Saturday, August 08, 2015

Race for the White House 2016 Volume 32

This week, I will focus on the performances of the 17 GOP candidates who took part in Fox News debates in Cleveland, Ohio on Thursday, trying to cover their developments over the entire past week. This will have to be done in a rapid-fire, stream of consciousness manner, because otherwise, the time and effort that would be needed to thoroughly mention everything about all of these candidates in this large field would be far too substantial. In future weeks, my writing about the Presidential election will return to a somewhat more formal and structured format.

In order of the poll rankings that Fox News utilized:

17. Jim Gilmore- The most recent entrant into the race came across as thoughtful and substantive but was basically an afterthought, even at the "kiddie table debate." It is somewhat hard to remember that Gilmore was once the RNC Chairman.

16. George Pataki- I have always felt that he is a very good political communicator, and some of that was seen in his debate, but it really is not going to make much of a difference. It was like a former All-Star taking part in the Celebrity Softball game and hitting a few balls hard.

15. Lindsey Graham- I admire his candor and forthrightness in the campaign and how he stuck to his guns in the debate about what he sees as the need for the U.S. to be involved "as long as it takes with whatever it takes" in the War on Terror. He is absolutely right, but I doubt he won over very many converts with his solemn approach.

14. Carly Fiorina- To the extent that any real news was made in the first debate, it was that Fiorina, by almost all accounts won the afternoon, and likely helped her candidacy. I agree that she had a very strong performance and is much improved as a communicator since her 2010 U.S. Senate run in California. Of course, being a good debater or someone who gives great speeches is not necessarily a sign that someone is the best choice to be a President or a Vice President, but her stock is likely to go way up in the GOP, for the way she was effectively able to attack Democrat front-runner Hillary Clinton. In the prime-time debate, the FNC moderators virtually declared her the winner of the first debate, in what was some great free advertising to her. The prime time debate had so much to notice though and various strong performances, so it sort of muted the effect of her dominant performance earlier in the day, but most Republicans hope she finds a way into the Top 10 for the next debate next month.

13. Rick Santorum- From what I can remember, his performance felt a bit uneven and a bit desperate. Then again, that's how most of his 2012 debate performances went. He alone among the GOP candidates seems to be calling for limits on legal immigration, as he phrases it as a way to protect American workers.

12. Bobby Jindal- At one point, I would have absolutely thought he was one of the most likely future Presidents in the GOP, but ambition and political failures at home have seemed to ruin his mogo. He talks well, but in the debate, he basically had no answer for why he has become so unpopular in red state Louisiana and why polls show that he is the only Republican who might lose that state, his own state, to Hillary Clinton. Of all the GOP candidates, Jindal was the only one the entire day to try to criticize Jeb Bush by name.

11. Rick Perry- Just missing out on making the last prime-time slot must have been a disappointment to the candidate who four years ago, was running first in national Republican polls. He debated in that cycle and they did not go well. He needed to hope for something better. I sort of draw the analogy that Perry was like the star High School athlete who got held back a grade (or maybe two) and would have been expected to dominate the High School scene with the younger kids, but found they were more than able to hold their own (especially the one female.) Perry was able to come across as energetic and forceful but I do not think he was really able to do too much to get voters to notice too much. All of the attention from this JV scrimmage went to Carly Fiorina.

10. John Kasich- The home state Governor made the last spot of the main event and had the great fortune to have a bunch of homestate Buckeye Republicans cheering him on (the first debate had no arena audience) from the crowd. I sense that many of them might not have necessarily been supporting him as their first Presidential choice though.

I like Kasich and always have. I felt he gave a very solid performance, although he seemed to suck up briefly to Donald Trump, in what I thought was a bit of a weak moment. I also think that out of anybody on that stage, he sounded the most moderate of all the candidates. That might explain why so many in the mainstream media, including liberal pundits and commentators on MSNBC thought he was so impressive. However, a lot of conservative viewers and opinion shapers also felt Kasich was strong. If he had indeed found a message that in someway unites the left and the right behind its effective, he may really have something powerful going on and if that is true, he maybe has as much upside as anybody in the field. I just find it a bit hard to understand at the moment though why people on the right might be buying the message.

