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Candidates

Digesting the First Republican Debate

For those of us who survived last week’s first Republican presidential debate, there’s been a good deal of reflection on our lives, just to figure out where exactly we went wrong in deliberately choosing to waste a couple of hours of our lives on something with no redeeming value. And the best answer I can come up with seems to be that I wanted to tune into what I knew would be a train wreck.

You had to wonder how effective a debate with 10 people could be, since there didn’t seem like enough time to actually hear any thoughtful discourse. So instead, I was just waiting on the talent and swimsuit competition portions of the evening’s festivities. But alas, those were not forthcoming. Instead, we got a non-contact lightweight wrestling match.

As a liberal, tuning into an event like this is just asking for trouble, because it really was a two hour deep dive into the conservative mindset, which can feel like having dental surgery without novacain.

But frankly, some takeaways were predictable: We learned (or had the knowledge reaffirmed) that Donald Trump is a self-absorbed asshole, Ted Cruz would be deeply terrifying as the leader of the nation because not only does he seem like a very mean person, but he also comes across as angry and malicious to boot; and any problems the nation is currently experiencing can be traced immediately and directly to Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama.

There were some things that came out of the show that I didn’t quite expect: if one performance is indicative of the whole, Jeb Bush is a horrible debater. He frequently seemed over matched and unprepared, often stammering and searching for the right words.

Dr. Ben Carson loves to show off how smart he is, even when the moderators totally forget about him for 30 minutes at a time. But, as he was quick to remind everyone, he’s the only one on the stage to have separated siamese twins. If only he could have done the same to Rand Paul and Chris Christie.

Chris Christie and John Kasich somehow came off as the voice of reason in a field of radicals. Yet they still scare the hell out of me.

Marco Rubio must be a magician because he successfully faded away out of view and totally out of the consciousness of 24 million people on national television. And for the life of me, I can’t remember one meaningful thing that he said all night.

And Scott Walker obviously thinks he’s God’s gift to the Republican party and the nation because he clearly views his performance as Wisconsin’s governor entirely differently than the rest of the planet does. Which means that he either has surrounded himself with sycophants or is not able to correctly identify success.

Finally, while the basic content and tone wasn’t surprising, the lengths to which Donald Trump will go to piss off entire classes of people is stunning. And while I understand the sentiments of those who support him in saying that they find his candor refreshing, I wish these morons would wise up and realize that this kind of rhetoric on the international political scene would quickly make every single American on the planet a target for just about everyone who isn’t one. It’s terrifyingly apparent that he would quickly and easily alienate our allies and further antagonize our enemies. And that’s something that we really can’t do–not just for our own nation’s security, but for the peace and stability of the entire world.

So rest, relax, and take some time preparing for the next of these debates coming up next month. Be kind to yourself, you’ve been through a lot.

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Candidates

Profiles in Somethin’ – The Trump that Donalds and the Political Fringe

Yes, I’m aware I’ve used that picture up there already, but it fits, so I’m going with it.

Just because the 2016 presidential campaign could use another rich white weirdo, the Republicans have (kind of) welcomed Donald Trump into the fold. And let’s face it, he’s got what it takes to be a politician (notice I didn’t say “good politician”): he’s outspoken, opinionated, rich, and egotistical.

One presumes that he’d promise to run the country like a business, as that’s a popular theme among Republican candidates who are/were business people in a former life. But if that’s the case, we’d better brace for impact because Trump’s companies have filed for bankruptcy four times over the years thanks generally to being over leveraged.

But on the plus side, it’s good to see someone running for office who isn’t afraid of saying exactly what’s on his mind, though his recent comments about Mexican immigrants, while probably playing to some segment of his base, were way out of line and probably extremely dangerous. But hey, he’s standing his ground, right? You’d think that those comments are hurting his chances to…wait, what?

Yup. The Donald, much to the Chagrin of the GOP establishment, is currently polling second in the Boston Marathon-sized pool of primary candidates.

This, along with the similarly meteoric rise of Bernie Sanders, is an interesting phenomenon: what makes fringe candidates appealing in the early going of presidential primaries?

It seems to baffle the reporters, the poli-sci majors, and even some in the political parties. The Democrats seemed all-in on backing Hillary all through the primary and into a triumphant nominating convention. And the Democrats and Clinton even welcomed Sanders’ announcement when he threw his hat in the ring, claiming at the time basically that having another voice in the campaign could only help make the party stronger.

The GOP side, though, is a little less congratulatory. Trump’s candidacy was not met with much enthusiasm by the party elite. And the apparently annointed candidate, Jeb Bush, hasn’t done much to acknowledge the Donald. In fact, on the news this morning, unnamed party officials had told some of the reporters that Trump’s strong showing, even after the “rapists, drug runners, and murderers” comments has the party worried. I can see why: it’s that kind of lack of brain control that leads not only to campaign problems, but, heaven forbid, much more weighty problems if that brain is attached to a president.

The long-term prognosis of both of these candidates is an interesting one to ponder: Sanders is polling very well in New Hampshire, but not strongly in Iowa. He’s certainly become a force to reckon with in the campaign, but when it’s all said and done, he and Clinton have similar opinions on a wide variety of topics. In a recent poll, even Sanders supporters said he doesn’t have a good chance to become the nominee, and I’d be willing to bet that all of them would throw their votes behind Clinton whole-heartedly.

