Friday, August 07, 2015

Thoughts from the debate

For the evening debate, I thought Rubio had the best answers and expressed himself the best, but then I liked him the best before the debate so maybe that's just confirmation bias. And continuing my confirmation bias, I thought Trump came off as his usual arrogant self without any specifics other than calling those who disagree with him "stupid." The debate started off with a bang when Bret Baier asked if any of them would refuse to commit to supporting the eventual nominee or agree not to run as an independent and Trump raised his hand. Trump said he'd support himself but couldn't agree ahead of time to support someone else even if that led to Hillary winning. I wonder how that plays with Republican primary voters. Then Rand Paul attacked him. That was fun. Paul apparently decided that he could resurrect his candidacy by bringing the feisty. Later he attacked Christie for hugging Obama and Christie fought back by accusing Paul of blowing hot air in the Senate. Those fiery moments are what people will remember.

Baier did ask Trump about his advocacy of a Canadian-style health care and his contributions to so many Democrats. Trump doubled down on single-payer health care working in Canada. Trump said he had given to many of the people on the stage and several called out "not me." In fact, Rubio said Trump had given to Charlie Crist. Ick. I don't now how well Trump's answer that he gives to Democrats and gets things from them though all he'd say he got from Hillary was that she came to his wedding and he just didn't know that the Clinton Foundation was corrupt. To use his favorite epithet, that's just "stupid." People have been criticizing the Foundation from the moment it was set up. Is that how Trump wants to demonstrate his skill at managing money? And was he really telling us that he paid Hillary to come to his wedding? It sounded like that. How many people have to be paid to go to weddings? Do people like to hear a rich guy brag about how he's bribed politicians?

Is it a good thing when Bernie Sanders endorses a supposed Republican's position on health care?

Every once in a while, Huckabee or Carson would get a question and I'd realize that I'd totally forgotten they were there.

Hats off to Christie for being frank about the problems with Social Security and Medicare.

I liked the questions. I like that Chris Wallace asked Trump about the billion dollars that his lenders lost when his company went bankrupt in 2009. Trump's response is that it's okay to not pay back his lenders because they're not good people. Yeah, that's an attitude to be proud of. How does bankruptcy lead to economic growth.

I think that this is the first time in a political debate where I've heard a question about abortion from the pro-life position when Megyn Kelly asked Rubio about supporting an exception for rape and incest. He denied that that had been his position, but didn't make it clear that he actually opposes such an exception.

Usually, I haven't liked the questions that come from Facebook or people in the audience. The questions last night were to the point and asked for specifics in fighting ISIS and how to help small businesses. BTW, Rubio had a great answer to that last question. He had a lot of specifics packed into that answer.

Rand Paul had a catchy slogan by saying he doesn't want his marriage or his guns registered in Washington. Marriages are not federal ceremonies.

Well, I liked the questions until Megyn Kelly asked the candidates had had a word from God. What was that all about? I so don't care about their relationship with God, but I guess I'm the minority there. Rubio had a great answer saying that God had blessed the Republican Party with many good candidates and the Democrats don't have even one. Then he segued to saying that we need a VA that cares more about the veterans than the bureaucrats that work for the VA. Boom!

I'm so sick of candidates running on how poor their parents were. We have a bartender's son, a mailman's son, a minister's son, and, oh yeah, a president's son. And a multi-millionaire's son.

If Frank LUntz's focus group is representative of the GOP electorate, people really got turned off by Trump's performance, particularly his refusal to rule out running as an independent. And they really liked Ben Carson. Before Trump got in the race, Carson was winning the outsider vote. Maybe, it will bounce back to him.

I guess Trump is like Hillary, the more one sees of them, the less people like them.

Other than Trump, I thought Bush and Walker were hurt the most. I can't remember anything either of them said. Every time they were asked a question, I was startled realizing that I had forgotten they were up there. For supposed front-runners just a few weeks ago, they both seemed to fade into the background. More memorable moments came from the other men on the stage.

