Wednesday, November 11, 2015
by Reed Galen
Days Until Iowa Caucus: 81
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 34: Brouhaha in Brew Town
Not much changed tonight in Milwaukee. There were a few solid back and forth moments, but no one self-immolated. On their tax plans and economic proposals, the candidates mostly hit their marks. Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton were roundly criticized for their actions and inactions, and actions yet to be taken. For many of the candidates, the fourth GOP debate was also the first where we saw some of them relying on a set-piece script. They kept to their best points and produced some small new nugget for the crowd in the theater and at home.
Chris Christie may have been bumped to the kids’ table for the fourth GOP debate, but he made the most of it. Throughout the hour, Christie owned the stage and was substantive on issues. In 10 of the 12 answers he gave, Christie criticized not his opponents but Hillary Clinton relentlessly.
Bobby Jindal was a Rube Goldberg machine of opposition research attacks on his stage mates. Despite a gaping budget deficit in his home state of Louisiana, Jindal hit Christie and Huckabee for essentially being RINOs. The first several parries made sense. After those, however, he was flailing.
Huckabee was Huckabee.
Rick Santorum screamed into the microphone and scared people.
Rubio once again showed that he knows how to navigate the debate stage, parry attacks from opponents and weave his personal story and vision for the country into his policy proposals. From the large cheer he received at the open, to the close of the debate, Rubio recognized his ascent and appears prepared to take advantage of it.
Carly is back! She’s got the one-liners. She’s got the intensity. She’s got the conviction on both the economy and especially national security. Her dissection of Obamacare as a case study in crony capitalism was excellent. If Fiorina needed a rebound from the last debate, she got it tonight. Carly was unafraid to wade into discussions about which she felt strongly and she was the beneficiary of Donald Trump snarking at her for interrupting – drawing boos from the audience in her defense. With the next debate six weeks off, Carly needed a strong performance and provided it.
Where has this guy been for the last four months? Rand actually participated tonight and while some of his positions, specifically related to national security, are out of step with the balance of the field, he generally knows what he believes and why he believes it.
With the exception of the Rubio-Rand-Cruz-Carly dust up, the three moderators asked substantive questions of the candidates and generally kept control of the flow. Despite the silly bell going off, if a participant was on a good run, they let them go. They were aiming for the anti-CNBC and cleared that bar by a country mile. Maria Bartiromo, Neil Cavuto and Gerard Baker managed the debate as well as could be expected.
There is no doubt that Ted Cruz knows his stuff. He assuredly knows every comma and semi-colon of his various economic plans. There is no doubt that Ted Cruz believes every word of what he’s written in those plans. But he tried too hard at times to come off as funny or likable. That’s not his move. He’s a die-hard right-winger. He does much better with angry indignation and railing against Washington than formulating charm he simply doesn’t possess.
The stakes were high for Jeb tonight. He was pretty good. He was substantive and knew his facts and figures. He took Donald Trump to task for having his facts wrong. And while he looked marginally more comfortable tonight than last month, he is at his core, a studious guy. Like Chris Christie in the earlier contest, Jeb turned his fire not to his fellow Republicans, but to Hillary Clinton. Bush can come away from Milwaukee to fight another day.
I thought that Donald Trump was going to shine tonight. I believed in a contest focused mostly on taxes, the economy and jobs that Trump had an opportunity to transform himself from populist ideologue to legitimate frontrunner. He likely didn’t do himself any real harm in Milwaukee, but he didn’t take the opportunity to break his mold as caricature. Some of his answers were masterpieces of dissembling. He was strong on the TPP trade deal until he waded too much into discussing China (who is not part of the agreement.) Trumpites love Trump. Nothing about tonight will likely change that.
Dr. Carson had his first rocky week on the campaign trail. Combatting questions about the various anecdotes he’s told about his past, Carson disappeared for long stretches of the evening. To my surprise, Neil Cavuto actually asked about Carson’s troubles. The good doctor handled the question well and pivoted to a hit on Hillary. His answers on economic policy were in some instances perfectly acceptable, which to date, is the most he’s said on these issues. Like Trump, if you’re a true believer in Ben Carson, Milwaukee left you feeling fine about his chances.
Whew. Kasich spent the first hour barging into every question he could find. On immigration, he was willing to call out Donald Trump for the improbability of deporting 11 million people. He spent the second hour fighting for airtime. When he had the opportunity to talk, he too often came off as flinty and cranky. For the GOP in 2015, he has taken on the role as party scold. And while there seemed to be early enthusiasm for his role as potential savior for the Establishment wing of the party, tonight he seemed to be the archetype of politicians that this year’s Republican primary voters detest (though maybe not in New Hampshire.)