And so we gathered once again, the contestants at their podium, the proles at their TVs and computers. I saw threads last night in which viewers were settling in with wine and snacks to watch both events.
That is a very encouraging happenstance. It shows that we are still tuned in. While certainly not in the numbers we saw for the first two debates, this is still an election season in which voter interest remains high.
Here’s my primary take-away from last night. The candidate whose demeanor and delivery was, by far, the most presidential was – drum roll – Rand Paul. Oh, I know, I know. Die-hards for the front runners, all over the country are hyperventilating right now. Breath slow. It’ll be okay.
In all debates, as poorly presented and crowded as they are, there is winning and there is “winning”. I have made it my personal mission to create better candidates by encouraging people to be better, more demanding voters. My biggest criticism of the latter being that we give our votes away too easily.
If you read my book, this will be redundant. If you read it and agree with it, you will finish this blog post nodding like a bobble head.
On the other hand, if you are totally in the bag for one candidate or another and only watched last night, hoping to see a train wreck, you will have difficulty getting your head around what I am saying. If your guy got in one gotcha line, you went to bed thinking he is the greatest thing since Clarence Darrow.
We’ll start with an example of “winning”. Since no candidate crashed and burned, we can eliminate a kill line by anyone. So that leaves:
- TRUMP – Since his head didn’t actually explode on camera, most will say he did well. His clownish expressions on split screen, and his continuing inability to convey an idea like a person with a high school diploma, not withstanding. His exchange with Bush over being treated unfairly looked like Nervous vs Stupid with Bush playing the role of Nervous (and correct). This exchange should prove beyond a shadow of a doubt that Trump’s worldview is that of a self-centered child. But it won’t. “win”
- RUBIO – Loudest applause at introduction. I am sure he pleased his de-hard followers. He behaved like Huckabee and other out-of-the closet liberals when he repeatedly misrepresented Cruz’s thinking on the Defense spending vote. I’ll give you a comparison. In a previous debate, Huckabee repeatedly characterized Christie’s Social Security as throwing old people under the bus. It was a stupid and deceitful argument. NO ONE in the republican party is suggesting we take a penny from old people. He knows this and by banging away at the lie (conservative Christian?) he shows his own position to be without merit. Rubio knows that when a legislator sees a rider in a bill that is so repugnant he cannot support the larger bill, in this case a defense spending bill, and votes against it, he is not against defending the nation. To say again and again that Cruz is anti-defense is not only an incredibly stupid position to stake out, it is dishonest. But he likely didn’t hurt himself. “win”
- HUCKABEE – Go home. You needn’t stick around to see if you’ll get a VP or cabinet nod. You won’t. Which is not to say he doesn’t get some wood on the ball at least once every debate. But he is just too hokey and insincere for most voters.
- GRAHAM, PATAKI, KASICH, SANTORUM – Ditto. Although someone might tap Graham as SecDef. But he doesn’t need to keep embarrassing himself by pursuing a candidacy.
- CHRISTIE – had his worst debate performance to date. It hurts to say, as he is one of my favorites (lean in and touch noses, right?). But his exaggeration about people being “scared to death” was both embarrassing to listen to, and in the long term, utterly unhelpful to his campaign or the security of the nation. Normal people (99% of the US) are by no means “scared to death”. We’re making the mortgage, going to ballgames, Christmas shopping, attending city council meetings, etc. If we were “scared to death”, we’d be cowering under our beds. It is a testament to our disdain for violent superstitious nut-bags and our overall emotional health that we are not any more than angry and concerned as we should be. Christie didn’t contribute to the debate by characterizing voters as chickenshit, and it is wreckless to try to inspire it. He may lose a point or two nationally due to his repetition of the line. People do get annoyed with silliness.
- Bush – While last night’s debate didn’t feature a train wreck, Jeb is still experiencing a slow-motion train wreck. He was stiff, unconvincing and uninspiring. He is being over rehearsed. He also still looks as if he is apologizing when he is trying to make affirmative statements. The next time he shakes his head “no” while promoting a point, someone in his camp needs to slap him very hard.
- Carson – He had a night similar to Bush’s. He did a very good job of remembering all his lines. And it was cringingly clear that he was trying to remember all of his lines. When taking the measure of a politician, you measure, among other things, intelligence and aptitude. On the former, Carson has no equal on the stage. While this might carry the day for a president, Carson has not shown real aptitude. A few days with the man discussing the human brain would likely be the equivalent of a pre-med degree. I don’t think Carson would struggle for a syllable in the discussion. BUT, he has yet to show an aptitude for statecraft. That certainly doesn’t make him unwise, just ill fitted SO FAR.
- FIORINA – This is another disappointment for me. I believe Fiorina is eminently qualified to serve as chief executive. But, as I have said many times elsewhere, part of winning, in today’s political zoo, is to get into the news cycle and stay there. I am beginning to wonder if she has the savvy to do that. There is certainly ample opportunity for a candidate who is not risk-averse to blow open any campaign. But to date, she has demonstrated her ability to turn and memorize phrases and use them well. But if more emotion and thunder doesn’t come through, her fortunes will not change. Pleeeeeease Carly! Can you just put it all on the line, just once? But as in all the debates, her performance was composed and thoughtful. Real win.
- CRUZ – He still has the delivery of a gay priest at Sunday mass. No biggie, but it may hurt him later in a close match up. His worst debate moments came last night when he went over time. Going over is not a major problem in itself, but to do so in such a petulant fashion, that on both occasions he was repeating himself anyway made it look like he was trying to have a CNBC moment and failing miserably. Still, in terms of exposure and red meat, he looked good. “win”
And that leaves RAND PAUL. Last night was not only one of his best debate performances, but it was enjoyable to watch. More than any other candidate, he was relaxed. He has exhibited a bit of anger, born of impatience with nonsense, in previous debates. Not last night.
Paul didn’t appear rehearsed. He looked like he was listening when others were talking. Usually the others look like they are pretending to listen while planning their next big line. Trump usually looks like he is pretending to understand in the hopes the moderator won’t call on him.
He was the only candidate on the stage last night that didn’t go over the top with hyperbole. He came across like the cool-headed, dispassionate guy you want in the situation room when generals are laying out their argument. Overall winner.
A final word about Paul. This is not an endorsement, but fair is fair. As Huck lied about Christie and Rubio lied about Cruz, many have lied about Rand Paul. He is not an isolationist. What he is, is a man who is not going to throw out red meat on the subject of national defense. He is not going to formulate military strategy to fit popular opinion. He is not anxious to engage us in situations without considering the long-term results. Would that our last two presidents asked the same questions of his advisors that Paul says we should every time.
When it comes down to the use of the military, Paul is a very cool customer. I have no doubt, that in the event we face an existential threat, Paul would be the most likely of all the candidates to heed the advise of REAL military leaders. Don’t go unless you intend to utterly break the enemy. And if you do go, move the weight and the will of the entire country against the threat.
Ignorant candidates and more ignorant pundits have characterized this as isolationism. Ironically, it is his finest quality. Keep half an eye on Rand Paul.