Spotted lily

Spotted lily

Sunday, November 22, 2015

Milwaukee Debate & Other Recent Developments

A lot has happened in the world in the last couple of weeks, much of it far more important than the details of the primary election campaign.  Still, I’d like to take at least a brief look at the most recent Republican debate and a few other things related to the race.

The Fox Business debate held in Milwaukee was an improvement over previous events in giving much more attention to substance.  Because there are differences among the candidates regarding various issues, there were some interesting exchanges, and the responses and comments made by the participants should give potential voters more to consider in forming their opinions and candidate preferences.  (If, that is, the members of the public are actually concerned about and interested in policies and ideas, which, unfortunately, doesn’t seem to always be the case.)

Regarding the early debate for those not doing as well in the polls, I still think it’s unfortunate that some of these candidates have never had a chance to “compete” with the others in the prime time event.  People who are far better-qualified and prepared choices than anyone on the Democrat side (and than some in the Republican field) seem to have been summarily dismissed by voters without serious consideration, which is a shame.  Rick Santorum keeps plugging away, pointing out both his prior conservative accomplishments in the Senate and the distinguishing aspects of his current platform that are especially aimed at helping American workers/labor.  I’ve admired Senator Santorum for a long time, so, even though I’m not necessarily in agreement with all of the items in this latter category, I feel he has earned a fair hearing in the race.  I thought that Chris Christie did a good job of sticking to his main message that it is crucial to focus on stopping Hillary Clinton and that he believes he is the best person to “prosecute” the case against her.  He did this even while facing quite a bit of criticism from Bobby Jindal, who kept hammering the point that voters should choose to elect, not just any Republican, but one who would actually do things that he promises, especially cut government spending.  It seemed to me that Jindal didn’t make the most effective use of his time by coming back to this same theme in pretty much every response, when he could have used the opportunities to detail more of his accomplishments and proposals.  Since the debate, Governor Jindal has ended his campaign for the nomination, which means that three men who all have very successful records as governors and would seem capable of doing a solid job if elected President have now dropped out of the Republican race quite early in the process.  Meanwhile, candidates lacking experience, a strong grasp of issues, and/or a reasonable temperament continue to be favored in the polls, and I really must once again question the choices that Republicans and “conservatives” have been making in regard to this campaign.

I’m not sure how much of an effect the prime-time debate might have on the fortunes of the various candidates.  John Kasich once again spoke a lot.  He seemed to be on quite a different page than most of the field on many issues and to be criticizing the more common Republican positions, and I really don’t think this will help him win over voters.  Rand Paul also presented some more unique views, but he did do a better job of presenting his points than in previous debates.  He doesn’t seem likely to have a huge surge of support in the polls, but he did add additional dimensions to the discussion and serve as sort of an on-stage “fact-checker” at times.  Carly Fiorina did fine, pretty much as she had before, but I don’t know that we heard anything new or that she stood out as she might have in the first couple of debates.  This may be about the only time I say this, but I personally agreed with Donald Trump(!!) that she was interrupting too much, and I certainly didn’t think it made sense for some people to say that it was “sexist” for him to mention it.  As for Mr. Trump himself, he still gave many answers that were vague (about his fantastic plans and experiences) or rather puzzling (about China and the trade deal being discussed, for example.)  He was less hostile and insulting toward his opponents, which was a positive thing, but, unfortunately this mood did not last long, as he attacked other candidates at length in a speech a couple of days later.  Ben Carson was pleasant and made some thoughtful general statements, but other answers, particularly about foreign policy, didn’t seem very strong.  In recent weeks, there were quite a few stories in the media questioning the accuracy of some details in Dr. Carson’s biography, etc.  I rather wonder if these efforts, especially since they did not wind up demonstrating any clear falsehoods on his part, actually had the effect of helping Dr. Carson.  Many people felt that he was being unfairly criticized or targeted and therefore rallied to defend him, but, beyond that, time spent researching incidents from Carson’s youth is time not spent examining statements he’s made or positions he’s taken on current issues (such as strategies for combating ISIS or dealing with illegal immigration) that might not inspire confidence in voters.  Jeb Bush’s performance in Milwaukee was much better than at the previous debate, but he still seemed a little hesitant.  He should be more forceful, but not by trying to attack his opponents, which I think has only hurt him in the past.  Rather, while Governor Bush’s position on the issue will not help him with many Republican voters, I thought that his strongest presentation might actually have been on the immigration issue.  He unapologetically stated what he felt, and I think that is the direction he needs to move in general in sharing his views on various issues.   Senators Ted Cruz and Marco Rubio once again were solid performers, although I did think that they both had some more shaky moments than in the earlier debates.  For example, Sen. Rubio misspoke about the primary importance of the role of parent  (not President) in defending his proposed child tax credit expansion, and Sen. Cruz hesitated while listing the five government agencies he would propose eliminating, and then mentioned the same one twice.  Still, both of these men have demonstrated considerable preparation and knowledge in all of the debates, and they deserve to be serious contenders for the nomination.

