Tentative Primary and Caucus Schedule
  March 1 (Super Tues)
  March 2-14
L blue   March 15-31
Delegates needed for nomination:
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News from the Votemaster

TODAY'S HEADLINES (click to jump there; use your browser's "Back" button to return here)
      •  Fireworks at the GOP Debate
      •  Trump Meets With Sheldon Adelson
      •  Government Will Not Shut Down
      •  Clinton Announces Plan to Combat ISIS
      •  Democrats Asked to Bring Muslims to State of the Union Address
      •  Republican, Democratic Voters Agree Substantially on Climate Change
      •  Fiorina Makes a Strange Video

Fireworks at the GOP Debate

The last GOP debate of 2015 is over. It certainly delivered the drama that was widely (and, in some quarters, eagerly) anticipated. Over the course of two hours, several major storylines unfolded:

A focus on terrorism and national security: In contrast to some of the other debate hosts, CNN did not publicize a "theme" prior to this contest, presumably to keep the candidates guessing. This generally suggests that a wide range of questions will be asked, but that was not the case on Tuesday. CNN's moderators clearly did have a theme in mind, and that theme was "national security." Virtually every question, whether about ISIS, or dictators, or the Middle East, or the borders, was on that theme.

One major sub-theme that emerged as part of the discussion of national security was the use of the Internet as a tool, both by terrorists and by the government to stop terrorists. Several candidates—Donald Trump, Gov. John Kasich (R-OH), Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX), and Carly Fiorina among them—seem to feel that the Internet offers a magical opportunity to combat terrorism if the government would just seize upon it. They are almost certainly wrong about this.

A lot of squabbling: Actual elections will soon be upon us, and many candidates have a need to get attention and also to take their opponents down a few notches. Consequently, there were a lot of direct attacks by one candidate upon another. The main contests were Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL) vs. Cruz, Sen. Rand Paul (R-KY) vs. nearly everyone, and nearly everyone vs. Trump.

Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama are terrible: While the Democrats rarely mention the GOP in their debates, the Republicans tend to be fairly obsessive about the opposition. Clinton and Obama combined for 73 different mentions, none of them flattering. Perhaps this is a byproduct of one party being in the White House and the other not, or it comes from having more than a dozen candidates versus having only three.

A strong performance by the moderators: CNN chose a left-leaning moderator in Wolf Blitzer and paired him with his colleague Dana Bash and conservative radio talk show host Hugh Hewitt. This gave a balance to the panel, and—as the trio are all seasoned and supremely confident in their journalistic chops—allowed for some very pointed questions that the candidates were not able to avoid. Hewitt, in particular, proved deft at forcing candidates to say more than they intended.

The base was happy: As with the other debates, the crowd was salted with partisans. They cheered loudly and frequently during the debate, showing obvious delight with what the candidates were saying most of the time (there were also a few boos; see below). Twitter and Facebook told a similar tale.

Meanwhile, resisting the temptation to name a "winner" and a "loser," here's a rundown of how each of the individual candidates did, ordered in the tiers we laid out yesterday:

Tier 1: The Frontrunners

Donald Trump: Trump was attacked on nearly all sides (with Ted Cruz the notable abstainer). He gave as good as he got, often aiming below the belt in true Trump style. For example, during a Bush-Trump dustup, Bush said, "You're never going to be president of the United States by insulting your way to the presidency." Trump, referencing the fact that candidates are arranged on stage by their polling numbers, responded, "Well, let's see. I'm at 42, and you're at 3...You know, you started off over here, Jeb. You're moving over further and further. Pretty soon you're going to be off the end." Trump's most significant moment, however, came when he was asked about a possible independent bid for the presidency. The Donald has recently been trying to keep that door open, but his unequivocal answer to Hewitt's question seemed to slam it shut again: "I am totally committed to the Republican Party. I feel very honored to be the front runner."

Ted Cruz: Ted Cruz is a very talented debater and knows how to deliver his talking points with conviction. As such, he is going to be declared the "winner" of this debate by many observers, as has been the case with the past four debates. Don't believe it. He had a terrible night on Tuesday. Like all politicians, he often plays word games in order to avoid taking a position and on Tuesday, he was a little too obvious about that. For example, when asked what he would do about the 11 million undocumented immigrants already in the U.S., he said, "I do not intend to support legalization"—thus committing himself to absolutely nothing. Cruz also said a few things that will not play well with the base; he does not want to overthrow Bashar Al-Assad, and the fight against terrorism is, "not a war on a faith; it's a war on a political and theocratic ideology that seeks to murder us." His body language—and, in particular, his sour expression—when being criticized were not attractive. And finally, there was a moment when Cruz refused to abide by time limits and kept talking over Bash long after the bell rung. He looked like a bully and was loudly booed by the crowd.