On the Republican side, this is where things become problematic: the Tea Party and evangelical fringe of the party hate the moderate groups. And vice versa. And even though it’s the moderates that control the party, both sides need each other to be able to keep the party numbers high. Which is a problem. If you have so much internal fighting over party ideology, how can you possibly expect to come out of what will almost certainly be a very contentious primary with everyone enthusiastically backing the nominee? Remember that even George W Bush wasn’t conservative enough for the up and coming Tea Party.

It comes down to a question of how galvanizing Clinton (or Sanders, should he mount a huge push) would be for the Republicans, because I start to wonder how much they’d turn out to vote for either of two candidates who they really don’t like. I know they’d hate Clinton, but I’m thinking she would be able to pull in a lot more moderate voters than Sanders would.

Just 15 months left until the conventions, folks!

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Politics

Strategery

As the officially announced candidate field on the Republican side threatens to top four figures and one mop of hair this week, I was struck by some interesting points: the Republican party believes in gang warfare.

Now, I understand the whole concept of playing to your base in the primary campaign, and let’s face it, with Iowa still a full eight months away, getting on the ground as much as possible will probably help an individual’s cause. But the whole tenor of the campaigns, with the exception of two people–Rand Paul and Donald Trump–has a strong common thread: they aren’t running against each other, they’re running against the Obama administration and Hillary Clinton.

I get that for the last five-plus years, that’s been the constant drum beat of the right, and frankly, the arguments are tired and worn out, because if the same things they’ve been complaining about five years are still happening by now, then there either would have been a revolt or the nation would have collapsed by now. Which means that while the Obama administration certainly hasn’t been as good as it should have been, they’ve still managed to provide enough direction and leadership to get the nation back on track economically, and have mostly managed to navigate the foreign relations obstacles without catastrophic results. And let’s face it, there hasn’t ever been an administration that could say they were entirely successful, right?

And let’s also acknowledge that the last eight years have pretty much been a disaster for the GOP: they’ve had infighting from all major factions (the Tea Party, religious far right, and the centrists), and even though they control congress, still haven’t been able to pass any meaningful legislation on anything that will impact anyone.

So everyone in the presidential campaign in the Republican party seems to be reading from the same script and using the same talking points: socialism, small business, taxes, middle class, Benghazi, Obamacare, Obamacare, Obamacare, tired policies of failed leadership, blah, blah, blah.

This all leads to a thought: the Republican campaign is going to be performed by committee. Except for the rogues among them (Paul and Trump, among a few others), it’s clear that the idea here is to not just lob attacks at Hillary Clinton from one white male, but instead to open up with both barrels and attack with all the white males they can muster, plus a couple of black guys, a hispanic or two and, oh yeah, the token woman.

As long as the message is all the same, the debate with the top 10 candidates will be just a friendly discussion of how horrible the last six years have been and how we don’t want to do that again. And, I think, the party hopes it will galvanize the party and not fragment it, as the Tea Party has been doing for a while now with the rank and file of the party. The ultimate goal, of course, is regardless of who is nominated, the faithful will see that through the primaries and debates, the message was the same: Jeb Bush supports the exact same things as Marco Rubio, for instance.

But there’s a danger here. What happens when, say, Marco Rubio needs to perform well because he’s had a couple of bad showings in the primaries, and he’ll run out of money unless he can strengthen his base? Will his campaign just roll over and tell their core supporters that they need to throw their support to Jeb? Or will he go out swinging and attack with something that an opposing campaign really doesn’t want out there, like Rick Perry’s inability to successfully state his views on anything? Or Lindsay Graham’s statement that he’ll have a rotating First Lady?

You wonder what backroom deals have been done by the party and many of the candidates. It’s obvious that Carly Fiorina was encouraged to run solely to offer a woman’s voice in the attack on Clinton. And Graham himself is a perennial also-ran who helps suck in the southerners with his folksy BS. But did they all get pulled into a room somewhere and told that this is the plan, and we’re sticking to it, damn it, or else the convention is going to be one nasty place.

Which means it would be very bad form for, say, a Democratic supporter to go into a primary and vote for a fringe candidate like, oh I don’t know, Ted Cruz or Rand Paul or Donald Trump. Bad form, maybe, but it would be pretty fun to watch come July next year.

So here’s the prediction that will prove that this is the plan: Sometime before Super Tuesday, the field will be substantially whittled down–from 10 or 12 major candidates to five or six, tops. Paul and Trump will probably still be in it, as they continue to speak to the fringe that hasn’t yet fallen in with the rest of the crowd. But you’ll be left with a couple of centrists and some of the center-right candidates: Bush, Rubio, maybe Paul Walker if he’s running, Perry, possibly Fiorina (if she’s still getting attention at all). And one of them (not Paul or Trump or Fiorina, though) will sweep Super Tuesday and “prove” to the party faithful that he is the one who can deliver the White House to the Republicans.

And then the party anxiously watches to see if everyone does actually fall in line and the party becomes unified behind Bush or Perry.

Coming up in a later post: the Democratic strategy.