Carly Fiorina clearly won the undercard debate. I don't know if winning a debate few cared about and going up against forgettables like George Pataki and Jim Gilmore will help all that much, but she was crisp and clear. I was also impressed that she could enunciate conservative principles and why she believes in them better than most Republicans I've heard. Maybe people hanging around waiting for the later debate would have seen her clips from the debate and she'll get a bump.

It's such a shame that she had to run in California where she had no hope. If she'd lived in some other state and been governor for a few years, she would have a much better argument to make today. And she'd have more of a record than as a failed leader of HP. But the presidency isn't a job for a beginning and being able to say slashing things about Trump or Hillary is not the sole quality we need in a president.

You can tell that people were expecting a huge audience for this debate by all the ads for movies. Those aren't the usual ads one sees during a political debate in August. There were more movie promos than during the NBA finals. There was even an ad for "Straight outta Compton." Who knew that that would appeal to the audience for a GOP debate on Fox.

Shop Amazon Fashion - 20% Off Prime Member Exclusive
Shop Amazon Back to School - Save on Supplies, Learning Toys & More

The reviews are in.

Michael Barone thinks it's the best presidential debate he has ever seen.
How will this affect the candidates' standings with Republican caucusgoers and primary voters? I'll leave that to the polls. And just say that the three questioners did a brilliant job and all of the candidates performed pretty well. Marco Rubio's typically graceful line that there were a lot of good Republican candidates while the other party had none was at one level a nice partisan dig but on another was a pretty accurate view of the state of the race. Is there any evidence that Hillary Clinton could pivot as adroitly and (in some cases) movingly as all or almost all of these candidates did at least at some point in Cleveland?

Timothy Carney agrees with me that Rubio did well and Bush - not so much. And Fiorina did the most to stand out among the 17 GOP candidates.
Bush: Jeb Bush did not do very well in the debate. He looked nervous, repeatedly stumbling. Occasionally, he seemed to have been caught off guard. He also received tougher questions than most candidates, including on No Child Left Behind.

He finally worked up a coherent answer about the Iraq War his brother began, but it wasn't a great answer. He will need to improve his debate performance to hang in.

Rubio: Marco Rubio won the prime time debate. He came across as serious, well-informed and likable. He is very smooth on his feet and moving when speaking from a speech.

Every answer Rubio gave was good. He had zero missteps, and he parlayed a tough question on abortion into a homerun, lamenting the "barbarism" of our current abortion regime. If there was any question about whether Rubio belonged in the very top echelon of candidates, it was wiped out Thursday night....

For his die-hard fans, Trump's attacks on Fox hosts Megyn Kelly and Chris Wallace will only prove that Fox hosts are MSM RINOs. To the Trumpkins, his preposterous statements (such as his claim that immigration was a non-issue until he began talking about Mexicans raping people) are just tough truths.

For the undecided, Trump had a complicated performance — at times sublime (his Rosie O'Donnell joke), and at times absurd. He is an entertainer, but clearly unversed in policy. He may be smart enough to study up before his next debate, and to pick his fights more wisely. If he does, he'll continue to wreak havoc. If not, he'll disappear.
I'm not sure how the guy reserving the option of running in a third party and handing the election to Hillary can get away with implying others are RINOs. And his aide's words attacking the Fox anchors don't help.

Byron York thinks Carly won the evening.
In general, Republican voters like their candidates to focus on defeating Clinton -- as opposed to, say, bickering with each other. Fiorina taps into that vein more effectively than anyone else. The core of her message is that of the 17 Republicans running for president, only she is tough enough to wage the daily battles it will take to defeat Clinton. Some observers have taken that to mean that Fiorina is saying that, as the only woman in the GOP field, she could take it to Clinton as only another woman could. That's not what Fiorina means. She means that she is the only one tough enough to defeat the Democratic nominee for president, whoever that nominee is, woman or man. The flipside of that argument is that all her fellow candidates don't have the stuff to fight 24/7.

She might be right.

