Spotted lily

Spotted lily

Monday, February 29, 2016

Desperate Times, Desperate Measures

Well, in the last week or so, there have definitely been quite a few noteworthy developments in the Republican presidential primary race.  These recent events have led me to a couple of conclusions, one definite and the other hopefully premature.  First, I can at least say that the apprehension I’ve felt about the contest for many months was not unwarranted.  That’s small consolation, though, because, if I were a stock character in a comic strip or cartoon right  now, I’d be the person walking around with a sign proclaiming that “The End is Near!”  Things do not look at all good for those of us horrified by the prospect of Donald Trump as the Republican nominee, and I’m almost to the point of resigned despair.  Even though only four states have voted so far, it seems that a result other than a Trump victory will require a near-miraculous turnaround -- picture, for example, your favorite baseball team being down 15-0 after the first few innings while facing an opponent with a pitching staff on a winning streak and an approaching rainstorm that threatens to cut the game short.  While it’s possible your team could pull out an improbable win as long as the game continues, it’s certainly not something you can expect is likely to happen.

Why has my pessimism increased so much as February has gone on?  Donald Trump, who, to my mind, no sensible person would consider a suitable president for one second, has now won three primary/caucus elections in a row, all by very large margins.  According to polls, he did very well in those states among many different subsets of the electorate, including people describing themselves as evangelical or even as “very conservative”.  Now, in some of those cases, if the voters are not playing games with the data collectors to make their guy look even more widely appealing than he (bizarrely) is, I think they are rather confused in their self-perceptions -- there is nothing “very conservative” about Mr. Trump.  In Nevada, Trump’s percentage of the vote was up to 46%, which was not only more than his two closest competitors (Senators Rubio and Cruz) received together, but was also getting perilously close to the 50% mark.  I understand that Nevada has a rather chaotic and unusual caucus process and does seem like a state particularly suited to support a TV-star/casino businessman with a rather glitzy persona, but these numbers are still very troubling.

How long will we be able to even cling for minimal comfort to the notion that a majority of the primary voters want someone other than Trump, so that, in theory at least, another candidate could win if this majority were to consolidate its support behind one non-Trump choice?  Donald Trump has been leading in the polls in many of the upcoming states already, and it seems that candidates who win early primaries usually gain even more support in later contests, as voters may be influenced to prefer the frontrunner by the positive coverage of him winning and giving victory speeches, may want to get on the bandwagon of the likely winner, or may think it’s in the best interest of their party for the general election if the eventual nominee has early and convincing support in the primaries.  It is also not necessarily the case that everyone who prefers another candidate now is also actually against Trump.  Some may have him as a second choice or be just fine with him being the nominee, so he would most likely gain some of the votes if the field should narrow at some point.  Add to these factors the apparently immovable support many of Trump’s fans have for him, as they are not deterred from championing him no matter what he says or does, and the unfortunate tendency the other candidates have had to largely avoid confronting or criticizing Trump while beating up on each other regularly, and it has seemed difficult to feel very confident that things in the race will change dramatically enough for a candidate other than Trump to have much of a realistic chance to win the nomination.

None of this means that I think anyone should give up the effort to secure a real conservative, or at least authentically Republican, nominee.  To the contrary, I hope that everyone who thinks this is important will do whatever they can to make it happen until the nomination is officially decided.

So, when I watched Thursday night’s debate in Texas, I was pleasantly  surprised to see Marco Rubio and Ted Cruz make a concerted effort to challenge Donald Trump.  Cruz stepped up the criticisms he’s been making the last few weeks, pointing out that Trump is hardly the best candidate for Republicans to send up against Hillary Clinton in the fall, since he has shared many of the same liberal positions and even donated to the Clinton Foundation.  Rubio, who hadn’t really taken Trump on very much before, went after him on a multitude of topics, pointing out that, while a major theme of Trump’s campaign has been toughness on immigration and bringing back American jobs, Trump had hired illegal workers to build his Trump Tower in the past and now brings in foreign workers on visas for his resort in Florida instead of hiring Americans.  He also brought up the complaints and lawsuits against Trump University and the bankruptcies Trump’s companies have been through.  On health care, Rubio kept pressing Trump to explain his plan, which not only demonstrated that Trump really doesn’t have one other than removing “lines around the states” to promote competition, but also allowed Rubio to zing Trump for repeating himself over and over again, something that hurt Rubio in New Hampshire and that Trump was still using against him.  On issue after issue, from Trump’s statement that he’d be “neutral” in the Israel/Palestinian conflict to his praise for the work of Planned Parenthood, Trump faced criticism from both sides, and at one point he even complained that the moderators were asking him too many questions, quite the opposite of most candidates who practically beg for more time to speak.  As an added bonus for me, the amount of attention Senators Rubio and Cruz gave to taking on Donald Trump also meant that they took somewhat of a break from their recent battles with each other, with only a couple of remarks pointing out conflicts between them.

The attempt to catch up to Trump did not end with the conclusion of the debate, either.  Since then, Cruz has kept making his points about the need for a conservative nominee to contrast with the Democrats and about Trump’s weak position in general election polling so far, and Rubio has cranked up his assault on Trump, not only attacking his record on illegal immigrants, bankruptcy, etc. and calling him a “con man” who isn’t really the person he’s presented to voters, but also sort of taking a page from Trump’s book to make fun of him for his Twitter misspellings, rattled behavior backstage at the debate, and pretty much anything else available.

As someone who has been passionately anti-Trump from the beginning, I am glad that his opponents aren’t going to just quietly give up and concede the nomination to him at this point and have instead stepped up their efforts against him and even tried some dramatically new tactics.  I do, of course, have to wonder with exasperation why everyone didn’t make some of these obvious points (Trump is a liberal with a spotty record even on things like business and immigration that are supposed to be his strengths) months and months ago, and why they didn't feel it was imperative until recently to make the case that he should not be the conservative Republican standard-bearer.  But it’s better now than never, so I can only hope that it’s not too late to stop Trump’s momentum and prevent him from winning the nomination.  I’m not getting my hopes up, though, and I do have a couple of new thoughts and concerns related to the events of the last few days.

Even though it seemed pretty clear to me that Donald Trump had a tough night in the last debate, who knows how it will be perceived by his supporters and the general public.  Trump did get in a couple of good lines and later claimed that polls showed him winning the debate.  (I don’t know if he made that up completely or if these polls were conducted at Trump campaign headquarters...)  As we’ve seen before, Trump’s fans are usually not swayed by anything said against or by him.  Some people may be hoping that making him appear as less of the dominant strong “alpha male” on the stage might start to weaken the devotion of his voters, but they may just dig in even more firmly when they see their guy under attack.  As for other viewers who may still be undecided or even newly tuning in to the campaign, will all of the criticism aimed at Trump have registered and made them unlikely to support him, or could it be possible that they might either have tuned out the unruly portions of the debate or have actually felt some sympathy for the candidate facing so much fire?  If I had to speculate, I would say that I wouldn’t count on the new flood of criticism aimed at Trump pulling more than a few casual supporters away from him, but I’d think we could hope a number of late-deciding voters in upcoming states who might otherwise have chosen to go with Trump will have reason to make a different selection instead.

