Have you heard there’s an election this year? It’s almost a shock that it’s finally about to happen because the campaign has been going on for so long. We’ve had a horse race going for over a year and of course there has always been maybe 20 percent of the electorate that did not accept the result of the 2008 election because the winner was a guy of the wrong color with a foreign name. For them, the quest for a real President of the United States never stopped.
Now, we are all supposed to focus on picking a new POTUS. The field has already narrowed substantially based on polling data, which seems like the polling tail wagging the election dog. Polling is supposed to tell candidates how they are doing on election day, not replace the election.
In these times of constant political warfare, bad poll numbers shut off the income necessary to keep the political machine fueled. More volunteers means the campaign has a lower burn rate of cash, but every campaign has a burn rate that must be covered. Polls become a proxy for money.
As proven last election by Sheldon Adelson, being adopted by a billionaire can keep a campaign running like a zombie after the polling draws a picture of a preposterous mixed metaphor: a zombie jumping the shark.
Those of us in the chattering class are hoping that this sixth GOP primary debate will be the last one with a separate session for those candidates who have jumped the shark and choose not to admit it. Last night, the kiddie table had only three chairs.
Electoral pandering is bad enough. Inject an air of desperation and it becomes difficult to watch, but somebody has to do it.
I keep promising not to spend electrons on the undercard debate, so I turn it on in the background while I work on something else. The alternate reality keeps intruding. If anything, the studio audience is deeper into that alternate reality than the participants.
Kentucky Sen. Rand Paul got in the prime-time debate last time for reasons best known to CNN because his polling numbers did not meet the published standards for inclusion. Fox Business Channel gave him no such break this time and, to his credit, Paul refused to appear rather than sit at the kiddie table. That left former Hewlett-Packard CEO Carly Fiorina, Former Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum, and Former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee to duke it out for…well, I’m not sure for what.
Fiorina turned in such a convincing win the last time she was at the kiddie table that she won a well-deserved shot at the big show. Given that earned opportunity, she looked right into the camera and lied about what was on the Planned Parenthood ambush videos when those videos were online for anybody to see. I hope that’s why her numbers tanked.
Santorum and Huckabee have both won the Iowa caucuses in the past, but now they are in a spirited competition for the Harold Stassen Lost Cause Award. Still, they grabbed my attention when a moderator cued up a gun safety question by citing poll data showing that even gun owners favor background checks.
The audience responded to the introduction with a chorus of boos, leading Santorum to remark, correctly, “Not in this room.” He then got into a minor disagreement with Fiorina when he came out against drafting tech companies to help prevent cyber-terrrorism. Fiorina cited her experience in the tech sector and asserted that the government doesn’t know enough about cutting edge tech to use it without handholding from the private sector.
Santorum then had an Al Gore moment when he said, “I put the original sanctions on Iran’s nuclear program.” The big difference is that Santorum really said that and Al Gore did not claim to have invented the Internet.
In a truly inventive twist, Santorum claimed that deporting undocumented workers would be a “great gift” to their home countries. He asserted that they have gained knowledge in the U.S. that will enable them to rebuild Central America in our image. He mentioned that they’ve learned English, apparently not realizing that many of their kids have never learned Spanish.
Huckabee once more endorsed asserting in law that life begins with conception, thus opening up an argument that birth control pills accomplish homicide by preventing implantation of fertilized eggs in the uterus. Even Mississippi voted against that.
Fiorina once more looked right into the camera and made a very effective statement: “You know you want to see me on a stage with Hillary Clinton.”
The difference is that this time what she said was true. Even without that closing statement, Fiorina won the undercard debate again. It remains to be seen whether she’s bringing too little, too late. Even if that’s so, she would be a strong contender for the number two spot on the ticket.
The Main Event
The noise level was up just like it was in the last Democratic debate. The ones who are going to lose are beginning to see the writing on the wall and have determined not to go quietly. The noise to signal ratio is moving more toward noise than seemed possible even in an election cycle where channeling anger appears to be the key to popularity.
