Spotted lily

Spotted lily

Sunday, December 20, 2015

The CNN Las Vegas Debate

This past week, the Republican presidential candidates participated in yet another debate, this one focussed on issues of foreign policy and national security.  There was rather a lot of substantive discussion, which is a good thing, and several of the candidates performed well.  At this time, I’d like to mention just a few observations related to the CNN debate in Las Vegas.

Regarding the format, I think that debates devoted to one broad category of issues, like national security or the economy, allow for some more detailed examination of important subjects.  However, some potential voters will not watch all of the debates, and, for those perhaps only tuning in to one event as the actual voting draws near, it might be beneficial to have a forum in which the candidates discuss a wide range of topics to give the public a better idea of their overall positions and philosophies.

Jeb Bush has had a tough time so far in this campaign, so I was glad that he had a good night in Las Vegas.  He was solid during the actual debate and also got in a couple of effective one-liners directed against Donald Trump.  I especially liked his quip that he wasn’t sure if Trump was getting his information from TV shows on Sunday morning or Saturday morning.  (Come to think of it, having Yosemite Sam and Foghorn Leghorn as policy advisors might explain a lot...)  When asked about others’ proposals or statements with which he disagreed, I thought that Governor Bush managed to present himself as a reasonable alternative without seeming apologetic or lacking in strength, and also to articulate his own ideas for the issues under discussion. Unfortunately, he did stumble a bit during both his opening and closing statements.  Maybe he let the pressure of the big moments he’d prepared for get to him.  In any case, while I don’t know if Jeb Bush still has a real chance in the race, at least I think he can feel good about his most recent debate performance as a whole.

Chris Christie does seem like someone who could plausibly be seen as a Commander in Chief, but I’m not sure that he’ll have that much opportunity for success in this year’s large field of good candidates.  During the debates, I don’t think that Governor Christie should be so dismissive of policy discussions among other candidates.  Many of these issues and details are important, and the particulars of the laws enacted by Congress do have a large effect in determining what prosecutors and governors like Christie are able to do when, for example, surveilling or investigating suspected terrorists.  On a more positive note, I will also say that, especially for someone known as rather a blunt-talking “tough guy,” Governor Christie showed himself capable of considerable restraint.  Standing right next to Christie, Rand Paul accused him of being likely to start World War III and then threw in a gratuitous reference to the New Jersey bridge scandal, but Christie stayed calm, basically ignored Paul’s comments, and just continued making the points he wanted to convey.

It almost seemed as if Marco Rubio had a big target on his back during much of the evening.  The moderators often set up direct, conflicting exchanges between him and Ted Cruz, and Rand Paul joined in with criticism of Rubio on multiple occasions.  Overall, I thought that Senator Rubio held his own and kept his cool under pressure, but some of what was said about him, along with renewed attention on his immigration views, could potentially hurt him in the race.  Still, throughout the debate, I think that Rubio once again did a good job of sounding prepared and knowledgeable and making a case for his positions and past votes, and I continue to think that he would be a very strong nominee.

Ted Cruz could also be a good nominee and conservative spokesperson, and it seems that things have been going his way lately, with polls showing him leading in Iowa.  He always has pretty good performances in the debates, and I’d expect those most inclined to support him liked much of what he had to say on Tuesday.  In the debate exchanges with Senator Rubio, particularly on the immigration issue, I think that Senator Cruz may have come out with somewhat of an advantage, especially because Rubio was put on the defensive, fending off criticism, much of the time.  However, I do think that Senator Cruz may have come across as less than clear or even as evasive on a few occasions, including when discussing his stance (past and present) on legalization of immigrants and when asked why he wouldn’t publicly say the same things about Donald Trump’s candidacy that he’d said at a private fundraiser, and that’s not an impression likely to be helpful to him.

