Republicans jump off the cliff

The Thinker by Rodin

National party political conventions happen only every four years. This week’s Republican convention in Cleveland though makes me seriously wonder if Republicans will have one in 2020 at all. I’m not alone. No less than former President George W. Bush is wondering if he is the last Republican president.

If you managed to tune into the convention, it’s hard not to escape the feeling of doom unfolding there. The Republican Party shows every sign that they have careened right off the cliff. It’s being bungled in just about every way a convention can be bungled. In case you haven’t had your nose to the news, here’s a small slice of the craziness going on in Cleveland at their convention:

  • At the start, there was a brief but doomed floor fight when delegates from Iowa tried to call for a vote that would have allowed delegates to vote their consciences. It appeared to have the support of enough states to actually get a vote, but the chair ignored it, thereby cementing Republicans’ reputation for not actually following a parliamentary process.
  • Melania Trump’s speech lifted whole sentences from Michelle Obama’s 2008 convention speech, the sort of plagiarism that if done in school would get you a failing grade. It turns out that Melania admires Michele, a major problem for any true Republican. She said she wrote the speech herself, but later we were told that a speechwriter did, who eventually took the fall.
  • Last night former candidate Texas Senator Ted Cruz spoke, told delegates to vote their consciences and never endorsed Donald Trump, which got him plenty of boos. They let him talk anyhow even though he told them he would not be endorsing Trump. Trump eventually came out to take the spotlight off Cruz and back to where it belongs: on his glorious self. This will likely be mostly what people will talk about for days, rather than Trump’s convention speech but at least it puts the focus on Cruz and 2020. However, if Trump is true to form, his acceptance speech will likely be an incoherent ramble, so maybe not.
  • Less noticed was that House Speaker Paul Ryan also refused to explicitly endorse Trump at his convention speech. Like Cruz, he seems to know the ship is sinking and he wants to be one of the first rats to jump when it is politically safe to do so on November 9.
  • Tuesday was supposed to be a day to talk about how Republicans would fix the economy. Instead it became a day of vitriol where speaker after speaker went on the attack against Hillary Clinton, many calling for her to go to prison. One woman who lost a son in the Benghazi incident held Clinton personally responsible for his death, even though she did not explicitly authorize the ambassador’s trip to Benghazi. A state legislator in West Virginia called for Hillary Clinton to be hung causing United Airlines to suspend him as a pilot.
  • Apparently Ohio governor John Kasich was sounded out to be Trump’s running mate. The offer, apparently from from Trump’s son: you will do the actual management part and my dad will do the “Making America Great Again” part. Strangely, Kasich declined. It appears Trump is bored with the whole manage the country part of the presidency, and wants to outsource it.

Oh, and so much more! Tonight is likely to be equally as memorable as the first three days. Perhaps more memorable than the convention itself is the stunning lack of coherence out of the convention and the epic mismanagement behind the stage. Trump does not know how to delegate. He has a hard time getting people to work for him because he requires non-disclosure agreements and routinely sues employees who he feels have stepped out of line. His roster of speakers is mediocre and often surreal (Scott Baio, really?) and it’s not even clear if he really chose Indiana Governor Mike Pence as his running mate. It appears he had second thoughts and futilely tried to change it at the last moment.

Watching the convention on TV itself is just appalling. There is no way for an impartial viewer not to get the impression that Republicans are passionate and crazy lunatics. Democrats were pretty pissed at George W. Bush at their 2004 convention, but no one suggested that he was a lawbreaker, should be put in jail and hung. It never occurred to Democrats to be this kind of lunatic crazy. But we heard it from speaker after speaker, day after day at this convention. So how can you not escape the conclusion that Republicans are dangerously unhinged?

A convention is normally scripted and carefully stage-managed, but also the organizers think carefully about how they want to present the party to the voters. No one seemed to be doing either parts of this job, bungling the most important part of their sales job prior to the election. Also not going well: fundraising. The typical RNC donors cannot seem to pull out their wallets. Few staff are being hired to go into the field and organize voters. Trump himself seems wholly unconcerned about the party and his campaign’s anemic fundraising, assuming that force of personality will be enough.

The 2012 Republican convention looked like one where Republicans were teetering on the borders of respectability. This is clearly off track, off message and has little of what can be called organization. No wonder George W. Bush is concerned he may be the last Republican president. Republicans seem to be doing everything possible not just to lose, but also to lose epically.

