Spotted lily

Spotted lily

Wednesday, September 30, 2015

Blame the Congress?

Last Friday, House Speaker John Boehner suddenly announced that he will very soon retire from Congress.  While I wished he would have made some different decisions as Speaker, I am not among those taking pleasure in his resignation, which comes at a time when there is great disagreement among Republican legislators in Washington about the correct way to approach both advancing their own goals and opposing those of Barack Obama and the Democrats.  Many Republican voters, meanwhile, are very frustrated with a situation where, even with majorities in both the House and the Senate, Republicans on Capitol Hill not only are unable to actually enact any conservative legislation but often seem unwilling to even try to stand up to the President.  This has resulted in particular dissatisfaction with Republican leaders in Congress and talk of challenges to their positions if they do not change their methods, and this is the atmosphere in which Mr. Boehner elected to step down.

I do see that Republican lawmakers are in a difficult position.  As long as Barack Obama is in the White House ready to veto any bills he doesn’t like and the Republicans do not have enough votes to override his veto, the chance of actually enacting any conservative legislation or undoing some of the liberal policies already implemented by this president is practically nonexistent.  It seems, then, that the questions for Republicans involve how much time and effort it is worth expending on various measures when real success is not currently possible, and whether speaking out on particular issues and/or using certain tactics is likely to help or hurt the cause and/or the party in the short or long run.

Personally, I certainly would prefer it if those on our side would show some more fight in Congress, and I am very disappointed every time I hear that the Republicans are backing down or preemptively announcing that they will lose a battle with Barack Obama and the other Democrats.  I would think it would be a good thing, in general, for Republicans to be presenting their arguments for the policies they support on the floor in Congress and in media appearances, and I wouldn’t think it should be a negative to actually pass some plans of their own, even if the President vetoes them.  That being said, I am not going to automatically brand all of the elected leaders and other legislators who believe they should act with more caution as weak and/or unconservative.  They have more experience with the details of these matters than I do, and they might be correct in fearing the way the electorate might react to more open conflict with Barack Obama and the rest of his party.  I can especially understand concern about making any challenges in the context of budget bills needed to fund the government, since the Democrats and the media love to tell everyone how something the Republicans did or might do necessitates all sorts of cutbacks or closures of government operations.  What I do not really comprehend, though, is the reason the Republicans don’t push back against that narrative.

For example, the current issue prompting discussion of a possible showdown concerns federal funding for Planned Parenthood.  Especially in light of the recently released videos of people connected with this group saying horrifying things, most conservatives feel strongly that Planned Parenthood should be kept from receiving any federal taxpayer money.  Some wanted to attempt this by removing such funding from the next continuing budget resolution, but the leadership and others were against that because such a resolution would not survive an encounter with Barack Obama’s famous pen.  At that point, with no signed bill to authorize funds for government operations, the torrent of accusations about Republicans “shutting down the government” because of their “extremist” views would be unleashed.

But, let’s step back and consider this for a minute, shall we?  If the Republican Congress crafts and passes a budget bill and Barack Obama vetoes it and then makes a show of closing national parks and memorials and halting other popular government activities, how does it make sense to say that the Republicans have shut down the government??  Clearly, that choice would have been made by the President.  Shouldn’t he then be asked to explain how such a “drastic” action is justified by his desire to continue to force taxpayers to provide money to Planned Parenthood despite the group’s involvement in gruesome (and possibly illegal) practices related to fetal dismemberment and organ trafficking and why reallocating the money that would have gone to Planned Parenthood (a reliable Democratic political donor) to other, non-controversial groups that provide health care services is not good enough?  Would Obama’s defense of such positions really make the Republicans look extreme and unreasonable??  Of course, Barack Obama’s opposition to any limitations at all related to abortion is so absolute that there is probably no chance whatsoever that he would resist vetoing any bill defunding Planned Parenthood.  But, if Republicans can get the facts about Planned Parenthood and the undercover videos out to the public, maybe hearing Obama and other Democrats trying to defend the indefensible will make some voters more receptive to the messages of pro-life Republicans, hopefully including next year’s presidential nominee.