Reality TV star and poll leader Donald Trump is getting more agile. He is much more graceful when refusing to give specifics, but he’s still not educating himself to develop specific policy positions.
Some early canards are getting to be conventional “wisdom.” Ohio Gov. John Kasich and Florida Sen. Marco Rubio both trotted out the technical truth that the U.S. has the highest corporate tax rate in the world, but of course did not mention that nobody pays it.
Rubio referred to Obamacare as a “certified job killer” without mentioning what authority did the certification. It certainly was not the Congressional Budget Office. President Obama claimed in the State of the Union that the economy “has created jobs every month since Obamacare became law.” Politifact rated that statement “true.”
Rubio also recycled the “apology tour” meme, which was started by Mitt Romney in 2012 and then rated “pants on fire.”
Former Florida Gov. Jeb! Bush continued improving. I assume he misspoke when he mentioned Dodd-Frank in a list of foreign policy problems.
Texas Sen. Ted Cruz made a personal privilege speech at the beginning about the Iranians stopping two U.S. Navy vessels in Iranian territorial waters and holding the sailors for less than 24 hours. Cruz affected high dudgeon over President Obama’s failure “to even mention it” in his State of the Union. Cruz is not that stupid. He has to know that spouting off at that point would have been diplomatic malpractice.
As other candidates chimed in later on that fake issue, it was plain they were looking for much more than a mention in the State of the Union, something involving firearms and preferably explosives.
Kasich had a pretty bizarre evening. He spoke favorably about “Cold War struggles in Latin America,” an awful history that would be worth an apology tour. He also did a pander to the location of the debate in South Carolina by mentioning his fond memories of working with Strom Thurmond.
Apparently, Kasich judged that Latin American dictators and heroic efforts to maintain Jim Crow laws are positives in the GOP primary.
Cruz was perhaps counting on the same well of amnesia as Kasich when he asserted that his tax plan enjoys the support of Arthur Laffer, the guru of what the first President Bush called correctly “voodoo economics.”
Retired neurosurgeon Ben Carson was, as usual, quiet and courteous. He stood out like a lamb in a pack of wolves. He did trot out the Trump nonsense that shutting down oil sales from ISIS-occupied territory would shut down ISIS.
Moderator Maria Bartiromo set up a question by stating as fact that “ISIS is getting stronger.” Maybe so, if you don’t count that they have less land and fewer people than they had last year.
New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie looked right into the camera from up close and personal and told President Obama that he was coming “to kick your butt out of there.” Nobody told him Obama is a lame duck who will be gone in a year anyway.
Everybody came with prepared zingers, and I nominate for best of show this remark from Cruz to Trump: “not a lot of conservatives come out of Manhattan,” a pitch-perfect parody of Trump’s non sequitur, “not a lot of evangelicals come out of Cuba.”
Cruz and Rubio engaged in a shouting match about who took what positions on the Senate floor. The moderators eventually had to shut down the yelling, but all the facts they were arguing about are as public as the Planned Parenthood videos about which Fiorina got caught lying.
Rubio, asked to name any moves Obama has made toward confiscating guns, shut the question down without ever addressing it.
Cruz and Trump engaged in an argument that ended with each contemplating the other as Vice President. Trump wanted to know how he could put Cruz on the ticket with a potential lawsuit coming over Cruz’s citizenship.
Nobody flashed on all the lawsuits filed questioning Obama’s citizenship, lawsuits that did not slow down Obama’s election or his work in office.
Aggressive as everybody was, you could cut the desperation with a knife. Everybody was brandishing rhetorical knives except Carson, and there was so much slashing and ducking that I was reminded of the two prospectors wandering through an area where bears were about and very aggressive.
One was describing when to take off running, only to be interrupted.
“Can you outrun a bear?”
“I don’t have to outrun the bear. I just have to outrun you.”