Friday, August 7, 2015

An Early Look at the 2016 Republican Candidates (or The Republican Clown Car Pulls Up to the Podium) – Post Debate Update

Yesterday, I posted my initial look at the Republican candidates for President. I decided to do a quick update following yesterday’s debates. Please note that while I watched all of the “main” debate, I was only able to listen to a portion of the earlier debate (though I did read the entire transcript of that debate). As I did back in 2011, I’ve kept my original comments and added brief, additional post-debate thoughts in red under following my initial comments.

Jeb-Bush_thumbJeb Bush

It feels like Bush should be the frontrunner going into the debates. He has high name recognition and he has served as governor of a populous and important (i.e, swing state). Yet each of those “positives” are also among his biggest negatives. High name recognition comes with the unavoidable association with both his father and his brother. Bush will have to walk a fine line to distance himself from the economic policies of both prior Bush administrations and with the disastrous war in Iraq commenced by his brother. Moreover, hailing from Florida, it will be difficult for him to avoid running, at least in part, on the policies that he oversaw while Governor, some of which I understand were and remain deeply unpopular. In a state as populous and divided as Florida, there will be no shortage of voices speaking out against Bush’s policies. Similarly, as he tacks right for the primaries and abandons some of the more centrist positions that he’s held in the past, it will be difficult for him to sweep under the rug those former positions that may be unpalatable to the right. Add to that the fact that Bush would likely need to be not just a flip-flopper but a flip-flap-flopper to win the Presidency, needing to tack right to win the primary (abandoning centrist positions) and then flip back to those centrist positions for the general election. Doing so will likely make him look like a unprincipled mercenary who doesn’t really have any position other than a desire to win.

I don’t think that Bush particularly helped himself during the debate, though he didn’t cause any self-inflicted damage, either. He certainly comes across as one of the more serious and competent candidates, though — and maybe it was just me — he seemed nervous (more so than the others). Bush seemed more knowledge, and with more depth of knowledge, on the issues that he discussed. But I think that he missed a chance to really hit some of his opponents a bit harder (on education and immigration, in particular) and I think he should have done so to help differentiate himself and his policies from them. One of these days he is going to have to come up with a better way to either distance or distinguish himself from his father and brother; his answer last night just didn’t do it. And note that the moderators didn’t push Bush to address his gaffe earlier this week that $500 million is too much to spend on women’s health insurance or his previous claim that we should expect Americans to work longer hours.

Ben-Carson_thumbDr. Ben Carson

I’m going to begin my analysis of Carson by quoting my 2011 analysis of Herman Cain because, sadly, I think that much of that analysis remains precisely true today, even though the candidate is different (I’ve changed “Cain” to “Carson” for readability):

The following statement is going to sound a bit racist, so let me complete the thought before you draw any conclusions. I think that [Carson]’s support is largely based upon the fact that he’s black …. What do I mean by that? I think that a lot of Republicans are, knowingly or otherwise, trying hard to show that both they and other Republicans are not racists and that opposition to President Obama is not based on racism. How best to show that you’re not a racist? Simple: Support a black candidate! Maybe, I’m wrong. Maybe Republicans really like [Carson], even though most had never heard of him before very recently and many more are highly unlikely to have heard much of what he has to say. Yet even with his relative obscurity, he continues to poll quite well. Hmm.

Finally, I think that there is a large portion of the Republican electorate that will reject [Carson] because he’s black.

I presume that Dr. Carson is fine neurosurgeon. But as a politician, I think that he will turn out to be a total failure. His ideas seem to consist of not much more than far right mumbo jumbo with a dash of populism and theism thrown in. I think that there are too many other candidates trying to occupy the same portion of the political spectrum for Carson to really get much of a foothold, though if he does well in the early debates he might be able to carve out a spot for himself. However, should he make it through the primaries to become the candidate, I think that he’ll have an extremely hard time convincing voters (other than those on the far right) to vote for him, in light of statements like these:

  • “Because a lot of people who go into prison go into prison straight — and when they come out, they’re gay. So, did something happen while they were in there? Ask yourself that question.”
  • “I mean, [our society is] very much like Nazi Germany. And I know you're not supposed to say ‘Nazi Germany,’ but I don't care about political correctness. You know, you had a government using its tools to intimidate the population. We now live in a society where people are afraid to say what they actually believe.”
  • “You know, we live in a Gestapo age, people don't realize it.”
  • “I think most people, when they finish [AP history], they'd be ready to go sign up for ISIS.”
  • “You know, Obamacare is really, I think, the worst thing that has happened in this nation since slavery. And it is, in a way—it is slavery in a way because it is making all of us subservient to the government.”
  • “They've [ISIS] got the wrong philosophy, but they’re willing to die for what they believe, while we’re busily giving away every value and every belief for the sake of political correctness.”
  • Carson said he couldn't be sure “there will even be an election in 2016” if Republicans didn't go on to win [in 2014]. (His wife also said they were keeping their son’s Australian passport handy if the election didn’t go their way.)