Based on what happened at the debate, I’d offer a couple of suggestions to Donald Trump’s opponents for future events.  While it’s good that that they didn’t let his responses or interruptions distract them from making their intended points against him, I think they shouldn’t have allowed some of the things he said to go unanswered.  They could have briefly addressed these things and then continued with the case they intended to make.  For instance, Trump said multiple times that the other men on the stage had never hired anyone.  Surely this isn’t true, since they have obviously at least hired staff for their various campaigns.  Also, Trump claimed that Ted Cruz should apologize for criticizing Trump’s sister’s judicial rulings and suggested that Samuel Alito had agreed with her about one of the cases in question (by “signing the same bill!”)  I really wish Cruz would have begun his answer by, first, pointing out that judges don’t sign bills, but also briefly explaining why Trump’s sister’s opinion was objectionable and why Alito’s was not the same.  Also, while I’ve read some commentary from people who felt Wolf Blitzer cut the confrontational debate exchanges too short and thereby helped bail Trump out, I disagree.  Once there have been a couple of back and forth statements and rebuttals, it’s really best to move on to the next question.  Continued, often repetitive, arguing about the same point is not pretty or likely to influence viewers in a good way, I think, and the other participants on the stage do deserve some time to speak, as well.  Plus, it’s nice to have some substance in these debates, and it would be nice to have as much time to actually discuss policy and viewpoints as possible, which leads into my last related comment.  Both at the debates and in general, I’d advise those challenging Trump not to let him become their sole focus, but to also make sure they are prepared to highlight and defend their own messages every chance they get.  At one point, Senator Rubio was asked about the ongoing conflict between Apple and the FBI.  I’ve seen him discuss the issue in multiple interviews, and I thought the question that was posed to him mischaracterized what he’s said.  While the answer he gave was OK and reflected some newer developments in the case, I thought he could have done a clearer job of explaining what his position has been and is on the matter, and I wondered if perhaps he might have been so much in “anti-Trump” mode that he had a tough time switching his attention to something else.  For the campaigns as a whole going forward, it’s always important to make the case for one’s own candidacy.  Telling people why they shouldn’t vote for Donald Trump is important, but giving them reasons to vote for you is necessary, too.

As I’ve mentioned before, I am generally against inter-party negativity and attacks.  In the case of Donald Trump, however, it seems to me that someone whose views really make him more suited to being a Democrat or an Independent has chosen instead to seek the Republican nomination and has also been particularly destructive in doing so, attacking not only his opponents in this race, but also previous Republican candidates, former President George W. Bush, and positions widely held by Republicans.  For these reasons, I think that treating Trump more as one would a general-election opponent in order to prevent the defeat or destruction of the Republican Party and the conservative movement as we know them is justified.  However, that does not mean that we should completely take an “anything goes” approach in going after the frontrunner.  Attacking his record of unsound liberal positions, outrageous statements, and not always stellar business results is great, as are hammering home the points that he really doesn’t have detailed policies to offer the public or a very good understanding of many of the things he would need to deal with as president.  Anything at all relating to issues, policies, and record is fair game.  I realize that more measured criticism hasn’t worked to this point, and the use of more personal jabs and insults seems to draw greater media coverage that could help get the message out to a larger number of people, but I think considerable caution should be exercised in this regard.  After all, the unpleasant vulgar and insulting tendencies Trump has displayed throughout his campaign are part of the reason many of us consider Trump undeserving of the nomination or the presidency.  If others stoop to his level, and I’m not saying that they have gotten to that point so far, it would make it difficult to make that argument against him or to feel great about the alternative candidates.  Since Trump is the one who started taking the tone of the race in a petty and negative direction, I don’t think giving him a little of his own medicine is unfair, but I hope his opponents will be careful not to cross the line into becoming mini-Trumps themselves.

On that note, I’ll make a couple of comments specifically about Senator Rubio.  From what I’ve seen over the last few days, he’s been pretty effective at bashing Donald Trump while still seeming fairly good humored, but I’m a little worried about his new tactics anyway, for a couple of reasons.  Much of his material about Trump is amusing, and most of it is fairly harmless.  Especially since Trump likes to call people “dumb,” I don’t think it’s wrong to point out spelling mistakes in things he sends out on Twitter, and, while making fun of his tan is rather irrelevant, that itself is not a terrible thing to say.  Still, a few of the things Rubio has said at his recent rallies have made me rather uncomfortable, including an age-related remark and some comments inspired by Trump having recently said he’d like to have punched a protester in the face.  I can see criticizing Trump for having said something threatening like that, but Rubio’s comments instead seemed to mock Trump because he wouldn’t actually follow through on hitting someone.  I understand that the overall point of Rubio’s Trump monologue was to show that Trump is not really the guy he purports to be, so this was presumably intended as a way to say that Trump only talks tough, but I think it kind of implied that we should prefer it if our candidates actually did go around assaulting protesters, and I don’t think that’s good.  So, I just would advise Senator Rubio to really think about some of these things before including them in his public comments, and I do hope he’ll turn the personal insults down at least a few notches.  He may be aiming for the humor of a late-night talk show host rather than the mean-spirited bullying we’ve often seen from Donald Trump, but I think he may have started down a dangerous path.  (Please don’t give in to the Dark Side, Senator!)  Just last Thursday, one of his campaign e-mails reiterated that he wants to run a positive campaign with integrity, and I very much want to believe him, so I’d hate to see him do things he might regret in the long run or have a tough time explaining to his four lovely children.  Besides all of that, I wonder how voters will react to the “new” Marco Rubio.  The old, mainly positive and optimistic version pretty much won me over and seemed to be having some success gaining the support of late-deciding voters recently.  Will Rubio be able to add the votes of some people who appreciate the new aggressiveness he’s showing or who might otherwise have chosen Trump without sacrificing any of the support he’d have had before?  We’ll have to see, but he definitely should make sure to keep promoting his own policy ideas and good qualities in addition to pointing out the flaws and problematic positions of the candidate everyone is chasing.