To accommodate those still fearful of the potential biased "government shutdown" stories that might result if Planned Parenthood’s funds are removed from the budget resolution, it might be possible to try to achieve the same things with stand-alone legislation to reallocate the money.  However, with the decreased risk would probably also come reduced opportunity for progress, as, without the “shutdown,” there would presumably be less media coverage, less pressure on Barack Obama to explain a veto, and, therefore, less of a chance to persuade the public.  Putting forth a serious effort to make the case for such legislation, though, would still be far better than just surrendering and letting the liberals have their way.

I realize that “the public” at large may well see things completely differently than I do, especially with some nudging from the media -- after all, they routinely elect people like Barack Obama to powerful offices.  Still, when the Republicans are clearly in the right on an issue, like the defunding of Planned Parenthood, it would be nice if they would at least try to achieve some success once in a while.  Even if confronting the Democrats about this topic would somehow wind up hurting the GOP with some “moderate” or independent voters, I think that declining to do so could actually be more damaging to their future electoral chances, since many conservatives already feel so discouraged and frustrated by what they see as inaction in Washington.

Whoever winds up succeeding John Boehner as Speaker, I hope that, in the future, Republicans in both the House and the Senate will be able to be much more effective at advocating for conservative positions and, eventually, getting those policies codified in law.

Thursday, September 24, 2015

Governor Walker Bows Out

Even though I knew that Scott Walker’s presidential campaign was not going at all well lately and that he had very little support in recent polls, I was still quite surprised to hear on Monday that he had decided to leave the race.  It seemed to be a very sudden and early move for someone who’d been considered to have a real chance at the nomination just a couple of months ago, but if he felt it was time to leave, I respect his judgment on the matter.

Many people have been offering their reasons, some of which don’t seem particularly accurate or fair to me, for the troubles and short duration of Scott Walker’s campaign, but, at least for now, I’ll refrain from even attempting such an analysis.  I will say that, as it relates to the overall course of the Republican primary race, this development concerns me quite a bit.  To me, it is very unfortunate that the first two candidates to depart the contest seem to be among those most qualified to serve as the Chief Executive, based on their records as successful governors.  There are still several very worthy candidates in the race, but I worry that the current campaign climate and nomination process might not allow the best candidates to survive until the end.

As for Governor Walker, I wish him well and hope that he will be able to bounce back quickly from this disappointing experience, as there is still plenty of important work that he can do in the office he did recently win.  In the end, Scott Walker remaining as governor of Wisconsin isn’t such a bad “consolation prize”-- for him or for those of us who live in that state.

Monday, September 21, 2015

CNN Debate Impressions

The second major Republican presidential primary debate took place this past week at the Reagan Library in California.  After watching the lengthy event and reading just a small amount of the succeeding commentary and analysis, I’d like to share some thoughts about the debate in general and about quite a few of the individual candidates.  I suppose I shouldn’t be surprised by now, but my take on some things was quite different from what I’ve read in various articles the last couple of days.  Perhaps I really am in a world of my own, but here are some views from that out-of-step planet.

General Observations

I understand that it must be very difficult to try to manage a debate such as this, with many  participants, high stakes, and lots of attention.  Still, some things about the way the event was conducted seemed rather problematic.  The allocation of time and questions among the candidates did not seem very fair.  It may make sense for the most prominent contenders to have more time than others, but the difference should not have been so vast, with some candidates barely getting a chance to speak.  This problem was exacerbated by the extended back and forth exchanges between sets of candidates that were requested by the moderator and by the lack of control the moderator seemed to have over the proceedings.  I would think that, in general, one rebuttal and one response per question would be more reasonable in a setting like this, and I did not think that so many interruptions should have been allowed.  Perhaps those hosting future debates will have to resort to muting people’s microphones if they persist in talking out of turn or speaking far longer than the allotted time.

Probably even more importantly, though, I thought that issues should have been brought up in a more straightforward way, with candidates having the chance to express their own opinions.  Instead, far too often, one candidate was asked either to give an opinion about what the questioner stated to be the position of one of the others, or to react to an opponent’s comments about him or her.  Also, in posing these questions and in following up on candidates’ responses, the moderators seemed to feel the need to summarize and interpret for us what the candidates had said, either during the debate we were actually watching or in previous interviews, statements, etc., and I took issue with this for two reasons.   First, it did not seem that the third-party portrayals of the candidates’ views and intentions were always correct.   Second, this technique seemed to be used more than once in an attempt to bring about more on-stage confrontations when some candidates had tried to be somewhat measured and indirect in speaking about their rivals, and this really seemed unnecessary.  (Paraphrased example:  Q:  Do you think Candidate X is unqualified to be president because of a lack of foreign policy knowledge?  A:  Well, you should ask Candidate X questions about foreign policy so that the voters can make an informed choice, as it is extremely important a president be prepared in this area.  Q:  So, Candidate X, Senator Y seems to be saying you don’t have the necessary knowledge to be president.  How do you respond?)