I’m not sure how much point there is discussing anything in particular Donald Trump says in a debate.  In this case, he still often sounded very vague and sometimes, as when asked about the nuclear triad, didn’t seem to have any idea what the question meant.  In addition, he expressed ideas of questionable practicality and constitutionality (such as shutting down parts of the Internet to deter terrorist recruiting), falsely denied statements he’d previously made, and demonstrated (again) that the sincerity of the things he says is frequently in doubt by complimenting and praising opponents (Ben Carson and Ted Cruz) he’d harshly criticized and insulted as recently as two days earlier.  Yet, most of the other candidates didn’t seem willing to express criticism of Trump at the debate, and the usual rules of politics don’t seem to apply to him.  So, people will give Mr. Trump credit if one or two of his answers are more coherent than usual, and his supporters will presumably continue to keep him at the top of the polls, as they have since he first entered the race.

As I’ve stated before, I really can’t comprehend the way the public is viewing this primary campaign, but based on the way things have been going, I’d guess that this debate won’t really have much of an effect on the standing of the national frontrunner or of any of the candidates who’ve been polling in the single digits.  I am concerned, however, about the impact recent developments, including this debate and its aftermath, might have on Senators Rubio and Cruz.   Maybe things will remain basically unchanged in the race, or perhaps one or the other will benefit, but I do worry that the conflicts between them could wind up damaging both candidates.  I hope that this is not the case, as both men are capable and qualified contenders for the Republican nomination -- and, if they should fall out of favor, I’m afraid that victory for someone extremely unsuitable would become even more likely than it already seems.

Sunday, December 13, 2015

Donald Trump: More of the Same

After writing at great length in my last post about some of my many issues with the continuing success of Donald Trump’s presidential campaign, I had hoped to be able to concentrate on some other topics for a while.  However, since Trump-centric discussions have been pretty much everywhere during the past week, I guess I might as well talk about him some more, as well -- though, hopefully in a shorter burst this time.

I’m not going to spend a lot of time on the controversy of the week -- Mr. Trump’s suggestion that no foreign Muslims should be allowed into the U.S. until the government “figures out what’s going on.”  If that means until our leaders and bureaucratic agencies accomplish the daunting task of developing an extremely accurate way to determine which prospective immigrants or visitors could possibly commit or support terrorist activities at some point in the future, the temporary ban might last quite a long time indeed.  I will say that I do not think that the proposal would be unconstitutional, because our Constitution doesn’t grant rights, such as freedom of religion, to everyone in the world.  (It could be dangerous, though, to give the Supreme Court a chance to weigh in on something like this and risk having them fabricate an inventive ruling that applicants for admission to the U.S. may not be disqualified for things that would be considered protected speech, exercise of religion, etc. for American citizens.)  I also think that, if a temporary moratorium on entrances to the country were to be adopted, it might be less problematic to make it universal rather than limited to one religious group.  After all, Trump’s suggestion that people would simply be asked their religion at, for example, an airport, doesn’t seem to be a particularly accurate way to verify such information.  In any case, even though these types of policies may be legally permissible, that does not mean that they would necessarily be wise or that they would not create or exacerbate as many problems as they solved, and their consideration should not be taken lightly.  I also agree with those who have said that Trump’s announcement this week of his proposal regarding Muslims entering the country was likely prompted by recent poll results suggesting a lessening of his lead, especially in Iowa, where one poll showed Ted Cruz was now ahead.  Based on the pattern of the last several months, it wouldn’t be surprising if Mr. Trump figured that the best way to divert attention from that development and refocus it on himself was to say something controversial, and it worked.  Odd as it may sound, this seems to just be business as usual for the Donald Trump campaign.

I’ve said (repeatedly) before that I’ve found it stunning that any sizable group of people would consider someone like Donald Trump their top choice to be President of the United States.  From a certain perspective, though, I suppose that I should not be surprised at all, as Trump’s popularity fits in with the trends seen in the last couple of presidential elections.

Barack Obama was able to win twice despite lacking prior experiences showing particular qualifications to be president and even though some of his main positions and proposals (such as “Obamacare”) were opposed by a majority of the people.  Many of his supporters were devoted to him, and policy details or any critical information about Obama were not important.  This has been called a “cult of personality,” and that seems to be a fitting description -- just remember the accounts of the enthralled crowds at Obama’s campaign events in 2008, complete with people fainting when overcome by the awesome experience of being in his presence.  Obama encouraged people to view him in this way when he spoke of the amazing changes that would happen if he would be elected -- why, the entire planet would be healed as the sea levels would fall if he were victorious.  In both of Obama’s elections, people disregarded potentially damaging facts about him, including, in 2008, his past associations with people like Bill Ayres and Jeremiah Wright and, in 2012, the events and lies surrounding the Benghazi attack.  None of this mattered to many voters -- Obama was their guy.

