Saturday, January 16, 2016

Race for the White House Volume 55

This year of 2016 has the possibility of becoming increasingly tumultuous as numerous anxieties and deep, and often non-traditional political divisions fester, but the campaign, at least for non-invested observers, has to be pretty entertaining. The candidates in both parties are jockeying for position and clearly concerned about their rivals as Iowa and New Hampshire inch ever closer.

It will be out with the old though  before it is in with the new and on Tuesday evening, Barack Obama delivered his final State of the Union Address. Senators Marco Rubio and Bernie Sanders were in attendance, having very different reactions in regards to applause, while both looking nonplussed facially. Senators Ted Cruz and Rand Paul were otherwise engaged and not present. Not a lot of Americans were watching either, as the final SOTU address by the first African-American President received record low ratings.

I was probably one of the few Republicans to be watching, although I cannot say I hung on every word. We were not expecting to find much to like about the speech and were not disappointed. Obama, as he is apt to do,  made it much about himself, and dismissed concerns of the American people. He painted a very rosy picture of the country, while blasting Republicans for anything that might be wrong. He called for less political discord, despite the fact his Administration goes to great lengths to demonize conservative opposition. He spent not a word to address a situation earlier in the day when ten American sailors were captured in Iranian waters and held at gunpoint for sometime, before being released the next day. Instead, he praised Iran and himself for the nuclear deal they cut. I will say that I did like when Obama indirectly attacked Donald Trump, even though it is pretty unprecedented for a President to use a State of the Union Address to criticize a Presidential candidate. Trump deserves every bit of criticism he can get though. Those words were probably be most bipartisan applauded of the evening.

Along those lines, I liked when South Carolina Governor Nikki Haley also indirectly attacked Trump in the official GOP response. That is also unprecedented to say the least. Mainstream Republicans were very impressed by Haley and what she said, although Trump supporters, as well as others on the right, thought she went way too far in speaking in a pro-immigration way. Ann Coulter, a caustic columnist and Trump backer called for the first generation Haley to be deported.

Haley, a potential Vice Presidential candidate, received more online buzz than Obama did after the speeches and her stock was riding high. That was complicated though by some odd remarks by her the next day. She confirmed she was speaking about Trump and some of his extreme statements, but also made it necessary to point that she considers him a friend and that he should not take her words personally. She also, somewhat defensively, went out of her way to point out that she had differences with other Presidential candidates, including with Jeb Bush on Common Core and Marco Rubio on "amnesty." By the next day, she tried to walk back the remarks about both, since they were not factually accurate and seemed to blame her misspeaking on fatigue. While Haley is justifiably very popular in South Carolina, her debut on the national stage this week was a bit of a mixed bag and might lead to some questions about her. I am certain the Rubio supporters, who have been pushing a Rubio-Haley ticket were shocked by her critical remarks of the Florida Senator.

By Thursday, all the GOP candidates were in Haley's state of South Carolina to take part in debates on the Fox Business Channel. That is all the candidates except for Rand Paul, who did not want to take part in the "kiddie table" debate and comes across as someone who is anxious to have his first run for President be over with. Maybe he was just running for his wacky father's sake. So, not many people watched the first debate, which included former Iowa Caucus "winner" Rick Santorum be as demagogic and another former Iowa winner Mike Huckabee not saying anything of note. Earlier in the day, he seemed to hint he would endorse Donald Trump when he drops out. The way Trump is going out of his way lately to defend Trump makes me think Huckabee is deliberately trying to set himself up as Trump's potential running-mate. The first debate also featured former main stage competitor Carly Fiorina take what was a pretty undignified shot at the marriage of Bill and Hillary Clinton. Welcome to the Era of Trump.

The prime time debate was far more interesting, although I will note some other candidates seem to be going out of their way to come across as angrier, and harsher in their rhetoric, echoing what has been a  big part of Trump's appeal. The crowd in the hall and the crowds watching on tv seemed to really like what they heard from most of the candidates. It concerns me a bit about the general election though. However, it is hard to deny that there is a ton of anger out there in America about the state of our country, and that anger is going to play a very big role in the November voting.