Of course, I must note that Mr. Trump has not been sitting idly by the last few days.  In addition to hitting back at his opponents, he has also been collecting endorsements from prominent Republican elected officials, including the somewhat moderate New Jersey Governor and former presidential candidate Chris Christie and, depressingly, conservative Senator Jeff Sessions of Alabama.  Before Christie left the race a few weeks ago, he had less than positive things to say about a Trump nomination, so it is interesting that he made such a quick decision to jump on board with Trump.  As for Sessions, I still cannot see how anyone who really believes in conservatism can prefer to support Trump, and his decision to publicly do so must have been like a dagger to the heart of Ted Cruz, who has heaped Sessions with praise during his campaign.  (I feel for you Senator Cruz.  You deserve better.)  Why are these politicians choosing to endorse Trump now?  It’s bad enough that there’s been talk that, rather than trying to help someone else win, some Republican officials have been resigning themselves to the notion of Trump becoming the party’s nominee, but now these endorsers are actually trying to speed up the process of making that terrible outcome a reality.  Why on earth do they want to do that??  Sigh...  People really do seem to have gone crazy.

Super Tuesday is almost here, and those primaries and caucuses will tell us a lot about the future of this race.  If Donald Trump dominates in most (or even -- shudder -- all) of the states, especially if he gets fairly large percentages of the votes, it may show us that he’s probably going to continue to do so and will be extremely difficult to stop from claiming the nomination.  If his percentages seem to be a little lower than in recent polls or in the last couple of states, maybe, just maybe, the ramped up movement to stop him will have had some effect, and we can hope that a continuation of the effort can eventually wear down his support to the point where another preferable candidate can defeat him.  I’m keeping my fingers crossed for some hint of good news on Tuesday night, but I still fear the worst.

Monday, February 22, 2016

Can We Send a Peace Envoy to Senators Cruz and Rubio?

As reflected in the South Carolina Republican debate last weekend and the campaigning that has gone on since then, things have gotten very heated in the presidential primary race, with lots of harsh rhetoric being exchanged among the candidates.  I've written before that I think it is generally counterproductive for Republicans to attack each other, and, not to steal John Kasich’s thunder, I think it would be far better if they would cut this out, focus on the plans and qualities they want to promote to the voters, and save the tough criticisms for the Democrats (including the one posing as a Republican and leading the GOP field.)  More specifically, I’ve become increasingly concerned about the way the rivalry between Ted Cruz and Marco Rubio has been developing.  I’m obviously not a political advisor to these two senators, so I can’t tell them why some of the things taking place bother me so much or why I wish the growing negativity would stop, and I’ll just have to settle for expressing those thoughts here.

Let me start by saying that I think both Cruz and Rubio are strong conservative candidates, and I would expect either one to do a fine job if elected president.  They do, of course, differ on certain policy issues, as well as in their approaches to communicating with people and trying to accomplish things.  On substance, I would weigh the two pretty evenly, as I rather prefer Cruz’ position on immigration but tend to agree more with Rubio on national security and defense matters.  As for style, I appreciate Ted Cruz’ well-thought out statements and willingness to take tough stances when necessary, but Marco Rubio is also capable of making compelling arguments for his views and perhaps seeks more to also reach those not already on his (and conservatives’) side.  Over the course of this campaign, I have personally found Senator Rubio’s message and candidacy more appealing, but I definitely think that Senator Cruz is a very good choice as well.  I could enthusiastically support either should he become the nominee, and you can take all of these things into account when considering what follows.

There has certainly been no shortage of inter-party criticism throughout the campaign season, but things really seem to have escalated now that voting has actually begun.  I’d like to focus mainly on a few things that happened leading up to the South Carolina debate, during that event, and in the days since then, largely related to some of the testy exchanges that unfortunately took place between Senators Rubio and Cruz.  

Ted Cruz has for some time been hitting Rubio for his immigration record and positions, but in the days prior to the debate, he also criticized Rubio regarding social issues, suggesting that he had not been a strong enough proponent of traditional marriage and of defunding Planned Parenthood -- charges that upset Rubio and, in the latter case, prompted a statement from the National Right to Life Committee calling the claim misleading and defending Rubio’s voting record on the issue.  On stage last Saturday,Ted Cruz was asked a question regarding possible deportations during his potential administration.  Rather than answer it, he chose instead to turn the conversation once again to the unsuccessful comprehensive immigration reform bill for which Rubio had worked a few years ago, his (Cruz’) own efforts to stop that legislation, and other aspects of Rubio’s positions and history with immigration, including comments he said Rubio had made on Spanish-language television about Barack Obama’s immigration-related executive orders.

To me, with the exception of stepping in to counter some of Donald Trump’s attacks on George W. Bush, Rubio had seemed perfectly willing on Saturday to stick to his own answers without engaging in verbal combat with the others.  Naturally, though, when singled out for criticism, he responded, quipping that he didn’t know how Cruz would know what he’d said on Univision, since Cruz doesn’t speak Spanish; listing some shifts in Cruz’ own immigration statements from prior years to now; and then asserting that Cruz has been resorting to telling lies and making things up in his campaign, including about Ben Carson in Iowa and about Rubio’s record.  Oh, gosh...  My heart sinks when I hear this sort of bickering among those I see as the “good guys,” and I’ll share a few thoughts about both sides.

In a way, I think that the issues I’ve had with Ted Cruz during this race largely stem from one central disagreement, but it’s important because it involves one of the main themes of the senator’s campaign.  Cruz contends that people should back his candidacy because he is the strongest (or even the only) conservative in the race and tends to lump everyone else in as part of the “Washington cartel” that acts against the wishes of the grassroots members of the movement.  As someone who actually believes that the Republican field that began vying for this nomination contained many good, conservative candidates deserving of respect and support, Cruz’ characterization of the group did not sit well with me.  I didn’t  particularly appreciate all of his efforts to point out alleged “betrayals” of conservatism by various of his opponents, especially when, for months, he basically gave a pass to the least conservative person in the race, Donald Trump.  I’m glad that he eventually began discussing the problems with Trump’s track record and lack of conservatism, but I can’t help thinking that Cruz contributed to the viability of Trump’s campaign by seeming to ally with this “outsider” -- after all, if the very conservative Cruz thinks that Trump is “great,” he must be worthy of consideration for the Republican nomination, right?

I think that Rand Paul and Marco Rubio had a point when they said that Ted Cruz wants to inaccurately portray himself as the only conservative or the only one having a perfect record on various issues.  No candidate is perfect, so Senator Cruz shouldn’t feel he needs  to convince people that he is.  He should, however, admit it if he’s changed his mind about something and be prepared to explain why.  When discussing immigration, I think it might be wise for Senator Cruz to focus on the current positions offered by all of the candidates (which would still place him more in line with the views of pro-enforcement/anti-amnesty voters) rather than bringing up the bill before Congress back in 2013.  I understand that Senator Rubio’s role in that legislation is a fault against him for many Republicans, so extra references to it may hurt him, but some of the things Senator Cruz said at the time don’t fit with what he’s saying now, either, and I don’t think drawing attention to that benefits him.

