Thursday, September 16, 2015

by Reed Galen

Days Until Iowa Caucus: 134

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 –

Week 26: Reagan Library Debate Roundup

Updates Coming in From the Field:

  • It was 99 degrees in the debate hall.
  • None of the candidates had a chance to use the restroom.
  • Imagine being a 78 year old donor in that place.
  • The scaffolding they built was five stories high and "terrifying"

Top Thoughts

CNN’s debate tonight lasted three hours. I’m not sure why CNN thought they needed that much time nor why any of the campaigns agreed to this sort of marathon. The first 20 minutes or so felt like CNN was making sure they got their pound of flesh from Donald Trump while capitalizing on the time that most Americans would actually watch. When they were allowed to, the candidates actually engaged in some substantive back and forth on policy. As I expected, much of the night’s discussion focused on foreign policy and national security. Now that we’re passed Labor Day, we’re starting to see who has the stamina to make it to Election Day and those who will fade as we head deeper into the fall.

Happy Hour

Lindsey Graham

He did very well this evening. He is a one-issue candidate: national security. And he hit it time and again during their session. Graham showed a lot more energy in this effort than he did last month in Cleveland.  He showed a command of his issue and a sense of humor that made him popular with the crowd.

Rick Santorum

Santorum was his Santorumiest tonight. Hard-edged, flinty and sanctimonious. But he took advantage of the time he had on stage and made his case for his unique brand of conservatism: Social conservatism mixed with populist economics. He is a big government conservative – the little guy needs the most help and government should be there for him.

Bobby Jindal

After a week of calling Donald Trump every name he could think of, Jindal didn’t show much tonight. He tried to make his case for true conservatives and religious freedom, but it just didn’t resonate. But he might have had the seminal point of the early contest: Conservatives don’t believe the people whom they elect keep their promises when they get to Washington, DC. That sentiment alone may be the fuel for Donald Trump’s current rise.

George Pataki

Other than claiming to have “led us through 9/11” as governor of New York, Pataki didn’t make any news tonight. He sticks to his guns as the only truly Rockefeller Republican in the race, but this is not his time. He’s provided a great deal of service to the state of New York, but this may be his last appearance on a national stage this cycle.

The Winners

Carly Fiorina

Carly Fiorina owned the Reagan Library debate stage tonight. She had a command of the issues and the rhetorical skill to communicate her vision in a compelling way. Of the three “outsider” candidates, she showed herself far and away the best prepared to handle the questions asked. Whether it was discussing dealing with Russia or the crisis in Syria, Fiorina was prepared. Her answers on Planned Parenthood, Donald Trump’s comments about her looks or losing a child to drug addiction, she had command of the issues and the stage. She had her answers ready for the HP hit and her firing but expect those attacks to come more often if she continues to gain traction. Her stock, already on the rise, will continue its ascent in the coming weeks.

Marco Rubio

Tonight, Marco Rubio did what Marco Rubio does. He made the best of the opportunities he had. Clearly a leader on national security issues, Rubio was comfortable discussing the gamut of topics the CNN moderators asked about. His answer on immigration was clear, honest and forthright. What Rubio is able to do, more than any other candidate on the stage, is use an anecdote to illustrate his data point.

Chris Christie

As I noted after the last debate, Christie is very good in these settings. He’s clearly comfortable behind the lectern, doesn’t often shy away from conflict with other candidates, and tells his story well. Once again, he was the only candidate to really engage on entitlement reform. He was the only candidate tonight who was able to straddle the topic of the economy and the environment in a way that might convince an independent voter to look at a Republican in the general election.

Treading Water

Jeb Bush

After spending two weeks hitting Donald Trump, Jeb was measured in his criticism of the magnate. Like the first debate, he didn’t mortally wound himself nor did he have a breakout performance. His answers are too often over-laden with facts and figures. When he used his pre-loaded attacks on Trump, The Donald just denied them, leaving Jeb visibly frustrated. He did have great lines about President George W. Bush keeping the country safe and Mrs. Barbara Bush being upset over his smoking pot in high school.