Similarly, Donald Trump’s supporters this year are unmoved by any arguments against him.  Even if they describe themselves as Republicans and often as conservatives, they are not dissuaded by his past (or present) support for liberal positions, his lack of experience with foreign policy and other presidential matters, or his vague and shifting views during this campaign.  Any rude or insulting comments he directs at reporters,  a captured POW, an entire state of voters, or his opponents are acceptable, because he’s standing up to the oppressive political correctness problem in the country, even if he’s reiterating and amplifying the very attacks (as in the case of Ben Carson) these same people criticize the media for using.  I’d imagine that having a pre-established fan base from his television show, along with general celebrity name recognition, didn’t hurt Mr. Trump in establishing his campaign.  Now, it seems that most of his backers will stick with him no matter what he says or does, and whichever position he takes on a given issue is fine with them.  As for Donald Trump himself, he certainly does not downplay his own importance.  He says that media members tell him he is the best interview and that even his opponents compliment him on his winning debate performances.  If he is elected, he will “make America great again” and negotiate tremendous deals with other countries.  It isn’t necessary for him to provide a lot of specifics regarding any of his plans, because he has assured us that he will bring in fantastic people to handle every issue.

While in office, Barack Obama has continually claimed more power for himself.  He has issued a great many executive orders, even in cases where he had previously admitted that he didn’t have the authority to do so.  This week, Donald Trump said that, if he were president, he would sign an executive order mandating the death penalty for anyone convicted of killing a police officer.  Now, I’m certainly unhappy with all of the police-bashing that’s been going on the last couple of years, and support for law enforcement from the Oval Office would be a welcome change, but this suggestion might be rather too broad.  Whatever the merits of the idea, I can’t see how Mr. Trump’s proposed executive order would possibly be within the president’s authority, as it would seem to be usurping the powers of local, state, and federal legislatures and courts.  Republicans and conservatives have often criticized Obama’s power grabs and unlawful executive orders -- are many of them now OK with the idea of a mega-powerful chief executive circumventing the separation of powers established by the Constitution as long as the one in charge is (at least momentarily) affiliated with their party?

So, on one hand, Republicans nominating a quite liberal, deliberately abrasive reality-show celebrity (yes, and businessman) with no government experience as their presidential candidate would be a rather novel development.  But, on the other hand, a victory for Donald Trump would just show once again that the American people have developed a preference for presidents who, to put it nicely, have very high self-esteem and are willing to assert (or exceed) their authority to accomplish their goals.  We’ve already had two terms of a, as Bobby Jindal might put it, narcissistic egomaniac in the White House with Barack Obama.  The election of Donald Trump would only give us a third, and that type of continuity hardly seems desirable.

Wednesday, December 2, 2015

What's Trumping logic?

My consternation at Donald Trump’s success upon entering the Republican primary race actually drove me to start writing here this summer, but, while he has continued to hold a lead in the polls for the last several months, I have tried to remain (relatively) calm and refrain from addressing the topic at length again. After some of the things I’ve heard and read lately, however, I can no longer help myself.  So, here I am, once again trying to make some sense of the incomprehensible.  It’s difficult to know how to approach a phenomenon that seems almost unbelievable, but I’ll begin by mentioning and responding to some of the recent comments and news items that have prompted this post.

