The fourth Republican debate on 11-10-15 was significant in that the moderators–Maria Bartiromo, Neal Cavuto and Gerard Baker–were consummate professionals. Their questions were uniformly substantive and lived up to the Fox “fair and balanced” motto. The candidates were all given the opportunity to avoid personal attacks and tell the public exactly–to the degree they were willing and able to do that–how they would handle pressing economic problems. This fortunate trend extended to the “undercard” debate–Sandra Smith, Gerald Seib and Trish Regan–as well.
I’m not going to bore you, gentle readers, with a great deal of hot air transfer on this debate. It is highly unlikely that the performances of any of the candidates will significantly change their poll numbers in the near future, but some longer-term trends may eventually be evident, and may, at some point in the future, be traced back to this event.
In the undercard, I have these brief impressions:
Mike Huckabee: I can’t imagine he has the money to keep going much longer. He had his chance–actually, several chances–and will never again do as well as he did in the past. He must be hoping for a miracle, because if he’s at all rational, he knows he has no chance now.
Rick Santorum: Same, and double same on his chances.
Bobby Jindahl: Same and same. He’s a competent policy wonk, and a reasonably likeable guy, but he is not exciting virtually anyone. Where he gets the money to keep going is anyone’s guess.
Chris Christie: Once one ends up at the kiddie debate, it’s virtually impossible to return to the big show. All the pundits proclaimed him the undisputed winner of the debate, which in terms of his probability of getting the nomination amounts to less than nothing. He’s smart, aggressive, and principled, but he unnecessarily embraced Barack Obama when that embrace harmed the Republican Party and candidate. Few have forgotten that. I absolutely distrust him on the Second Amendment. He claims he had to be weak on that issue because he’s the Governor of New Jersey, but I’ve never seen any fire from him on the issue that would lead me to believe he’s a true advocate of the entire Constitution.
The Big Show:
The top four are now Carson, Trump, Rubio and Cruz. I include
Carson and Trump because of their poll numbers. Neither did anything at this debate that would increase those numbers. Cruz and Rubio potentially did.
The Winner: Ted Cruz–if one judges by contemporary debating standards. His grasp of the issues is impressive, and his plans are plausible. He had several great lines, delivered at precisely the right points in the debates. During a donnybrook about amnesty for illegal aliens, Cruz noted: “If Republicans become the party of amnesty, we will lose.” There wasn’t much to be said after that. My favorite, however, was his brilliant line that if lawyers and bankers were crossing the Rio Grande, and people with journalism degrees were illegally immigrating and dropping wages for the press, we would surely be seeing stories about the economic impact of illegal immigration. Cruz would–figuratively–slaughter Hillary Clinton in a debate. Any networks that wants massive ratings should be advocating for that debate.
The Winner: Marco Rubio–if one follows the conventional wisdom and buys the idea that the Democrats fear him most of all. He received the most obvious and enthusiastic applause when he was introduced–Carly Fiorina received the next most obvious applause–and was smooth and practiced without too obviously appearing to be practiced. He had a few good lines too, including this about the necessity of vocational education: “welders make more money than philosophers; we need more welders.” Overall, he stayed on message, which is: he is the new hotness, he’s the man to lead America into a bold, bright new future, everyone and everything else is the old brokenness.
John Kasich: Before this debate, I haven’t disliked him. I do now. As usual, he kept repeating that he’s the only guy who is a currently serving executive, and he was in Congress where he did great things, and he’s doing great things in Ohio, and that will let him do great things as president, etc. Whenever he spoke, he kept getting louder and more strident the longer he spoke, all of which gave him an air of desperation. He attacked Trump on immigration and established himself as the preeminent Republican against deporting illegals. Not a swift move. He was consistently rude and kept interrupting and demanding to speak, and was allowed to do it. I found him distinctly annoying. He may well have thrown away any chance for a Veep spot with this ugly performance, even if he can deliver Ohio.
Donald Trump: He was consistent in arguing that if we want to be a sovereign nation, we have to stop illegal immigration and deport people here illegally. He noted that at least some of them could come back, and he didn’t get much applause for it, but it needed to be said, because it’s true. The conventional wisdom that we can’t deport “X” million illegals is false. Of course we can. The issue is political will, not ability, and a reasonable legal argument can be made for doing it. He was generally less aggressive than usual, and spoke relatively little. While he didn’t help himself, he probably didn’t hurt himself either.
Ben Carson: I continue to like Carson for his persona and accomplishments, but he’s truly not remotely qualified. He appeared, from his first moment on camera, to be sleepy. When forced to speak on substantive issues, one could see him halting and searching the memory banks for facts and figures. He has no innate grasp of these issues. He could easily be a popular Veep choice.
Jeb Bush: He needed a big, impressive performance. He didn’t come close. He kept interrupting others, trying to get his issues in, and was only partially successful, while displaying real desperation. He had a wealth of statistics ready to throw out there, but in a manner that revealed his exhaustive coaching. He is well known as an amnesty advocate, and didn’t help himself by attacking Trump and declaring without qualification that we can’t deport anybody. His later declaration that Islamist terror is our biggest national security threat wasn’t a game changer. I can’t imagine he’ll get a single percentage point increase out of this debate, and he often looked like a man who knew his life preserver was drifting away. He’s trying to portray himself as a serious conservative, but keeps pushing issues that are anything but conservative. Odd. His brother pretty much buried the idea of the “compassionate conservative.”
Carly Fiorina: I really like her, not just because I have a soft spot for strong women, but because of the political outsiders, she really does have the kind of experience and skills that can easily and quickly translate into effectiveness in the presidency. When she talks, people listen, and she got substantial applause throughout the debate. She’s an impressive woman, but she won’t be the nominee, and I doubt she’ll be the Veep. Putting a woman in such jobs matters to Democrats because they can easily use race or gender as bludgeons with which to bash Republicans. Republicans have never figured out how to do the same to them, and I doubt they’ll be able to do it before November, 2016.
Rand Paul: He actually sounded rational, but managed to mark himself as an isolationist, though he and his followers, and much of the press, are taking pains to deny he’s an isolationist, which of course means, he is. I expect him to be rational, until the moment he isn’t, which is when he flies completely off into looneyland. Look in the dictionary under “cult candidacy” and you’ll find his photo, possibly wearing a tinfoil hat.
There are still too many candidates, and these debates really aren’t doing anything to make a significant difference. A few debates, spaced far apart, are useful, but every few weeks is far too much exposure to nothing new. Political junkies follow them, but most Americans, if asked, are likely to say: “There was a debate? With Republicans?”
This really is getting tiring.