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News from the Votemaster

Republicans Yell at Each Other Instead of Debating

The second so-called Republican "debate" took place at the Ronald Reagan Library in Simi Valley, CA, last night. Only it wasn't a debate. It was more like a kindergarten class where each child thought the others should be paying more attention to him or her and tried to achieve this by talking louder than the others. However, in all fairness to kindergartners everywhere, little kids are generally good at ad libbing it and don't just repeat talking points their political consultants have made them memorize ("I love Israel more than you do.").

While the whole show had a certain amount of entertainment value, probably many people (especially Republicans) are praying: "God, please stop this nonsense. It's hurting the country and the Republican Party. Just put John Boehner, Mitch McConnell, and Reince Priebus in a room somewhere. Give Boehner three packs of cigarettes. Tell them that by the time all the cigarettes are gone, they have to have chosen a nominee."

The food fight on stage wasn't entirely the candidates' fault. The moderators really egged them on, thinking it would make for fun television. They seem to have forgotten the process is about choosing the person to lead the United States. Nobody ever said that George Washington was more fun than a barrel of monkeys, but he was a great and wise President. Of course, he didn't have to deal with television ratings. The show went on under hot studio lights for three hours, which was as much a test of the cbutidates' bladders as anything else, and it is not a prototype for anything a President has to do.

One thing everyone was expecting actually happened: the other candidates took potshots at Donald Trump, who shot back. After Jeb Bush accused Trump of being a special interest himself (for the gambling business), Trump shot back: "More energy tonight. I like that." Trump has been needling Bush about being "low energy" all summer and it clearly got under Bush's skin. Carly Fiorina also lit into Trump, calling him an "entertainer." When one of the moderators repeated Trump's statement of last week ("Look at that face. Would anybody vote for that") and asked Fiorina to respond, she said: "I think women all over this country heard very clearly what Mr. Trump said." This got the biggest round of applause of the entire night.

Fiorina and Trump also got into a spat on their respective business records. Trump accused Fiorina of running Hewlett-Packard into the ground. She shot back that he piled up mountains of debt and then weaseled out of it by filing for bankruptcy four times.

While Trump got a lot of attention, he didn't dominate the stage all night as he did in the first debate. On one topic however, he did dominate: immigration. He didn't back down on his plans to deport the 11 or 12 million undocumented immigrants and repeal the 14th Amendment's clause on birthright citizenship. Bush went after him on this but Trump shot back saying: "He's weak on immigration. He doesn't get my vote."

One unusual thing Bush did last night was admit to a felony. He smoked marijuana 40 years ago. He didn't say whether he inhaled or not, though. He later tweeted an apology to his mom. He didn't tweet an apology to the thousands of nonviolent marijuana smokers in Florida jails, however.

The candidates for whom this was a do-or-die moment tried to get in some nice sound bites. When the subject of whose finger should be on the nuclear trigger came up, Gov. Scott Walker (R-WI) said: "We don't need an apprentice in the White House. We have one right now." A clever reference to Trump's (other) reality show. Ben Carson also got in a nice shot. Last week Trump called the world-famous neurosurgeon "an OK doctor." When the subject of vaccinations came up, Trump said he was in favor of them, but in smaller doses. Carson responded: "He's an OK doctor." At one point when Trump and Fiorina were arguing about their respective business careers, Chris Christie said that an unemployed 55-year-old construction worker who can't fund his child's education could care less about their careers.

In the heat of a critical debate, candidates often say things that have negative truthfulness, especially when playing to a base that actually believes it. The Washington Post's resident fact checker, Glenn Kessler took a look at some of the whoppers you can't get at Burger King. Donald Trump said he never went bankrupt. Well, his companies have and he was forced to give up personal assets such as a yacht to meet loan payments and his equity stake in some of his properties was sharply reduced. Carly Fiorina saw a formed fetus with a beating heart and kicking legs while someone says they have to keep it alive to harvest its brain. Fiorina has a wonderful imagination but she's not going to be able to produce the tape because it doesn't exist. Ted Cruz made statements about the Iran agreement that are clearly false. Chris Christie said: "As the brand new first ever pro-life governor of New Jersey since Roe versus Wade, I defunded Planned Parenthood." However, while running for reelection in 2013 in blue New Jersey, he said it was strictly for budgetary reasons. Jeb Bush said his brother kept us safe. Well, only if you ignore what happened on Sept. 11, 2001.

Here is a brief rundown of each of the candidates in the same order as we discussed them yesterday.

Donald Trump was Donald Trump. The normal rules don't apply to him. He didn't say anything to make people who hate him suddenly love him, but he probably didn't lose many supporters, either. One thing he said that may come back to haunt him is that progressive tax rates are fine with him. He doesn't believe in a flat earth or flat taxes. However, his jokes went flat. Maybe the bloom is off the rose.

Ben Carson was quiet and polite, as he always is. He is probably the most right-wing of all the candidates, but his calm bedside manner appeals to conservatives who want someone who really believes what he is saying and doesn't feel he has to scream and shout about it. On one topic where he does have more expertise than anyone else on stage—vaccines—he didn't really take a stand. Most likely he knows that (1) vaccines do not cause autism, but (2) his potential voters think it does.

Jeb Bush showed as much energy as the Energizer Bunny. He went after Trump a few times, including the issue of Trump's lobbying him to legalize gambling in Florida. That opens a new line of attack on Trump for the future. On the whole, Bush did a decent job. He certainly wasn't wishy washy this time although he did seem a bit defensive at times when defending his brother's record. If the funders who poured $100 million into his campaign the instant he announced then knew what they now know, they would have said: "Here's $5 million in first-round funding. We want to see how you do before giving you any more.."