Chris Cillizza thinks that Rubio, Kasich, and the Fox anchors won the night. And I agree that the awkward banter from 8:50 to 9:00 was painful.
Marco Rubio: Natural talent tends to shine through in big moments when the bright lights turn on. The Florida Senator, who had dipped in polls following a bump in the wake of his announcement, was terrific on Thursday night. He was poised, on message and seemingly entirely at ease -- even when pressed on immigration, which could have been a problem for him. Rubio's response on his inexperience -- "This election cannot be a resume competition" -- was a good one. Most importantly for Rubio, he looked the part of a president. Hurdle cleared.

* Megyn Kelly/Bret Baier/Chris Wallace: Moderating a 10-person debate that includes Donald Trump is no easy task. The Fox trio managed the back and forth very well and, more importantly, asked good, challenging questions without venturing into "gotcha" territory. With the exception of the weirdness that happened between 8:50 pm and the start of the debate (more on that below), they were outstanding.

Kimberley Strassel thinks that Trump revealed himself as a mismatch for the GOP. Perhaps that's why he's willing to consider running as an independent.
What Mr. Trump lacks is pretty much everything else that conservatives have come to insist on in their candidates—everything that created today’s Scott Walkers and Marco Rubios and Ted Cruzes. Mr. Trump is the anti-new-GOP.

He’s not conservative. Remember all those recent primaries in which Republican voters fired sitting legislators for being too wimpy on taxes or health care or spending? Mr. Trump makes the losers look good. He’s on record in favor of single-payer health care, and on Thursday night praised it again in other countries. He’s said he likes gun control; higher taxes and eminent domain. He has said he’s pro-choice, against a flat tax, and opposed to free trade. He has personally given money to help elect pretty much every politician Republicans view as a threat to the Western world: Hillary Clinton, John Kerry, Harry Reid, Chuck Schumer. Imagine the pitchforks in New Hampshire if Chris Christie had this track record.

He’s not principled. Mr. Trump has disavowed most of his liberal positions. But grass-roots conservatives have increasingly lost tolerance for Republicans who switch positions on a whim, or try to have it two ways. Already in this early phase of the presidential race, voters have rapped Mr. Walker for changing views on immigration; Jeb Bush for waffling on Iraq; and Mr. Rubio for altering his position on military spending.

Mr. Trump explained his own entirely new political persona this week and on Thursday by rolling out the classic “I’ve evolved” line, and referencing Ronald Reagan. True, many great conservatives started on the left. Then again, most took their time moving rightward. Mr. Trump has evolved at the speed of lightning. As recently as 2012 he backed the sort of comprehensive immigration reform he now derides and praised Hillary Clinton as “a terrific woman.” Only a few years before that, he talked up the 2008 auto bailouts and hoped an “impressive” Nancy Pelosi would “impeach” George W. Bush.

He’s also not policy knowledgeable. Evolution involves an end point; it’s an intellectual struggle that concludes with considered policy positions. What are Mr. Trump’s? The conservative electorate has put growing value on fresh, substantive ideas and plans for getting them enacted. They appreciated Mr. Walker’s collective-bargaining overhaul, John Kasich’s tax reform, and Mr. Christie’s pension fixes.

Mr. Trump remains a cipher. He has been queried endlessly on how, precisely, he’d make America great again—what exactly is his tax plan, or his education reform, or his health-care fix? Yet he has smoothly dodged specifics, as he did during the debate on everything from health care to the economy. Contrast that with Mr. Rubio’s detailed tax plan, Bobby Jindal’s energy proposals, or Mr. Christie’s entitlement reforms.

Then there is the oddity that so many are buying Mr. Trump’s I’m-a-self-made-man-who-will-change-Washington shtick, when conservatives have come to care so much about genuineness. Mr. Trump has done well in business, and that’s praiseworthy.