To Democrats, this Republican train wreck has been coming for years. With a few exceptions though today’s Republicans just don’t see what’s coming. But if you want to destroy a party, well, have a party doing so! It feels like this convention will touch all the markers for what not to do. You had best stand aside of the wreckage.

State of the presidential race: April 2016 edition

The Thinker by Rodin

So it’s looking like Hillary vs. The Donald in November. Hillary is not too much of a surprise. The only real surprise was how close Vermont senator Bernie Sanders came to unseating her for the Democratic Party nomination. It is still technically possible for Sanders to pull an upset, but not realistic. He seems to be getting the drift by laying off staffers and concentrating resources on delegate rich California, the last major primary. Given that Sanders appeal is mostly with whites, it’s unlikely he’ll pull an upset in a state heavy with Latinos and Asians.

Just a week ago, it was even money that Republicans would have a brokered convention. It’s still possible but the odds are now probably only twenty percent, if that. Trump swept all five states in this week’s primaries, and in most states by convincing margins. Clinton lost only Rhode Island but squeaked by in Connecticut. Clinton trounced Sanders badly in Maryland and Delaware by 2:1 margins. Sanders will probably win Oregon, Montana and the Dakotas, but Oregon is the only state with significant number of delegates and California simply trounces it. Sadly, it’s over for Bernie. Rest assured he knows it too.

There is no viable path for Ted Cruz either in these remaining states and his “agreement” with John Kasich is mostly vapor, and proactively picking Carly Fiorina as his running mate will only make things worse. Indiana may be a pickup but none of the remaining states that are delegate rich are likely to break his way. Barring some unforeseen dynamic it’s over for the Republicans too. This brings some clarity for the general election. Both Clinton and Trump are underwater (are more disliked than liked), but Trump is much more so. Barring some bad foreign policy or economic news (the economy grew just .5% in the last quarter), Clinton looks like our likely next (and first female) president. Except for Clinton supporters though few will be enthusiastic about her as our next commander in chief.

This primary season has certainly been unusual, showing in general that the electorate (or those at least passionate enough to vote in primaries and caucuses) really would prefer someone completely different. Trump fills that bill, but scarily so. Clinton is true and tried but hardly exciting. The 73-year-old Sanders strangely fit the bill, but not enough to overwhelm the current Democratic establishment, which has a better lock on its base than the Republicans do. Oddly enough both Clinton and Trump are considerably older than presidential nominees tend to be. Clinton is 68 and Trump is 69. Trump is the same age as Ronald Reagan when he ran for president. Reagan was our oldest president but if elected Trump will be older.

One lesson that should be obvious is that our parties increasingly don’t represent the people very well, particularly those who claim allegiance to their party. Trump’s ascent proves that the issues that animate the party’s rank and file don’t animate Republican voters. As I noted, what Republicans really care about is maintaining white privilege and anything else is negotiable. Democrats too are undergoing a change in state. Establishment Democrats may titter at the idea of “democratic socialism”, but Sanders proves it’s the party’s future. The days of Democrats gaining power through triangulation and close ties to Wall Street (Bill Clinton’s strategy) are over. Hillary would be wise to acknowledge this reality.

The Republican Party is in much worse shape, but Trump may do the party a favor by reconnecting it with its base. What it will stand for in the future may be loathsome to the majority of Americans, but it seems to be what the modern Republican base wants. It’s not a way to grow an expanding party unless the party can shed its xenophobia, which is the catalyst for Trump’s unexpected rise. However, it could keep the party around and relevant for at least a while longer.

Despite the bluster, the odds certainly don’t favor The Donald. With two thirds of Americans basically saying they won’t vote for him, it’s hard to imagine how Trump can convince them otherwise. This is particularly true when he makes things worse by opening his mouth and saying stupid stuff, such as his latest comments on women and voting. Trump knows how to deliver sizzle, but there’s simply no steak there, much like his branded Trump Steaks. So the odds definitely favor Democrats, both in the presidential contest but also in recapturing the Senate. Even Republicans are concerned this may be a wave election that could remove their hold on power not just in the Senate but also in the House. It appears that lots of Republicans will sit this one out as they have no motive to vote for Trump, and thus no motive to vote at all.

Clinton’s instinct will be to tack toward the center but I think that would be a mistake. There is little point in holding power if you can’t wield it. Obama at least had two years of it, thanks to the Great Recession and Democrats holding both houses of Congress. It allowed the Affordable Care Act to get passed. Clinton may be setting her expectations too low. By tacking left instead of right, she can fire up the Democratic base. When they show up in force, as they did in 2008, they demonstrate who is really in charge. Gerrymandering and vote suppression are facts of life but since they affect principally red states, they won’t buy Republicans much in a general election year.