Ben Carson and John Kasich took part in the debate, but there was not too much that they did to get a lot of attention. The same could somewhat be said for Jeb Bush, the candidate I feel more strongly than ever, is best prepared to be President in these times, and while many remarked that he put in a solid debate performance, most do not believe it is going to really matter all that much for him at this point. The morning after the debate in South Carolina, Bush did get some good news perhaps, in that the state's senior Senator Lindsey Graham, a recent Presidential candidate, strongly endorsed the former Florida Governor. While Graham is not exactly a beloved figure with many angry conservatives, he could help bring in some votes for Bush in what might still be a very divided South Carolina field. There had been some anticipation that Graham might have endorsed Rubio, concluding that Bush could not win, but he made it clear that he prefers Jeb. Some wonder if his very good friend John McCain, a former GOP Presidential nominee, and two time New Hampshire Primary winner, might now also jump in with Jeb Bush. It is possible though that McCain will now stay on the sidelines, facing a Senate primary challenge in Arizona.

The story of the debate was about conflicts and clashes on stage though. The debate was so long though, it is pretty hard for me to declare a "winner." Combatants looked very strong in some clashes and then got hammered badly in others. Since none of them were Jeb Bush, I was able to sort of approach these fights as a neutral observer.

Perhaps most prominently, as expected, there was a battle between Trump and Cruz over Trump's ploy of trying to declare Cruz ineligible because of his Canadian birth. I thought Cruz, (who also faced some bad headlines over financial loans, which he has dismissed as a partisan hit job) had some pretty good stuff as he went after the fallacy of Trump's arguments and the very rhetorically talented lawyer made Trump look pretty foolish. As Trump responded, many in the crowd booed, but Trump stood his ground and claimed that this was a "big big problem" that might get Cruz thrown off the ballot if nominated and while he would never want that to happen of course, it's a "big big risk." Give the round to Cruz on debate points, but among the kinds of voters the former political bedfellows are courting, Trump planting the seeds of doubt could be a very powerful thing. Even I am at the point where I am wondering if a legal challenge might actually have the possibility of causing problems for Cruz. I definitely think Cruz should be eligible to run, but I would find it kind of funny if he gets nominated and I would find myself cheering for him to get thrown off the ballot and replaced.

Cruz has definitely had to turn on Trump, over this issue and these attacks, but the way he has done it is quite odd. With an eye towards Evangelical and other red-state voters, he is now saying that Trump is the candidate of "New York values." There is certainly some justification in pointing out that Trump used to take very liberal positions on some issues, and has in the past cited his NYC upbringing as the reason, but what Cruz is doing just sounds sinister. It reminds me very much of how Obama in 2008 talked about "bitter" people in rural areas who "cling to their guns and religion." At least Cruz is willing to say these things in public, but I think we need a President who wants to unite the entire country as much as possible, and not demonize another part of it, as Obama has done. Cruz talking about the "values of New York" revolving around "money" and the "media" even sound somewhat like buzzwords about Jews. Cruz has a valid and perhaps effective point of attack against Trump, but went about it entirely wrong, just to try to appeal to a narrow group of supporters.

So, when this came up in the debates, Trump was ready, and had what was perhaps his most approved moment in the entire campaign. Even Hillary Clinton tweeted she agreed with Trump (her one time good friend and supporter). Trump very calmly, but very effectively started talking about  9/11 and how "New York values" won the hearts of all America. Even Cruz was left with little to do but applaud as Trump stuck the knife in him. The next day featured the New York Daily News running a cover of the Statue of Liberty giving the finger to Cruz with the headline  along the lines of "Drop Dead Ted. If you don't like New York values, go back to Canada."

This one exchange led many people to believe that Trump "won" the debate and now looks more like a potential nominee than ever before. Scary stuff. I approve of the way he stood up for his home area, but come one.. the chutzpah of Trump to complain about "unfair attacks" and "over the top statements." That's his whole shtick. Cruz should have said that Trump was being politically correct.

Elsewhere on stage, during the first half of the debate, Rubio and Chris Christie had a go at it. Sort of. The two have been very critical of each other in recent weeks and Rubio, who had a pretty good rejoinder about "Court TV" after the Trump-Cruz birther dispute, threw barbs at Christie, involving gun-control and supporting Sonia Sotomayor and a personal contribution to Planned Parenthood. It feels like a bunch of stuff, especially the things from the '90s, that might really not be all that important in the grand scheme of things, but more of a demonstration that Rubio fears Christie cutting into his support in New Hampshire.