Ted Cruz tried to rewrite history. He denounced Jeb's brother for appointing Chief Justice John Roberts to the Supreme Court. At the time, he strongly supported Roberts. As expected, he didn't go after Trump at all. His strategy seems to be to agree with Trump on the issues, wait for him to disintegrate, and then scoop up his supporters.

Marco Rubio had a reasonably good night. He didn't break away from the pack, but he didn't do anything foolish, either. He probably knows more about foreign policy than anyone else on the stage in a party whose foreign policy is: "Israel good, Russia, China, France, and Arabs bad" his actual knowledge may not help him a lot. He is still a strong contender—for Vice President.

Carly Fiorina had a very good night. She was well prepared and is an excellent speaker. While not running on a platform of competence, like Kasich, she demonstrated she is a capable person. Getting into a spat with Trump about business experience may have hurt Trump, but it hurt her as well. In the general election, the Democrats would make her firing 30,000 people and then being fired by her board the main issue. One thing she advocated—shutting down the government unless Planned Parenthood is defunded—may get her lumped in with the extremists. She may have temporarily forgotten that her real opponents are Bush and Kasich, not Huckabee and Cruz. To have any chance, she has to come across as a sane businesswoman who could govern, not a petulant child who will take her marbles and go home if she can't get her way. Fiorina will probably rise in the polls for a while, then fall back to earth. Her business and political records would be a disaster in the general election and her hard edge makes Hillary Clinton look warm and cuddly.

Scott Walker needed to stop his free fall and he didn't really shine. Could he be the Tim Pawlenty of this cycle—a Midwestern governor who was hyped to the moon but wasn't really ready for prime time?

Mike Huckabee is not a serious candidate and never was this time around. He threw the usual red meat to the evangelicals, but they would be better off with Ted Cruz who is by far the stronger candidate.

John Kasich played well on stage but is unlikely to be seen as the big winner. Still, if Walker and Bush fade and Rubio seems more like a Vice President than a President, Kasich could go far. He certainly didn't damage himself last night talking about how he has actual experience balancing budgets while governing as a conservative.

Rand Paul defended his libertarian views on drugs and military intervention well. His problem is that the Republicans' red-meat devouring base is not very libertarian. It wants a big government that forces people to follow its doctrines. The standard libertarian view on abortion is: "It's none of the government's damn business. It's up to the woman." Paul understands that won't work with the Republican base so he never says it, but his other views are only marginally more popular.

Chris Christie moved far to the right. If he had campaigned for governor like that, he would have been roundly defeated in blue New Jersey. Although Christie has no business experience, he thoroughly absorbed the message "the customer is always right." If the customer (voter) wants a right-wing blowhard, he'll be a right-wing blowhard. What he won't be is the Republican nominee.

Every publication that covers politics has a long story about the debate today. Politico has a particularly good article with six takeaways:

  • Trump was, well, low-energy
  • Carly Fiorina crashes the boys club
  • Jeb Bush smacked Trump -- literally
  • Ben Carson floated like a butterfly and didn't get stung by the bees
  • Lindsey Graham stole the first debate
  • Marco Rubio's alive. Scott Walker's on life support

No scientific polls on "who won?" are in yet, but Fox 5 in San Diego ran on online poll. About 18,000 people voted, which is a decent sample and Fox viewers are probably a reasonable proxy for the Republican base. For what it is worth, here are the results. The Drudge Report also ran a poll and got 554,000 responses. What does this show? That people reading a Website online and who have only to click on a link are more likely to respond than TV viewers who have to go find a computer and log in. While neither poll is scientifically accurate, the very large sample sizes and similar results strongly suggest that when the first scientific polls come in, they will corroborate these results.

Fox 5 San Diego
Rank Candidate Pct
1 Donald Trump 45%
2 Carly Fiorina 22%
3 Marco Rubio 9%
4 Rand Paul 6%
4 Ben Carson 6%
6 Jeb Bush 3%
7 Chris Christie 2%
7 Ted Cruz 2%
7 John Kasich 2%
10 Mike Huckabee 1%
11 Scott Walker 0.4%
Drudge Report
Rank Candidate Pct
1 Donald Trump 56%
2 Carly Fiorina 19%
3 Marco Rubio 6%
3 Ted Cruz 6%
5 Rand Paul 4%
5 Ben Carson 4%
7 Scott Walker 1%
7 Mike Huckabee 1%
7 John Kasich 1%
7 Jeb Bush 1%
7 Chris Christie 1%

What about the Democrats? Probably most of them were happy with the performance. Few, if any, of the candidates (except maybe Marco Rubio) looked presidential. It will be interesting to see what the first Democratic debate looks like, but while there may be disagreements whether to raise the minimum wage to $12 or to $15, it certainly won't be able to rival this one for entertainment value.

About the GOP debate, Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT) said: "Income and wealth inequality were not discussed at all. Nor did I hear a word about racial injustice in this country." Hillary Clinton's communications director said: "What will matter for the Republicans a year from now is that each candidate stood on the stage and said they would defund Planned Parenthood."

The next Republican debate is Wednesday, Oct 28, in the People's Republic of Boulder (a.k.a the University of Colorado). Seems like a great site for the Democrats to debate, but Colorado Springs might have been a better choice for the Republicans.

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---The Votemaster
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