To the broader point of identifying “true” conservatives, sometimes there may not really be a definitive conservative position on a certain issue right now.  How much information should the NSA be able to collect about people in America?  Should the need for a strong military mean that we increase defense spending dramatically even with our large debt problems?  There are legitimate differences of opinion among conservatives about some things, so any judgments about whether a candidate is or is not a conservative needs to take into account his or her entire record and views on all of the issues.  Often, though, Senator Cruz seems to equate disagreement with his position on an issue, or even a tactic, as non-conservatism or weakness.  In general, this again may not play well with voters open to multiple candidates, but it certainly seems to be an overreach in some cases.

For example, as mentioned above, Senator Cruz chose to criticize Marco Rubio over the effort to defund Planned Parenthood.  Now, just reading the headline referring to this prompted a very puzzled response from me.  Of all of the issues about which a conservative might choose to fault Senator Rubio, right to life matters seem probably the most bizarre selection.  Rubio has been quite outspoken about his pro-life convictions and considerable time had just been spent at the previous week’s debate discussing whether his views in this area are actually too extreme.  (And, I’d also note that Senator Cruz did not jump into that nationally-televised conversation to volunteer that he shared the same “extremism.”)  Still, even though Rubio has voted multiple times to defund Planned Parenthood, Cruz accused Rubio of not being willing to “stand and fight” and of not wanting to use Congressional authority to remove funding from the organization.  Apparently, Cruz’ was specifically criticizing Rubio for not being on board with Cruz’ preferred strategy (which might have led to a government shutdown over a budget fight) for achieving that aim, but it would seem people not hearing all the details might well be given the impression that Rubio did not want to stop giving taxpayer money to Planned Parenthood.  It’s not surprising that Rubio would find this particular line of attack especially objectionable, since it concerns something about which he and many other conservatives care deeply.  I may be missing something, but I can’t see how it can help anyone (other than liberals) for pro-life politicians to attack each other, especially concerning issues about which they essentially agree on the substance.

Senator Cruz often says that he will not engage in personal attacks and name calling, and I give him credit for that, especially in comparison to a certain billionaire opponent for whom insults are a leading campaign characteristic.  However, while Cruz thankfully doesn’t go around calling people ugly, stupid losers or other things unfit for repetition, I’m not so sure that calling someone only a “campaign conservative,” as a Cruz e-mail recently described Rubio, or labeling people as part of a hostile cartel in Washington isn’t name calling of a sort itself, although of a much more polite and reasonable variety.

Maybe because I have higher hopes for my preferred candidate, I was quite troubled by a couple of the things Marco Rubio said in the debate exchange with Ted Cruz.  The not speaking Spanish comment struck me as a bit of a cheap shot.  Especially because both senators, as conservatives, are sometimes accused by those on the left of not being “really Hispanic,” I’d think that Rubio would want to avoid any remarks that could be construed as playing into that narrative, even if he wasn’t deliberately making that suggestion himself.  I also found the Ben Carson Iowa reference unfortunate. Do we really know enough to just accept as fact that something deliberately wrong was done to Dr. Carson and that Ted Cruz ordered or even knew about it?

Now, I may just be too squeamish or “PC” about this next point, but I was uncomfortable with Rubio’s use of the term “lies” to characterize what Cruz has been saying about Rubio’s record and other matters. I suppose some people might say that it’s just a given that all politicians are “liars,” but it strikes me as a very serious charge for one candidate to level at another -- one that can call a person’s character and fitness for office into question and should not be made lightly.   Plus, while I certainly haven’t heard or seen everything the candidates have said about each other, for the most part, I think that Senator Cruz tends to choose his words very carefully to avoid saying things that are factually false, even if the conclusions he’s suggesting or drawing from them may be highly debatable. That’s not ideal, of course, but it does seem to be a pretty common tactic in politics (and courtrooms, presumably), and I’m not sure how many candidates completely refrain from employing it in some way.  I’m afraid it’s not unusual to mention some detail in a way that attempts to paint an opponent in the worst possible light, but sometimes I think trying too hard to do this may just distract from a basic point a politician could have made more easily.  When Senator Cruz stated in a rather ominous tone that Marco Rubio had said in a Spanish interview that he wouldn’t eliminate Obma’s executive order for deferred action on certain immigrants on his first day in office, the implication seemed to be that Rubio was trying to hide his real positions on immigration from the majority of the public by saying them in a language not everyone would understand or that he was saying one thing in English and another in Spanish, with the possible added suggestion that he wouldn’t get rid of the order at all.  Now, my memory may be failing me, but I recall seeing an interview a couple of months ago on one of the Sunday talk shows in which Senator Rubio said that Obama’s action regarding people brought to the US as children couldn’t be a permanent policy or go on indefinitely, which seemed to indicate that he would reverse the action sometime, but probably not immediately (although he said something different a couple of days ago, which is another issue.)  There was no real need to go off into a tangent about Spanish language TV, as any criticisms of Rubio’s stance could have been made just as well based on what he’d said in English, but it doesn’t seem that Cruz actually said anything untrue.

So, I would have been much more at ease if Senator Rubio would have instead said that Senator Cruz was “misrepresenting” or “distorting” his record, etc., and I hoped he’d back off of the “lying” accusation.  Alas, on Sunday, he used it again during appearances on multiple talk shows, and a few days later his campaign sent out an e-mail with the subject line:  “Ted Cruz is a liar,’ which also referenced Trump’s similar comments about Cruz.  (Later in the week, Rubio did seem more apt to use the somewhat less harsh phrase “making things up” in reference to Cruz.)  I’m sorry, but I have to say that, if anyone in this campaign clearly deserves to be called a liar, it’s Mr. Trump, who, along with fabricating countless tales about himself and others, frequently says something in an interview or a debate, even with millions of people watching, and then insists (sometimes even just the next day) that he did not.  Considering this, I certainly wouldn’t cite Trump’s opinion when questioning anyone else’s veracity, and I can’t really blame Cruz for negatively linking Rubio with Trump in regard to their criticisms of him this week.  I can fault Cruz for some other things, though -- such as not making sure his campaign doesn’t utilize photocopied pictures of Rubio with President Obama when he’s already being accused of dishonest political tactics.  Instances like that make it more reasonable for people to raise questions about a candidate’s truthfulness and tougher each time to make the case that he should be given the benefit of the doubt.  Still, I think that Rubio and others shouldn’t be too quick to assume that every allegation made against Cruz is true or to attribute any "trick" aimed at voters and candidates to him.  Anyone could post a false Facebook page, and I’d need quite a bit of solid evidence before believing anything Trump claims about robocalls or anything else, and I think that Senator Cruz may well not have deserved all of the criticism he's received in this area.

