Election 2016: GOP Debate Round 2, Electric Bugaloo

Good granny gracious that was a long debate last night. And to whichever CNN producers allowed the social media question regarding the candidates choosing their Secret Service names: I hate you.

Last night’s debate (I’m not discussing the appetizer debate featuring… I have no idea. Didn’t get a chance to watch it and I feel pretty confident that none of the candidates had a Carly Fiorina moment that will vault them to Prime Time) was being billed as featuring CNN’s Jake Tapper as moderator with Dana Bash and Hugh Hewitt as questioners. Turned out, Tapper asked most of the questions, with occasional queries from Bash. Hewitt apparently was just making a cameo, much like Steven Seagal in Executive Decision. I hope the candidates didn’t spend too much time reading the Looming Tower or the other books on Hewitt’s Necessary Bookshelf in preparation for having to answer his Foreign Policy Quiz.

I was uncomfortable with Tapper’s style. “Candidate X, Candidate Y has said we should invade Syria and defeat ISIL to stop Planned Parenthood. Why is he wrong?” The debate seemed to have undertones of Thunderdome: Two Candidates Enter, One Leaves. And the constant split screen with Donald Trump elevated him far more than was justified, especially as the night wore on and he started to shrink under pressure. I guess with 11 candidates, it was an easy way to spark a discussion, but it also had the side effect of minimizing some of the candidates. (Scott Walker spoke only for 8 minutes during the debate).

As for the Candidates, let’s break them down into brackets: The Outsiders (Donald Trump, Carly Fiorina, and Ben Carson); Senators (Ted Cruz, Rand Paul, and Marco Rubio); and the Governors (Jeb Bush, Chris Christie, Mike Huckabee, John Kasich, and Scott Walker)

Outsiders Bracket

I’m pretty sure Donald Trump plugged his own office tower in an answer. This may explain how The Donald is planning to finance his Berlin-esque wall with Mexico: Product Placements in his Presidential Speeches. (“As I was riding in my luxurious Ford Limo, siping a Red Bull, which let me tell you has yuge benefits. People are always coming up to me saying, ‘Hey you really try Red Bull’…”).

Other than that, it was not a good night for Trump. Fiorina’s response to his sexist comments knocked him off his game. His sparring with the other candidates revealed that he doesn’t know much about the details of policies. Could I name the leaders of the Qud, Kurds, Hezbollah and other Middle Eastern groups? No. But there are two caveats: 1) I’m horrible with people’s names as a general rule and 2) I’m not running for President. If I was running, I’d tried to remember the names. More importantly, I would at least known why these people were important. My saving grace is my ability to recall details about people whose names I forget, either physical attribute or something about their personality or upbringing. (“Yeah, you know the barista that has the odd fear of bungee cords.”). Trump seems to think his saving grace is hiring someone who knows the Arab names.

The debate showed Trump is style over substance on the issues. He came off looking like a bully. And he can’t admit when he is wrong or he has made a mistake. Trump was more offended by Jeb Bush’s suggestion that Trump couldn’t get something built than by the implication Donald tried to buy political favors. Donald Trump is The World’s Croniest Capitalist: “I don’t always buy politicians. But when I do, I get what I want.”

In addition to the Donald not apologizing to Fiorina, his refusal to apologize for his comments Jeb’s wife, Columba Bush as well as his smug trashing of the Bush family was… well let me put it this way: I’m not a Jeb Bush fan. But if Jeb had turned and cold-cocked Trump right there and then, I’d vote for Bush III.

I know I said it after the last debate, but I really think Trump is hitting his high water mark. He’s not broadening the party’s base. The more the debates turn to substance, the less stature he has. The shot a Rand Paul? Odd, but you can make an argument for it. Attacking George Pataki? The man wasn’t even in the prime time debate and is one poll away from entering the Jim Gilmore zone. And Trump’s constant Appeal to Authority of unnamed people doesn’t disprove he is just making it all up as he goes along. Who are all these legal scholars that agree with Trump? Does he know them? Has he spoken with them? How about naming these people and letting the American people decide. And his answer to the vaccination question? Well, I believe William Shatner, sitting inside Air Force One, probably sums it up best:

“Help! Stewardess, Donald Trump is claiming vaccines cause autism!”

(Or was that from when Trump was trashing the 14th Amendment?)

The punditocracy, following the consulting of omens, has declared Carly Fiorina winner the debate. I guess you could say that. She was very strong, but not so that she has toppled Trump. But she probably had some of the better lines of the evening, including her response to Donald’s comments and his refusal to apologize:

“I think women all over this country heard very clearly what Mr. Trump said.”

If she had dropped the mic then and walked off stage, I think Tapper would have looked into the camera and said, “Thanks for tuning in tonight.” But she didn’t and some of her claims, including the Planned Parenthood video, are complete bunk. You  just can’t keep make stuff up and not expect people to call you out on it. (I suspect she may have been referring to the videos released in aggregate, but that is not what she said or implied). And her refusal to answer the question about putting a woman on US currency was petty. There is nothing sacrosanct about who is and is not on money. It is a fair question to wonder if some bills should be redesigned and a new face placed.

I don’t know if Fiorina could really win. But, if nothing else, she has shown herself to be Cabinet Secretary material.

