Thursday, October 29th, 2015
by Reed Galen
Days Until Iowa Caucus: 94
Quote by A Smart Person: "Luck is a very thin wire between survival and disaster, and not many people can keep their balance on it." Hunter S. Thompson
Welcome to the American Singularity.
Why the Singularity?
• The presidential nominating process is one in which everything, large and small, is sucked into its gravitational maw, allowing nothing to escape its grasp as events pass through the campaign cycle’s event horizon.
• There is no more singular political experience on the planet than electing the President of the United States.
• The United States is still the most free, most prosperous and brightest beacon of hope to billions around the world.
Every action and reaction feeds into this black hole of press coverage, donor reactions, voter sentiment and activist opinions. Nothing goes unnoticed and nothing is forgotten. Legions of reporters, bloggers, opposition researchers, trackers, social media monitoring services, vacuum up every last syllable.
Every week we’ll take a look at the campaign as it unfolds, and how events reflect the campaigns, the issues of the day and the country at large. Have a tip, piece of advice or something to add? Email me – firstname.lastname@example.org
The American Singularity - Week 32: Bombing in Boulder
I don’t know what the plan was at CNBC headquarters in New York City prior to this debate. Whatever their plan was, though, it ran headlong into reality in Boulder last night. The moderators swung wildly between asking pro forma questions and accepting pro forma questions and reciting campaigns’ opposition research files. The candidates deserved better questions. The voters deserved a better debate. However, maybe Republicans should thank CNBC. They’re the only group who has so far been able to unite the candidates in a common cause: berating the media complex that last night so clearly disdained them en masse.
One question in particular illustrated the moderators’ troubles last night. When asking Senator Marco Rubio about trouble with his personal finances, they a) read straight out of an opposition research memo b) showed a completely tone-deaf and elitist perspective and c) appeared to denigrate Rubio’s relatively modest financial success that allowed him to pay his debts. Millions of Americans deal with their own family finance trouble everyday. One of the main issues in the Democratic race is student loan debt. What’s more, if the CNBC crew was trying to take down Rubio, they misjudged the batter. He saw the pitch coming and hammered it into the gap.
Full Steam Ahead
Rubio is clearly the best natural political athlete in the field, Republican or Democrat. The Jeb Bush campaign clumsily telegraphed their punches ahead of the debate and Rubio was ready when the time came. Bush tried, and failed, to nail Rubio on missing votes in the Senate. Rubio sidestepped the jab and tapped his mentor’s glass jaw. He looked right into Bush’s eyes and let him have it. His ability to pivot off of potentially difficult questions back to his personal story served him well in previous debates and did so again last night. If Rubio’s potential billionaire backers were looking for him to step-up, he did so last night.
Last night Ted Cruz laid out his electoral strategy as if he was baking a cake. To his recipe he added a healthy scoop of liberal media bias, a pinch of libertarianism, (auditing the Fed), a dash of youth (mentioning he’s only 44) and two tablespoons of evangelicalism, noting his father’s conversion as a born-again Christian. Should Dr. Ben Carson falter, Cruz is ready to scoop up his votes. Although he’s received less attention about running a solid race, Cruz, like Rubio, has run a competent, efficient effort. That discipline is now paying dividends. As the field winnows in coming weeks and months, Cruz’s rise will likely continue. He could very well be the conservative consensus candidate.
As usual he was strong on entitlements and the rule of law. He was able to articulate the blessing of living longer with the necessity of raising the retirement age. His answer on fantasy football was classic. “Who cares?!?” Tens of millions of Americans love fantasy sports, and only Christie in his inimitable style articulated that it was both a stupid question and something that government shouldn’t deal with. He used his favorite rhetorical device, speaking directly to the camera, to good effect once again.
Dare I say The Donald has mellowed? While he may not know what’s written on his own website, a demonstrably more calm, cool and collected Trump ascended the stage last night. He didn’t have as much time on camera or as many questions, but he’s clearly take the cue that he needs to serious up a little. He avoided pinging Ben Carson and only once delivered a withering one-liner (to John Kasich) to an opponent. The flourish of his closing statement and piling on the moderators capped a solid night for Trump. He may not see too much of a bump out of the debate, but he cleared a hurdle: Being a grown up, if only for a couple of hours.
Dr. Ben Carson did what Dr. Ben Carson does: He gives philosophical answers to policy questions. The question about his serving on the board of Costco, and it’s reputation as a gay-friendly work place, blew up in the moderators’ faces as Carson gave a thoughtful and surprising answer on the difference between believing in marriage between a man and a woman and being a homophobe. He didn’t score any knockout blows, but that’s not Carson’s strength. If the statements he’s made publicly haven’t harmed him with his supporters, last night didn’t either.
Boulder was Fiorina’s first so-so debate. She is still able to deliver a powerful one-liner on any number of issues (the person who Hillary Clinton does NOT want to face on a stage one-on-one) but without the foil of Donald Trump, she wasn’t able to elevate herself to the top tier. Carly needs the interplay between the candidates and there just wasn’t enough last night to let her capitalize.
If Jeb Bush lacked energy and drive in attempting to reinvigorate his campaign, John Kasich felt over caffeinated. While he made some solid points on understanding the DC budget process and job creation in Ohio, his performance felt like he was just trying a little too hard. An attempted jab at Trump succeeded only in receiving a withering reply and a reminder that he’s at the end of the stage, denoting low poll numbers. He has the ability to do better and needs to do so two weeks from now in Milwaukee. Kasich has a solid base of support in New Hampshire, but to be able to take Bush’s place (should that opening occur) in the establishment “lane” he’s going to have to step it up a bit.
Mike Huckabee’s analogy of the government as runaway Air Force blimp was the line of the night for me. He still has the ability to display charm and humor and he did a good job of it last night. His staunch of defense of entitlement spending, with no opportunity for reform, though, made Huckabee seem unwilling or unable to realize the world in which we now live. But his electoral issues still haunt his campaign. If Huckabee can’t crack the top three or four in Iowa come February, it’s hard to see how he continues past that. The base of social conservative voters he so relies on are currently looking for something and someone new.
This was not Jeb Bush’s night. He didn’t get much airtime. The answers he had relied on too many recitations about past achievements and statistical data points. He talked about his detailed plans. I thought Donald Trump, who loves the smell of blood in the water, would come after him. It turns out Trump didn’t need to. Jeb’s attempt to call Marco Rubio out for missing votes in the US Senate, something absolutely no one cares about, was a disaster in both conception and delivery. Rubio’s response was gentle and devastating. Bush attacked the wrong guy, for the wrong thing at the wrong time. The interplay was an analog for the larger issues at play within Jeb’s campaign. The race hasn’t played out like they thought it would – the establishment (what’s left of it) hasn’t coalesced around him, and he hasn’t been able to shed the wonky professor role in favor of someone who can emote. The race is far from over but Jeb must retrench and really rethink his campaign before the next contest.
Judging by the lack of speaking time and his minimal impact in the discussion, one could be forgiven for believing Sen. Paul had already returned to Kentucky to run for reelection. With an inability to move his numbers and Ted Cruz now actively poaching his voters, Paul may not make the main stage debate next month in Milwaukee.