I was pleasantly surprised by Carson, having never really heard him speak at length before. I think that his demeanor may have helped him in that he came across as serious, but not humorless, and as someone who thinks that thinking about issues is a good idea. But… Other than suggesting that our tax system be a flat 10% based on tithing (really? tithing?), did he really offer any concrete proposals or answers at all? I don’t think so. And while I liked the idea that he wants to think, the question that demonstrated just how little he knew about many of the common issues should really make one wonder what, if anything, he knows about some of the more esoteric and complicated issues. Some on the job learning is to be expected, but I’d like my candidates, let alone nominee or President, to be well-versed in many of the issues that he or she may confront.

I think his answer about people being the same inside was a good one; but I think he missed a chance to differentiate himself by noting that doctors like him were having to operate on too many unarmed black kids who have been the targets of aggressive policing. Similarly, Carson missed a chance to hit Huckabee a bit following Huckabee’s claim that the military is not a place for social experimentation. Carson could have reminded Huckabee that the military desegregated long before society in a massive social experiment.

All in all, I think Carson demonstrated that he is a serious and at least somewhat viable candidate, but I don’t think that he did enough to separate himself from the very crowded field or to capture support away from other candidates.

Chris-Christie_thumbChris Christie

Christie seems like one of the more moderate candidates in the field. Thus, the first question becomes the degree to which he feels a need to veer to the right for the primaries. I think that he may have an even more difficult time doing so and then moving back to the center-right than would Jeb Bush.

I also wonder whether one of Christie’s seeming strengths — his big, brash personality — is as much of a weakness as it is a strength. His bold, “in your face” approach may work well in New Jersey, but how well will that play in Iowa, New Hampshire, or southern states? There are numerous videos of Christie getting into arguments with voters in New Jersey. Will he be able to control himself if pushed on a campaign stop in Iowa or or New Hampshire? And will that brashness make him seem un-Presidential? In this regard, Christie can be compared to Trump, but unlike Trump, whose brashness comes off as somewhat polished, Christie comes off as nothing more than a schoolyard bully.

Oh, and don’t forget the Republicans who still don’t forgive Christie for acting responsibly in the wake of Hurricane Sandy by cooperating with President Obama.

Then of course are the scandals. One on top of another. And even if Christie can persuasively argue that Bridgegate was the fault of his aides, won’t that feed into a narrative that suggests that he doesn’t take responsibility for things done by those working for him or that he is a poor manager who doesn’t know what is being done by his aides? Moreover, the investigations into the scandals remain ongoing. Who knows if (or when) an indictment or further bad news will come out.

I hate to say it, but I also think that Christie’s weight will present him with several problems. First, the national campaign trail is absolutely brutal. I don’t know if Christie has health problems or if he’s just a big guy. But if he does have any health problems, campaigning could exacerbate those problems. Furthermore, one of the potential attacks for Republicans to levy against Hillary Clinton in the general age will focus on her age. If Christie is the nominee, the strength of those attacks against Clinton will likely be blunted by concerns about Christie’s health.

For the most part, I was impressed with Christie. He was strong and combative without seeming to be a bully. His answers had a bit more substance than most of the other candidates (he at least claims to have a detailed plan that voters can go and read). Now, while I understand the reasoning for doing so, the repeated references to his being appointed as prosecutor the day before 9/11 (a bit of a fib as I understand he was told he was going to be nominated on 9/10), the repeated claim and linkage to his anti-terror stand and foreign policy statute felt a bit hollow. That being said, I thought he was very strong in his little spat with Rand Paul, especially his query about how we know just who the terrorists are. If I had to score that fracas, I’d give it to Christie on points. Anyway, I think that Christie probably made some headway by showing that he could be strong and leaving the obnoxiousness and bullying to another candidate (guess who…). Oh, one more thing: Someone, anyone, needs to stage an intervention and get Christie a better haircut before the next debate.

Ted-Cruz_thumbTed Cruz

Cruz strikes me as a very stupid smart person. By that I mean he may be smart enough to have gone to good schools (but then so did George W. Bush), but he doesn’t seem able to actually apply any of that intelligence. He seems to make bad decision after bad decision without ever being able to either take responsibility for those decisions or to recognize negative ramifications associated with those decisions. For example, he still seems to think both that the government shutdown was a good idea and President Obama’s fault.

I also keep reading that Cruz is despised by his Republican colleagues in the Senate. Not disliked, mind you, but despised. That may not matter (at least not too much) to primary voters, but it will matter in terms of building campaign infrastructure, endorsements and, potentially, campaign contributions. Questions will be raised and it may be difficult for Cruz to explain away his differences with colleagues.

Furthermore, Cruz has a major albatross around his neck in the form of his father, a really far-right pastor who has said some colorful things in the past. Things that a candidate’s father or pastor say shouldn’t define the candidate, but then look how well that worked for President Obama with his pastor. Moreover, Cruz doesn’t seem to have made any effort to distance himself from some of his father’s more offbeat or offensive views. Should Cruz advance far into the primaries (or into the general election), I think that the Dominion Theology movement from which he comes will become the subject to a spotlight

Cruz also has a whole catalog of prior statements and positions that he is likely to be pushed on, probably much harder than he’s been pushed previously. He’s made outrageous statements and claims (Harvard Law School is full of communists!) that he’s never had to back up or explain. In the course of a primary campaign, it seems highly likely that he’ll be asked about those statements, whether by a small town newspaper (you know, where they still do real journalism) or by another candidate seeking to weaken Cruz or carve out a place of his/her own.