Having said all of these things about those conducting the debate, there certainly was plenty of food for thought in what actually happened on the stage over those several hours Wednesday.  So, I’ll move on to discussing some impressions related to the candidates themselves.

The Early Debate

The afternoon debate, seemed a bit more organized and balanced, as the four candidates had more of a chance to speak and also seemed more respectful of the parameters, such as time limits.  I think many of the things discussed during this session relate to important themes or trends affecting the race as a whole.

I have always been fond of Rick Santorum, and I appreciate the fact that, as he pointed out, he was involved in efforts to actually accomplish things such as welfare reform, confirmation of conservative judges, and passing pro-life legislation during his time in the Senate.  As he also mentioned, he differs from many others in the race regarding immigration, favoring more restrictions and opposing amnesty, positions that he says are taken with the intention of protecting American workers.  A couple of Santorum’s other points related to this theme, such as support for an increase in the federal minimum wage and his assertion that the Republicans have focussed too much on businesses and business owners, are not personal favorites of mine.  However, since many say that populism is one of the things driving the polling success of non-traditional candidates such as Donald Trump, one might think that Santorum’s concern for workers along with his immigration stance would benefit him in the current electoral climate, but he has so far been getting far less support in the polls than in his previous campaign -- is the fact that he actually has government experience just an automatic disqualifier for many voters right now?

As I’ve said before, I think that Bobby Jindal deserves more consideration in the race than he seems to be getting, and I liked much of what he said on Wednesday.  He defended his comments about Donald Trump not being a serious candidate and articulated criticisms of Democrats in interesting ways (such as pointing out that Barack Obama’s wants to have a war against trans-fats but make a deal with Iran).  In addition, Governor Jindal expressed frustrations conservatives have had with things on the Republican side, including judges who “evolve” and make liberal rulings and members of Congress who, even in the majority, seem unwilling to even fight for stated goals.  Senator Lindsay Graham, on the other hand, said that many of the things Republicans wish to accomplish cannot be done without also winning the presidency.  I think these contrasting attitudes merit some more thought and discussion among Republicans and conservatives, as we do need to avoid unrealistic expectations about what can actually be accomplished under certain circumstances while still striving to make our case to the people, bring about positive changes, and stop negative ones.

Scott Walker

Governor Walker did not get that many chances to speak, but I felt that he made full use of the opportunities he did have to make his points and bring up proposals that he has made.  I had read that the governor intended to take a “more aggressive” approach in this debate, and I was somewhat worried about what that might mean, but there was no uncharacteristic rude or obnoxious behavior.  He just seemed to be trying to get his share of time and to set the record straight.  When Donald Trump was criticizing Scott Walker’s record, I especially liked Walker’s response that, “Just because he [Trump] says it, that doesn’t make it true.”  Hopefully, people will finally realize that (but I’m not holding my breath.)  Governor Walker’s remark that we don’t need another “apprentice” in the White House, made in reference to Trump, was another good line.  All in all, I thought this was a much improved performance and a pretty good night for Governor Walker, but I don’t know if it will help him at all in the polls, especially since many seem to disagree with me.  Also, although it has been suggested that Walker needs to change to stand out in these debates, it is my opinion that sticking to being the nice guy, can-do Republican would work better for him.

Jeb Bush

Here again, I was glad that a more forceful approach to the debate did not manifest itself in any drastic ways.  Governor Bush did seem more energetic and had some good comebacks to Donald Trump without stooping to a low level, but I remain concerned about the impact this debate might have on his campaign, as he still seemed somewhat tentative  in making the case for his candidacy.  Of course, that may be somewhat understandable, since he seemed to have to spend most of his time fending off a lot of negative charges thrown his way -- many of them in questions about criticisms made by Donald Trump, who was standing right next to him.  I think that Gov. Bush may have been a little unsure what to do when Trump would just make statements or denials that Gov. Bush believed to be plainly untrue.