All of this being said, I completely agree with Senator Rubio when he says that he has to respond and attempt to correct the record when others say things about him that he believes are false.  I also am inclined to believe him when he says that he’d prefer to spend his time talking about his own plans and vision and to run a positive campaign.  In addition, it seems to me that Rubio’s appeal as a candidate is much stronger when he is being optimistic and forward-looking and sharing good humor, so staying away from negativity as much as possible would probably help him politically, as well.  With these things in mind, I would just suggest that he might be a bit more cautious when he does answer criticism or issue his own, lest he unduly contribute to a destructive campaign climate.

Now that Donald Trump depressingly has another big victory on his record from South Carolina, this time including winning even among Evangelical voters (about whom I can only shake my head in baffled dismay), it seems even more likely that it may be very difficult to stop him from winning the nomination. Also, with Jeb Bush making a graceful exit from the race, who will do his share of challenging Trump during the next debates?  Ted Cruz and Marco Rubio seem to be the remaining candidates who might have enough support to have some chance of overcoming Trump, but I’m afraid the chance may be slim, especially if they wind up destroying each other in an effort to become the competitor left to face Trump one on one.  Even if such a scenario were to come to pass, I don’t see it ending well, as, by the time the two-person race solidified, Trump would have collected who knows how many delegates and the “surviving” opponent would be weakened by the previous battles.  Plus, supporters of the candidate who did not last in the contest might not be particularly enthused about voting for his bitter rival in the remaining primaries.  So, with the South Carolina primary and it’s reputation for brutal campaigns behind us, is it too much to hope that perhaps we can have a less negative and more uplifting portion of the race ahead?  It would be nice if, going forward, the remaining candidates in the race would focus on sharing their ideas and positions on the issues and stressing the importance of electing a solid conservative president to lead our country.  I would also suggest a concerted effort to, truthfully and without stooping to Trump’s level of insulting discourse, point out the problems and constant changes in Donald Trump’s statements and record, especially those things that are inconsistent with the view many have of him as a “straight talker” who “can’t be bought” and will shake up the deal-making culture in Washington.  Perhaps Senator Cruz can construct a prosecutorial case against Trump’s fitness for the presidency and present it in a series of ads or in some other venue.  Can we have at least somewhat of a truce between Senators Cruz and Rubio?   Do they agree with those of us who feel it is imperative Donald Trump not be the nominee put forth to represent the Republican Party and conservatism in the general election, and are they willing to potentially put the larger good above their own individual interests and ambitions?  As someone who doesn’t think all political officeholders are hopelessly corrupt evildoers (presumably a big reason I’m not in Trump’s camp), I’m hoping (but not holding my breath) that there is a chance the answers to these questions could possibly be “yes” and that the remaining competitors for the Republican presidential nomination will endeavor to show us that they can be good candidates, good conservatives, and good people all at the same time.

Sunday, February 14, 2016

Snap out of it, Republicans!

From the beginning, following the Republican presidential primary campaign closely has been a source of great concern.  While Iowa caucus day offered a glimmer of hope that there might still be a chance a real conservative (gasp!) politician could win the nomination in the end, it’s pretty much all been downhill since that night.  I really do fear that this race, and the general election to follow, will not end well.

I realize that, on the Democrat side, Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders are saying all kinds of ridiculous leftist things, and a large portion of their voters are embracing outright socialism.  There’s plenty of room for criticism there, but I don’t really expect anything better from the liberals/Democrats, so I’m not going to spend much time worrying about them now.   On the other hand, in the past I would have thought better of Republicans and conservatives, looking to them to behave much more sensibly and responsibly, but that is clearly not happening right now.  Instead, the voters in New Hampshire turned out in large numbers to award a dominant victory to the most unqualified, uncouth, and unconservative “Republican” candidate in my memory.  Donald Trump continually lowers the levels of civility and discourse in the campaign to the point where, considering his willingness to use profanity and repeat vulgar comments about  his opponents, perhaps stations covering debates or his other appearances might want to start airing them with a 5-second delay.  Of course, when not denying having said anything wrong in the first place, Trump now says that he’ll clean up his language from now on.  We’ll have to see how long that pledge actually lasts, because he did promise on national television that he wouldn't file a lawsuit questioning Ted Cruz’ eligibility for the presidency but has since threatened on multiple occasions to do just that.

Frustratingly, despite all of Trump’s flaws and all of the reasons he should not be the Republican nominee, most of the other candidates have not directed much of their attention to making a case against him.   This has allowed him to basically coast along as the front-running center of attention, largely able to define his own image through his rallies, media coverage, tweets, and so on.  There have been some exceptions, as Jeb Bush has been a consistent Trump critic, and, after a long time treating Trump with kid gloves, Ted Cruz finally began pointing out his deficiencies in the last few weeks, although he still seemed extremely reluctant to do so on the debate stage.  Perhaps some of Trump’s opponents want to minimize potential alienation of Trump’s supporters so that those people will be more likely to still vote for them if they win the nomination.  Or maybe they are afraid that Trump’s next move to test the boundaries of his political invulnerability might involve actually trying out on one of them his theory that he could shoot someone in public without losing votes.  (I’m joking about the last reason -- mostly.)  Some analysts have written that it hasn’t yet been in the interests of most of the candidates to take on Donald Trump, suggesting that they have had more reason to concern themselves with others against whom they might be more likely to gain an advantage or that it might even help them to have Trump defeating certain of their rivals at this point.  I’m no expert in running political campaigns, so perhaps this is correct in some practical way, but I find it difficult to believe that it is a good idea for anyone aiming higher than second place not to challenge the person who’s had big leads in the polls for many months.  The voting has already started, and it seems that the leader after just a few states often becomes very difficult to overcome.  Furthermore, I suppose I’m asking too much, but I think that these people seeking to be the leader of our country should understand that it is an urgent matter more important than their own personal goals to make sure that Donald Trump is not designated the supposed representative of Republican and conservative ideas, whether he would end up running a losing general election campaign that hands control of the presidency once again to Democrats, or if he would ultimately be doing irresponsible things in the White House himself if he should actually somehow win.

It is especially exasperating that, while Mr. Trump has been spared much of the criticism he would deserve, there has been no shortage of attacks among the other Republican candidates and the groups supporting them.  I did not appreciate all of the infighting that took place in the primaries in 2012, and I was afraid going into the race this time that it was likely to happen again.  I don’t see how it can be helpful to the Republican Party or the conservative movement for a field of generally successful and respected candidates to enter the presidential race only to spend the better part of a year having their accomplishments, opinions, actions, and character minimized, called into question, or attacked by those on their own side.  Isn’t it difficult enough for Republicans to win a Presidential election without helping the opposition by damaging the image of the eventual nominee in the eyes of the public during the primaries and handing the Democrats plenty of quotes and avenues of attack to build upon in their quest to defeat the Republican candidate?  Of course the primary competitors should point out differences of opinion they have about the ways to address various issues, and sometimes (see above) an opponent will merit outright criticism.  However, we seem to have an environment where, even amongst those who basically agree on most matters, harsh criticisms are flung over things large and small in great number, often becoming exaggerated, generalized negative characterizations of the candidates.  Defeating one’s rivals is paramount, even if it involves tearing down colleagues and friends, possibly with partial or misleading references to their records.  Oddly to me, it even seems that the willingness and ability to attack your opponents vigorously and well is seen by some to be a necessary qualification for a nominee, and someone considered lacking in this area is deemed too weak to be the party’s choice.