Yet he inherited a fortune from his tycoon father, and he built his empire by practicing the sort of corporate elbow-rubbing and lobbying and reliance on government favors that conservatives revile as crony capitalism. On Thursday night, Mr. Trump outright bragged his money put politicians at his beck and call. He’s no Ben Carson, who broke free from inner-city Detroit to become a neurosurgeon. Mr. Trump is an insider, a deal-maker; he was born into it.

None of this is to say that Mr. Trump didn’t have a right to be on stage debating. Just not this particular stage, at this time, in this party. He isn’t the culmination of the new conservative movement; he’s its wrecking ball.

Shop Amazon Warehouse Deals - Deep Discounts on Open-box and Used Kitchen Gadgets

Shop Amazon Outlet - Clearance, Markdowns and Overstock Deals

Peggy Noonan really enjoyed the debate.
The second headline is that Mr. Trump wasn’t the person your eye stayed on. It went to him first. But as the evening progressed, the other candidates stole his drama and thunder with their own claims and arguments. “The strength of the field is overshadowing Trump,” wrote a Hill staffer. That was exactly it. I found other candidates as interesting—more so.

I really don’t know if fiery debates like Thursday evening’s will wind up building interest and excitement in the Republican field, or wearing and tearing it down. I don’t know if we’ll look back on this as the beginning of a making or a breaking. Maybe the former. Anyway, it was alive. I wonder if Hillary Clinton is wondering how she can look alive.
She can't. She's artificial all the way down.

Here's the WSJ's take.
Donald Trump was the leading story going into the debate given his recent surge in the polls, but we’ll be surprised if he stays that way after the debate. Mr. Trump showed his trademark bluster and bluntness that many voters seem to appreciate, and he tried to project himself as the business success who could shake up Washington.

But the evening exposed how little he has thought about the main issues of the day. His foreign-policy agenda amounts to building a wall on the southern U.S. border and negotiating better deals with adversaries. He offered no specifics on how to do the latter, and one reason may be that he doesn’t appear to know all that much about the world’s flash points. His appeal is attitude, not substance. You know, the art of the deal.

The limits of that kind of appeal came through when the businessman was asked about his past support for “single-payer,” or government-run, health care. He replied that it works well in other countries and would have worked well here in the past, though it wouldn’t now for reasons he didn’t explain. He then flopped around with an answer that seemed to be about letting companies negotiate insurance rates across state lines, which large corporations can do already. Individuals and small business are the prisoners of state insurance exchanges.

Mr. Trump also hurt himself by refusing to pledge to support the Republican nominee in 2016 even if it isn’t him. He may have felt he had to say this given that he had said the same thing before the debate, and credit him for candor. But whatever they may think about traditional politicians, most GOP voters want to win in 2016. They know a Trump third-party run would guarantee another Democratic victory.

We’ve been wrong about Mr. Trump’s political staying power before, so perhaps his talk-radio-host admirers will keep promoting him. But the front-runner did not have a good night....

One prominent candidate who didn’t do so well was Scott Walker, the Wisconsin Governor who was introducing himself to many voters for the first time. With the exception of an answer on Russia, he seemed small on stage and some of his answers were so clipped he failed to take advantage of his time. One of Mr. Walker’s challenges is looking like he can make the leap from the statehouse to the White House, and this debate did not help him with that sale.

One of the more encouraging themes to emerge from several candidates was an appeal beyond Obama- and Clinton-bashing to offer an optimistic conservative vision. Messrs. Rubio and Bush hit this theme strongly, as did Ohio Governor John Kasich and Rand Paul. Mr. Kasich was deft in particular on gay marriage, noting that “issues like that are planted to divide us.” After losing the popular vote in five of the last six presidential elections, the GOP has a daunting political task to overcome the country’s shifting demographics.

Polarizing the electorate along ideological lines is a crowd-pleaser among GOP audiences, but it won’t defeat the Clinton machine without a message that attracts younger and minority voters. Ben Carson also stressed the need for a candidate who can be a national unifier. And while the neurosurgeon can come across as lacking energy, he too impressed with thoughtful answers and a good line about some of the half-brains he might have operated on in Washington.

