Friday, August 07, 2015

Thoughts on the Republican rumble in Cleveland

Some thoughts on Thursday night's Republican debate in Cleveland.

On the whole I was very satisfied with the field. There is good presidential material there. Contrast that with the opposition's superficial, incompetent and obviously dishonest candidate who is now rightly being investigated for criminal behavior.

At this point my only question is who will be best for the country among the Republicans.

Donald Trump had no substance. He is usually not the clown he’s made out to be. Often, he gives incisive, thoughtful and thought-provoking, though usually politically incorrect answers to questions.

Tonight he phoned in his whole performance. He gave the strong impression of someone who had something better to do the past few days than properly prepare for the event. When the event was pitching his suitability to be president, that “something better” had better have been one smoking hot model.

Trump is a deal-maker, which is why so many misinterpreted his non-pledge to run as an independent candidate. The non-pledge is his way of keeping his cards close to his vest, but he's not going to bluff Hillary or Biden into the White House. Not even he knows at the moment exactly what cards he is holding.

If he "evolves" and becomes more substantive now that he got people's attention and keeps near or at the lead, then those cards could be a pair of aces to have some input in the nominee selection. If he fades and the cards are nothing more than two low cards, he'll fold.

Trump doesn't financially need to throw the Democrats a bone for return favors, and if he means what he says about restoring America's greatness, he won't put a Democrat in the White House. Don't mistake a good bluff for solid cards!

Expect his numbers to dip. But, in the end, you can bet that The Donald will come out of it richer than he went in.

Scott Walker was solid but not spectacular. He spoke with an almost casual style and his closing statement played up the characterization of him as “aggressively normal.” He did not have many opportunities to drive his message of “big, bold reforms,” so he used his closing statement to emphasize his record.

Walker's answers were short. He didn’t use all the time allotted to him. This was a mistake. It left the impression he didn’t have much to say. He appeared weak. He offered a quick answer, then nothing. There’s an old adage in politics that you don’t get in trouble for what you don’t say. It’s safe to say, he didn’t get in trouble.

Marco Rubio was able to put the Gang of 8 to bed. He was good all night—if we were doing a sabermetric ranking of the candidates, he lead the field.

Rubio made the most relevant comment of the evening, noting that the Republicans are blessed to have a large selection of exceptional candidates running for president and the Democrats don't have even one.

Never was the current contrast between the top tier of the two parties more evident than it was last evening, at least to those of us who have been watching the "progress" of the Hillary campaign over the past few weeks.

Rubio is the best pure candidate in the field. He exudes strength and clarity. One could see why Democrats fear him up against Hillary Clinton.

Ted Cruz helped himself by sounding the two themes he needs if he’s going to pick up Trump supporters down the line. —that he tells the truth and fights.

Cruz was slighted a bit by the Fox moderators. They seemed to forget about him at times.

Yet the folks in Frank Luntz’s focus group, airing their views on Fox after the debate, gave him high marks. That was surprising.

Cruz made the case for a “consistent conservative” as the GOP nominee, and indeed he fits that bill.

Jeb Bush had some good moments – defending his goal of 4 percent growth, explaining his education reforms in response to a question about Common Core. But for a candidate regarded as a would-be frontrunner, he was unsteady and came off as a candidate terrified of making a mistake.

Bush gave impressive answers on immigration, education, taxes, and economic growth. But after all these weeks, he still has trouble talking about Iraq.

All in all, he came across as serious and prepared to be president. Bush described his approach to governing as “applying conservative principles the right way.”

Dr. Ben Carson made little impact throughout most of the debate, but recovered with a thoughtful answer to a question about race and a very funny closing statement.

Carson is an enormously appealing figure given his long career as a brain surgeon. He wisely didn’t try to impress anyone with esoteric policy details. Instead he mentioned his successful separation of two girls at the brain. His need is to be taken seriously as presidential material. On that, he made headway.

Rand Paul was the least attractive human being on the stage. By a mile. Hard to see how he outmaneuvers Cruz from here on out.

His campaign has been reeling and it won’t get any better on the basis of his debate performance. There were only a few glimpses of his libertarianism. More would have helped.  He bragged about his 5-year budget without explaining how it gets to balanced.

Paul was the night’s loser.

Chris Christie had a great night. He won the biggest blowup of the debate, mopping the floor with Rand Paul on the subject of national security. Christie knows how to project his personality, explain things, and make an argument – and he did all three effectively.

Christie was the best debater of the bunch. He gained, big time.

Mike Huckabee was the star of the Luntz focus group show. When he spoke, the feedback soared. He didn’t sugarcoat his social conservatism. He scored with his critique of the sad shape the military is in. He cited B-52 bombers. “Most of them are older than me,” he said. He’s 59.

Huckabee is not a peripheral candidate.

John Kasich has two significant things going for him. He emulates Jack Kemp, the bleeding heart conservative. And he’s from Ohio. “Economic growth is the key to everything,” he said.  Kemp couldn’t have said it better.

And he insisted conservatives must look out for the poor and downtrodden, a point that may not help in the GOP primaries but will in the general election.

Kasich’s Ohio is a state the Republican nominee must win to capture the presidency. His chances of being on the ticket improved last night.

The earlier debate of included Carly Fiorina, Bobby Jindal, Rick Perry, Rick Santorum, Jim Gilmore, Lindsey Graham, and George Pataki.

Fiorina dominated her rivals and emerged as a clear and obvious winner. Her commanding performance won wide praise before it was even over and is certain to give her a boost in coverage in the coming days.

Will it also mean a bump in national polls and, specifically, a bump big enough to move her into the top ten for the Reagan Library debate on September 16? It might, but even if it doesn’t, it’s hard to imagine how she could be left off the stage in that debate following a dominating showing in this one.

The biggest loser of the night was Fox News. I was extremely disappointed with the moderators and some of the sensationalized gotcha questions.

Megyn Kelly's question on woman to Donald Trump (I am not a fan of the Donald) was an obvious setup which was unnecessary since he was able to flub things up very well without any help from her. The fact that she dislikes him was obvious by the look on her face and in my mind discounted her as an objective professional going forward for the remainder of the night. In the after the debate show, it was all about how she  'got the Donald'.

Some of the questions from the other moderators were just as sensationalized.  I wasn't looking for entertainment questions that could be answered with talking points or  platitudes but serious questions which happened all too infrequently.

Right from the start -- with only a couple of exceptions -- it was one "gotcha" question after another. If it wasn't a gotcha question it was a question that tried to pick a fight between two of the candidates.
It wasn't until the very end that a couple of substantive questions were asked. Unfortunately, each candidate was allocated only thirty seconds to respond.

In reality, it was not a night devoted to learning about the candidates; rather, it was a night devoted to a contest among the moderators to see who could ask the most childish, irrelevant question. That contest ended in a three-way tie.

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