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.