Then it was Christie's turn to respond, and while I happen to like Rubio more than Christie, I have to say, at least in the moment, that Christie sort of filleted him like a fish. While Rubio looked down and scribbled at his notepad, Christie calmly and completely dismissed everything Rubio had charged him with. Of course, there may be issues with that, as there happens to be evidence that Rubio might have had the facts right, whether they are important issues or not, but Christie just dismissed them and criticized Rubio for a double standard in making negative attacks, citing the self-righteous way he had called out Jeb Bush in a previous debate for doing the same thing. I thought Rubio did get the best of Bush in that moment of political theater, but I thought Christie had an even more decisive win over Rubio here. However, the other fights of the night, especially Trump vs. Cruz, got a lot more headlines than Rubio vs. Christie, and that might be a good thing for Rubio. I thought watching the debate that Christie was overly bombastic, but pretty effective, but the media called him an afterthought. I thought Rubio had probably his weakest debate performance and had really poor body language and cadence at parts, but the media gave him fairly high marks.

That might be because towards the end of the debate, Rubio and Cruz got into it over various U.S. Senate things, and Rubio made a late rebound and probably got the best of Cruz. Rubio dropped what seemed like an entire oppo research book on Cruz, with some very relevant things, but I just think Rubio needs to work on the verbal way he goes on the attack. Cruz responded by saying that at "at least half" of it was untrue, but Rubio more than held his own during the exchange.

So, score a round for Christie over Rubio, but  Rubio over Cruz, and also Trump over Cruz, and maybe Cruz over Trump before. Cruz might have lost some exchanges but have firm enough support in some quarters not to have it matter. The fact that there are all these mixed results if probably just a sign that Trump continues to lead and has to be seen as the front-runner, until there is proof that others can actually get more votes than him.

Politics is sure a fascinating, dirty business though. Christie has gotten under Rubio's skin and vice versa. First, Cruz got under Trump's skin by moving ahead of him in Iowa, and now Cruz is realizing that Trump playing the birther card poses a great danger to him.

Meanwhile, on the other side, Bernie Sanders has gotten under Hillary Clinton's skin. Recent polls, once again are showing a pretty dramatic shift among Democrats. More than one poll now shows Sanders up solidly over Clinton in New Hampshire and also fairly close to being in a deadheat with her in Iowa. What happens if she loses both states? Mark me down for saying Sanders still cannot win the nomination. However, there is polling evidence to suggest that Clinton is losing points off her advantage nationally over Sanders quicker than she lost it to Obama eight years ago and three weeks out from Iowa, is less further ahead of Sanders nationally than she was over Obama.

That might be why Hillary is suddenly "feeling the Bern" once again, calling into MSNBC shows to speak to her party's base, and running negative ads against Sanders. Even Chelsea Clinton went out to attack Sanders on health care. Maybe, before too long, Bill Clinton will be tempted to take a page from his 2008 anti-Obama playbook and go sorta anti-Semitic on Bernie. Sanders seems to be looking at rising poll numbers and enthusiastic crowds and is now willing to run his own negative ads against Clinton. Meanwhile, Martin O'Malley is an afterthought, and Joe Biden is telling reporters he "every day" regrets not getting in the race, and is also making statements that seem to express some support of Sanders over Clinton on income inequality. The ever talkative Biden is even speculating that Trump might get elected President.

The three Democrat candidates will take part in a debate tomorrow night, after the NFL playoffs, and yet another weekend debate for them will probably once again bring in low ratings. It might be interesting though. Hillary can get quite combustible when she feels threatened. I will be watching the Stanley Cup Champions play in person in Chicago when the debate is occurring but I may have to try to catch a replay.

Monday is Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Day. What he did for America cannot be discounted. He deserves the appreciation of all Americans. Regardless of anyone's personal politics, I just think he probably would look in regret at the state of political rhetoric in both parties. In many ways, 2016 seems similar to how 1968 might have. The right person eventually won the Presidency that year, and there is still time for us to get this one right.


At 10:49 PM, Anonymous Larry said...

Hi Corey,
From Larry: It looks like everything Rubio accused Cruz in the SC Debate was spot on. Cruz is really a "Political Calculator", the biggest Flip-Flopper I've seen in the last few years in the Senate on the GOP Side. Rubio walking back his Gag of 8 Bill is nothing compared what Cruz is doing. Flat out lying, flip-flop on everything. Flipped his crop insurance Vote in the Senate because Pat Roberts said it could hurt him in Iowa. All these things will add up eventually I hope.


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