Thursday, July 30, 2015

by Reed Galen

Days Until Iowa Caucus: 194

New Candidate This Week: Gov. Jim Gilmore (R-VA)

Quote by A Smart Person: "Democracy is the art and science of running the circus from the monkey cage." H.L. Mencken

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 – reed@jedburghs.com

Week 19: Cleveland Debate Pre-Game Analysis

*Author's Note: It appears there is a fight for 10th place between Rick Perry and John Kasich, therefore I have included them both below.

“Debates are about moments,” a long-time friend and colleague told me yesterday. “And you know the first job is, you know, is first do no harm.” Both are true statements. If this summer is any indication, though, next week’s GOP kick-off debate in Cleveland may leave us with many moments and plenty of harm done to the candidates – both self-inflicted and otherwise.

Four years ago we saw the hopes of both Tim Pawlenty and Rick Perry disappear because of poor debate performances. What political junky can forget Lloyd Bentsen lecturing Dan Quayle that he was no John Kennedy in 1988? How disappointing is it that the only memory most Americans have of Admiral Jim Stockdale (a POW for seven and a half years and Medal of Honor recipient) is him asking, “Who am I? Why am I here?” during the 1992 Vice Presidential Debate (he was Ross Perot’s running mate.) Author’s note: I wonder if Donald Trump thinks of Adm. Stockdale as a loser, too.

Rear Admiral James Stockdale. Courtesy US Navy

Rear Admiral James Stockdale. Courtesy US Navy

The Eclipse

Trump: It’s enough already.

A solar eclipse. Reminds me of the Eye of Sauron. Coincidence?

A solar eclipse. Reminds me of the Eye of Sauron. Coincidence?

The Targets

Jeb Bush: Next Thursday night will likely be 90 minutes filled with deep breaths and well-crafted retorts for Bush. The unquestioned leader in the money race, a first tier candidate and the choice of many “Establishment” Republicans, look for everyone who considers themselves a “true conservative” to take a shot at Jeb. If not on immigration, then on education. Whatever the issue – Jeb will have to be ready for a lot of incoming fire from a stage filled with the unhinged and the unelectable.

Marco Rubio: Rubio, too, may likely have a target on his back next week. Young and energetic, possessing a solid campaign organization and strong fundraising, candidates hoping to climb the ladder from 6-10 to 1-5 may hit him for his efforts on immigration. The big question: If Jeb is under attack from the pack, will Rubio be prepared to pile on? Despite long ties, this a’int beanbag. That being said, if Rubio can take a step back and watch the fireworks, he has a lot to say on the future of the country and national security.

The Fighters

Rick Perry*: Perry has arguably had the best summer of any of the candidates. With solid and substantive speeches on a variety of issues from race to reforming Wall Street, Perry is the leader of the Anti-Trump wing of the party. Disputing Trump’s bona fides as a conservative, disputing Trump’s statements on immigration and going so far as to call Trump a ‘cancer on conservatism that needs to be excised.’ Look for Perry to lean into a fight with The Donald – sucking up airtime and support along the way. This debate also represents Perry’s first shot at the long road to redemption that he has worked at assiduously over the last two years.

Courtesy Relativity Media

Courtesy Relativity Media

Scott Walker: Portraying himself as a fighter is Walker’s bread and butter. This is the turf on which he best likes to play. And in a debate in which 10 candidates will each likely get three or four minutes total time on the microphone, none is more disciplined in his talking points or his messaging than Walker. On that front he is a machine. He says something, then he says it again, and again and again. Walker will attempt to make the case that he’s fought entrenched Democratic and liberal efforts and taken them out.

Chris Christie: Christie doesn’t take any crap from anyone. While I don’t believe he’ll be on the list of candidates at whom The Donald may lob a grenade, you can’t predict crazy. Christie is great on the stump and has a forceful demeanor that may shine through on the debate stage. Left for dead months ago, Christie finds himself in the big show – I expect him to make the most of what limited time he’ll have to reintroduce himself to the Republican electorate and put Bridgegate firmly behind him.

John Kasich*: Kasich's late entrance into the race may push Rick Perry off the main stage. A long-time policy wonk and now wildly popular governor of Ohio, much like Christie, Kasich is not afraid to take on his own party, or tough questions. Best known in political circles for his prickly style, his rough around the edges personality may resonate with Granite Staters who like some vim and vigor in their candidates. I wouldn't expect him to sit back and survey the field - rather if he sees an opportunity to make a moment of his own, he might well take it.