In relation to some particular exchanges from the debate that perhaps might be problematic for Mr. Bush, I’d make a few suggestions.  I would advise him to prepare a solid explanation about the women’s health care comment that supposedly was just so horrible, as it’s pretty ridiculous to hear Donald Trump gleefully harping about it while declaring that he, unlike Bush, respects women!
In an exchange about the nomination of Supreme Court justices, in which Governor Bush’s main point was the good one that presidents should nominate people with proven records of following the Constitution, he also made the statement that John Roberts has done a good job.  I think that he may have been thrown off by the way his interaction with Ted Cruz went, but, since he has said he disagrees with the Obamacare decisions, I think that he needed to qualify the compliment to point out that those rulings were incorrect.  (I will note that Senators Graham and Santorum did make some positive statements about Justice Roberts earlier in the evening, as well, so perhaps Gov. Bush’s comment won’t be as huge of a problem for him as I thought at first, before I had a chance to watch the afternoon debate.)

Finally, it seems to me that Jeb Bush does not need to be so afraid of being associated with his brother (or his father, for that matter.)  After listening for a while to Donald Trump once again bashing President George W. Bush’s administration and blaming him for Obama’s rise, poor Jeb Bush seemed almost like someone forced to do something that might have dire consequences when he finally asserted to Trump that his brother had kept us safe during his presidency.  I was glad to hear him say it, and I’m sure I wasn’t the only one, but I wonder if Jeb Bush half expected the floor to open up and send him plummeting far away from the debate stage and any political future.  Saying something positive about the last President Bush is not an extreme or outrageous act, and I think that his brother will be able to more freely pursue his campaign if he can accept that.  Perhaps the fact that Governor Walker responded to Trump’s retort that he doesn’t really feel safe by chiming in to say that that is because of Barack Obama, not George W. Bush, will help in that regard.

Marco Rubio

I thought that Senator Rubio generally presented himself well and gave many good answers last Wednesday, but I did think there were a few things that made this debate a bit less successful for him than the first one.  Later in the evening, he seemed to be a little less smooth when delivering some responses.  Also, towards the end of the debate, I found myself thinking that he’d seemed pretty stern and serious much of the night, which is understandable, considering the gravity of the issues being discussed.  However, the Senator has expressed the intention to present an optimistic view in his campaign, and I think that that positivity, along with the good humor and winning smile he possesses, is an important part of his potential appeal to voters.

For me, there was one especially weak spot for Marco Rubio during the debate.  Donald Trump took a shot at Rubio’s Senate record, and I’m afraid that I didn’t think the Senator’s response was strong.  He seemed a little flustered to me, and I actually wasn’t really sure what reasons he was trying to articulate for having missed Senate votes, but I thought that he might be saying that he’d realized that Congress wasn’t really going to be able to accomplish what is necessary to help people, so he was leaving to run for president instead.  Based on an e-mail I received from his campaign the next day (in which they actually cited this part of the debate as one of their favorite moments, confirming, I suppose, how out of step I must be,) I guess that I did have the general idea correct, but I think that it is really quite sad.  Here we have a talented, conservative young member of the Senate apparently giving up on the institution after less than one term -- if he doesn’t think it’s even worth trying to improve the way things work in Congress, who will?  Besides, in any case, being a Senator is still his job right now, so I’m not sure how much of a justification his upcoming departure over a year from now provides for any lack of commitment to current job obligations.  He very well may have an explanation that, expressed more clearly, would defuse the issue, and, if so, I hope that he’ll provide it the next time he’s asked.

Those things being said, I do like Senator Rubio and think that he is a very strong candidate for the nomination.  Since a top-notch performance in the first debate didn’t seem to help him in the polls, I hope that this somewhat less successful one will not hurt him.

Ted Cruz

As I expected, Senator Cruz gave some strong answers during the debate -- when he was given a chance to speak, which did not seem to be all that often.  I’m not sure why, but I was a little surprised that he didn’t add his comments on a couple of extra occasions once it became clear that some candidates were being allowed to force their way into the conversation.  Of course, when he tried to ask for the opportunity to weigh in as a climate change skeptic, he was dismissed by the moderator, so maybe he should have just started talking instead of trying to be acknowledged.