Finally, have you ever actually stopped and listened to Cruz speak? It’s excruciating. He has a voice that … well … you wouldn’t want to listen to him give regular speeches, let alone inaugural addresses or State of the Union speeches. I don’t think that people pay conscious attention to things like that when choosing a candidate, but I do think that traits like that play into the general favorable or unfavorable opinion that people draw about the candidates.

I’ve only written one prior post specifically about Cruz: Abolish the IRS? Seriously? Do These People Even Think Before Speaking? (Jun. 4, 2014).

I disliked Cruz before the debate and I like him even less now. I’m not sure how, but he has surely mastered the art of being a pompous know-it-all who knows nothing. More importantly, it just seems like the vision that he is laying out, his vision for the America, is so narrow that it will be truly appealing to very few. Perhaps luckily for Cruz, with so many of the candidates tacking so hard to the right, his own brand of right wing crazy sort of fades into the background. I was actually a bit surprised at how forcefully Cruz talked about how much he seems to distrust … well, everyone, but especially the leadership of the Republican party in Congress. How to win friends…? And for the record, I saw several people online comment on how grating and annoying his voice is. So I guess it isn’t just me who feels that way.

Carly-Fiorina_thumbCarly Fiorina

Like Donald Trump, Carly Fiorina comes from the world of business, not politics. That may be her biggest strength, but it is also her glaring weakness. For one thing, what, if anything, does she know about foreign policy or any of the host of other issues that will be important both in the upcoming debates and for the next President? Will she be able to articulate policies and be able to demonstrate a reasonable knowledge of the issues? More problematic for Fiorina is that as she touts her business experience (running Hewlett Packard), but when she does so, she must also explain laying off more than 30,000 American employees, engineering an unsuccessful merger with Compaq, and leading HP to lose more than half of its value. She was forced to resign by HP’s board of directors. Read those two sentences again. And now she wants to put that business experience to work for America! No thanks.

The conventional wisdom seems to be that Fiorina won the undercard debate. And based on the transcript that I read, I’d certainly agree that she did well. But then look who she was up against. The problem is that “doing well” meant saying “I know business!” and “Hillary Clinton is a liar!” Now, those points may sound good on a debate stage but they tell us nothing about what she would do if elected. And I think that the moderators did viewers a grave disservice by not pushing her to explain the ugly side of her record with Hewlett Packard. It is odd how the moderators pushed some candidates very hard on certain issues (e.g., Trump), but didn’t press weaknesses of others. Fiorina may be able to move into the top 10 on the basis of her performance (and the poor performance by a few in the top 10), but I still don’t see a way for her to get to the nomination. I wonder if she is really running to be the nominee for Vice President.

Jim-Gilmore_thumbJim Gilmore

Who? Exactly. Gilmore is the former governor of … oh, who cares. He doesn’t stand a chance. (But it was Virginia from 1998-2002.) I’ve listed him here because he has the credentials (i.e., former governor) but a complete lack of name recognition or recent notable accomplishments most likely renders his candidacy dead in the water. Perhaps in a year with fewer candidates he might be able to gain traction by showing that he is a substantive candidate, but when there are thousands dozens so many candidates, I just don’t see how he can carve out any space to gain traction.

Gov. Gilmore was at the debate. He said some words. They formed sentences. He told the audience he was a conservative. Nobody cared.

Lindsey-Graham_thumbLindsey Graham

Sen. Lindsey Graham is an interesting candidate. He is clearly one of the more knowledgeable candidates with very strong credentials and an exceptional policy background. But Graham is hard to pin down on the ideological scale; for every moderate position he takes, he seems to have another position fairly far to the right. For every reasonable statement attributable to him, there seems to be another that is more off-the-wall. So it will be interesting to listen to him in the debates. If he makes it into the debates.

While Graham may be a foreign policy expert, he is clearly a hawk. With regard to certain foreign policy matters, that hawkishness may play well (how to deal with ISIS, for example). But in a country that has been at war, in one form or another, since 2001, an overly hawkish worldview might alienate a lot of voters, especially in states with large military populations that, by this point, are exhausted and probably not interested in more boots on the ground fighting yet more conflicts.

The biggest problem that Graham may face if he gets beyond the initial days of the campaign is the whisper and rumor campaign that will likely follow him: Is he gay? Graham is a confirmed bachelor. He has joked that, if elected President, he would have a “rotating first lady”. While Graham has denied being gay, the rumors and allegations have followed him in his political career. Now, any reader of this blog likely knows that whether he is gay or not has no bearing on my view of Graham’s character or fitness for office (and I can understand why a South Carolina politician might want to remain closeted [and I’m not suggesting that he is] given the views in that state). But in 2000, the whisper campaign against John McCain (allegedly spearheaded by George W. Bush’s campaign and Karl Rove in particular) about McCain’s adopted Vietnamese daughter (suggesting that she was actually McCain’s illegitimate black daughter) effectively ended his candidacy. I hate to say it, but I suspect a similar sort of whisper campaign regarding Graham’s sexuality, especially in the conservative states that are prevalent in the early primary season, could be devastating to his campaign. Wrong and unfair, but this is politics.