Debates are rarely definitive, especially this early. But the forum served the useful purpose of giving voters a chance to size up the field side-by-side for the first time. However the polls shake out, the good news for GOP partisans is that the quality and experience of their top-tier candidates is more than a match for Hillary Clinton—or even Joe Biden or John Kerry.

David Drucker reports on Trump's whining about the questions.
Rep. Ann Wagner, a Missouri Republican supporting Bush who has been active in trying to improve her party's appeal with women, said Trump's remarks and behavior is a turnoff for female voters, who vote in higher numbers than men.

"I thought it was demeaning, to be perfectly honest," Wagner said, during a brief interview at the arena following the debate. "When Donald Trump pointed to his head and said, 'we need someone with a brain, brain brain' as he is addressing a woman journalist, I found it offensive."

Trump defended himself to reporters afterward, saying that Fox News — and Kelly — treated him unfairly. "I thought their questions to me were much tougher than to other people," he said. "The questions to me were not nice. I didn't think they were appropriate and I thought Megyn behaved very badly, personally. I thought it was an unfair question. They didn't ask those questions of everybody else."
Well, maybe that's because the other candidates haven't said things like to see a woman on her knees or have had so very many liberal positions while giving money to Democrats and been registered as a Democrat. And he missed how the hosts asked each candidate a question about their weaknesses.
The trio of moderators, including Megyn Kelly and Chris Wallace, had questions ready for every candidate's pressure point.

Trump received the question on his loyalty to the GOP; Paul about his dovish foreign policy; Rubio on his lack of executive experience; Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker was asked about his recent flip on immigration; Ohio Gov. John Kasich about his expansion of Medicaid under Obamacare; retired pediatric neurosurgeon Ben Carson's lack of political experience; former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush's previous trouble discussing the Iraq war; and Gov. Chris Christie about New Jersey's multiple credit downgrades.
If a candidate can't answer tough questions from Fox anchors how would that candidate fare in the general election?

Politico has a good round-up of pundits' reactions. The consensus seems pretty clear that Rubio did best and Trump hurt himself while Bush and Walker faded into the woodwork.

Jonah Goldberg:
I can’t remember a more entertaining primary debate—or a more illuminating one. I’m a Fox News Contributor, so take it with however many grains of salt you require: No one can claim that Fox mollycoddled the Republicans. The opening call for a show of hands from Bret Baier was ingenious. And Donald Trump’s refusal to say he wouldn’t run as a third party candidate wasn’t shocking, but it was good to get on the record. And when he “explained” why he raised his hand in favor of a potential third party run, the words spilled out like someone flipped over a homeless man’s shopping cart. His exchange with Megyn Kelly made it seem, if but for a moment, that King Joffrey had survived to become a real estate mogul from New York. I don’t think this is the “end of Trump.” But one can hear the distinct hiss of air escaping from the hot air balloon.

The biggest shock of the night—and arguably the most consequential development—was Jeb Bush’s failure to shine. He had some strong moments and by no means did he bomb. But he did not have the sort of commanding presence he needs to reassure his backers and attract people to his cause. Scott Walker had a similar problem. He didn’t embarrass himself either, but he seemed to shrink over the course of the night.

Meanwhile, Marco Rubio gave the kind of performance that attracts voters and donors: disciplined, future-oriented and entertaining. Cruz was also exactly as good as one might expect, even if he had fewer memorable moments. I can see the race eventually boiling down to a contest between the two Cubans—and a female former CEO who won the undercard bout in a TKO.

Rick Wilson:
Finally, Trump had a terrible night, though his fan boys will never admit it. Rank and file GOP voters (I was in a room full of them) were horrified by the 3rd party blackmail from Trump. His interactions were testy, thin-skinned, and narcissistic; in short, Peak Trump. His devotees will stick, but he didn’t win new parts of the GOP coalition to his cause. Every time he opens his mouth, Hillary’s ad makers get another script concept. He didn’t like the format, and though Fox gave him the lion’s share of the time tonight, he showed he’s not ready for political prime time. He showed that edge between “not pc” and “not a gentleman” is a narrow one.