After the New Hampshire debate, during which an extended exchange with Chris Christie was seen to have resulted in a serious mistake and political damage for Marco Rubio, I was struck again by the absurdity of some of the conduct and thinking involved in the race.  I read that Christie was very pleased by what happened in the debate, as he felt he had accomplished his goal of taking down Rubio, to whom he referred as the “anointed one,” even though Rubio had only recently been gaining some momentum for and from his strong third-place finish in Iowa.  So, we have a situation where, rather than convincing everyone of the superior merits of his own candidacy or pointing out the reasons voters should choose a Republican in November (although he may believe he also did these things,) the acknowledged main aim of one (or more) of the candidates was to basically destroy the chances of a fellow Republican contender (in particular, one seen by many to have the potential to be a successful spokesperson for many conservative ideas)?  Well, if Republicans devote much of their energy to thinking of and treating each other this way, is it any wonder they aren’t more successful in defeating Democrats?  (By the way, am I the only one to think it might  have been nice for Christie to employ at least some of his tough prosecutorial debating tactics against Trump, instead??)  Governor Christie suspended his campaign after finishing sixth in New Hampshire, but, hey, at least Rubio had a very disappointing result there, too, right?  Quite a victory -- for Donald Trump’s chances, as the number and strength of his competitors dwindles, and for the Democrats who can just sit back and watch the Republicans do their dirty work for them.

As the focus of the race turned to the next primary in South Carolina, commentators pointed out that campaigning there has usually tended to get tougher and nastier, which is a pretty scary thought considering the way things have already been going.  With that in mind, I was quite apprehensive about watching the latest debate Saturday night.  Adding to the gloom of the week was the terrible news that the great conservative Justice Antonin Scalia had died, which is very sad and also throws the balance of the Supreme Court and the likely fate of laws on many issues into question going forward.  The importance of trying to make sure a conservative president, rather than Barack Obama, Hillary Clinton, or Bernie Sanders, is the one to fill this and future potential vacancies was discussed in the debate, and voters should (but, alas, may not) weigh this topic heavily when making their decisions.

I’m not sure what to think about the way the debate, as a whole, went this weekend.  I would say that an angry Donald Trump seemed to be the most prominent feature of the event, which got more and more out of hand as the evening went on.   At least Trump finally faced more challenges from the others this time, but many of these were prompted by Trump saying even more outrageous things than usual and being particularly insulting to his competitors, whom he kept interrupting, at times rather randomly.  In other words, he went so far that they really had no choice but to respond.  Among other gems, Trump again defended his use of private eminent domain, said that he thinks Planned Parenthood does some “wonderful things” for women’s  health, accused President George W. Bush of lying to “get us into” the war in Iraq while knowing that there were no weapons of mass destruction there, and, to top it all off, practically blamed Bush for the September 11 terrorist attacks that happened during his ”reign.”  (Does this choice of words indicate that Trump sees the presidency as some sort of kingship?)  None of this is really new, and Trump even took some of these forays into the world of Democrat Bush Derangement Syndrome in one of the early debates last year, but the volume and frequency of these rather un-Republican statements seemed to be increased.  The big question remains whether any of this will actually make a difference to the voters.  Will those supporting him be bothered by it, especially enough to make them switch to another candidate or at least stay home during the primaries?  So far, they’ve stuck with Trump no matter what, often even increasing their support when he says and does things that would seem beyond fatal for any other candidate.  I can only hope it will be different this time, when more people are expected to be paying serious attention, but I’m not holding my breath.

As for the other candidates, I thought that they did fairly well, especially since, in addition to answering questions, they had to deal with the loose cannon at center stage.  I thought that Jeb Bush was able to hold his own against Donald Trump while defending his brother and pointing out some of Trump’s troublesome past statements.  He also made a few other good points, but I’m not sure he’ll be able to make his way back into serious contention for the nomination.  I was a little worried for Marco Rubio, as many said he needed a “comeback” performance after the problems in the last debate, but I thought that he was very strong throughout the evening on many issues, including his contributions to the conversation in defense of President Bush regarding Iraq and 9/11.  Ted Cruz was also solid, and I do appreciate the way he is able to remain calm even when under fire on stage.  Unfortunately from my perspective, there were a couple of verbal skirmishes between Cruz and Rubio, and a few things were said that I wish were not.  The two Senators seem to me to be our strongest options right now, and I would prefer for their strengths, rather than any perceived shortcomings, to remain the focus, especially at these high-profile events.   John Kasich has seemed more energized the last couple of debates, and I’m sure his second-place finish in New Hampshire gave him a boost of confidence.  I’m not sure how his more moderate-sounding rhetoric, defense of his Medicaid expansion in Ohio, and expression of an intent to pursue comprehensive immigration reform early in his administration will play out in the campaign, though.  While they don’t make him my preferred candidate, I do have to sympathize with his call for a more civil Republican primary process.  It would certainly be nice if, as he suggested, the candidates could avoid attacking each other and just tell us what they are for , but that’s not likely to happen any time soon.

So, we have another week before the Republican primary in South Carolina.  The results there could be crucially important in determining the way the race turns out.  If Donald Trump, who has had a big lead in the polls there, has another victory, even after his latest displays of unsteady temper, crassness, and a tendency to think like liberals, it may be yet another sign that voters are determined to make the colossal mistake of nominating a completely unfit person for the presidency.  The other Republican campaigns should dial way back on attacking each other and focus on doing whatever they can to convince any persuadable voters not to go down that road.  Most importantly, I would implore the members of the public to come back to their senses and stop giving their support to someone so dangerously undeserving.  It’s not completely too late to turn around now, but that time is fast approaching.

Sunday, February 7, 2016

Roller Coaster Ride: Iowa Results, New Hampshire Debate, etc.

This past Monday, I was very apprehensive about what might happen in the Iowa Republican caucuses.  Donald Trump had retaken the lead in the polls a few weeks ago, and there seemed to be a growing acceptance, even among established party officials and officeholders, of the idea of Trump as the Republican nominee.  Especially since Trump was expected to win the second contest in New Hampshire fairly easily, it seemed that a victory for him in Iowa to start the contest might make it difficult for anyone else to overcome his lead and defeat him elsewhere.  The best hope for slowing down Trump’s apparent momentum seemed to be a possible comeback win in Iowa for Ted Cruz, who had led in polls there for a while in December and January, but Cruz was facing opposition from the state’s governor and others who didn’t like his opposition to ethanol mandates and subsidies.  So, I was rather hesitant to check the results Monday night and postponed doing so until quite late, after everything was sure to be over.  I was very relieved to see that Senator Cruz had indeed managed to win by several points, and I was also encouraged to learn that Marco Rubio, another conservative candidate, had done very well and placed a strong third.  (If only he could have gotten just a little greater percentage and taken second over Trump, I might have actually started jumping up and down with excitement, but we can’t have everything, right?)  While I was happy with this outcome, which provided a welcome ray of hope in a confounding primary season, it was only the first step in a very long process.