I’m usually at work during Rush Limbaugh’s radio program, but on the Friday before Thanksgiving I happened to find myself in a car with someone who was listening to his show.  Rush was defending Donald Trump against stories in the media suggesting he might be interested in having a database to register Muslims in the U.S.  While discussing Mr. Trump, Rush said that the media has not been able to destroy Trump because it didn’t create him.  A couple of days later, I saw Rush on Fox News Sunday saying that Donald Trump is providing a great service by showing Republicans that they do not have to be afraid of the media or of being politically incorrect.
  • First of all, I really would not be at all sure that “the media” is trying to “take out” or ruin Donald Trump at this point.  They get good TV ratings or more hits on their websites, etc. when they cover him, so why would they want that to stop any time soon?  Also, I’d guess that they probably still do not view Mr. Trump as one of the Republicans most likely to do well in the general election.  So, from a partisan standpoint, I wouldn’t expect the media to try to harm him during the primary season -- why make it more likely for Hillary Clinton to face someone they see as a stronger opponent?  Once the Republican nominee is officially selected, there will be plenty of time for attempted media sabotage of whomever is chosen.
  • Also, while there may be occasions like this one, where reporters or others ask Trump questions that have a good chance of eliciting controversial answers from him, most of the time this is quite unnecessary, as Mr. Trump seems delighted to make blunt or even outrageous statements of his own accord.
  •  Finally, I cannot see that Donald Trump’s ability to succeed to this point despite a plethora of media coverage of his “politically incorrect” campaign would be generally applicable to other Republican candidates.  I find it hard to believe that most candidates would retain their support if the news was filled with reports about them continually making rude and insulting comments about practically everyone, constantly changing their positions on issues, and making or supporting proposals that might alienate large portions of the public.  This type of “Teflon” resilience is possible, for Trump or any other politician, only if his or her supporters are willing to provide it.  Trump’s segment of the Republican electorate certainly seems willing to stick with him no matter what he says or does or what is said about him, which, in his case, I do not thing is a good thing.  If Republican voters in general and conservative media figures would be willing to extend that sort of unshakable loyalty to any (or even most) Republican candidates, it would certainly be a new development, because in the past there has been what I would consider an often unfortunate tendency to abandon Republicans facing criticism or even to join in with it, even when the people in question are much more deserving of defense.
On the radio program mentioned above, Rush also talked to a young Trump supporter who stated that he and other people he knows just laugh at things in the media about Trump.  This caller said that he doesn’t want a “scripted president” but instead wants  someone who “speaks for him.”  All of this support for Trump on a conservative talk show was too much for me to deal with, and I couldn’t contain my exasperation, at which point I was asked by my fellow auto occupant (and family member) if I thought Hillary Clinton or Barack Obama were better than Trump.  Sigh...   Jumping ahead a bit, a week later, Mark Steyn was filling in for Rush Limbaugh and took a call from someone critical of the desire of the (so-called) “establishment” to take down the frontrunner in the race.  He asked, “Don’t they want to win?”
  • In reference to Rush’s caller, once again, I think it would be wiser for potential voters not to simply discount stories about candidates without any attention or thought.  Beyond that, though, I find it troubling that people would want to claim that Donald Trump is “speaking for” them.  If we’re seeking a spokesperson, wouldn’t it be better to look for one who is at least moderately civil, consistent, coherent when discussing issues, and, hopefully, conservative?
  • To respond to the question from my dear relative (and I will mention that she actually prefers a candidate other than Trump,) I think it is the wrong thing to ask, especially now, and it is certainly not a sufficient argument for having Donald Trump as the Republican frontrunner.  Barack Obama is rather irrelevant to the discussion, since he is not, thankfully, running for reelection again.  (Unless, of course, he decides to pen another really creative executive action eliminating presidential term limits and then phone all of the media outlets to tell them about it.  But, I digress...)  As for a comparison of the relative merits of Trump and Hillary Clinton, I honestly cannot say that I am confident Trump would be preferable.  Not that long ago, he praised and supported Hillary, and he changes his stated opinions on many things very frequently.  How, then, can we think we have any real idea what actions he would take or goals he would pursue were he elected President?  I will confess that I see Mr. Trump as really being much more of a liberal Democrat than a conservative Republican at heart, so, in a contest with Mrs. Clinton, there would basically be a draw in my mind.  That being said, even if we were to stipulate that Trump would at least be better than Clinton, this is not the time to raise such a point.  If he does eventually win the nomination (insert involuntary shudders here,) it would make sense for those advocating his election to use this reasoning in attempting to persuade other voters to support him.  For now, though, we still have 14 candidates in a primary race for which the actual voting has not yet even begun.  Rather than settling for someone who meets a bare minimum standard of being a bit better than the Democrats, shouldn’t we be trying to select the strongest candidates who are likely to do the best job as President and who might actually try to govern according to some basic conservative principles?