If Fiorina won the debate, Ben Carson has to be the co-runner up. He didn’t overly thrill and his answers tended to be long. (One Twitter-wit noted the longest distance between two points was a Ben Carson answer). But the doctor had a good grip on the questions and was able to answer with substance and occasional flashes of wit. The good doctor is not going to be the next President, but he has shown that he has the gravitas to be on the stage.

Senatorial Bracket

Marco Rubio was the clear victor of the bracket, and the other co-runner up. He was right to smack down Trump’s view that the entire political campaign should be English only.(“And if [voters] get their news in Spanish, I want them to hear that directly from me. Not from a translator at Univision.”). I could have done without the water joke or the reference to his dad as a bartender, but those aren’t deal breakers. I don’t necessarily agree with Rubio’s foreign policy view, but he has clearly has a grasp on world events. All in all, he presented himself as someone Americans could be comfortable with having his finger on the nuclear trigger.

Ted Cruz, on the other hand, is sinking. Beyond becoming Donald Trump’s mini-me on immigration, he is becoming more and more of a caricature of a candidate. He says he opposed John Roberts’s nomination, but he voted for his appointment to the Bench. This “I was against him when I was for him” is nonsensical. Cruz is a living version of South Park’s undergarment gnomes: 1) declare run for presidency 2) ???? 3) Sworn in as President.

The final senator, Rand Paul was fine. I’ve previously admitted that I’m rooting for him. Paul does best when he is able to highlight his libertarian views. When he was able to espouse those views, he was good. The exchange on medical marijuana and his opposition to Iraq highlighted these facts. (“If you want boots on the ground, and you want them to be our sons and daughters, you got 14 other choices. There will always be a Bush or Clinton for you, if you want to go back to war in Iraq.”) I don’t know if it was good or bad that at times he seemed exasperated by some of the answers. He recalls Jon Lovitz’s Mike Dukakis impersonation: “I can’t believe I’m losing to this guy.” The only way Rand is going to muscle into the top echelon is to stop trying to show his conservative bona fides, and focus on his libertarian ones. He need to show why he is the different type of Republican.

Governor’s Bracket

It wasn’t the greatest night for Jeb Bush. He was much better than the first debate, though that could be the soft bigotry of low expectations. He had a couple of good quips and seems to understand that he has to sell himself to the American People and not expect a coronation. But a lot of his policies seem to be warmed over concepts from his brother and father’s administrations. His favoring of Common Core doesn’t help him with the base. He opposes the sequester, the first time in who knows how long that the government has actually spent less money than the year before. If you believe in small government, isn’t cutting the budget part of the dea?  Opposing spending cuts won’t help him. Nor will his defense of the Chief Justice (unless he punched out Trump for the Donald all but claiming everything in the last 8 years was George W Bush’s fault).

John Kasich is doing better. Contrary to my original view, he seems to be rising while Walker is fading. He’s not doing anything to show why he would be a great President, but he’s not hurting himself. He is adopting a variation of the Romney 2012 formula, be everyone’s second choice. Then, when the voter’s preferred candidate drops out of the race, s/he will vote for Kasich. It’s not the most electrifying way to run, but maybe it works this time.

Scott Walker is flailing. He did ok, but he’s not standing out. Only 8 minutes of speaking is probably why he is becoming forgettable. But he’s also not inserting himself into the debates. With this many candidates, he’s going to have to muscle in on conversations or drop out. From what he said about his plans to overhaul federal labor laws, he could potentially make a good Labor Secretary.

Chris Christie’s performance was much better, even if the facts weren’t with him. Contrary to what he said, Christie has been opposed to medical marijuana and seems to be content with being Pot Prohibitionist in a time when that view is becoming increasingly outdated. I have mixed views on his slamming Trump and Fiorina bickering over their business leadership. On the one hand, he is probably correct that most viewers don’t really want to hear which of the two is better CEO. On the other hand, as a candidate that CONSTANTLY reminds us of 9/11 and his prosecutorial role in days following, he really doesn’t have the standing to criticize others for taking a similar tack based on their records.

Finally, there’s Mike Huckabee.  

There’s not much to say. Unless Kim Davis suddenly becomes a major political issue, Huckabee has got nothing and no visible means to broaden his base. In the pre-primary days, when the party bosses ruled, Huckabee would be the type of candidate mooted by a small group in order to gain some leverage in choosing the ultimate nominee. Huckabee won’t garner enough delegates to that at the convention.

As for the issues, I’m glad the candidates are talking about the 10th Amendment, but I think there should be more discussion of the 9th. And while it’s great to discuss the foreign policy implications of our actions in Syria, maybe the candidates could discuss why they’re seemingly ok with the current President engaging in ongoing military action in the absence of Congressional approval. While I think the Iran deal is incredibly bad and premised on wishful thinking, I would prefer if the candidates took a more serious tone when discussing it, as opposed to who will vacated it the quickest. (Rand Paul being a notable exception)

But at least they are discussing issues. The more debates, the better prepared the nominee will be for the general election. I was surprised Rick Perry was the first to call it quits. There are currently 15 candidates. Plus Jim Gilmore. I wonder if by October 28th we will be down to a dozen.

We’ll see how it goes in six weeks in Colorado.

One last note: 23 million people watched the debates last night. That’s slightly lower than the first debate (24 million), but still amazing. It is very clear the American people are paying more attention this cycle.

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