The Bomb Throwers

Trump (Again): Trump’s strategy is simple: Pull pin, point toward enemy.

An M18 Claymore Mine

An M18 Claymore Mine

Mike Huckabee: Last week, completely discarding the happy warrior that façade that has for so long been his hallmark, Huckabee igniting a wave of criticism as he compared the Iran nuclear agreement to “walking [the Israelis] to the door of the oven.” These are not the utterances of someone who plans to sit idly by and watch his already tenuous political hopes disappear completely. Watching his support quickly evaporate as Trump captures the passion of the right and Cruz appeals to religious Republicans, Huckabee may well double down on his comments – if nothing more than to continue this month’s trend of trying to out-Trump The Donald.

Ted Cruz: When not hiding behind Uncle Donald’s skirts, Cruz is attacking his own party. His disastrous attempt last week in the Senate to kill an amendment reauthorizing the Export-Import Bank illustrated his ignorance of power politics or of building relationships. When you’re in a chamber of 100 and you can count exactly ONE colleague as a friend, there are larger issues at play. Expect Cruz to give full-throated outrage to all the issues of the day: Iran, immigration and Planned Parenthood – specifically aiming his rhetorical skills at the most conservative voters watching at home.

The Enigmas

Rand Paul: Paul’s campaign is caught in the horse latitudes. Not libertarian enough for the libertarians and not socially conservative enough for the religious right, Paul finds himself losing lift in the polls and struggling with his fundraising. I saw a turning point during his fight over the Patriot Act. While his efforts were successful, he over-personalized the fight and created an impression of un-seriousness. Hard to see where he fits – he definitely has a role to play in the race – but whether it will be one of a spectrum-straddling independent voice of the seconding coming of his father remains to be seen.

Ben Carson: Carson is as unique a candidate as I can remember. He’s not a politician. He doesn’t enunciate a ton of specific policy proscriptions. He doesn’t have fiery rhetoric that incites throes of passion in his supporters. But he remains firmly in the middle of the top 10. There is something bubbling under the surface of the grassroots for Carson. Of all the candidates, he may have the best opportunity (if not ability) to avoid the crossfire that is likely to rack the majority of the stage.

The Moderators

Megyn Kelly: Unlike her two co-moderators, Kelly does not come from the news division of Fox. Her program, The Kelly File is wildly popular. Having watched her show a few times, she is keen to take on the statements of her guests. She will be prepared to confront the candidates with their own contradictory statements and go after them like a prosecutor on cross-examination. It will be interesting to see how she sees her role – as a referee to ask questions and enforce the rules, or as a participant – challenging candidates on their positions and statements. My bet is on the latter.

Bret Baier & Chris Wallace: Both respected newsmen, Baier and Wallace will ask tough questions but I believe they will likely leave the fireworks to Kelly. They’ll be up to speed on the latest developments out of DC on policy issues from Iran to the Export-Import bank. Expect them to ask and expect that the candidates have a mastery of the down-in-the-weeds policy that makes DC (such as it does) go on a daily basis.

Likely Issues

A lot of these are no-brainers and in no particular order:

  • Immigration
  • ISIS
  • Iran
  • Planned Parenthood
  • 2nd Amendment
  • Jobs and the Economy
  • China
  • Hillary Clinton
  • Benghazi
  • Russia

Advice to Campaigns

While I don’t believe that any of the candidates will actually light themselves on fire to draw attention away from Trump, I’d expect them to at least get the lighter fluid and matches out. Between Rand Paul’s chainsaw antics and Lindsey Graham blowing up his phone (a flip-phone by the way – is it 1999?) those viable GOP candidates must take a beat or two before answering and let the crazy wash over them. Jumping headfirst into the crazy blender with the noxious blend of nativism and ad hominem attacks is a recipe for personal disaster.

Will any of the candidates, all of them (except Cruz) fed up with Trump’s antics and attention, adopt Reagan's, “There you go, again,” refrain, dismiss him outright and move on with their own statements? Will Donald allow that? Will the moderators allow Donald to run all over the stage and pants his opponents while they’re speaking? Mix yourself a tall gin and tonic and settle in. If we’re lucky it will be a better fight than Mayweather-Pacquiao (not a high bar). Or maybe that makes us unlucky.