  • Finally, a couple of points in answer to Mark Steyn’s caller regarding “winning.”  First, I think that it is still difficult for many of us to accept the idea that large numbers of people could find Donald Trump to be a valid option for President of the United States, so we do not just assume that the nation as a whole would be willing to elect him even if enough Republicans vote to give him the nomination.  The American electorate obviously has been known to make very unwise choices before, having, for example, recently elected Barack Obama twice.  So, they may well go along with the idea of a brash reality show in the White House, but there is also a chance that they may take a more traditional, staid approach when deciding whom to consider “presidential.”  Secondly, are we to consider it a “win” as long as someone with an “R” next to his or her name on the ballot is elected, no matter what his or her philosophy, policies, or actions may be?  I think that we should aim higher than that and seek to nominate someone who will at least try to move the political conversation and policy goals of our country in the right (and Right) direction, and, I’m sorry, but I don’t believe Mr. Trump is the man to do that.
To top all of this off, a little over a week ago, I read the news that, even after Donald Trump had given an even more bizarre performance than usual at one of his appearances and after voters were expected (by some) to “get serious” as they focus more on things like security in the wake of the recent terrorist attacks, Trump’s lead in the latest polls had actually increased, and Republicans in a survey were saying that they trusted him the most to deal with almost all of the issues listed.  More recently, I did see an item this past weekend claiming that Trump had dropped sharply in a poll, but it stated that he’d been at a high of 43% a week before.  (I had never before seen news that Trump had gained that much support, which is a good thing, because if I had, I might well have gone into complete shock.  If there really was such a poll result earlier this month, I would think it must have been an anomaly.)  This item said Trump was now down to 31%, which is about the figure I’d read when his numbers recently went up, so, the way I see it, Trump was still enjoying what I’d consider remarkably positive results.  It may well be that I’m the one who has lost touch with reality, but I just can’t help feeling that a large portion of the electorate has gone completely mad!
  • In general, it seems rather odd for the public to put its trust in someone with no real relevant experience or qualifications who mainly just expresses multiple vague and ever-changing opinions about foreign policy and other issues, but this seems especially reckless regarding matters of national security.  Why would voters choose to rely on a person who thinks he can wait to become knowledgeable and prepared about these issues until it’s time to take office; who has criticized other candidates for making harsh characterizations of Vladimir Putin, with whom he thinks he can have good discussions; suggested that we should just let Russia deal with ISIS in Syria; and so on?  Because they see him as the “tough guy?”  I think that’s a flawed perception of him, but, in any case, I don’t think the terrorists are going to abandon their goals and plans and slink away because someone casts particularly creative or withering insults in their direction.
  • In addition, I find it quite troublesome that even reports about Donald Trump’s lengthy “speech” in Iowa a couple of weeks ago apparently do not give his supporters pause.  If he can go on a rather unhinged tirade against other candidates (including Ben Carson and Marco Rubio) and even call the voters of Iowa stupid for the egregious error of failing to always keep him, the Great & Powerful Trump, on top in their polls, and this results in a greater number of people thinking he is the man they want to make the leader of the free world, what does that say about the qualities the American people (or at least Republican primary voters) want in a president?  And, from a practical standpoint, this begs the question:  is there anything Donald Trump could possibly do or say that might cause fans to rethink their support?  I’m afraid that the answer may be no, and that is a very disheartening thought.
I was definitely initially stunned by Trump’s popularity in the Republican presidential primary contest, but, once it was established, I have not been among those who were confident it would fade.  I have certainly hoped fervently that this might happen, but, until there is actual evidence that people are regaining their senses, I see no reason to assume the public will suddenly make a more reasonable choice.  There is still some time left before the actual primaries and caucuses begin, though, so maybe, just maybe, the political landscape of the campaign can yet change and allow a superior candidate to prevail in the end.  We’ll just have to wait and see -- and, in my case, possibly write some more on related topics in an attempt to cope with politics-induced distress.