Marco Rubio: As expected, Rubio went after Cruz early and often, particularly on national defense and immigration policy. Unfortunately for him, he primarily chose wonky policy issues to focus upon, setting up Gov. Chris Christie (R-NJ) for one of the best lines of the night: "If your eyes are glazing over like mine, this is what it's like to be on the floor of the United States Senate. I mean, endless debates about how many angels on the head of a pin from people who've never had to make a consequential decision in an executive position." Rubio was a bit cowed after that, and other than a bit of sparring with Cruz over immigration, was largely silent. He certainly did not improve his position vis-a-vis the candidates he's looking up at.

Tier 2: The Longshots

Ben Carson: Carson's "highlight" came during opening statements, when he asked for a moment of silence for the victims of the San Bernardino shootings. Some will find it a touching gesture, others will see it as contrived. Beyond that, Ben Carson was Ben Carson. He was a little stronger on foreign policy, but otherwise he spoke calmly and slowly, refused to be assertive, made frequent use of buzzwords like "politically correct," and largely blended into the background.

Jeb Bush: Bush had the most uneven night of any candidate on the stage. He landed a few body blows on Donald Trump, particularly with his (obviously pre-scripted) declaration that the Donald is a "chaos candidate." He also got a nice laugh when he was asked about Vladimir Putin, saying that he would seek out the best advice available, and that "I won't get my information from the shows. I don't know if that's Saturday morning or Sunday morning." Still, he probably took more damage from Trump than he gave. Further, Bush simply does not look presidential. Nearly every time the camera switched to him, he looked like a deer in the headlights. He also stumbled and stuttered regularly during his opening and closing statements. If he cannot deliver a few hundred pre-written words worth of platitudes, how can he possibly be viewed as someone who can think (and speak) on his feet?

Chris Christie: The brawler came out ready to fight on Tuesday. He lambasted Barack Obama as a "feckless weakling" and crushed Marco Rubio and Ted Cruz (as noted above) with one of the lines of the night. But, he was also crushed by another. After the New Jersey Governor insisted that he would enforce a no-fly zone against the Russians, Rand Paul declared, "Well, I think if you're in favor of World War III, you have your candidate." The crowd ate that line up. In any case, Christie has clearly decided that the most important line on his resume is his work as a federal prosecutor after the 9/11 attacks. He mentioned that half a dozen times; so much so that it called attention to the fact that he was essentially ignoring his time as New Jersey governor. So Christie himself is admitting that he has not been successful leading the Garden State, confirming for his opponents a major area of weakness.

Tier 3: Why are they still in the race?

John Kasich: Somebody will soon calculate how much time each candidate spent speaking on Tuesday night, and Kasich will come in last. He rarely spoke unless spoken to, and when he did speak, he was largely vague and meandering. Based on his closing remarks, some viewers will undoubtedly walk away with the notion that Kasich's main selling point—maybe his only selling point—is that he's from the swing state of Ohio.

Carly Fiorina: Fiorina did not have much new to say—she comes from a business background, she wants more bombs, she is a woman. On the latter point, she decided to quote Margaret Thatcher: "If you want something talked about, ask a man; if you want something done, ask a woman." Perhaps a remark that demeans 48% of the populace will be seen as amusing and feisty, and perhaps it will be seen as sexist. The guess here is that a lot of GOP voters will not be amused.

Rand Paul: Paul was extremely energetic, at least by his standards, and hit several of his opponents hard. His comment at Chris Christie's expense is noted above; another was directed at Marco Rubio: "Marco has more of an allegiance to Chuck Schumer and to the liberals than he does to conservative policy." That got one of the loudest cheers of the night. He also observed, correctly, that Donald Trump's proposed policies would violate both the Constitution and the Geneva Accords. Trump's attempt to respond resulted in boos. Paul's got two problems, though. The first is that he, like Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT), insists on focusing on domestic economic issues when the American public wants to hear about foreign affairs. The second is that his takes on things like the use of military force and the complexity of Middle Eastern politics will resonate with Democratic voters, but he's running for president as a Republican.

The next Republican debate is a month away, on January 14, with Fox Business Channel serving as host. The media is trying hard not to "decide" who gets to be a viable candidate, but nine candidates on stage continues to be unwieldy and somewhat unproductive. Undoubtedly, Fox will hope this problem solves itself in the next few weeks. If not, they may very well set much more restrictive standards for who makes the main stage cut in January. (Z)

Trump Meets With Sheldon Adelson

Donald Trump was not only in Las Vegas for the Republican debate, he was in the very building where Sheldon Adelson's offices are located (the debate was held in Adelson's Venetian Hotel and Casino). So, the two billionaires had a meeting. Trump claims that Adelson asked for the face-to-face; Adelson's staff says that Trump was the initiator. The latter is probably the truth.