I did have a bit of a problem with the way Senator Cruz handled his exchange with Jeb Bush about Supreme Court nominees.  I think it’s great that Cruz intends to nominate the people he believes to be the best and most reliable choices and to fight to get them confirmed.  When it came to discussing John Roberts, though, I thought that Senator Cruz should have acknowledged from the beginning, once Jeb Bush mentioned it the first time, that he had supported Roberts after he was nominated, even though he now feels it was a mistake.  Waiting until Governor Bush had repeated the point might have made the exchange less than helpful for both of them -- Cruz might be seen to have been less than straightforward in his comments about the issue, and, until the end, people might have been wondering whether Bush was not telling the truth about Cruz.

It’s a small observation, but Senator Cruz seemed to often have a very formal way of presenting his answers, delivering them as mini speeches directly to the close-up camera.  I wonder if that manner of speaking might not particularly connect with TV viewers, but I think people should pay much more attention to substance than to matters of style, as Ted Cruz is another very capable presidential candidate.

Ben Carson

Dr. Carson still seems like a very nice guy, but he did not help himself with me in this debate -- quite the opposite, actually.  I’ve said before that I don’t think a candidate without previous experience in office should get the nomination, but I now also have serious questions about the types of policies Dr. Carson might adopt.  I was especially concerned to hear that he did not even think that we should have gone after the terrorists in Afghanistan after 9/11 and that he thought we could have achieved what we wanted through some intellectual plan.  Also, even though he had very recently outlined a sort of “path to legal status for those people already here once the border is secure” type of immigration plan in an interview, when he was asked in the debate about Donald Trump’s expressed deportation approach, he just said he’d be willing to listen to different alternatives.  Has he not yet decided what he thinks would be the best approach, even with the prominence of the issue in this campaign?  Dr. Carson also seemed quite eager to point out that he, like Donald Trump, had opposed the Iraq war, and he also was on the same page with Trump’s comments about “special interest” contributions.  He may sincerely hold these latter views and still be open to persuasion about the best way to handle immigration, but it almost seemed like he might have been specifically trying to identify himself with Trump and/or his type of candidacy, possibly in the hopes of winning over some of Trump’s supporters.  Even if this was not  his intention, let’s just say that demonstrating agreement with Donald Trump on more issues is not going to move someone up on my list of preferred candidates.

Donald Trump

Once again, Mr. Trump spent much of his time insulting his opponents and making goofy faces, which some people may still find entertaining, but I think is quite tiresome.  During one of his first chances to answer a question, what was the point of gratuitously attacking Rand Paul for just being there, when he didn’t even have anything to do with the topic?  Mr. Trump did seem to at least attempt to answer more questions this time, so, who knows, he might have actually come across Wednesday more as a rather unprepared and rude political candidate than as some random guy who crashed the debate.

While Donald Trump has criticized other people for speaking Spanish during their campaigns, I think it’s interesting to note that others basically had to translate some of Trump’s points (attempted in English) during the debate.  Specifically, Senator Paul had to be the one to articulate why some scholars would believe that “birthright citizenship” for children of people not here legally has not been definitively ruled to be required by the 14th Amendment, and the moderator had to point out that, when Trump had said that Marco Rubio had the worst voting record in the Senate, he was referring to the Senator being absent during votes.

I’ve read some debate commentary expressing the opinion that Donald Trump’s remarks about vaccines could be particularly harmful to him, but I’m not so sure.  Dr. Carson had stated that no link has been demonstrated between vaccines and autism, and I would agree that it seemed rather awkward to hear Mr. Trump follow that immediately with an anecdote suggesting that a child he knew had become autistic after receiving a vaccine.  If the discussion of the issue had ended there, I’d say that more people might see it as putting Mr. Trump in a bad light.  However, afterward, both Dr. Carson and Senator Paul (also a doctor) essentially said that what Trump actually suggested should be done -- administering vaccines in smaller amounts at a time -- was a good idea!  So, I can see people, particularly those who already support him, responding to the exchange, “See, Trump was right again!”

I have no idea if anything that happened on Wednesday will affect Donald Trump’s standing in the race at all, as those who support him seem committed to doing so no matter what.  The way things have been going, since this debate performance might have been a little less terrible than the first one, he may even increase his lead.

