Monday, November 2, 2015

A (semi) wrap-up

If I could wait four days to post something about Hillary's testimony before the House Select Committee on Benghazi, then I can wait five days to post something about the Republican debate that CNBC hosted last Wednesday.

After all, waiting a while makes your comments more thought-out than when you fire them off in haste. Or maybe it just means you were stuck somewhere between "busy" and "lazy." But either way, here I go, and be warned that the thoughts you are about to read are coming in no particular order.

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Carly Fiorina once again had the best overall performance and once again showcased her leadership bona fides. Yes, other candidates had more singularly memorable moments -- see my upcoming remarks about Cruz's and Rubio's positive moments plus Bush's negative one -- but Fiorina was best overall and in my opinion that makes her three for three in this year's debates.

However, in a field so crowded, it remains to be seen whether her debating prowess will be enough for her to reclaim and retain one of the top spots.

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I understand that last week's debate was supposed to be about the economy, and thus the questions were supposed to be about economic and tax policies. But since the moderators asked very little about those things, and instead posed asinine and irrelevant queries about fantasy football and about whether one of the candidates is running "a comic book version of a presidential campaign," surely they could have bothered to ask the candidates where they stand on such issues as fidelity to the Constitution, separation of powers, protecting our national defense systems against hackers, and protecting our electric grid against a nuclear EMP. Would that have been too much to ask? (Apparently, it would have.)

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Speaking of the moderators, yes, they were as horrible as everyone said and it was good that the candidates fought back so forcefully. However, it looked kind of adolescent when the Republican National Committee responded by suspending its agreement to have NBC televise a debate in February.

Bullshit questions being asked of Republicans is par for the course and has been for as long as my brain has been functioning. If nothing else, having our candidates face bullshit questions in the primary -- and thereby cut their teeth on how to deal with such absurdity -- should help them when the general election comes around.

Or how about this, RNC: Insist on specific types of questions that are not to be asked, rather than simply agreeing to general categories of questions that can be asked. Also, insist on specific moderators who are known for keeping their biases in check. With a clear stipulation that if the questioning again goes off the rails, then NBC will be kept from hosting such events in the future. Those demands may or may not work out, but cancelling the debate makes you look like a collective eunuch who's prone to collapse on a fainting couch when exposed to words you don't like (and I'm quite sure the Democrats will point that out).

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Jeb Bush's campaign is on life support and its chances of walking again are slim to none.

This is partly because of how smoothly and surely Marco Rubio handled Bush's right hook about missed Senate votes. By flipping the cards back to Bush's non-criticism of McCain's missed votes in '08 and Bush's recent praise of McCain's '08 campaign, Rubio eluded the hook and counter-punched with a devastating uppercut to the chin. It made him look like the verbal equivalent of Sugar Ray Robinson going up against the verbal equivalent of Robin Deakin.

Nonetheless, Bush's campaign was already a hopeless fool's errand and has been from day one. His record as governor of Florida is sterling and I have no doubt that he possesses the skills and dedication needed to be one of America's better presidents; but with his last name being poison among the entire Left and iffy among a significant part of the Right, Bush has never had the slightest chance of becoming president. It's not fair, but it is what it is, and it's so obvious that I've never understood why he threw his hat in the ring to begin with.

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Speaking of hopeless fool's errands, why are we still having "undercard" debates and why haven't more people dropped out of the race?

Actually, I know why. With the field having so many names, those who are still polling around two to five percent (i.e., most of them) are convinced that voters will start supporting them once others drop out or once the support for Trump and/or Carson starts to decline (assuming it actually does). Since the Iowa caucus is so far away and the New Hampshire and SEC primaries are even farther away, they believe they can wait it out and reap a windfall down the line.

But seriously, some of you two- to five-percenters need to accept reality and get out of the way because there ain't no way you're gonna win no matter what. All you are doing is wasting air time and flushing resources down the toilet. I am talking to you, Mike Huckabee, George Pataki, Bobby Jindal, Lindsey Graham (seriously?), Rick Santorum, and Chris Christie.

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Because Rand Paul's campaign has been circling the drain for months and his national security uncertainties are even more of a drag with Iran and ISIS and Russia and China on the march, I could have put his name on the above list. Not gonna do it, however. Not yet.

Paul neither will nor can win, but his voice belongs to be in the forefront as we decide what kind of party we will have going forward. It was he who turned the tables in the abortion narrative months before the Center for Medical Progress appeared on the radar. It is he who most credibly espouses free market economic philosophies, and who most credibly espouses suspicion of government involvement in our affairs.

We conservatives claim to champion personal morality and private acts of charity. Well, Paul is a board-certified ophthalmologist and despite the fact that he has a full-time "day job" as a U.S. Senator, he continues to personally provide no-charge eye surgeries to impoverished people in the Caribbean and Latin America, and also to poor people in his home state of Kentucky.

It's a disgrace that last week's debate (and the two that came before) have kept him in the margins by giving him minimal air time. That needs to change.

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Much of the punditry's post-debate chatter centered around Rubio having had such a strong performance that he is starting to look like someone who can win it all. And there are reasons for that, one of which I indicated above when talking about the knockout blow he delivered to Jeb Bush.

But I think Ted Cruz looked even better. It was Cruz who was first to call out the moderators (and thereby the media) for asking bullshit questions, and he called them out fearlessly and vigorously. Had he not done so in the manner he did, it is questionable whether the other candidates would have felt comfortable criticizing the MSM types whose approval they weirdly crave. As such, Cruz acted as the party's leader.

Rubio's line about the media being the Democrat Party's Super PAC was awesome, and was so obviously focus-grouped that he may have worked it in even if Cruz hadn't led the charge in declaring war against the media. But the focus-grouped sound of that line points to one of Rubio's Achilles' heels, which is that his words seem just polished enough and his policy positions just vague enough to make one wonder how much substance lies beneath. Republican primary voters are seeking unquestionable authenticity, and in that department, Cruz has a leg up over Rubio whether it's fair or not.

Then again, Rubio's optimism could win the day over Cruz's less-smiley and more-detail-oriented approach. People often place more weight on personality than ideological purity when they decide who to vote for, and if 2016 brings out more of them than it does purists, Rubio has a leg up whether that's fair or not.

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The good news for Republicans, even the more conservative among us, is that all of the GOP's candidates have many pluses -- and all but one (Trump) have far more pluses than minuses. Even John Kasich, who has taken quite a few jabs from the Right, brings a lot of positives to the table.

In other words, as far as presidential possibilities are concerned, we are entering an election year in better shape that we've been in for years.

Now if only our incumbent Republican Congress would get its act together...

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