Larry Sabato:
his was a debate between Donald Trump and the moderators. The moderators won. While we don’t know the degree of damage yet, Trump has taken a hit.
Probably, the more intense Trump backers will rally to him, believing he was sandbagged.
But the key moment of this debate—the minute that will be most remembered—is the one at the beginning. Headline: “Trump refuses to pledge party loyalty, won’t rule out running as an independent.”

That answer went over like a lead balloon in the arena, and I suspect it was no more popular at home with strong Republicans.

Party activists—the most likely primary voters—will react badly to some other Trump revelations, such as his past support of Hillary Clinton and his prior pro-choice position on abortion.

Hey, but one person like Trump's performance, Bob Shrum, who has led losing presidential efforts for many Democrats.
Trump not only survived but thrived. The pundits who said he was a shooting star sure to flare out fast were wrong. Including me. He may be practicing the art of the con job, but he’s brilliant at it.

He’s flashy, but no flash in pan. While he’s interesting, everybody else is dull in a politically practiced way—except the obnoxious Christie and the angry Cruz, who’s now a kind of back-up Trump without the humor or the hair. Rubio seemed and sounded like a candidate for Resident of Boys Nation, not President of the United States. Bush was earnest and wonkily workmanlike. Walker—a place filler as (temporary) Iowa front runner.
So Trump won the praise of Bernie Sanders and Bob Shrum. Not a good sign.

Jim Geraghty explains the effect that Trump has had on the perception of the rest of the field.
Trump alters the way the rest of the field is viewed.

Remember when the fear was that Ben Carson was too undisciplined and inexperienced to be the GOP standard-bearer? He comes across as a statesman next to Trump — and had a good night, with a particularly good answer on race and some good funny lines at the end. (“I’ve removed a half a brain; I could understand if you walk around Washington and feel like somebody beat me to it.”)

Remember when Ted Cruz was the bomb-thrower on the right? Now he’s the guy talking about his legislative work to punish sanctuary cities. He seemed to get lost in the shuffle at times tonight — but again, compared to the bombastic Trump, he comes across as serious and knowledgeable.

Remember when Chris Christie was going to be the loud, boisterous voice in this field? He showed flashes of that, and really went after Rand Paul on the Patriot Act and domestic surveillance. (“When you’re sitting in a subcommittee, you can blow hot air like that.”) The thing is, if this is a preeminent issue for you, you were probably already inclined to support either Paul’s or Christie’s position on it.

Marco Rubio was really, really good tonight. Shining. I thought it was interesting that he pointed out the majority of illegal immigrants no longer come from Mexico; they come from Central America, and he took some air out of the “build a fence” applause line by pointing out that “El Chapo can just dig a tunnel under the fence.” He finessed what could have been a difficult question on abortions in cases of rape or incest. Heading into tonight, I thought he might offer the single most appealing contrast with Hillary Clinton, and tonight did nothing to change my mind.

Rand Paul clearly felt the need to go after Trump, and that pugnaciousness carried over to a fiery exchange with Christie, complete with barely-hidden eye-rolling. (“I know you want to give him a hug!”) He lived up to his self-description as “a different kind of Republican,” and probably came through unscathed.

Scott Walker won with “I defunded Planned Parenthood long before any of these videos came out.” In his closing statement, he described himself as “aggressively normal.” He really does seem unflappable, no matter the question or the arena. To some people, that might come across as boring. But if our tastes have changed to the point where we dismiss Walker because he’s not flashy enough, we’re throwing out a good talent.

You know who was pretty boring? Jeb Bush. He was better than in Monday’s candidate forum, but he still has a Fred Thompson-esque sense of moseying, as opposed to running, for president. And if you walked into this with a nagging sense that he’s a squish, and that he’d try to sound more conservative than he is, I don’t think anything he said tonight dispelled your fears.