I’ll keep this mercifully short. I can’t say that all of the Republican debates have been completely unnecessary. They have provided an opportunity to see which of the candidates is more like a human being than a campaign robot programmed to stick to the stump speech. They have also, particularly the Fox Business News Debate, provided a rare and potentially useful look behind the character curtain of most, if not all, of the candidates.
The few Democrat Debates, most scheduled for Saturday nights, have clearly been organized to protect Hillary Clinton by keeping viewership to a minimum, and by mostly avoiding tough questions, and by failing to follow up properly on the few that have been asked. When the moderators of the previous Republican debates stopped quoting New York Times talking points and moved their overwhelming egos aside, there have been things to learn. Such was the case in South Carolina on 01-14-16.
I did not see the undercard debate between Mike Huckabee, Rick Santorum and Carly Fiorina. I was rehearsing sacred music. I would prefer to be closer to Heaven than to Hell in any case. I observe only that virtually all the pundits have declared her the winner, and that any Republic assuming the presidency would be wise to put her business expertise, love of America and Americans, and genuine toughness to work in his administration.
As for Huckabee and Santorum? When? Really: when? They have to know beyond any doubt they have no chance. What remains? Neither of them have a message so distinct from the other candidates that a reasonable person could feel ensuring that message was heard in the early stages of the campaign, and utterly forgotten months later when most of the public begins to actually pay attention, to be a moral imperative. What’s left? Ego? Hubris?
The Main Event:
Winner: Ted Cruz. Many pundits have declared Donald Trump the winner with Cruz a close second. I disagree. Not only is Cruz a superior debater, his command of truly relevant facts and examples far outstrips Trump and everyone else on the stage. He knows and has studied history. Trump sort of knows some things that may or may not be particularly accurate. Will those factors matter? They do to me, at least for the moment, and as more Americans take a much closer look, hopefully for substance over volume, they will matter more.
Cruz is not only highly intelligent, he expresses that intellect without appearing to think himself superior. He not only genuinely revers the Constitution, he has a record of supporting it none of the others can touch. Barack Obama brags of being a “constitutional law professor.” When he does, his lips are moving; he is lying. He was never a professor, but a part-time lecturer given a class as a political perk. Ted Cruz has actually practiced law before the Supreme Court.
Cruz’s response on the Second Amendment was a good example. He demonstrated immediate and accurate command of the facts, citing Eric Holder, Sonia Sotomayor, and Hillary Clinton as examples of progressives that want to seize guns. He even brought up Diane Feinstein‘s infamous quote that if she could force all Americans to turn in their guns, she would. Cruz also has a solid record of actually defending the Second Amendment.
Cruz is, alas, human. His quip about Trump and “New York values” gave Trump a well-prepared and rehearsed opening to nail Cruz. Cruz started well by observing that everyone knows that most New Yorkers have progressive values, distinct from “Flyover country,” and if he stuck with that and explained that he was merely observing what most people understand and the Congress proves–that most residents of red states have very differently values than those of the blue, he would have been fine. Unfortunately, Trump was waiting and sprung the trap, invoking the sacrifice and honor of New Yorkers responding to 9-11. It was Cruz’s only unforced error.
The Patriarch of the Duck Dynasty Clan, Phil Robertson, recently give Cruz the family blessing. In a notable commercial, Cruz is duck hunting with him, camoed (OK, so it’s not a special forces quality camp job), and ready, even credibly shooting a shotgun. Cruz does not look like Democrats like John Kerry who hold a firearm as if it were about to bite and inject them with alien DNA. Just as George Bush did in a flight suit, Ted Cruz effortlessly looks the part. Even if he is not an ardent hunter, Cruz is not trying to look like one of the little people and imitate their quaint and inscrutable ways.
Runner Up: Donald Trump. Trump has learned from experience, as one might expect of a man of his capabilities. Trump is plenty smart and accomplished, and most of all, knows people. That’s how he has amassed a fortune. He is not longer so frantic, nor does he tend to run off at the mouth, saying very little of consequence. He is not cured of these ills, but they’re less disturbing. He is sticking to tried and trusted sound bites and repetition, and there are fewer of his distinctive verbalized pauses, such as “that, I can tell you.”
The Debates have not yet gotten to the core principles and factors in any issue, though a few have been touched on. This is one of the primary differences between Cruz and Trump: Cruz has these things at the forefront of his memory. He’s discussed them, thought about them, debated them, in some cases, for decades. Trump has probably never thought of many of them and hasn’t integrated them into his matrix of fundamental principles
In many respects, Americans very much have a “throw all the bastards out,” attitude, and that included every politician currently in office. That Cruz is doing so well is remarkable. That Trump is doing so well demonstrated how powerful the anger of the public–which Trump cleverly embraced–currently is. Even though Trump has no real record on the issues, he is saying Reaganesque things, promising to make America great again. When he has to put up or shut up, when he has to explain just how he is going to find the money in the brokest nation in the history of the world to become great again, will he have the goods, or will the public begin to see an empty suit?