9. Chris Christie- I thought he was also solid substantively, but he has a lot of problems among Republicans in regards to favorability. His fight with Rand Paul over terrorist surveillance measures was the most heated and I think most memorable exchange of the evening, and while there was a bit of a shameless aspect to Christie's dismissal of Paul and his willingness to evoke 9/11, he clearly got the best out of that exchange. The fact that a "fight" is what he is most remembered for from the evening may not be the best result for him though.

8. Rand Paul- Personal views over his brand of politics aside, I think Paul was weak overall in the debate (though all 10 candidates had at least one strong moment and one weak moment) and will have hurt himself, as at least one early poll of debate watchers has indicated. Fallout of his former top political advisers indictment in regards to the 2012 Ron Paul Presidential campaign is believed to be taking a toll on the beleaguered Rand Paul campaign and one has to wonder if he might just be better off packing it up in this race and focusing on trying to win another Senate term. He is likely to stubbornly press on though, but his personality is just not very appealing and his rolling of his eyes when Chris Christie mentioned hugging 9/11 families was a really bad moment for him. I will give Paul credit for being the one candidate who took the stage ready to directly go after Donald Trump. He did that by attacking him for "hedging his bets" on an Independent run and I think in that regard Paul might have hurt Trump, but I will note the irony of the son of Ron Paul being the one to call someone out for threatening to run third party or not back the eventual nominee.

7. Marco Rubio- He has started to struggle a bit in many recent GOP polls, but I think his debate performance could go a way towards helping him regain momentum. I thought he was substantive on the issues and presented himself in a positive manner. While presenting himself as a candidate for the future, he still might have stretched a bit in some regards towards dismissing the executive experience that other candidates have and when challenged directly to point out differences between himself and former political mentor Jeb Bush, he really did not do so. I do think it was a bit curious that he went out of his way to suggest that he has not directly expressed support for a rape exception on the abortion issue, and if he does wind up being the GOP nominee, this is probably something that is going to have to be straightened out for political purposes. All things considered though, it was a strong performance.

6. Mike Huckabee- The former Arkansas Governor was the only one in prime-time who had been in a Presidential debate before and glibness is clearly not a problem for him. It might be style over substance though, which is ironic considering his looks, with all due respect. You either buy into what he says though or you do not. I am one of those Republicans who has just long ago ruled him out for the Presidency for a variety of reasons, and thus, he did not make much of an impact on me. It would be wrong though for me to dismiss that many Evangelicals or downscale conservative types might have really liked what they heard. The Frank Luntz focus group on Fox News, after the debate, seemed to really like Huckabee. He is going to be a force in Iowa.

5.  Ted Cruz- Forgive the term, but Ted Cruz is considered to be one of the more "master debaters" in all of politics these days and the man clearly knows how to talk and how to make the most out of his time. In many ways, he probably was the most conservative sounding candidate, and that might help him shore up some support in this crowded field. The more I have seen of Cruz in this campaign though, the more turned off I am by him personally. I agree with him on most issues in a broad sense, but he is clearly a showhorse who puts his own political self-interest above anything else.

4. Ben Carson- With the exception of one other non-politician, I expected Carson to struggle the most. However, I also did expect him to come across as a likable and decent person. For most of the debate, that was the case, as he seemed to not be much of a presence on the stage and seemed a bit out of his depth. He had some good answers, and a good closing response at the end though, which apparently struck a chord with a lot of people. The one poll I have seen of debate watchers have more people taking notice of him in a positive way than anybody else. This really is an unconventional cycle.

3. Scott Walker- I thought he was solid, but not spectacular. Fox News, despite often being accused of being a mouthpiece of the GOP, asked tough questions of all the candidates, and Walker was no exception at first when he got one about his position on abortion and not supporting any exceptions. He sort of danced around that one and left time on the clock. He got in a good dig at Hillary Clinton towards the end of the evening though. I do not think there was anything that happened to really hurt Walker, but perceived strong performances from Rubio and Kasich may not be great news.