Just from reading the transcript, Graham came across as almost … whining? pleading? … but not stating a particularly forceful case for much of anything. And the small bit of the debate that I heard included one bit from Graham that made me wonder if he was either taking some kind of drug or if he was crying. The man sounded absolutely defeated and devastated. Did anyone else get that from listening to him? I actually feel a bit bad for Graham because I do think he has a lot to offer and knows a lot (not that I agree with him on much), but he just can’t seem to find a way to get his message to voters. And his debate performance probably means that he never will.

Mike-Huckabee_thumbMike Huckabee

Where to start? I mean, really, where to start? Perhaps this quote from Mike Huckabee while campaigning for President back in 2008 (emphasis in original):

I have opponents in this race who do not want to change the Constitution. But I believe it’s a lot easier to change the Constitution than it would be to change the word of the living God. And that’s what we need to do is amend the Constitution so it’s in God’s standards rather than trying to change God’s standards so it lines up with some contemporary view of how we treat each other and how we treat the family.

Let’s just take that as a starting point. If you search around online or even spend a little time listening to Huckabee you’ll quickly discover both that the foregoing quotation was neither taken out of context nor particularly unusual. Moreover, a review of the sorts of statements that Huckabee is prone to make should lead one to realize, quickly, that Huckabee doesn’t really want to be President of the United States of America; rather he wants to be the Head Pastor of a theocracy (one which is based upon his understanding of “truth”, of course).

I could write pages and pages analyzing quotations from Huckabee (such as comparing the US debt “crisis” to the Holocaust, offensive comments about transgendered individuals, claiming that women who wanted access to birth control “can’t control their libidos”, his release of a sexual predator from prison because the prisoner had supposedly had a religious awakening [and who subsequently committed murder], his defense of the Duggar clan in the wake of the child molestation covered up by the family, or his implicit comparison of President Obama to Hitler regarding the proposed nuclear deal with Iran), but I don’t think it’s worth my effort.

Perhaps more than any other candidate, I get the sense that Huckabee wants to be President for only a segment of the population; if you don’t share his narrow and religious-based worldview, he doesn’t want to be your President; rather, he wants to use the office of the Presidency to convert change your views — and rights — to match the theocracy he wants to lead.

Huckabee’s shtick — and his “folksiness” — may play well in rural Iowa and across the South, but I don’t see him able to gain much traction in urban areas or states with more diverse populations (whether religious or racial). And if he does gain any traction, I think that he will be hit hard, whether by the media or by another candidate, on some of his prior statements or his seeming theocratic leanings. I suspect that for every voter who finds his message appealing, several more will be turned off.

And while I get that he is very pro-Israel (and opposed to Obama on virtually everything), I’m not sure that comparing the proposed nuclear deal with Iran to ushering the Jews to gas chambers is really a way to garner support, even among the most conservative elements of the Jewish community.

I’m actually surprised how infrequently I’ve written about Huckabee given some of the unbelievable things that he’s said over the years. This is the only previous post that I’ve published that focused on Huckabee: Mike Huckabee Is Full of … Doggie Pooh! And He’s Playing Dangerous Politics (Mar. 7, 2011).

Oh. My. G-d.  (Pun intended…) See up above when I said that Huckabee wanted to be Head Pastor of a Theocracy? Yep. That. I think that those who like Huckabee will think that his debate performance was excellent, but then they are the choir to whom he is preaching. I think Huckabee’s incredibly shrill tone and the vehemence and language with which he attacked the issues will be a big turn off. At least I hope it will.

I recognize that abortion remains a complicated and contentious issue, but the anger that he brings to the discussion and seeming refusal to recognize other views or middle grounds, may alienate many voters who, while uncomfortable with abortion, nevertheless don’t want outright bans.

I also want to take a brief moment to discuss one of Huckabee’s ideas, namely that he would apply the Fifth and Fourteenth Amendments to a fetus. In other words, he is either claiming that the government is enforcing the death penalty against fetuses or that a fetus is entitled to life, liberty, and due process (I presume the latter). And to reach his conclusion, he is presuming that a fetus is a person. Unfortunately, for Gov. Huckabee, not all religions agree with that viewpoint. This is a prime example of what I mean when I talk about a Huckabee theocracy. Please see my previous posts “Keep Your Religious Doctrine Out of My State's Laws” (scroll down about halfway to the section entitled “Beginning of human physical life”) and “A Closer Look at Personhood Legislation”. Furthermore, a competent group of moderators (i.e., a group that really wanted to get answers and who weren’t employed by the same company that used to employ Huckabee) might have asked a forceful follow up question to his proposal, such as asking if a woman who smokes, drinks, eats an unhealthy diet, or lives in poverty, is violating the personhood rights of the fetus. Or, perhaps, they could have asked him if that fetus is entitled to government funded prenatal healthcare.

Huckabee will stick around for a while. He has a core group that loves him. But I think that his brand of vitriol and rhetoric will wear on people who want reasoned debate and actual solutions to problems, especially those who don’t plan to rely on a deity to offer those solutions or solve those problems.