I am a little concerned about the way individual past votes or comments of candidates (especially those currently serving in the Senate) have recently been brought up, possibly out of context, to suggest that they are weak on national security, illegal immigration, refugee policy, etc., and I hope that the candidates themselves, as well as others, will be careful about the way they use and discuss these details.  While we should certainly examine the records and statements of those running for the presidential nomination, we should not be too quick to label or categorize someone as wrong or unacceptable based on one or two comments or votes with which we might disagree.  Otherwise, because no one is perfect, we’ll likely wind up in a situation where we’ve eliminated everyone as unworthy of our support.  We need to look at the candidates’ histories, characters, and current proposals as a whole in determining which person would be the best choice.

In the time since the debate, the terrorist attacks in Paris and elsewhere have understandably drawn more attention to candidates’ views and experiences related to issues of national security, fighting terrorism, etc.  So far, it does not seem that the shift in focus has caused significant changes in the polling rankings of various candidates, but I certainly hope that voters will think very seriously about all of these grave matters before selecting a nominee, and eventually a President, to be entrusted with the enormous responsibilities of the office.

Thursday, November 5, 2015

CNBC's October Republican Debate

Much has already been said about the Republican debate held in Colorado last week.  Probably the most prominent characteristic of this event being discussed has been the questionable handling of the proceedings by the moderators.  They were, especially in the prime-time portion of the evening, over the top in asking hostile questions, phrasing queries in ways most likely to cast a negative light on the candidates, and treating those on the stage rather rudely.  Still, the debate was another opportunity to see and hear for a couple of hours from those running for the Republican presidential nomination, and I think that it’s worth taking time to note some impressions about the candidates in addition to directing deserved criticism at the team from CNBC.

Donald Trump

As others have noted, he was somewhat toned down last Wednesday.  The insulting of other candidates and making of faces was reduced, but he did go after John Kasich quite a bit at the beginning of the debate and more than once mentioned that he wasn’t going to criticize other people on the stage about something, even though he certainly could.  Perhaps he figured that he could take a break from spreading negativity about his opponents that evening since the moderators were already taking on that task.

I still find the topic of the bankruptcies of Trump’s companies to be a glaring fault that should be a problematic issue for voters, but many others must not see it that way.

In response to a question related to immigration, Trump claimed he had not said what the moderator attributed to him regarding Marco Rubio and Mark Zuckerberg. By the time the moderator was able to find her source and point out that the statement was on Trump’s website, people may have dismissed this as another falsehood or mistaken point from the moderators.  Trump’s comments about increasing visas for tech workers and allowing more international students to stay after they graduate from American colleges might not be appreciated by some of the people whose support for him centers on the immigration issue.  While inviting more legal immigration doesn’t offend the rule of law the way amnesty-type policies for those who come (or stay) illegally do, there are still concerns about the effects increased levels of immigration may have on jobs and wages for Americans and current legal residents, on costs for government services such as education and health care, on the assimilation of newcomers into American culture, and so on.  I understand that Mr. Trump (once again) completely changed his tune in appearances the next day, presumably after realizing (or being told) that his statements in the debate could be problematic among his supporters.  Will this latest flip-flop and/or the notion that Mr. Trump was not even familiar with the opinions and positions attributed to him on his own website cause anyone to re-think their support of his candidacy?  Who knows?  But, many other inconsistencies and controversies haven’t seemed to dissuade his fans up to this point.