With the focus of the race shifting to New Hampshire, the stakes for the candidates remain very high, and there is still plenty to concern a political worrywart like me.  In particular, if Donald Trump, who has been comfortably leading the polls in New Hampshire for a long time, wins the primary there, he might be able to regain the momentum and the air of near-inevitability that was put into question by the results in Iowa.  While it might be too difficult for someone to overtake him in the few days before Tuesday’s vote, hopefully some of his opponents will at least be able to give him some serious competition and demonstrate that the contest is far from over.  Based on Iowa’s voting, as well as other factors, the most likely people to present that challenge seem to be Ted Cruz and Marco Rubio, but others could have a chance as well.  Saturday night’s debate on ABC was a high-profile opportunity for the candidates to try to convince voters to support them and could potentially have a big impact on both the New Hampshire primary and the overall race.

After watching the coverage of the event, I have many thoughts, but I’ll try to contain myself and discuss a more limited group of important points.  To start with let’s just say that some of the conversations on the stage, along with the commentary offered on the air during and after the debate, did not put my mind more at ease about the upcoming elections.  Hearing what the political experts on the network had to say actually left me once again wondering if I was completely on another planet, because my perceptions of some things were so different, and it will be interesting to see which view prevails among the public in general.

In the days before the debate, there was speculation that Marco Rubio was likely to be a frequent target on Saturday, since the chances for success of quite a few other candidates, both ahead of and (especially) behind him in the polls, are seen by many to largely depend on defeating him.  These predictions proved accurate, as Senator Rubio certainly was a focus of attention, and things didn’t always go well for him.  An exchange with Chris Christie fairly early in the evening seems to have gotten the most attention, and it definitely wasn’t pretty.  Rubio was asked to address a line of criticism that has been raised by Christie and others, which suggests that Rubio does not have a record of accomplishments in his career to justify the voters electing another first-term senator (like Barack Obama) as President.  Besides naming some things he has done as a legislator, Rubio chose to address the Obama-related portion of the charge by arguing that Obama, rather than being someone making poor decisions because of inexperience, is, in fact someone who “knows what he is doing.”  Christie came after Rubio from multiple angles at the same time, attacking him both for this characterization of Obama and also for being an unaccountable member of the Senate, who can just spout memorized talking points about issues (as opposed to a governor like Christie, held responsible for making decisions.)  Regrettably, Rubio’s responses to Christie involved repeating parts of what he’d already said, which played into Christie’s charge about scripted answers.   Obviously, Rubio should have found different words to articulate his message the second and third time, but perhaps he thought he needed to repeat the point because Christie was too busy interrupting and misinterpreting him for the audience to understand it the first time.  When Rubio said that Obama “knows what he is doing,” he clearly meant that Obama’s (very often unwise, outrageous, or disastrous) actions are intentionally taken in pursuit of his goals to “fundamentally transform” the nation, which is an important notion worth discussing, but Christie chose instead to mock Rubio more than once by interpreting the phrase to mean that Obama is competent, well-qualified, and/or doing a good job.  Christie also repeatedly criticized Rubio for the immigration reform bill he sponsored a few years ago, but I’m not sure Christie’s critique was particularly logical.  Rather than criticizing Rubio for supporting an amnesty-granting bill in the first place, he seemed to be suggesting that the problem was Rubio’s lack of leadership in eventually abandoning the bill rather than continuing to fight for it.  Again, Rubio could probably have done a slightly better job of explaining and making his case, but I certainly don’t think that the Senator would have demonstrated more fitness for the presidency by waging a never-ending battle to pass a (bad) bill that did not have the support to pass, especially a bill that many Republicans already hold against him.  In the end, the TV analysts seemed to characterize the New Hampshire debate as a huge stumble for Rubio that could practically destroy his campaign -- showing that he’s “not ready for prime time” and wouldn’t really be such a challenging candidate for Hillary Clinton to face in the general election, etc., but I seriously disagree with this interpretation.  (Perhaps there’s even a little wishful thinking involved on Democrats’ part?)  The exchanges with Christie will clearly not make Senator Rubio’s highlight reel (although I don’t think they put him in as bad a light as the commentators suggested,) but I don’t think they should define his whole night, as he also gave many strong answers throughout the evening on a wide range of issues including foreign policy, taxes, and social issues.  (More on the last one a bit later.)  I continue to believe that Marco Rubio would be a very qualified and capable nominee, and I hope that a few rough moments of debating won’t overshadow all of his good qualities in the eyes of the public.

While Chris Christie may have harmed Marco Rubio during the debate, I’m not sure that his performance will actually be particularly helpful to his own electoral chances.  As usual, he told us repeatedly (hmm, imagine that) that he has been a federal prosecutor and US Attorney, dismissed the importance of members of Congress (who just talk a lot) while painting himself as a governor who, by necessity, has to actually make things happen, and, as the self-designated teller of truths and debate translator, directed some of his remarks straight to the audience at home.  To me, most of this is just window dressing aside from the actual content of what he has to say, and I think he’s overdone it to some extent, but other people may see things differently.  As for the substance, Christie did contribute some worthwhile points (such as New Jersey’s experience with raising taxes on millionaires), but I found a couple of his statements about drugs and abortion particularly troubling.  It’s fine for Christie to make the case that non-violent drug offenders should receive treatment rather than incarceration, but he also said that addiction is a disease, not a moral failing.  Since people do choose to use illegal and destructive substances in the first place, I don't think it’s correct to absolve them of moral responsibility in these situations, as if random citizens just happen to come down with heroin addiction after being bitten by Brazilian mosquitoes.  Christie (and others) have asserted that Rubio’s stance against abortion (not favoring exceptions other than to save the life of the mother) is too extreme, and this was brought  up at the debate.  Rubio explained his position and pointed out that the Democrats are the real extremists on the issue, and then Christie had a chance to have his say.  The position that an anti-abortion law (which, of course, can only be hypothetical as long as Roe vs Wade remains in effect) should allow exceptions in cases of rape or incest is a common one among pro-life politicians, but it seems to me that Governor Christie justified it in a very unsatisfactory way, characterizing the termination of a pregnancy resulting from one of these situations as an act of “self-defense.”  This description seems to disregard the basic purpose of the pro-life movement:  protecting the lives of young, developing human beings, who are innocent even it their fathers have committed terrible crimes.  I think that Senator Rubio was on much more solid, consistent ground here, and, in any case, I don’t think it is helpful for Republican candidates to criticize one another as being “too pro-life” -- I’m sure we’ll hear more than enough of that from the Democrats down the line.  