Bobby-Jindal_thumbBobby Jindal

There is part of me that almost thinks that Bobby Jindal is some kind of a joke, as if Democrats invented and propped up the perfect opponent for a Democratic candidate to destroy. So let’s look at Bobby Jindal a bit more carefully. First, it’s probably worth noting that his name isn’t Bobby; it’s Piyush. Now I wonder why he goes by the name “Bobby”? Hmm. Interesting comparison: Barack Hussein Obama ran for office under his given name, rather than using the nickname “Barry”. His foes, especially the conspiracy-minded among them, tend to call him Barry or Barry Soetero or to remind us that his middle name is Hussein. But Jindal apparently gets a pass for using his American nickname rather than his given name. Debate and discuss. I’ll wait.

I also think that voters will get tired of being talked to as if Jindal was Mr. Rogers and the voters are a bunch of children in his neighborhood. But maybe that’s just me.

[I really wanted to spend a bit more time talking about some of Jindal’s policy views, but given that he didn’t make the cut for the first debate, and given that I want to publish this before that debate, additional thoughts on Jindal will have to wait.]

I’ve only really written about Jindal once (as a segment of a long post entitled More Stupid & Hate from the Right [Sep. 24, 2013]; scroll down about half way).

I didn’t hear any of Jindal’s responses; I only read them in the transcript. And, frankly, they made absolutely no impact. Much like Jindal’s candidacy so far.

John-Kasich_thumbJohn Kasich

Kasich, the Governor of Ohio, is one of the more interesting candidates in this group. From what I can glean of him, he is actually quite credible on the issues, much more of a “substantive guy” than some of the other candidates. And, on occasion, he has adopted positions that weren’t necessarily in line with the standard party platform. However, he doesn’t seem to have the oversize personality that so many of the other candidates possess and so it may be very difficult for him to get out of their shade and find any space in which to engage with voters on a substantive discussion of real issues. Furthermore, he is one of the last candidates to enter the race, so he hasn’t had the chance to build up his name recognition. On the other hand, given the way that some of the candidates have made themselves look like idiots or assholes, that might be a good thing.

Kasich, if he can find a way to separate himself from some of the other candidates, especially if he can find a way to turn the discussion substantive, may be a strong choice for voters interested in policy and substance over flash and rhetoric; unfortunately, flash and rhetoric are a lot easier to compress into a 30 second advertisement or a debate with ten people on the stage.

On my scorecard, Kasich was one of the two winners of the debate. He proved to be moderate in tone, knowledgeable on the issues (if a bit repetitive), and came across as … well, as a good guy, somebody you could disagree with and not get into a shouting match. And I thought that his answer to the same-sex marriage approach was very deftly handled, though I wonder whether he further alienated voters on the far right of the political spectrum. I disagree with Kasich on many issues, but I hope that he continues to get the opportunity to present his ideas on those issues to voters because I do think that he has substantive ideas to address complicated issues and could be a viable candidate … but only if people take the time to listen to him.

George-Pataki_thumb1George Pataki

George Pataki was Governor of New York from 1995-2006. He was Governor during 9/11. While he may have more name recognition and accomplishments that Jim Gilmore, Pataki must be considered a real long shot. I just don’t know what he’s got going for him that is going to make anyone jump to get on the Pataki bandwagon. He may be able to fundraise on Wall Street, but I don’t see him gaining traction outside the Northeast (and I’m not sure he has much support there, either). I’m sure he is a competent and substantive guy, but there doesn’t appear to be room for him in this crowded field.

Did you know that Pataki was Governor on 9/11? Well, if you listened to the debate, you know that now, though I’m not sure that you know much else about Pataki or his ideas. And did anyone else find the question posed to him about being pro-choice at all odd: “Has [the Planned Parenthood] story changed your heart when it comes to abortion?” Were other candidates asked if police killing unarmed African American kids changed their hearts about policing or if toddlers being killed by guns changed their hearts about the gun control? Of course not.

Rand-Paul_thumbRand Paul

Paul is an interesting case. He is much more aligned with the Libertarian movement than with the Republican party and those libertarian leanings have endeared him to some on the left of the political spectrum, especially on issues like surveillance. But some of that libertarian spirit will alienate many core Republican voters.

Paul also has some massive problems that he’ll need to overcome if his candidacy continues for any substantial period of time. Most obvious of these is his father, long-time Congressman Ron Paul. Whether it be the elder Paul’s hostility toward Israel, long-standing dog-whistle racism, or penchant for conspiracy theories, the younger Paul may find himself forced to distance himself from or even argue against his father’s positions (they are already adverse on the proposed nuclear deal with Iran). Paul is also still trying to find a way to walk back his claims to Rachel Maddow that the Civil Rights Act was bad law. That position may help him secure the Confederate flag flying demographic but it won’t play well with minority communities. And trust me, if he gets deep into the debates and primaries, that video will will become fodder for many commercials and interview questions. Similarly, support for Israel is strong among the Republican base and his previous statement (which he has also tried to walk back) that he would eliminate aid to Israel may immediately disqualify him for some voters. And while many Republicans may still oppose Obamacare, Paul’s claim that a right to healthcare is comparable to … wait for it … slavery! … may be a proverbial bridge too far.

