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An attendee at the end of the Republican presidential primary debate Thursday in North Charleston, S.C. A Democratic primary debate is scheduled Sunday. It will be broadcast at 9 p.m. on NBC.

Watch the Democratic debate

Sunday on NBC

9 p.m. ET, 8 p.m. CT

Reality TV was alive and well Thursday night as Republican presidential candidates sliced at each other, puffed their chests, spun alternate galaxies and rewrote histories.

But mostly, what many American viewers likely carried away from the debate were sick stomachs and sadness after watching a stage full of bullies wielding stump-sharpened one-liners.

Donald "the bully" Trump and Ted "the snake" Cruz argued about who was born where.

Marco "the huckster" Rubio jumps in, apologizing for interrupting an episode of Court TV, then lit into Chris Christie.

Christie, like his companions, exhibited great prowess at not answering questions. But Christie, "the bridge closer," seems especially imposing as he squares his ample frame and dumps on Democrats, accusing President Barack Obama of being "a dictator" and "petulant child." Looking into the camera, Christie sneered to Obama a promise "to kick your rear end out of the White House come this fall."

Quick fact check: Christie and Cruz both said Obama "allowed" Iran to kidnap and "humiliate" American sailors, reflecting American weakness. Never mind that the sailors acknowledged that they drifted into Iranian waters.

Jeb Bush and John Kasich were the only adults in the room.

The whole pantomime was a stark contrast to Obama's State of the Union address on Tuesday. And almost certainly it will stand in similar stark contrast to Sunday night's Democratic presidential debate on NBC.

While Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders have been trading words over who best supports banking reform and gun reform, they have not (yet anyway) fallen to calling each other names, assailing the other's mothers or threatening lawsuits.

In fact, the worst shame of the Democratic Primary match-ups has been the scheduling of the far-too-few Democratic debates. Of the first three, two were on Saturday. The fourth one will be Sunday night. Yes, Sunday, at 9 p.m. on NBC — across from the PBS premier of Mercy Street.

Some have rumbled that Democrats sought to hide their debates to protect Hillary Clinton.

If that's true, Democratic National Committee Chairwoman Debbie Wasserman Schultz certainly succeeded keeping the Democratic message away from the public. But the thing is, compared to the GOP darkness inspired by Donald Trump, Hillary Clinton is anything but vulnerable. In fact, she's a gleaming ray of sunshine with a heart and a brain.

The real damage of these buried Democratic debates is that most Americans don't know there are three viable Democratic candidates running for president in addition to the GOP hopeless. So the future is not as glum as a full-on viewing of Thursday's GOP debate would lead Americans to believe.

What we were watching on that GOP debate stage Thursday was Trump, Cruz, Rubio and Christie all being so desperate to wrangle a new four or five percentage points in polls that they didn't care if they were eating their own young. They forgot in the heat of one-upsmanship that they are all on the same side, and that voting America — when reminded — really doesn't like bullies unless the bullies are on escape TV and thwarted at the show's end.

One of the most haunting comments of President Barack Obama's State of the Union speech this week was his reflection on the past seven years of bitter partisanship in Washington and its ripple-effect on the nation.

"It's one of the few regrets of my presidency — that the rancor and suspicion between the parties has gotten worse instead of better," Obama said. "There's no doubt a president with the gifts of Lincoln or Roosevelt might have better bridged the divide, and I guarantee I'll keep trying to be better so long as I hold this office."

It was a fair admission from Obama. It has long been clear he could have been a better schmoozer. Perhaps even a better compromiser. And more often than not, his disdain of Republican leaders virtually dripped from his anything-but poker face.

Yet in Washington, as elsewhere, negotiation is a two-way street. The GOP — as Mitch McConnell and others made clear over and over — was united by a single sad goal: to thwart and defeat Obama at every turn.

That's why it's probably more sad than not that the Democratic debates — for whatever misguided reason — have been largely out of sight.

The first three of those debates were models of thoughtful discourse over important issues that offered Americans hope for leaders who had more brain than bluster. And more heart than heartlessness.

After all, it's one thing to agree to disagree, and quite another to pledge to disagree and threaten to "kick your rear-end."

So this week, put off your usual Sunday night routine. Take one for Team America and watch the anti-bullies.

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