Ben Carson

I haven’t seen Ben Carson speak in person so I can’t say how he does in a non-debate setting. His speaking style is subdued, and so was the room. However, there are times that Carson, despite his clear intelligence, doesn’t have a firm grasp of the campaign’s major issues or their important details.

John Kasich

Kasich didn’t quite repeat his strong performance of last month, but he did continue to make his case as a solid alternative to Jeb Bush among establishment Republicans. He tried to bring the early segment of the debate back into reality, chastising both his fellow candidates and the moderators pointing out the silliness of the first 20 minutes that were all Trump all the time. He, like Christie, has the ability to talk across the aisle. He’ll need to be a bit crisper and pointed next month in Colorado if he wants to maintain his ascent.

Ted Cruz

Memo to the Cruz campaign: Please don’t have your candidate look directly at the camera anymore. I know what you’re trying to do. I know that you believe you’re connecting with the people at home. And maybe in 1960, when the television screens were 8 inches across, it might have been a good tactic. But on my 42 inch flat screen, it looked like Cruz was sitting in my living room. He has a clear grasp of his beliefs and how they should be applied to the presidency, but it remains to be seen where he will actually draw support to ultimately win.

Mike Huckabee

This was the week Mike Huckabee got his social conservative groove back. He defended Kim Davis in the Kentucky marriage flap, he called out radical Islam and he focused on the Providence that makes America great. He hit activist judges and the Supreme Court hard and reminded his core supporters that he believes spiritual law always trumps the temporal.

Losers Bracket

Donald Trump

This wasn’t Donald’s night but maybe it doesn’t matter. The first 20 minutes of the night were dedicated to giving just about all his opponents the chance to take their shots at him. The more substantive the question, the more disjointed and muddled his answers were. He tangled with Fiorina but she got the better of him – leaving him purse-lipped. Trump began his evening with an attack on Rand Paul’s looks and kept needling throughout the evening. On immigration he still had his talking points down. Given the inverted nature of Trump’s base of support, many fans of The Donald will likely feel he did well tonight. And almost assuredly, none of the other candidates (save Carly) will have the ability to vacuum up airtime starting at 7 am tomorrow morning like Trump.

Scott Walker

Scott Walker’s poll position has completely collapsed in the last 60 days. His performance in last month’s debate was atrocious. During the run up to tonight, Walker’s team talked about how he would be more aggressive and assertive. But for most of the night, Walker reverted back to his wallflower status. When he was called on, he appeared uncomfortable with his answers. If he needed a win tonight to staunch his campaign’s bleeding, he didn’t get it. Far from it.

Rand Paul

Rand’s best moment of the evening was talking about the 14th Amendment to the Constitution. He should really be a US Senator who protects civil liberties and teaches a Con Law class at George Washington University. He has a unique perspective that makes me want to like him. But his overall demeanor gives the impression he’d rather be anywhere than running for president.

Next Up

We’re five weeks from the next GOP debate in Boulder, Colorado. Between now and then, the dynamics of the race will continue to evolve. Will Donald Trump be able to keep the lift he’s gathered since he joined the race? Will Carly and Carson continue their climb? Will voters’ disdain for professional politicians continue?

The next debate host, CNBC, will have to decide whether to put all 16 candidates on the stage, or go back to the Top 10 in polling, etc…The smaller candidates will find it harder to raise money and garner support as we get into October and their numbers (such as they are) will suffer accordingly. If the establishmentarians cannot find their voices and their passion, we’ll head into Colorado with Trump still in the lead, starving the rest of desperately needed attention.


The next round of campaign fundraising reports will be released on October 15, two weeks before the next debate. This likely will winnow the field further as those who are unable to keep the lights on won't have the shekels to buy the plane ticket to Denver. H/T JH

AuthorReed Galen