Paul also has some … weird … problems to deal with. For example, there was the whole “Aqua Buddha” thing that forced Paul to have to say: “No, I never was involved with kidnapping. No, I never was involved with forcibly drugging people.” Not exactly something you want your presidential candidate to have to address. More importantly, Paul claims (or at least used to claim) that he is/was a board-certified ophthalmologist. But guess what? The “board” that certified him … was a board that he founded in opposition to the main ophthalmologic licensing board. Doctor heal license thyself? And when questioned about the bizarre conspiracy theory that the military exercise known as Jade Helm was actually a plan by the Obama administration to … um … take away guns or enslave Texas with tunnels under Walmart, Paul, rather than acting responsibly and saying, “that’s just a stupid conspiracy theory and you’re an idiot of giving it any credence” instead said that he was going to “look into” the issue.

Look, let me be serious for a minute. Paul terrifies me. Perhaps more than any candidate other than Mike Huckabee, Paul would seek fundamental changes to our country and, perhaps, the world. And I do worry that were he to get the Republican nomination, he would be able to do very well, especially as he would mobilize Libertarians who might otherwise sit out the election and con(vince) some on the left to vote for him. That can’t be allowed to happen.

Look, I know that I’m a vocal opponent of Paul, so maybe it was just me, but boy did he look … um … slightly deranged? He had a sort of weird smirk and look in his eye that made me wonder if he might pull out a hatchet and start swinging it around the stage. Paul continued his attempt to try to capture two distinct groups of voters; the problem is that I’m not sure that the two (libertarians and religious conservatives) are necessarily complementary or compatible. And in his skirmish with Christie, I think that Paul came out the loser, not by a knockout, but at least with a black eye and a fat lip. It also seems that the moderators went much easier on Paul than they did some of the other candidates, only seeming to really push him on his previous claims that he would end aid to Israel. But I think in terms of both his demeanor and his responses, Paul showed that his candidacy he really doesn’t have much to offer.

Rick-Perry_thumbRick Perry

Oops. That is the most important hurdle that Perry must overcome. His 2011 debate debacle memorialized with his infamous “Oops”. The upside to Perry’s candidacy is that he has tremendous charisma and tends to be (when not on painkillers) an engaging speaker with a good story to tell (as long as you don’t force him to get into details). But, as they say, the devil is in the details. Yes, Texas created a lot of jobs. A lot of low-paying jobs. Yes, the finances of Texas are good, so long as you don’t mind having the highest percentage of uninsured people in the country and as long as oil profit margins remain high. And so on and so forth.

Perry also has some close relationships with some of the more extreme elements of the Evangelical Christian community. I previously wrote about those relationships: Rick Perry’s Relationship With the Most Extreme Elements of Evangelical Christianity (Aug. 9, 2011). I also think that Perry would be bad for the Jews: Not Really Fair, But… (Aug. 15, 2011). I also wrote about Perry’s “pro-life” views which oppose abortion but which don’t mind executing convicted felons even if that convicted felon just might be innocent: Yeah, Rah, Death Penalty! (September 8, 2011).

I’ll also repeat some of what I wrote about Perry back in my 2011 candidate review:

Perry does, however, have some serious baggage of his own. First, and this is just my own two cents, will voters be uncomfortable with yet another Texas cowboy in the White House? I think that even a lot of Republican voters don’t look back on the Bush presidency with great fondness. Thus, one has to wonder whether Perry’s ties to Bush (if I’m not mistaken, he was Bush’s Lieutenant Governor) and other eerie similarities (he even seems to like to talk like Bush, droppin’ his Gs and bein’ all folksy) will be too much. And the macho cowboy image he likes to portray (he jogs with a gun and kills wild animals while jogging?) maybe a bit much for a lot of Americans.

There are also persistent rumors that Perry is … drum roll please … gay. Enough so, that his “even though I’m not running” team is apparently working to counter those rumors. Where there’s smoke, there’s fire? And even if there isn’t a fire, how will Republican voters react? Recall the drubbing that McCain took in South Carolina in 2000 when Bush supporters painted McCain as the father of a “black” child (his adopted Asian daughter). If Perry has to spend face time telling people that he’s not gay, it will just be less time that he has to talk to them about why they should support him.

Finally, there is the giant elephant in the room that I suspect every other Republican candidate will remind voters of time and time again and that is Perry’s flirtation with the early Tea Party movement and suggestions that Texas should secede if it doesn’t get what it wants from Washington. It will be hard to argue that he should be elected President of a country that he suggested, however obliquely, that Texas secede from. After all, it’s hard to play the role of the patriot when your opponents have red meat that they can display to suggest that you are anything but patriotic. My question is why the national media, in story after story on Perry and whether he may run, never remembers to mention that particular episode.

OK. So Perry didn’t really suggest secession. But he did seem to flirt with the idea. And even though he didn’t really suggest secession, I think that is an issue that he will continue to be challenged on in the primaries and in the general election. Since writing my original analysis on Perry, he’s hosted his prayer rally (see my post Rick Perry’s Relationship With the Most Extreme Elements of Evangelical Christianity), has called Ben Bernanke (head of the Federal Reserve) “treasonous”, made clear that he doesn’t believe in evolution, and suggested that climate scientists are engaging in fraud to line their own pockets. And yet Perry is also currently polling as the top candidate. So either Republicans still don’t really know Perry and are just desperate for someone other than Romney (or Bachmann or any of the other candidates) or they actually like a candidate with views as extreme as Perry.

Oh, and about those views. I had no idea that Perry wrote a book, just 10 months ago (!), in which he claims that virtually every federal program and many federal laws (including, but not limited to, Social Security, Medicare, child labor laws, environmental protection…) are unconstitutional. How will his claim that Social Security is an unconstitutional Ponzi scheme play in Florida?

