Election 2016: Making a Good First Impression

I had no intention of writing about Thursday’s Republican debates. (I was going to discuss the 70th Anniversary of Hiroshima and Nagasaki instead). Normally, a debate this far out from when voters will cast their ballots doesn’t mean much, especially when it is held in August, traditionally the silly season of American politics. I am not aware of any candidate in any debate this early having ever scored so well as to vanquish all challengers. Likewise, almost no candidate has ever screwed up so badly as to destroy their chances. (Tim Pawlenty in 2011 is the exception. His failure to stand by his “Obamney Care” jab at Mitt Romney was pretty much the beginning of the end of his campaign).

This year seems to be different. It may be the exception or perhaps, the new rule. In any event, this debate was exceptional. Well actually the two debates. The main event, for top ten candidates polling, and the 5 pm debate for the remaining seven.But both were good. Really good. How good? Well, consider this tweet:IMG_3716

I don’t know a lot about Ted Allen’s politics, but I seriously doubt he contributes to the GOP. All of yesterday, people were buzzing about the debates. So, it makes sense to look at them. Let’s start with the main event. Twenty Four Million (24,000,000) people watched the debate, making it the highest rated program ever on the Fox News Network. Even the New York Times’ Frank Bruni grudgingly complimented Fox. Back-handed yes, but still a compliment.

In general, there was some of the expected Obama-bashing and Hillary Clinton bashing. But a lot of the debate really was the candidates talking about what they would do as President, not how evil or wrong the other side is. Substance seems to be the focus of the candidates right now. All of them, Most of them seem to want to show the voters why they should be President as opposed to why the others shouldn’t.

Donald Trump came in leading the polls. He may have left leading, but his momentum, I think, is spent. His refusal to pledge to support the eventual Republican candidate was a colossal mistake. Threatening to run as a third party candidate is not going to fire up the grassroots conservatives. They want to win in 2016 and will not look kindly on anyone who might split the vote and allow a democrat into the White House for a third consecutive term.

This brings up a question: Why is Trump running as a Republican? His policies are not remotely conservative or Republican. He’s pro-choice, pro-gun control, pro-single payer health care, pro-eminent domain and pro-higher taxes while being anti-flat tax, and anti- free trade. The Donald is the ultimate crony-capitalist. He gave money to those in power in return for favorable treatment done the road. He has more in common with a lot of the people to whose campaigns he has donated (Hillary Clinton, John Kerry, Harry Reid,  and Chuck Schumer) than the Grand Old Party itself.

(As an aside, I’m still not sure I understand why Trump trumpeted Hillary coming to his wedding because he paid her to come.It’s not really going to endear him to the base and why would you pay any guest to come in the first place? Beyond the food and open bar I mean.)

The man is delusional. I’m pretty sure politicians were talking about illegal immigration before Trump raised the topic. He’ll be around for a while, he has the money to stay, but as a political force, he’s almost done. His hissy fit about Fox’s Megyn Kelly’s questions looks petty. If he can’t handle discomfort with Kelly’s questions, why should any voter think Trump will succeed in Washington.

And speaking of Washington, Ben Carlson (who didn’t seem to have much to do during the debate) had the best laugh line of the night when he noted as a surgeon, he was the only candidate “to take out half of a brain, although you would think, if you go to Washington, that someone had beat me to it.” Carson is a brilliant surgeon, but I’m not sure he has what it take to be President.

Rand Paul acquitted himself well, as did Chris Christie. (I think Paul got the better of their exchange regarding the NSA, but I will admit to a pro-Rand Paul Bias). Paul is right to position himself as a different kind of Republican, but I’m not sure the party is ready to follow him.

Marco Rubio impressed.Rubio probably had the second best line of the night, “Well, first, let me say I think God has blessed us. He has blessed the Republican Party with some very good candidates. The Democrats can’t even find one.”

Jeb Bush on the other hand…. not so much. And what did he mean “In Florida, they called me Jeb, because I earned it.” I never realized ‘Jeb’ was some honorific title.