While the last debate was, happily, a no-Trump zone, the national front-runner returned to the stage in New Hampshire.  The on-air commentators thought that he had a good night, but I think that is only the case because people continue to hold Donald Trump to very low standards.  Yes, he avoided any complete meltdowns and didn’t spend the whole evening insulting and attacking everyone, and there may have been one or two sensible things (such as the problems caused by recent condemnation of the police) buried in his rambling statements.  However, he still was very self-centered and vague in many of his answers, citing his terrific companies as evidence he has the temperament to be president and saying that his health care plan would be something “much better” than Obamacare.  His continued and aggressive defense of eminent domain was a low point, especially as he tried to talk over and deny the facts when Jeb Bush pointed out that Trump had tried to use the courts to take the property of an elderly woman for a private casino parking lot.  Trump still did take a few cheap shots at Bush and Cruz, and the audience, for that matter, when they expressed disapproval of him, but he didn’t seem to face much tough questioning from the moderators or his opponents.  It will be interesting to see if Trump really does have strong support from the voters as the primaries continue, because it still makes no sense to me for large numbers of people to believe that this man is the best choice to be President of the United States.

As for Trump’s main recent challenger, I think that Ted Cruz probably didn’t have quite as good a night as he might have hoped.  The early focus on the controversy concerning his staff circulating reports before the Iowa caucuses suggesting Ben Carson might not be continuing his campaign (based on an initial news byte from CNN) cannot be helpful to Senator Cruz.  We can’t know all the details about what happened in that situation, and I wouldn’t think that the results would have been greatly affected, because Carson’s supporters would be unlikely to just assume what they were being told by the camp of another candidate was true and because Carson’s percentage of the vote was actually a little higher than his recent poll numbers.  Still, attention paid to this incident rather than to Cruz’ come-from-behind victory with huge voter turn-out on Monday is unfortunate for the Senator, especially if, despite his apology to Carson, people come to believe he accepts questionable campaign tactics.  After Iowa, Donald Trump first seemed to take his second-place finish fairly well.  He then went on a Twitter rant alleging that Cruz had “stolen” the election and insisting that the results should not stand, before claiming a couple of days later that he didn’t really care about that any more.  In response to these wild changes of attitude within such a short time, Senator Cruz had, rather logically, stated that Trump does not have the temperament to be president, although he may have used a bit too much hyperbole in suggesting that Trump might “nuke Denmark” in a fit of pique.  At the debate, the moderators asked Cruz, twice, about this assessment of Trump, and, for whatever reason, Cruz would not take the opportunity there to explain this aspect of Trump’s unsuitability for the highest office in the land, only saying that the voters would judge the temperament of every candidate.  I’ve expressed frustration before with the unwillingness of Trump’s competitors to criticize him or take him on, particularly when they are with him at the debates.  I think this particular instance was especially problematic for Cruz, because Trump called him on it, not only pointing out that Cruz had not answered the moderator’s question, but also citing this as an example of the reason the country would be able to “win again” with Trump as president:  others back down when facing him.  Sigh...  The night was certainly not all bad for Cruz, as he gave solid responses to questions about foreign policy and defense, immigration enforcement, the ways presidents can use authority, and other issues and also shared a memorable personal story about the impact drug addiction had had on his family.  While it makes perfect sense for Cruz to point out that he was able to win in Iowa while taking a principled stand against the ethanol mandates that are considered so important to that state, I thought that it was probably not the strongest choice around which to center his closing statement.  All in all, I think that Senator Cruz had a fairly steady night that should not hurt him with those inclined to look favorably on him, but I’m not sure if anything happened to give him a significant boost of support heading into Tuesday’s primary and beyond.

Briefly, I thought Jeb Bush had a fairly good performance, although he seemed to have articulated things somewhat better at the previous debate.  I did appreciate his willingness to engage with Trump on eminent domain, since most other candidates seem to avoid conflict with Trump at these events, and Bush’s references to returning some power and responsibility to the states were a positive addition to the discussion.  The ABC commentators had lots of good things to say about John Kasich and thought he had his best night.  I didn’t see much difference from the last couple of debates, although he did present one or two of his responses in a more rousing fashion this time.  He seems like a nice enough guy who has a good record in government, but I’m not sure that his message of bringing people together, including across party lines, is what Republican primary voters are seeking or what would be most able to defeat the Democratic nominee in November.  I felt bad for Ben Carson Saturday evening.  It was terribly unfortunate that he didn’t hear his name called during the initial introductions calling the candidates to the stage, and he likely felt that he was being ignored or slighted, especially after Monday’s events.  I hope that someone made sure to let him know what actually happened (and even showed him some video to prove it.)  During the debate, he had some worthwhile things to contribute, and I especially liked his answer regarding the contrast he could draw in a contest against Hillary Clinton based on honesty, integrity, and character.  On a more general note, I was underwhelmed, to say the least, by the answers of all three candidates (Rubio, Bush, and Christie) asked about the potential registration of women for the Selective Service.  Overall, I did appreciate the fact that the questioners at this debate covered many different issues, although they may have selected a few obscure ones while still leaving out some big things.  We did hear from everyone quite a bit, but I’m not sure how evenly the time or questions (in number or friendliness) were distributed among the candidates. 

It has certainly been an eventful week in the world of the presidential campaign.  While Donald Trump did have significant support in Iowa, thankfully, the voters there ensured that he will not have an unchallenged electoral romp to the Republican nomination.   Ted Cruz’ victory on Monday and Marco Rubio’s strong showing put them both in good positions going forward, but things were not all positive for them over the last few days, as Cruz had to deal with questions about his staff’s actions and Trump’s allegations of election theft, while Rubio was the favorite target (including at the debate on Saturday) of many opponents seeking to surpass him in New Hampshire and elsewhere to gain consideration as legitimate contenders.  After Iowa, Mike Huckabee, Rick Santorum, and Rand Paul left the presidential race, and I wish them all well in the future.  Meanwhile, Donald Trump continues to have a large polling lead in New Hampshire, and, if he has a big victory there, who knows how things will play out in future state primaries -- he may be able to reclaim his “winner” image and use it along with his national frontrunner status to dominate much of the race, especially if his competitors spend most of their time and energy bashing each other.  I hope that this does not happen, but we’ll know a lot more by the time the results are in on Tuesday night   Then, we can once again take stock of the way Trump, Cruz, Rubio, and the others are faring with the voters.  One state down, one right around the corner, and “only” forty-eight more to go.  I’m afraid it’s going to be a long, exhausting year before we even get to the general election campaign!