Saturday, October 31, 2015

Race for the White House 2016 Volume 44

At the end of this week, there looks like an increased likelihood of the new and young possibly taking over the Grand Old Party.

For one thing, a change of leadership has come to the House of Representatives as Paul Ryan, at age 45, is officially the new Speaker of the House. With John Boehner resigning from Congress after an honorable and productive 25 year career, Ryan now takes over a fractured and somewhat dysfunctional body, that nonetheless has high hopes for his tenure. Regardless of which party wins the White House next year, Ryan will be a very important player, either as a key partner, or a chief adversary.

On the Presidential front, events of the week, especially after CNBC's controversial economics debate in Boulder, Colorado, many now believe that a 44 year old first term Senator from Florida has taken great steps towards ultimately becoming his party's Presidential nominee next year. Many will even imagine that Marco Rubio could pick 42 year old South Carolina Governor Nikki Haley as his Vice Presidential running-mate, and especially with Ryan, bringing in a new era of youth, diversity, energy to the Republican Party.

As someone who is still younger than all of them, I do find much about that possibility appealing. However, when it comes to picking a President, I am standing by my principles of supporting the candidate with the most concrete governmental and leadership experience. That happens to be 62 year old Jeb Bush, Rubio's former mentor. The conventional wisdom, from all angles though, is that Bush's campaign to become the third member of his immediate family to become President is now in crisis, more so than ever. I cannot deny that there is much adversity facing his efforts and that whatever political skills he once put to use in winning the Governorship and leading Florida have not really taken hold in today's Republican Presidential primary off-year universe. It may very well be that the White House is just not in the cards for Jeb Bush, who at times recently has appeared frustrated by the process and the tenor of the overall debate, which has been dominated by the surprise candidacy and appeal of Donald Trump. I think it is too early though to write political obituaries. If Marco Rubio surpasses Bush as the "establishment candidate" and the likely, electable opponent to Hillary Clinton, then so be it. I would be proud to support him. I just think there is a long way to go until that position is earned, by anyone, and that it is worth waiting until people actually get to vote starting next February, before making sweeping generalizations on the race.

Some think Jeb Bush will drop out now by the end of this year. That is despite the fact that he has raised a lot of money and leads Clinton in many important state polls. If he is really thinking about dropping out, in the wake of bad news coverage and lagging poll numbers in 2015, then he should not have run in the first place, and thus leaving would be appropriate. I do not think that will happen though. He is the most viable conservative Governor still in the crowded field. Despite the problems of Bush's candidacy, I do not see the more moderate John Kasich having a realistic path to the nomination, or the still bombastic Chris Christie peeling away whatever support Jeb Bush maintains, despite some strong moments in the debate from the New Jersey Governor. Time will tell though. This is still a cycle where many different things might happen for Republicans.

As a proud member of the party, I still maintain the hope and belief that whatever leads people to think that Donald Trump or Ben Carson, with whatever gifts and positive attributes they might have to some, should be President of the United States, will fade away. Right now, both men remain atop most polls, but with Trump falling somewhat behind Carson, which drives the latter crazy, but which I consider a good start. There are a lot of reasons to believe that Texas Senator Ted Cruz, an unapologetic conservative, who rubs many people the wrong way personally, will be in this for the long haul. Cruz is crazy smart and very ambitious, and thus it is dangerous to underestimate him. I would worry though about his appeal as a potential GOP nominee. There is no doubt though that Cruz was one of the "winners" of Wednesday night's debate. The entire event was a pretty shameful exhibit of media bias by the CNBC network, which asked loaded "gotcha" questions, delivered snarky asides, and had questioners trying to exert themselves into the fray by arguing with the candidates. The RNC, which partnered with CNBC on this debate, was pretty upset about the whole ordeal and is threatening to cancel other debates scheduled on the NBC family of networks. Cruz though, scored by a pretty forceful denunciation of the questions asked and the tactics used by CNBC and received massive applause.

However, I would find it impossible to argue that Marco Rubio did not have a very strong debate. He delivered his lines very effectively and while I have always admired him as a political talent, he was really on his game in the debate, and should probably scare Democrat partisans about how he might compare in a debate with Hillary Clinton. I repeat though that I believe electing the best President is more important than electing the best debater or speaker, which is why I still support Jeb Bush.