In any event, Trump is certainly after Adelson's endorsement. Beyond the fact that the casino magnate has more money than three Trumps, gaining Adelson's support would mean denying that support to Marco Rubio or Ted Cruz. The Donald is surely barking up the wrong tree, however. Adelson cares primarily about Israel, and Trump's performance when speaking to the Republican Jewish Coalition has torpedoed him on that issue. Further, Adelson isn't likely to have forgotten that Trump took a few runs at him on Twitter. Further, the two have done battle over Las Vegas real estate in the past, with Adelson essentially leading the charge to keep a Trump casino off the Las Vegas strip. These things being the case, the Donald should probably have just spent that half-hour on more debate prep. (Z)

Government Will Not Shut Down

The federal budget for 2016 was, by all accounts, a settled matter—former Speaker John Boehner's (R-OH) farewell accomplishment as he exited stage right. However, his colleagues—as they are wont to do—decided it wasn't quite settled, after all. They have spent the month since haggling and posturing over details. As Thomas Jefferson himself once said of Congress, "That 150 lawyers should do business together ought not to be expected."

Now, just in the nick of time for the members of Congress to leave Washington for their Christmas break, a finished deal has been reached. As announced by current Speaker Paul Ryan (R-WI), the government will now be funded through September. There will also be $800 billion in tax breaks, and no de-funding of Planned Parenthood. Details are scarce, as the announcement was made late in the day (and during the Republican debate), but it certainly seems like a big win for the GOP. (Z)

Clinton Announces Plan to Combat ISIS

In timing that is not coincidental, Hillary Clinton chose the day of the Republican debate to unveil her "360-degree strategy" for defeating ISIS. Key elements of the plan:

  • Air Strikes
  • Targeting the "network of enablers" that help finance ISIS
  • Stricter screenings for U.S. visa applicants
  • Working closely with the Muslim-American community
  • Resisting Islamophobia
  • Gun control

In the event there was any question that Clinton was setting her plan up as an alternative to those being offered by the GOP, she also declared that, "Shallow slogans don't add up to a strategy. Promising to carpet bomb until the desert glows doesn't make you sound strong—it makes you sound like you're in over your head."

Clinton is trying to walk a fine line here—she wants to avoid charges of weakness from the right, but also criticism from Bernie Sanders and his supporters that she is a warmonger. She also has to avoid substantially criticizing or undermining President Obama, since she needs his support, and since her resume is tied to his due to her service as Secretary of State. She seems to be walking that line fairly well, though it will be hard to tell for sure, since she—as the frontrunner—is going to be attacked from both the right and left regardless of what her plan is. (Z)

Democrats Asked to Bring Muslims to State of the Union Address

Each member of Congress is allowed to bring one constituent as a guest when the president delivers his State of the Union Address (SOTU). For this year's address, scheduled for January 12, 2016, Rep. Debbie Wasserman-Schultz (D-FL) has joined Rep. Keith Ellison (D-MN) in suggesting to their colleagues that they use their invite to bring a Muslim constituent to the address. They argue that the gesture will help combat the "shocking and alarming rise in hateful rhetoric against one particular minority population in our nation."

Wasserman-Schultz is DNC chair and Ellison is one of two Muslim members of Congress, so their words certainly carry some weight. It is possible their colleagues will do as asked, perhaps "encouraged" by some back room arm-twisting. On the other hand, Blue Dog Democrats in non-safe districts might not want to risk alienating voters. And if Wasserman-Schultz and Ellison are indeed successful, it will be interesting to see if President Obama references the effort in his address, and also to see if the GOP engages in a little counter-inviting of some sort. 9/11 victims, perhaps? It could well be the most politically-charged SOTU in recent memory. (Z)

Republican, Democratic Voters Agree Substantially on Climate Change

Mother Jones has published some very interesting data on the politics of global warming. To nobody's surprise, the great majority of Democrats accept climate change as a fact and want something to be done. Much more interesting is that there is a fairly clear correlation between donating money to the Republican party and denying climate change. Rank-and-file Republicans do not differ too substantially from Democrats on the issue; it is the wealthy Republicans who fund the party that push the GOP in an anti-global warming direction.

If the data are correct, this would hardly be the only issue of this sort that the GOP has to contend with. It is the rank-and-file, for example, who want fences built along the Mexican border. The wealthier Republicans depend on undocumented immigrants as a source of cheap labor, so they oppose fences. Of course, on immigration, the money has won out. And the same is true, so far, for the GOP's position on climate change. (Z)

Fiorina Makes a Strange Video

Presumably seeking to combat her reputation for being cold, and also to grab a few "dog lover" points, Carly Fiorina released a three-minute video that shows her interacting and conversing with a large number of dogs.

The dogs are, by all evidence, not hers—in fact, having that many dogs would be illegal in her home state of California. In any event, Fiorina gets in a few nice lines that are either touching or funny. However, she also eats a dog biscuit, insults cat owners, and makes a rather tasteless joke at Barack Obama's expense. Looking at one of the canines, Fiorina says, "You know, President Obama ate one of your cousins." Whatever she was going for with that line, it is rather easy to interpret it as a racist reference to the President's African heritage. Certainly, that is how much of the world is responding, so Fiorina might be taking the video down and apologizing on Wednesday. (Z)

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---The Votemaster
Dec15 Republicans Debate in Las Vegas Tonight
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