It will be interesting to hear Perry explain some of these views in the debates (presuming that the moderators chosen by the Republican Party and/or Fox see fit to, you know, ask real questions).

I was really interested to read Perry’s responses in the debate transcript. However, absolutely nothing about any of his answers stood out in any way. I think Perry’s candidacy fizzled in 2012 and it never really got resurrected.

Marco-Rubio_thumbMarco Rubio

I’m really not sure what to make of Rubio. When he first appeared on the scene, he seemed both polished and substantive and somewhat willing to stake out his own ground and positions. But then when criticized (especially on immigration), he appeared to cave and revert to standard GOP positions mostly indistinguishable from any of the other candidates. He backstory (Cuban-American) is compelling … except for the fact that he apparently felt the need to lie about his parents’ history and then had to walk back and try to explain those lies. And then there was that infamous dry mouth and bottle of water in his response to the State of the Union speech a few years ago. Not terribly Presidential (but it will make for many a fun campaign ad…).

I really thought, at least for a while, that Rubio was going to be a strong candidate that would be able to stake out a position on the ideological spectrum. But as time has gone on, he seems to be fading into the woodwork with nothing unique to recommend him.

Along with Kasich, Rubio was the other clear winner in last night’s debate. He was extremely well-spoken, seemed knowledgeable about the issues, and had a demeanor that just makes you want to like the guy. Oh, and he didn’t make any awkward lunges for a bottle of water. Again, while I disagree with him on many issues, he does seem to bring a sense of substance to the proceedings and a willingness to advance his candidacy on the basis of discussing the issues that are important to him rather than just tossing off red meat to his (hopeful) base. I think that his best moment in the debate may also be the one that comes back to haunt him (and the others):

I would add to that that this election cannot be a resume competition. It’s important to be qualified, but if this election is a resume competition, then Hillary Clinton’s gonna be the next president, because she’s been in office and in government longer than anybody else running here tonight.

Here’s what this election better be about: This election better be about the future, not the past. It better be about the issues our nation and the world is facing today, not simply the issues we once faced.

This country is facing an economy that has been radically transformed. You know, the largest retailer in the country and the world today, Amazon, doesn’t even own a single store? And these changes have been disruptive. They have changed people’s lives. The jobs that once sustained our middle class, they either don’t pay enough or they are gone, and we need someone that understands that as our nominee.

I suspect that Rubio’s unintended praise for Hillary Clinton will become a staple of political advertisements. In any event, I think that Rubio, who has been sort of lackluster in recent months, did a lot to revive his fortunes.

Rick-Santorum_thumbRick Santorum

Let me start by reposting most of what I wrote about Rick Santorum’s candidacy back in 2011 (with slight updates for 2015):

Santorum scares me, though thankfully, I don’t think that he has a chance of getting the nomination. He is a man that his so tone deaf to the world around him that I would be truly frightened of what an America under the leadership of Santorum might look like. He’s also one of those holier-than-thou sort of people. I just read an article last week about how the extremely anti-abortion candidate, a candidate who doesn’t believe in any exceptions, permitted doctors to induce an abortion in his wife to save her life. In other words, abortion is evil and nobody should ever have the right to an abortion … except for Santorum’s family. The saving grace, so to speak, is that I think Santorum’s social values stances are so far to the right, that he will be very unappealing to all but the furthest right portion of the Republican party. While the primaries tend to drive candidates toward the extremes, I think that candidates like [Cruz] and [Walker] (or maybe Rick Perry) can position themselves to the far right without going as far right as Santorum.

I forgot to mention one other weakness that Santorum has. In response to repeated highly offensive homophobic statements, several gay rights activists decided to go on the offensive against Santorum. They decided to coin a word invoking his last name. Go ahead: Google the name Santorum (though please don’t do so if your kids are reading this). Should more and more Americans decide to try learn a bit more about Santorum (the candidate, not the frothy mix), they will probably be learning things that they didn’t want to know. And once you have that name association in your head, good luck getting rid of it. Can you imagine if Santorum was the actual candidate? Would schools and libraries put a filter on searches of his name?

Well, as time has passed, Google searches on the word “santorum” are now more likely to return at least some hits related to the candidate, but that frothy mix still rates pretty highly in search results.

More importantly, in the four years since I wrote that prior piece, Santorum hasn’t changed much (though I will credit him for his unexpected response to Caitlyn Jenner’s transition).

Over the years, I’ve written several other posts about Rick Santorum:

Even the moderators seemed to recognize that Santorum’s campaign was stuck in the social wars of the past. And the notion that he is stupid enough to compare the same-sex marriage decision to Dred Scott shows that he is wholly unqualified to be President (or dog catcher or anything other than a homophobic preacher).

Donald-Trump_thumbDonald Trump

Do I talk about Trump’s racism and nativism? Do I talk about his being a “birther”? Do I talk about his serial bankruptcies? Do I talk about his favoring a single-payer health insurance system? Do I talk about his need for self-aggrandizement? I could. But we’d be here all day (not that I’m unwilling to take however long is necessary to help remove this dumb, evil fuck from our national conscience).