Honorable Mention: Marco Rubio. Rubio didn’t do badly–he had a good night–but he is struggling against Trump’s media-enabled, larger-than-life persona and Cruz’s intellect, knowledge, relaxed good humor and experience. He was a bit desperate, speaking unnecessarily loudly, his facial expression attempting, but not quite dripping with gravitas, resolve and seriousness. He is a good speaker. He has substantial experience in that, and anyone on the stage would be a dramatic improvement over Barack Obama or Hillary Clinton, but the bar has been set so very, very low… Rubio is also clearly intelligent, but he’s not in Cruz’s league, and responds with anger and with tossing little rhetorical hand grenades at Cruz, at least some of which appeared to be false. In many respects, Rubio is a Mini Me of Cruz, and the comparison is not flattering to Rubio. He’s a young man. I suspect he has run before his time.
Have I mentioned that Rubio’s record on immigration indicates he’ll give away the nation? He sidesteps by claiming that he’ll secure the border before doing anything else, and that it’s not even possible to discuss that “anything else” until the border is secured. If he holds true to DC conventions, he would talk a good game, secure nothing, and throw open the immigration floodgates anyway.
The Rest, In More Or Less Order Of Accomplishment:
Ben Carson: What a genuinely pleasant fellow with an impressive backstory. This is a man that has done enormous good in his life. This is a man of genuine accomplishment, a man any youngster would do well to emulate. Like Trump, he says the right things, even with greater clarity, but his lack of knowledge, of consideration of the relevant issues, is even more obvious for not being covered by natural bombast and a press that can’t pull the cameras away from the continuing car wreck. He says most of the right things, but the smell of weakness is on him. If he’s the man I think him to be, he’ll graciously step down after Iowa and New Hampshire and do his best to be helpful in electing a Republican.
Chris Christie: He needed to have a very strong debate. He didn’t. I enjoyed it when he called Barack Obama a “petulant child,” but an accurate epithet does not a president make. Christie is not a genuine conservative. He often suggests that he has to give this appearance because he’s a Republican governor in one of the most virulently progressive states. One might observe that he would never have been elected if he could not wink at Republicans while pandering to Democrats. Christie has indeed accomplished a number of things, which for New Jersey, are remarkable, but few believe him to be a genuine conservative. No one is forgetting his unnecessary and very helpful actual and political embrace of Barack Obama, an embrace that arguably helped tip the balance for Obama. And no one is forgetting Christie’s New Jersey faux support for the Second Amendment. Christie can claim he is actually a strong supporter of that particular liberty, but for many, Christie’s heart lies more on the anti and pro-liberty side.
Some has suggested that Christie is actually in what will eventually be a field of four with Cruz, Trump and Rubio. He didn’t show it by his performance in this debate.
Jeb Bush: A kind of earnest desperation exudes from him. He’s that kid in high school that was a nice enough guy, smart enough, but going nowhere in the race for president of the senior class. People listen politely, nod, and thank him when he’s done, but their ears are always focused on others. He just doesn’t have it.
Jeb keeps referring to his experience as Florida’s governor, but that was some eight years ago, a lifetime in politics. His biggest problem–and he has many, is his ardent defense of illegal immigration, which he displayed for all to see–in case anyone had any doubts–during the debate. As he harangued everyone else, they all stood silent, their faces impassive. They obviously know that old maxim about doing nothing to stop an opponent when he is destroying himself.
Will he go all the way to the convention, riding on establishment money in the hope that a political miracle can be wrought in a smoke-filled backroom? Aren’t those days over?
John Kasich: He was present. His overwrought, double handed, karate chopping gestures from the previous debate were gone. He had obviously been told to stick his
left hand in his pants pocket, which he dutifully did, and restrain his right hand, which was relegated to more or less constant and emphatic index finger thrusting at his podium. His rational for the presidency continues to be “I did this and I did that a long time ago, and I can do it again, besides, Ohio likes me.”
One thing is certain: Cruz, Trump and Rubio were the top three, with Cruz or Trump as number one depending on which pundit is pontificating. The remaining four weren’t even close.
Fox Business anchors Neal Cavuto and Maria Bartiromo handled the debate professionally and without “gotcha” moments. Many of their questions were not only difficult and demanding, they were relevant and fair. There wasn’t a softball pitched. They are largely responsible for a quality and revealing debate. Fox has so far outdone every other network in these debates, that the mere fact that the Republican National Committee has allowed any other network to host a debate is more than sufficient evidence that they truly represent the stupid party.
It is still early, very early, and what the hell do I know? I’m just an English teacher in a small town in Texas, where I continue to appreciate firearms and faith. I’m not the clingy type.