Carly Fiorina

Plenty has been said about Carly Fiorina since Wednesday’s debate, so I’ll just make a couple of comments.  Ms. Fiorina definitely presented herself confidently and seemed to hold her own in exchanges with Donald Trump.  Her willingness to go into detail about the sorts of things revealed in the Planned Parenthood videos was noteworthy and welcome.  How can Democrats insist on funding an organization capable of such gruesome actions?

I must say, though, that by the end of the debate, I was a little perturbed by Ms. Fiorina’s behavior, as she repeatedly forced her way into the conversation when she hadn’t been addressed and continued speaking well past the allotted response times.  A little of this might be acceptable, and I understand that she was doing what she could to get her views heard by the public.  However, other candidates deserved the chance to speak, too, and I felt she overdid it.

In addition, now that Ms. Fiorina is getting more attention in the race and rising in the polls, I would like to hear more specifics about the policies and actions she would intend to pursue should she be elected.

Chris Christie

This is probably a backhanded compliment, but I’ve found listening to what Governor Christie had to say in both debates much less annoying than I might have expected based on what little I’d heard about him before.  Perhaps the presence of certain other personalities in the race has made him seem more reasonable in comparison.


The CNN Republican debate gave us the chance to hear and compare many of the candidates once again, but they did not all have equal opportunities to share their views.  It will be interesting to see how polling and media coverage develop in the coming weeks.  Hopefully, through other debates, interviews, speeches, and other means, the voting public will be able to get a more comprehensive understanding of the qualifications, proposals, strengths, and weaknesses of all of the candidates and make the best possible decision about the person who should ultimately win the nomination.  It seems the current wave of public sentiment is against me, but I am still hoping a solid and experienced member of the field will eventually be able to rise to the top.

Sunday, September 13, 2015

Governors' Week

As I’ve said before, I like many of the people running for the Republican nomination this year.  Unfortunately, it seems that almost everyone has been struggling since a certain celebrity joined the race.  There is still a long way to go before the actual presidential primaries and caucuses take place, but there is already plenty happening that is worthy of attention.  Several candidates made notable speeches or appearances this week, and I’d like to spend a little time on four of them, all of whom happen to be current or former governors.

On Tuesday, former Florida governor Jeb Bush appeared as a guest on the much-advertised premiere episode of “Late Night with Stephen Colbert.”  After watching the interview, I have a few thoughts.  In general, I’m not sure that late night talk show appearances are really fitting for politicians.  I understand that they are an opportunity to be seen by large audiences, including many people who don’t usually follow politics, and to perhaps present a more relatable side of oneself, but I think that there can also be risks in trying to mix the often very serious business of politics with the realm of celebrity entertainment.   As for Jeb Bush on Colbert, I thought that he might have been a little uneasy, especially at first, and there were a couple of awkward moments, but I think that the segment as a whole was OK for him.  For those who already had a basically positive view of Gov. Bush, he didn’t say anything that should change that.  In the interview, l thought he came across as a likable guy, and he made references to wanting to cut spending, reform Washington, and have more limited government, all of which should appeal to potential conservative voters.  (I also must admit to being rather amused by Colbert’s seemingly amazed need to confirm that Gov. Bush was actually saying that his brother hadn’t been conservative enough about spending during his administration.)  However, it seems to me that one of Jeb Bush’s biggest challenges right now is to overcome the opposition of those on the Right who feel he’s too “moderate,” and I don’t think he helped himself with them by making what he described as a “heretic” statement that he doesn’t think Barack Obama has bad motives (but is wrong on lots of issues.)  I don’t know that the opinion itself is a particular problem, but pointing out on national television that you’re distancing yourself from what many others in your party believe, presumably with the intention of showing your reasonableness to the general public, may not be the best way to win over those already concerned with your nonstandard positions on one or more other issues (most notably immigration.)  Overall, then, I’d guess that Jeb Bush’s late night guest spot probably leaves him in pretty much the same position as he was before.  As someone who wishes him well, I hope that he will be able to find ways to clearly and strongly present his record and proposals in the best way possible in the future so that his merits as a candidate can be judged fairly.