John Kasich and Scott Walker are battling for the same slice of the republican pie: those yearning for a Midwestern Governor as President. Neither helped or hurt themselves. I think Walker has the edge, thanks mainly to the Wisconsin Unions’ ham-fisted attempts to defeat him. Kasich’s defense of increasing Medicaid/Medicare as something he would tell St. Peter had a Christian appeal that normally plays well to the GOP crowd. But I think Republican voters have moved on from that sort of politicking. “Compassionate Conservatism” has played itself out.

Mike Huckabee is the last candidate I would have expected to have raised the issue of pimps in a Republican debate.

(Incidentally, who was the marketing person who bought air time during a GOP debate to show an ad for Straight Outta Compton? I would love to see the Venn diagram showing the cross-over of Republicans and N.W.A fans).

I don’t think Huckabee did anything to expand his appeal. Whatever element does go for the “Compassionate Conservative” is Huckabee’s base.

Probably the most disappointing of the main event was Ted Cruz. Not that he fumbled or did something wrong. He just didn’t make much of an impression. He was forgettable.

If you look at the debate we do sports standings, I think Huckabee, Kasich, and Carson are probably on the bubble. One or more could be knocked out of the next debate by some of the 5 pm debates.

***

That debate, i.e. the Early Bird Special, was being called the “Kiddie Table” debate. I think a better name would have been “The Not Ready for Primetime Candidates” with Carly Fiorina being the breakout star.  I would be very surprised if she is not in the top ten by the next debate.

She was good enough that the Democratic National Committee put out a condescending tweet, attacking her. Nice to see the democrats are continuing their war on women.

Rick Perry also did well. Not as spectacular as Fiorina, but enough that he could also join her on the big stage.

Of the rest, Rick Santorum was Rick Santorum. He is angling for the social conservative votes. But Huckabee has them already and  the moral majority is no longer the driving force in the Republican Party. Nowadays, it’s a battle between the defense hawks and the budget hawks. There’s no room for a Huckabee and a Santorum.

Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal was ok. Nothing to vault him into the main event next time, but didn’t crash and burn.

Lindsay Graham’s answer for everything seemed to be invade the Middle East. The man took a question about defunding Planned Parenthood and answered it by saying we needed more troops in Iraq. I would have loved it if, during the main debate, Megyn Kelly had said, “This is for the whole panel. Early tonight, Sen Graham seemingly advocated invading Iraq as a solution to defunding Planned Parenthood. My question: Was Sen. Graham drunk or is he insane?”

George Pataki seems to have cornered the “I want a president who was a governor on 9/11” vote. Beyond that, I have no idea who wants to vote for him. Nothing inspiring about him.

Does anyone know why former Virginia governor James Gilmore is running for President? No seriously, does anyone know and if so, could they let the governor know? Not since Ted Kennedy, has a major party Presidential candidate seemed so befuddled as to why he was on stage. It was sad.

However, I think the award for the saddest candidate performance goes to:

A desperate cry for attention.
A desperate cry for attention.

Nothing screams “I desperately want the attention that I’m not getting” like that tweet. Well, that tweet and the stories as to how she watched the debate with Kim Kardashian and Kanye West. (Unless Kanye is her secret debate weapon: “Ima let you finish Marco, but Hillary had the best answer…”). The once and future nominee of the Democratic Party seems to understand things are not going as she scripted. It just doesn’t seem to dawn on her that the Rose Garden strategy doesn’t fit with these times. She’s trying too hard to be hip and cool. And those words are not usually associated with Hillary Clinton. Americans dislike transparent political pandering. It’s almost enough to cause one to experience fremdschämen. Almost.

The Republicans did very well Thursday night. The circus that is Trump was revealed and he was overshadowed by the more thoughtful candidates. Fox did an amazing job at asking uncomfortable questions to force the candidates to occasionally have to go off the talking points.

As Frank Bruni noted, “ On this night, the network that pampers Republicans provoked them instead”. And on that night, Democrats finally announced their debate schedule (just before the GOP’s got underway). It will be interesting to see if CNN can match Fox in style and substance.

I’m not holding my breath.

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