So for those of us reading the tealeaves, the voters sort of have spoken now. Much of what will follow is pretty well scripted. Trump has to hope for a Hail Mary pass to change the dynamics. Our economy is not great but unemployment is below five percent and our economy is still the envy of the rest of the world. Obama is unlikely to let a foreign policy problem fester to the point of explosion, but there are always wildcards. The dice are pretty much cast. Let’s see how they tumble.

Guns at the Republican National Convention? Of course!

The Thinker by Rodin

So naturally when I learned of this petition to allow the open carry of guns at the upcoming Republican National Convention in Cleveland, I hurried over to change.org to sign it. Over 48,000 of us God-fearing, law-abiding, Second Amendment enthusiasts have signed the petition so far.

And there are good reasons to sign the petition. Without open carry, the delegates and conventioneers in the hall will have no way to defend themselves from burglars, pickpockets and lobbyists, unless you count fisticuffs and kickboxing which I think would be pretty hard to take away. The Supreme Court has already decided that owning guns is a right. No preexisting militia is required. Moreover, lots of states have laws allowing open carry and many allow even concealed carry. I checked Wikipedia and open carry is definitely legal in Ohio, probably thanks to Governor John Kasich.

Moreover, you needn’t worry about these convention goers. Guns don’t kill people; only people kill people. But since you never know when someone is going to attack you with a banana, and there are probably no sixteen ton weights at the convention center, a loaded semiautomatic weapon may be your only defense when a brigade of banana-toting liberals in Birkenstocks come charging at your delegation. You have to be prepared, you know.

I mean, what could possibly go wrong? It’s not like Cruz and Trump supporters would not limit themselves to shoving, fistfights and general screaming at each other as they lobby to get their candidate the nomination during a brokered convention. They are all family men and women, civilized I am sure and will be full of the milk of human kindness (and Jesus) during the convention. They are so civilized they won’t even shoot a celebratory round into the convention roof when their candidate clinches the nomination.

No, this is a matter of principle, and principle is vitally important to Republicans. They like their world completely black and white. The Supreme Court says that we can own guns; Ohio says you can openly carry them, so there is no way that anyone should be able to restrict that right. You don’t mess with Texas so you don’t mess with Republicans and their guns either. Putting all those armaments into such a confined space should cause no issues at all. After all the Quicken Loans Arena is not a troubled inner city neighborhood like Glenville in Cleveland. They are proud Americans, every one of them, but just in case residents of Glenville decide to storm the Quicken Loans Arena en masse, well, you got to be prepared. A handgun isn’t going to cut it. You will want plenty of rounds, something semiautomatic, and probably something with a scope on it.

So I’m shocked to learn today that the Secret Service nixed the petition. Imagine the nerve of these feds to tell us law-abiding Americans we can’t bring our guns with us into the convention! The Secret Service says it’s something about a federal law that overrides the Supreme Court’s decision. Clearly there is nothing to fear, and surely Trump, Cruz, Kasich and the senior leaders of the Republican Party will be completely at ease in a convention hall full of faithful lock-and-load brethren. After all according to the NRA the way to stop a bad man with a gun (not that it would ever happen at this convention) is a good man with a gun, and there would be thousands of them. He’d never have a chance!

I can’t believe that the candidates will roll with the Secret Service on this one. Trump says he wants to study the petition. As of this writing, neither Cruz nor Kasich has expressed an opinion on the Secret Service’s decision. How odd!

So I guess we will have to turn to prayer: pray to change the minds at the Secret Service and failing that pray that hoodlums outside the hall won’t storm the convention hall, or pick off conventioneers on their way to and from their hotel rooms and local brothels. Perhaps an emergency petition to the U.S. Supreme Court is now in order. We can only pray they see the light.

Unwinding the crazy (or why Obama and Mitt Romney need to talk)

The Thinker by Rodin

So my daughter has been chatting with me on Skype. She wants to know: “Dad, have politics ever this crazy?” She would actually take some comfort in knowing that demagogues like Donald Trump have actually arisen before and have had a stake put through their hearts.

I had to tell her no, not in my lifetime anyhow and not within the United States. There are plenty of demagogues out there all the time, but few come around as Donald Trump has to create cyclones of ill will all for the purpose of acquiring something close to the pinnacle of political power in the world: being president of the United States. I see him getting the Republican nomination; hopes of a brokered convention are just fantasies. There have been deeply evil politicians and presidents. Richard Nixon comes to mind but at least he was trapped by a political system of checks and balances. It’s not clear if Trump becomes president whether the system still has the backbone to deal with someone like him. I’d like to think so, but I am skeptical.