After his campaign got off to a strong start earlier this year, Governor Scott Walker, from my state of Wisconsin, has been having a rough time for the last several weeks -- so much so that National Review Online ran a lengthy piece a few days ago about “What Went Wrong” with his campaign and whether he can recover.  As a long time admirer of the governor, I would probably have a little friendlier take on some things, but I still found the piece interesting and informative.  It has seemed lately that Governor Walker has been hurting himself unnecessarily with some things he’s said, and I don’t know what has caused this.  Perhaps he is, as suggested in the article, trying too hard to please all segments of the Republican party at the same time.  Or, maybe he’s attempting to present himself in a different way to compete with other candidates who seem most popular right now.  Whatever the reason, it has pained me to follow his recent troubles and accompanying drop in the polls.  This past Thursday at Eureka College in Illinois, Governor Walker gave a speech which has been described as an attempt to “reset” his campaign.  I watched a video of the speech, and I think it was pretty successful.  Governor Walker seemed more comfortable as he returned to discussing his record in Wisconsin and why he believes his experiences here have prepared him to be President.  He also talked about some of the things he intends to do if elected, including getting rid of the Iran deal and Obamacare, and repeatedly stated that he doesn’t “back down.”  I’m personally not sure that it’s the best idea to say that you intend to do a long list of things “on day one” of your presidency, as that might prove to be a rather tall order, and I’m also not particularly fond of the slogan expressing an intent to “wreak havoc” on Washington, which seems too destructive rather than positive to me.  However, while I might prefer different phrasing for these notions, I can appreciate that the candidate is really expressing an urgency to eliminate the current administration’s bad policies and a desire to make changes to the way things are currently done in our nation’s capital.  All in all, I think that Governor Walker’s speech this week was a good step in the right direction for his campaign.  I hope that he can follow it up with a strong debate performance next week and, going forward, also present a clear message not only when giving a speech on his own terms, but also when answering questions from others.

Also on Thursday, Louisiana’s governor, Bobby Jindal, gave a rather unusual speech at the National Press Club in which he presented his assessment of Donald Trump’s candidacy.  I’m not sure I would have recommended that someone deliver a speech specifically dedicated to this purpose. Perhaps it might be better for a candidate to present his or her policy ideas on one or more issues and then to contrast this type of substantive material with the Trump campaign by making the sort of case Governor Jindal shared.  That being said, I have to say that I did appreciate Gov. Jindal’s comments very much (and he did also address a number of other topics in the subsequent question and answer period.)  I saw a headline of a column somewhere referring to the speech as “desperate,” but I watched the video, and Governor Jindal was quite calm and collected as he spoke.  He was actually rather more positive about Mr. Trump than I would have been, as he said that he liked the “idea” of Trump’s type of unorthodox candidacy and also called Trump’s campaign and actions entertaining, while I have just found Donald Trump’s antics and rhetoric annoying and distressing.  Beyond that, though, I think that Governor Jindal was correct to refer to Donald Trump as a narcissist and egomaniac who isn’t really committed to any movement or party and to state that we really can’t know what he would actually do were he to be elected.  It really shouldn’t be necessary for anyone to have to point these things out repeatedly, as they should be evident from even brief exposure to Mr. Trump’s campaign, but, alas, it seems a significant portion of the electorate has determined that he is somehow the best person to become our next president.  I don’t know if Governor Jindal’s sensible remarks will influence anyone to change their mind about whether or not to support Donald Trump, but I’m glad that he made them, and I also think that voters should give an experienced governor like Mr. Jindal more consideration as a serious candidate for the nomination than he seems to have been receiving so far.

Finally, on Friday, Rick Perry, the former governor of Texas, announced that he was suspending his presidential campaign.  Governor Perry is another successful and experienced political executive who didn’t seem to get the type of consideration from potential voters one would think his record would merit.  I thought that his suspension speech contained a lot of good material, and I find it very unfortunate that we are losing a good candidate so early in the process.  Governor Perry stated that he feels there is a “tremendous field” of Republican candidates in the race this cycle, and I would agree, but I think it’s somewhat less so with his departure.

While plenty of interesting things took place this past week in the primary process, as I suppose is always the case, next week promises to be even more eventful, as the presidential hopefuls will be participating in the next high-profile debate.  We’ll have to see what happens there, but I am hoping it goes well for all of the serious candidates in the race.

Sunday, September 6, 2015

Time to Worry?

In my previous posts, I’ve shared some of my thoughts about the ongoing Republican presidential primary campaign.  I’d like to follow up on a few of these themes now, in light of some more recent developments and information.

