential aspirations come into sharp focus.


However, if absolutely forced to pick a single, stand-out star of Wednesday’s debate, why limit ourselves to the eleven candidates standing on the CNN stage? In fact, after careful consideration, it seems clear that the debate’s *true* winner wasn’t a candidate at all. Instead, it was the Boeing VC-137C (call sign: “SAM 27000”)–a customized version of the company’s commercial 707 airplane model–which stood behind the assembled debaters throughout the night, providing a sufficiently executive backdrop for the entirely of their time on camera.

image via youtube screen capture

Currently on display at the Ronald Reagan Library, where Wednesday’s debates were held, the plane, which flew multiple commanders-in-chief as their Air Force One (a designation which only applies when presidents are on-board), not only Left Shark-ed the whole evening, but ultimately came across as more presidential than nearly all the assembled candidates combined. Here, then, are five reasons why SAM 27000 definitively, absolutely, unquestionably won the second GOP primary debate:

It was the only debate attendee with an extensive track record of presidential experience: From 1973 to until its decommissioning in 2001, SAM 27000 operated as the mobile Oval Office for seven presidents, from Nixon to George W. Bush. With nearly thirty years in active presidential service, the plane has more Executive Branch experience at the Federal level than the entire GOP (as well as the Democratic) field.

It’s played an active role in crucial geopolitical events: As was mentioned many times over the course of the evening: Track records matter. And while each candidate on the debate stage has their own list of accomplishments about which they can brag, as well as must defend, nearly all pale in comparison to the global events in which SAM 27000 has played a crucial role. In an almost Zelig-like fashion, the plane can be found in proximity to any number of crucial historical moments: From shuttling former President carter to welcome home the 52 American hostages released from Iran, to carrying Ronald Reagan to and from his historic summits with Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev, during which he famously exclaimed “Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this wall!”

It’s entirely bipartisan: While most associated with President Ronald Reagan, for whom it flew over six hundred thousand miles, SAM 27000 served as Air Force One under both Republican and Democratic administrations. In an era in which political divisiveness seems to have reached a fever pitch, SAM 27000 has demonstrated an ability to reach across the aisle, do what needs to be done, and go where it needs to go, regardless of party affiliation. It’s the sort of optimistic, inclusive spirit which the other debate participants seemed to lack.

It looked great on Television: Yes, presidential elections are not beauty contests, but ever since the infamously telegenic JFK walloped a sallow and sickly looking Richard Nixon in the first-ever televised presidential debates, it’s been an inescapable fact of politics: Looking good on TV can only help a campaign. While Wednesday night’s debaters all looked prim, proper, and ready for primetime, it was the SAM 27000 which dazzled television viewers. With 40+ yards of polished metal, and traditional blue and white coloring, SAM 27000 not only dominated the debate arena, but was present in nearly every televised shot, ensuring it more screen time than all the other candidates, combined. And people definitely noticed:

image via twitter / athenacnn

image via twitter / ericgeller

image via twitter / alcivar

It kept above the fray: Much of last night’s three hour (!) debate was spent watching candidates snipe back and forth over everything from smoking pot to whether or not vaccines cause autism (C’mon, seriously? No, they don’t.) Through it all, nearly ever participant had their turn to look petty, clueless, mean, or simply out of the league. SAM 27000, on the other hand, kept quiet, and stayed away from the oftentimes rancorous back-and-forths between candidates. “Sure,” you might say, “but airplanes can’t talk in general.” True, I like to think that even if they could, SAM 27000 would have chosen discretion as the better part of valor, letting actions and stature, rather than talking points, make its case.

Of course, no matter how accomplished or credentialed an airplane might be, it will never truly “win” a presidential debate. It is, after all, just an airplane. Still, in an election cycle where a medical doctor fails refute quack science suggesting a link between autism and vaccinations, or when a leading candidate suggests putting another country’s head of state on American currency, well...never say never.

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