2. Jeb Bush- He is my candidate and I actually thought he was very good in the debate. The media and many others who have been critical of his campaign continued to be critical though saying he was "meh" or "mediocre" but it is agreed that he did not make any gaffes or say anything wrong. Some just take issue with the way he said it, and he did minorly mangle his closing statement. Basically, I will take the entire performance though, with the belief that he will likely be even better in future debates. He was maybe a bit "nervous" but I never expected him to be the smoothest politician on the stage. I think he is far more like his father than his brother in regards to "swagger", but he sounded sincere and looked like a grown-up and a potential President. None of the other candidates went after him, even when Donald Trump was directly invited to do so, he demurred.  Later on, Bush denied he called Trump all sorts of names (which would have been deserved) but Trump seemed so genuinely touched by that gesture, that he called Bush a "true gentleman."  Maybe one day down the road, Trump cites that as a reason why he is not going to run third party. I think Jeb Bush realized that Trump will self-destruct and he did not need to try to pile on in that moment.

To state the obvious, Jeb Bush was not called the "winner" of the debate, but I thought he handled tough questions very well and gave answers that will cause skeptics on the right to realize he is actually a conservative. Unlike some others in the game, he can well afford to play the "long-game."

1. Donald Trump- I am tired of typing now and I could easily double everything I have already written with analysis of his week.

In a sane world, he will be hurt politically for what was clearly a horrible debate performance. If focus groups and one early poll are any indication, that might be the case, but I will be cautious before declaring Tumpomania to be truly over.

While he did not attack candidates in the way that many expected, he did have plenty of Donald Trump moments. His fans would have expected that, but many might have been taken aback by his being the sole candidate to hold out the possibility of running third party. The news about his pre-campaign launch phone call with Bill Clinton is certainly interesting and feeds into the theory I have long espoused on here. On the issues, he did not offer much substance in the debate and his claims about why he donated to politicians, such as needing Hillary Clinton to come to his wedding were just bizarre and laughable. If Republicans are smart, they are going to back off of him in a big way, even if they appreciate his "anger" at the status quo. In any past election cycle, he would have already been done for.

What got the most attention though was early in the debate when Megyn Kelly of FNC brought up some of the misogynistic things Trump had said about women and their looks on Twitter and Trump responded in a very weak way, that included making a veiled threat at the attractive female moderator, who is very well-liked in many GOP circles.

Still though, many of Trump's fans are angered beyond belief at Kelly and Fox News for asking what was a more than fair question. He brags about his skills as a negotiator but he was clearly unnerved by that question and within hours, he was retweeting things saying that Kelly was a "bimbo." By Friday night, he was on CNN, saying that the journalist had "blood coming out of her eyes" and "out of her wherever" when she asked the question.

Trump is either getting his advice from his buddy Bill Clinton on how to treat women or he is in serious need of psychological help. He was deliberately "disinvited" to a candidate cattle call today in Georgia by the blog Red State because of his comments and the impression that he was suggesting that Megyn Kelly had asked him a tough question because she might have been on her period.

The media circus surrounding Trump continues today and now there has been a break between him and longtime adviser Roger Stone, who has always been a shady character in his own right. Trump claims he was fired. Stone claims he quit, but he will be more than willing to go on television shows about the Trump campaign. Humorously, Trump seems to be under the impression he won the debate because he dominated an unscientific poll on the Drudge Report. Stone apparently said that Trump will not let him spend any campaign money to conduct real polls while Trump apparently is content with his "winning" various unscientific internet polls.

This would all make one hell of a book or a cable tv movie one day. I just hope we are a week closer to sanity. The Presidency is serious business and so is defeating Hillary Clinton or anybody else in the Democrat Party who might possibly overtake her. Seventeen Republicans got a chance to make their case this week. Some are a lot better than others, but almost all of them have something to offer and more than one may be President one day. Donald Trump is not someone who fits in either category though.


At 4:49 PM, Blogger Steve Boudreaux said...

Corey, who's your favorite GOPer to win the Presidency ?

At 6:18 PM, Blogger Corey said...

Jeb Bush, of course.

At 4:25 PM, Blogger Steve Boudreaux said...

Corey, possible GOP ticket odds:


Rubio/Perry: he's going to need a VP with military experience (Perry has that!)


Walker/Jeb (Jeb's daddy, Bush 41 accepted the VP gig from Reagan in 1980).


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