I’ve said before that I was very concerned about the state of the race and the standings of the various candidates in the polls, and that the fact that Donald Trump was leading was particularly disturbing.  A few days ago, I read a column by Ramesh Ponnuru of National Review and Bloomberg View, in which he listed several reasons he believes those of us opposed to Donald Trump don’t actually need to worry.  It’s an interesting read, and I wish I shared Mr. Ponnuru’s confidence that Donald Trump won’t get the nomination or hurt the Republican side overall in the election, but I’m afraid that I don’t really find myself reassured even after thinking about the points he makes. While it may be true (or at least have been true in the past) that major political parties would not choose to nominate someone completely new to public office, I’m not sure that “the party” is going to have much say in the matter if people continue to support Trump.  Plus, it seems that the only other people having any success with their campaigns right now are the other two political newcomers (Carson and Fiorina,) so it seems that the public’s mood will have to completely change to allow an experienced officeholder to win.  I don’t know if there are details of the selection process that might make it possible for party officials to exert some influence, but I can’t see things ending well if they were to try to circumvent the choices of the voters, especially in the climate we have now.  As for the possibility that many who currently support Trump in the polls may make a more reasoned choice later, I suppose there’s some chance that could happen.  The way things have been going, though, I don’t know what it might take to make them change their minds, and who knows how many choices might still remain or in what political condition they might be by the time these voters would decide to reconsider.  I can only hope that Mr. Ponnuru is right and that Donald Trump’s domination of the race will be temporary, but I am quite afraid that might not be the case.

In my last post, I talked about my wish for the primary to remain as positive and free from intra-party attacks as possible and my fear that it might instead get rather ugly.  Even at this early stage, some of the criticism and negative advertising have already begun, which is unfortunate.  I do acknowledge that candidates can’t always avoid being critical of their opponents.  Sometimes a rival might take a position or make a comment that is so outrageous that others need to address it, and if one of the candidates “goes negative” and starts attacking one or more others, the target(s) will probably need to respond.   This year, one candidate in particular, the aforementioned frontrunner Donald Trump, seems to have already made a habit of mocking and insulting others in the field, behavior I would have expected to be more common from someone trailing in the race and trying to make up ground.  Some of the remarks have been more personal than policy-related, and a large number of them have been directed at Jeb Bush.  Considering the nature and frequency of these taunts and attacks, I think that other candidates are justified in leveling their own criticisms at Trump in return.  I do still think it would be best if, while doing so, they can try to stick to as high a road as possible by being truthful and aiming their criticisms at the actions, comments, and policy views of their antagonist rather than making personal insults, although I’m sure this might be very tempting at times.  (For the record, I’d say that Jeb Bush’s recently released ad, composed of clips and quotes of Donald Trump saying things that should trouble Republicans and conservatives, is fair enough.)

I do worry, though, that Donald Trump’s targets may be in a no-win situation.  If they try to just ignore his criticisms and stick to their own messages, they risk being seen as weak or lacking the backbone to stand up for themselves.  Unfortunately, whatever charges are made may “stick” in  the minds of the public either way, but if the candidates at whom these salvos are aimed don’t even try to explain and give their own sides of the story, it is even more likely that the negative words of their opponents will play a large part in shaping people’s views and images of them.  Yet, if someone does respond to negative campaigning, not only is attention focused on something other than the story and agenda he (or she) wishes to share, but he may be branded as another attacker, even though only defending himself.  Plus, in the case of Donald Trump, at least, it seems at this point that it probably won’t really matter what is said about or in response to him -- nothing seems able to overcome all of his media attention or to sway those who support him.  All in all, though, I think that the other candidates do need to at least make an effort to keep from being defined by an opponent and to set the record straight.

On a side note, I’d still suggest that candidates should think twice before “going after” rivals other than Trump for a couple of reasons.  Obviously, they need to keep in mind that this will invite a response they may not want, but I also wonder what benefit they would really seek by doing this.  Is taking on someone who has 6% support in the polls compared to  your 4%  actually likely to help you all that much?  I would think that there are probably more effective uses of the candidates’ time and advertising dollars.

To recap, should looking at the current state of the Republican primary race leave me feeling calm and optimistic?  With the inexplicable front-runner actually seeming more popular than before and negativity already rearing its head in the campaign, I think that apprehension is a more appropriate reaction.  So, for now, I’ll keep watching -- and worrying.