I suspect that over the coming months, I’ll have much more to write about Trump. So in the meantime (and in the interest of finishing this post so it can be published before the debate), let me just say that I think that Trump is just about the worst possible person to be a candidate for President. I think that he is a racist blowhard who isn’t half as a smart (or rich) as he thinks or claims he is. I think, if elected, he would do real damage to the United States, both domestically and internationally. And I think that he is a fundamentally unserious candidate who has no real interest in being President of the United States; rather he wants one more trophy in his gold-plated case.

My quick analysis: I think Trump will continue to do well … until he is forced to begin detailed substantive discussions on difficult issues. Just claiming that he’ll make Mexico pay to build a wall or that he beats the Chinese all the time are not answers or policies. They’re politicized bullshit. (If and) When he has to stop saying “I can do ___ better, because I built a tall building!” and has to start discussing the wonky policy details of how he would handle real problems, I think the shine will fade. And as soon as it stops being fun for Trump (or as soon as it stops being all about Trump), then I suspect he’ll get bored (or get bored of spending too much of his own money) and move on to his next self-aggrandizing project.

Oh, Donald. Being on top was fun for a while, wasn’t it? I think that he really hurt himself by refusing to agree not to run as an independent and to support the eventual nominee. His response was that of a spoiled child who will take his ball and go home if he doesn’t get his way. And then he decided that the best way to respond to allegations of his misogyny was first to make a joke of it, then to suggest he hadn’t said the things he’s said, then to attack the moderator, and then to attack the political correctness of society, as if any of that explains why he would be rude to someone. Not calling someone a “fat pig” has nothing to do with being politically correct; it has everything to do with being human and even if we want a President who is tough on the bad guys, I think that we would also agree that our President should at least be able to demonstrate that he (or she) is a decent human being. And Trump totally fails by that measure.

Similarly, while I understood his answer about using the system as an answer for his serial bankruptcies, I just don’t see that answer as being one that hard working Americans will feel good about. After all, it won’t take much to explain to them that the protections afforded to a corporate mogul like Trump in a bankruptcy are vastly different that the treatment that a homeowner can expect when medical bills or a lost job lead to bankruptcy. People use bankruptcy to survive; Trump uses it to profit.

The debate was a chance to look Presidential. I don’t think he did that. I think he came off as a petulant bully who didn’t really know much about the issues and, when pushed, simply got defensive and nasty. I’m sure that there is a constituency for that, but I don’t think that it is a constituency that will bring enough votes. My hope is that Trump will soon get bored with this particular reality show and move on to something else.

Scott-Walker_thumb2Scott Walker

Gov. Walker (from Wisconsin) is one of the three “serious” candidates (with Donald Trump and Ted Cruz) that I would go so far as to put into a separate category that I’ll label “Bad Guys”. Most politicians are, I think, generally decent people (well, as decent as you can be when you have to spend so much time making promises and trying to convince people to give you money) who simply have different views of what they think our country and society should look like. I can disagree with you but that doesn’t necessarily make you a bad guy. Scott Walker is one of the candidates that I think really has neither concern nor care for anyone other than his group of supporters (or the moneyed interests that support him). I really think that he would be pleased to destroy much of the social safety net and workforce protections if it meant more money to line the pockets of those he favors.

Walker may do well in the primaries. He is a tested candidate who does seem to understand the issues. However, as time goes on, I think that his brand of conservatism will remain popular to only a small segment of the electorate. It seems that Walker’s best path to the nomination is to simply remain viable and in the upper tier of 5 or so candidates, hoping that the others flame out. And that strategy just might work.

Walker didn’t come off as the fire-brand asshole that I had him pegged for. I guess that’s a good thing, right? But I don’t really feel like he made much of an impact one way or the other. He didn’t distinguish himself but he didn’t shoot himself in the foot either. Of course, that is precisely what I thought his strategy need to be: Remain viable while others flame out. To that end, he had a successful, if quiet, debate.

* * *

I also want to take another brief moment to criticize the moderators for that absolutely idiotic, completely inappropriate final question. I mean, really. With all of the issues facing our country and our society, do we really need to hear whether the candidates are engaged in an internal dialogue with their particular deity? I’m voting for a candidate that offers good ideas to solve difficult problems, not one who hears voices in his or her head, especially if those voices tell them to follow the words of a book written by men thousands of years ago.

Personally, I would have loved to hear a follow up question asking why the candidates think that G-d has chosen them and not their opponents. Maybe a question asking the candidates to square their support for the Ten Commandments with the First Amendment’s protection of freedom of religion or hear them explain why only about half of the Ten Commandments are laws. I would have liked to hear them explain whether they believe in the Biblical commandment to put gay men to death or the prohibitions on shrimp and pork. I would have liked to hear them explain why abortion and same-sex marriage are so important to them given that Jesus was silent on those issues, but they seem to say nothing about feeding the poor or housing the stranger. Then we could have seen some real squirming.

Look, I’ll accept that faith is important to many of these candidates and to the voters who will choose one. That’s fine. But faith should largely be a private matter, not a determining factor of whether a candidate is worthy of a vote. I’m curious: Did anyone ever ask George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, or even Ronald Reagan about their discussions with G-d? So why, in 2015, has that become important?

All candidate photos from http://2016.republican-candidates.org/.

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