What exactly happened in Boulder Wednesday night?

If voters were hoping for a Republican presidential debate that would provide insight and clarity and help sort out a muddled field of Republican presidential candidates, sorry. With all due apologies to Jerry Garcia, “what a long, strange trip it’s been” is now a little longer and a little stranger.

Let’s start with the painfully obvious: There are too many people on the stage. Too many candidates with too many numbers, too many plans that are the only plans that do whatever, too little time to explain those plans properly, too many claims that I’m the only one who’s done this, too many statistics in too short a time to sort out fact from fiction.

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I’m the first to admit I’m not an economist, but I type fast and even looking back at my notes I still have no idea what they said.

We’re Americans, we love having choices, but the cacophony is doing a disservice to the candidates, and to the party.

Add in that the CNBC crew lost control early on, inspiring a raft of interruptions. And that they asked needlessly pointed gotcha questions that led some candidates, most notably Texas Sen. Ted Cruz, to riff on mainstream media bias instead of answering what could have been substantive queries. Never mind that some candidates have been only too happy to throw barbs at each other all on their own, though they largely resisted Wednesday night.

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Then there’s the disconnect of contenders time and again angrily charging that big government helps only the rich and the wealthy and the well-connected — when that’s precisely who’s funding many of them. Of course, the same can be said of the principal target of much of their scorn all evening.

Former Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton hung over the proceedings like some macabre Halloween specter, some supernatural ghoul that must be exorcised from American life. Chris Christie can’t frame an answer without Clinton in it and is itching to brawl with her, but he’s got the little problem of running 10th or so right now, many battles away from the one he’s spoiling to fight.

The New Jersey governor has another problem, too, and a bad one for a former prosecutor: Telling the truth. He mischaracterized what FBI Director James Comey said about cops and crime, and ignored President Barack Obama’s recent speech to chiefs of police in Chicago. It’s an old trick that has gotten him into trouble before and probably will again if he hangs around in languish-land.

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I’m also puzzled about the picture many of the candidates painted of America. I get it, to a degree. You don’t have the White House (although you do control the Congress, but that’s another story), so you have to criticize the way things are. But the debate made it seem like we’re heading toward a Mad Max-type of apocalypse. Former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee talked about not wanting his five grandchildren to walk through “the charred remains of what once was America.” The picture isn’t all rosy, that’s for sure, but this vision of hell-on-earth just isn’t true.

We could talk about the lack of specifics from businessman Donald Trump, the lack of anything from former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush, how everything is great in Ohio, how obvious it is that retired neurosurgeon Ben Carson only recently started thinking about the presidency, how Cruz and Florida Sen. Marco Rubio probably helped themselves.

Or, about another image conjured by Huckabee last night. He talked about the blimp that became untethered over Pennsylvania Wednesday. He called it a bag of gas that got cut loose and destroyed everything in its path, but couldn’t be gotten rid of because it costs too much. He told it as a metaphor for America, but it worked for the debate, too.

Still, something needs to be done about the size of the field. Some bodies have to go. There were ideas on the debate stage that need to be heard, explained and vetted. And that’s just not happening right now.