Ben Carson

Dr. Carson continues to seem like a nice man with good intentions, but I’m not sure that he gave us much information or clarification about the policies he would favor.  Over the last several weeks, Dr. Carson has been subjected to a lot of overblown criticism in the media, etc. about various comments he’s made, which seems to have actually caused him to gain support from many people who want to combat political correctness and the “outrage” it can generate.  I do think, though, that we need to be careful not to just regard every question or challenge (for example, about the amounts of revenue to be expected under his tax proposal) posed to Dr. Carson as an unfair “gotcha” question that doesn’t merit a thorough answer.

Carly Fiorina

Mrs. Fiorina once again had a pretty good debate, but, to me, she didn’t seem to stand out as much this time,  maybe because we’d already heard some of the things she was saying or perhaps because more of the other candidates were able to take the opportunity to present themselves well, too.  I’m not sure how those of us who are not experts on the world of technology business can really evaluate how good a job Mrs. Fiorina did as a CEO, but, since this part of her background is important in judging her qualifications to be the country’s Chief Executive, it is an issue worth our attention.

Jeb Bush

Unfortunately, this was not a good night for Governor Bush at all.  He still seemed to have trouble presenting his points clearly and assuredly, and actually probably took a couple of steps backward in this regard from the previous debate. Of course, I’m sure it doesn’t help a person’s confidence to start the evening answering questions about your greatest weakness and your dropping poll numbers.  Cutting into the conversation to add to the Senate attendance-related criticism the moderator had already raised with Marco Rubio was a painfully poor choice for Gov. Bush.  He needs to turn things around in a major way, and I can only hope we’ll be able to see a much improved performance at the next debate.

Marco Rubio

I thought that Senator Rubio had another successful night in Colorado.  He communicated well and also managed to keep his cool even when facing hostile questions and criticisms.  His characterization of the mainstream media as a Super PAC for Democrats was memorable and should be popular with many Republican voters.

Ted Cruz

Obviously, Ted Cruz’ rebuke of the moderators for the antagonistic nature of their questions was one of the most notable exchanges of the night and will resonate with many people who do not like the way Republicans and conservatives tend to be treated by the media.  Beyond that, though, the debate was a very good one for Senator Cruz.  He has demonstrated before that he is knowledgeable and well-spoken, but this time he also seemed to come across as more “relatable” and better connected with the audience than before, which should be a big plus for him going forward.

Rounding out the field

Mike Huckabee and Chris Christie each had a few good lines and moments.  John Kasich seemed to get quite a bit of time to speak, but he also seems to often be on a different page from most of the others and from what I’d think most Republican primary voters are seeking.  It appeared that Rand Paul didn’t get that many chances to talk, but he may also have been the rare person on stage who was asked some more straightforward questions about policies.  As for the four candidates in the earlier pre-prime-time debate, while I agree much more with a couple of them than the others, I think that they all did a credible job of articulating their views and really should have a full chance to make their cases to the public along with the rest of those running for the nomination.  I’m not sure what debate arrangements would have been the most fair with the very large field this campaign cycle, but the two-tiered setup we’ve seen so far doesn’t seem ideal.


Some candidates definitely have much more reason than others to be pleased with their individual performances last Wednesday, but, in general, despite the way the debate was handled by CNBC, the GOP field may benefit from what happened at the event.  Besides managing to get at least a little substantive discussion of things like entitlement programs and tax reform onto the airwaves, the candidates pushed back against the negativity of the media (as represented by the moderators) and rallied support from a sympathetic audience, both in the venue and watching at home.  It will be interesting to see how things go for the group when they gather for debate number four in Milwaukee next week, so we will all have to stay tuned.