The overall consensus though is that Bush did pretty badly in the debate and analysts from the left and the right seem to be united in finding the glee behind what they saw as Rubio delivering a huge blow to his old friend's candidacy. I am a bit more cautious of making sweeping, permanent generalizations along those lines, but there is no doubt that Rubio was well-prepared for a criticism by Bush that came up during the debate and the narrative of Rubio getting the best out of the exchange is impossible to deny.

I happen to think that the issue Bush is bringing up regarding Rubio missing many Senate votes in order to campaign is completely fair and appropriate. I like the way Rubio votes in the Senate and he should be casting more votes. I had the same criticism of other former Senators, such as Barack Obama, whose voting records I did not like, being absentee Senators. A story appeared last week in the Washington Post, which has not totally been countered, that Rubio "hates" the Senate and is basically done with it. To me, that is not a good narrative. I can understand why he must find it frustrating, but he asked to be elected to it, and a lot of people entrusted him the with the responsibility. He ought to make the most out of it, for whatever limited time he has left, since he is, wisely I think, not running for reelection while seeking the Presidency.

If Rubio eventually becomes the GOP nominee, I think he will eventually resign his seat, in order to campaign full time. That would allow the Republican Governor of the state to appoint a replacement, who would probably then benefit from incumbency ahead of a tough 2016 battle to keep that swing Senate seat. A large Florida newspaper called on Rubio to resign this week, and while Rubio correctly pointed out their hypocrisy for not saying the same of other Senators who ran for President and missed many votes, it did not settle the main issue. People just may not care though that Rubio is focused on the White House, rather than his day job. With Congress held in such low-esteem, it might be a plus for him. That's just not the way I look at it, and part of the reason why I tend to back Governors for President.

If there was any possibility of Rubio being hurt by all the missed votes and whether or not he should resign from the job he is getting paid to do, despite missed votes, it probably would have been best to let the media introduce it into the campaign narrative. When a questioner asked Rubio about it in the debate, the Senator was prepared and pretty well brushed it aside. Thus, I was pretty surprised when Jeb Bush decided to jump in the fray, and in the guise of being a Rubio constituent, directly challenged him on the matter. It is clear that the Bush campaign has seen the need to try to not be surpassed by Rubio, which according to some polls, has already happened.

Rubio was prepared for Bush's "attack", and successfully fought it back, although I think his response, citing John McCain's 2008 primary run for President, which neither Rubio nor Bush supported in Florida, was kind of an off-topic diversion. It worked though, as the crowd in the hall and watching on tv felt Rubio got the best out of the exchange. Bush did not challenge him back and sort and was kind of a non-factor for the rest of the debate, receiving few questions, and very little speaking time. All of that contributed to the narrative that Bush "blew it" and maybe even ruined his entire campaign, while Rubio soared in the process. I happen to think that Rubio did even better pushing back against a moderator question about his past financial dealings and circumstances.

So there we are. When the books about Campaign 2016 are written, it might very be that this past Wednesday night in Boulder saw the last stake put in the heart of the "Bush Dynasty" and that Marco Rubio showed the mettle that would propel him to the nomination and perhaps the Presidency. Since all of this will take place, in the theoretical time after Back to the Future II though, nobody really knows what will ultimately happen. Campaigns have a way of surprising people and seeing conventional wisdom upended. Rubio will probably face much closer vetting and examination in the weeks and months ahead and if Jeb Bush truly does want to be President, he knows he is going to have to either do something to bring about an impressive political comeback, or just wait and see if the bevy of other candidates all wither as time passes.

While the debate was considered very bad stylistically for Jeb Bush, and while his campaign likely miscalculated in choosing to go after Rubio directly in that venue, I think his answers, when he did speak, were substantive and in line with my own conservative views. I have no doubt that Jeb Bush is the best person to be President in 2017 (though I wish Mitt Romney would have run this cycle now more than ever).

The "smart money" seems to be on Rubio now, but there is a long way to go. All is fair in politics and if the Bush Campaign has to go more negative on Rubio  down the road, in order to contrast experience, since there are virtually no policy differences between the two men, then I understand how that has to work. For the sake of the party and the country though, I do not want anything too bad to befall Senator Rubio politically. 


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