We found watching the Republican debate to be, on the whole, a dispiriting experience. Part of the problem lay again with the format and the approach of the “moderators.” We have previously observed that such events are not debates in the usual sense of the word, but are more similar to a joint press conference. The moderators seem intent not so much on moderating, or exploring issues, as attempting to embarrass the candidates or provoke hostility among them.
Regular followers of RINOcracy.com will know that we are not fans of Senator Cruz. We believe that he has been a destructive force in the Senate, would be a highly unsuitable nominee and a worse President. Nevertheless, we grant that he had perhaps the best moment of the evening when he commented on the questions put by the candidates’ interrogators from CNBC:
This is not a cage match. And, you look at the questions — “Donald Trump, are you a comic-book villain?” “Ben Carson, can you do math?” “John Kasich, will you insult two people over here?” “Marco Rubio, why don’t you resign?” “Jeb Bush, why have your numbers fallen?”
How about talking about the substantive issues the people care about?
In general, complaining about the media is not a sound strategy. Although the technology is radically different, there is still some truth to the old adage “Never pick a fight with a man who buys ink by the barrel and paper by the ton.” On the other hand, there are times when complaint is justified and an audience of Republicans is apt to be sympathetic. In this case, dissatisfaction with the proceeding continued well after the event. Politico and CNN have reported that representatives of several candidates will meet in Washington on Sunday to discuss taking some control over future debates from the Republican National Committee. For its part, the RNC has now announce that it has suspended its agreement with NBC, CNBC’s parent, for NBC News to sponsor a scheduled debate in February. This may be an over-reaction, but it may have been intended to head off a rebellion from the candidates .
Given the limitations of the format of this week’s session , it will be surprising if the evening changed any hearts or minds. The debate conducted by CNBC was largely–but not entirely–focused on economic issues. That meant at least that we were spared angry rhetoric over abortion, same-sex marriage and supposed threats to the Second Amendment. On the other hand, the treatment of economic issues was relatively superficial. There was, for example, no mention of the TPP trade agreement or other trade issues. Several candidates attempted to describe in sound-bite fashion their approach to tax reform, but viewers had little basis on which to compare the relative merits of each. The most memorable contribution was from Carly Fiorina who proposed to reduce the 73,000 page tax code to three pages. We view that proposal with profound skepticism and we hope that someone will ask Ms. Fiorina to produce a sample of the three pages she has in mind.
In our own case, we came to the debate believing that the three most plausible candidates for the Republican nomination were Jeb Bush, Marco Rubio and John Kasich. Of the three, Jeb Bush had by consensus the worst of the evening and Marco Rubio the best. One underpinning of that consensus was the exchange between Bush and Rubio when Bush attacked Rubio for missing Senate votes while campaigning. It was a point that had already been raised by moderator Carl Quintanilla and addressed by Rubio. But Bush, apparently pre-programmed, plowed ahead and managed to sound petty while eliciting an effective response from Rubio. Apart from those moments, Bush’s performance was generally viewed as lackluster and Rubio’s as energetic and articulate. Bush remains well-funded and supported by a strong organization, but he will not be able to continue indefinitely on a succession of self-inflicted wounds and disappointing performances.
John Kasich began the evening by ignoring a basically silly question (asking each candidate to identify his or her own greatest weakness) and launching an attack on the “fantasy” nature of the tax plans offered by Carson and Trump. In the balance of the debate, Kasich continued to emphasize his experience in Congress and as Ohio Governor. It is a strong resume indeed, but Kasich will have to develop a more effective way of communicating his vision of the future and how he will make it real.
The two candidates leading in polls, Donald Trump and Ben Carson, were placed physically at the center of the stage but neither drew a disproportionate amount of attention and neither had much of substance to say. Perhaps that will begin to erode their position in polls, but it is not clear that the support for either has ever had much to do with substance. The other candidates performed competently, but none achieved the “breakout” moment that would give them a significant boost. Thinking of it all as a reality show, the two whom we would expect to be the next to “leave the island,” would be Senator Paul and Governor Huckabee.
Finally, a word about the undercard debate. Senator Graham was generally credited with a strong performance and we would applaud his addition to the main stage if that should happen. Graham not only has experience and a strong position on national security issues, but constructive positions on climate change (“I’ve talked to the climatologists of the world, and 90 percent of them are telling me that greenhouse gas effect is real. That we’re heating up the planet. I just want a solution that would be good for the economy, that doesn’t destroy it.”) and immigration (“As to the 11 million, I want to talk about fixing the problem. We’re not going to deport 11 million people and their legal citizen children.”) We continue to have a favorable view of Governor Pataki, but since we seem to have little company in that regard, we are not counting on his being around much longer.
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A welcome antidote to the Republican debate came with the remarks of Paul Ryan as he was sworn in as Speaker of the House. Admittedly, Ryan was not responding to questions and addressing specific issues. And his honeymoon with the House and the oozlums of the Freedom Caucus may be short-lived. Nevertheless, his realistic yet upbeat message was a welcome tonic. Readers who missed it, may watch it here, http://www.cbsnews.com/videos/speaker-paul-ryans-first-address-to-congress/ but an excerpt will convey the tone:
The challenges we face today are too difficult and demanding for us to turn our backs and walk away.
“Global terror . . . wars on multiple fronts . . . a government grown unaccountable, unconstitutional, and out-of-touch . . . persistent poverty, a sluggish economy, flat wages, and a sky-rocketing debt.
But we cannot take them on alone. Now, more than ever, we must work together.
All of us are representatives of the people—all the people. We have been entrusted by them to lead.
And yet the people we serve do not feel that we are delivering on the job they hired us to do. We have become the problem. If my colleagues entrust me to be speaker, I want us to become the solution.
One thing I’ve learned from my upbringing in Janesville is that nothing is ever solved by blaming people. We can blame the president. We can blame the media. We can point fingers across the aisle. We can blame each other. We can dismiss our critics and criticism as unfair.
People don’t care about blame. They don’t care about effort. They care about results. Results that are meaningful. Results that are measurable. Results that make a difference in their daily lives.
We wish Speaker Ryan well and we would commend his message to the candidates for President, Republican and Democrat alike.