Over the years this blog has been around, I’ve made something of a second career cataloguing these demagogues. Democrats are not entirely clean, with John Edwards leaping to mind. Both sides of the party can be pandered to and inflamed. Mostly though these demagogues have limited appeal. Some of the many I have blogged about include Bill O’Reilly and Glenn Beck. I have read enough history though to know that Donald Trump is not quite unprecedented. Early in our history we had a president arguably as bad as Trump: Andrew Jackson whose portrait mysteriously adorns our ten-dollar bill.

We’ve also had our share of bad presidents but who were not demagogues. Woodrow Wilson was a racist who purged blacks from the government. President Harding dropped his pants for more than one woman not his wife and got embroiled in the Teapot Dome oil scandal. Herbert Hoover and a top-heavy Republican congress ushered in the Great Depression. Lyndon Johnson made the Vietnam debacle much worse. And I’ve shown 12 years ago that Ronald Reagan was pretty much a disaster of a president. Then of course there is George W. Bush. Still with the possible exception of Jackson none of these presidents rise to Trump’s level. None had the mentality that the ends justified the means. Trump’s success makes him a singular danger to our democracy.

So sorry daughter, we are living the Chinese curse of living in interesting times. Polls suggest a Trump election win will be quite a stretch, but if anyone could pull it off Trump is demonstrating he has the skills and oratory to do it. Trump though is not unique, but simply the most articulate spokesman for the Republican brand. It’s a brand full of chest thumping, racism, classism and staking out unequivocal positions that have devolved into concerns about the size of Trump’s hands and penis. They are all doing it without qualification, except possibly John Kasich. These candidates will denounce Trump on the one hand but won’t take the next obvious step: saying they will not support him if he wins his party’s nomination.

This is because for all their claims of principle they really don’t have any. It’s not principle that drives them; it’s the lust for power. This puts them ever further on the extreme right as well as makes them back down from taking principled stands like saying they won’t support Trump if he wins their party’s nomination. They are all jockeying for power as best they can by keeping their options open. I was puzzling through Chris Christie’s endorsement of Donald Trump shortly after dropping out. Why was he doing this? The easy rationalization is that both are bullies and he identifies with a fellow bully. But the same can be said for most of the Republican candidates. I think Christie is hoping to be nominated as his running mate. I think he is further expecting that if Trump wins office he will eventually be impeached and removed, leaving him as president. It’s a tactic worthy of Frank Underwood; he was just the first to go there. While Christie may admire Trump for being a master bully, I think his real motivation is simply a lust for power.

The larger question is how do you undo something like this? It’s not like we are at the precipice. Lots of people are already jumping off the cliff into the political unknown. It’s time for the grownups not just to speak up but also to take real action. Mitt Romney says he won’t vote for Trump but did not suggest an alternative, which is hardly helpful. Establishment Republicans are trying to persuade voters in keystone states like Florida and Ohio to vote for someone else, but they appear too late to the game to change the dynamics. President Obama recently spoke out, but it was at a fundraiser. Changing the dynamics here though is pretty much impossible when the other party will refuse to even listen to you. Just for starters Republicans in Congress won’t even allow Obama’s budget director to present his budget, the first time this has ever been done. A Republican Senate also refuses to entertain a nominee for the Supreme Court.

We need an elder statesman with mojo and credibility to bring the parties together to tone down the rhetoric and is some marginal way change the conversation and up the civility factor. There is no one such person, unfortunately. Jimmy Carter comes to mind but Republicans would dismiss him.

We urgently need a national timeout. All these key muckrakers need to have a private conclave and hash this out. If I were President Obama I’d be on the phone with Mitt Romney. I’d be penciling in a date in a couple weeks at a private retreat like Camp David and use the power of shame (if it works) to bring all these blowhards together in one place to hash this out. This would include Republican and Democratic leadership in Congress and all the presidential candidates on both sides. It would also include chairs of the Democratic and Republican national committees. I’d include trained facilitators and psychologists to help ensure the meeting moves forward productively The topics would include: setting baselines for acceptable political behavior and setting up a process involving some compromise so that Congress and the President can work together in some minimal fashion through the election.

Would it work? The odds are against my proposal but someone needs to step forward and we need two brave people on both sides of the aisle. I don’t see any others who can play this role.

Sadly, nothing like this is likely to happen, but it needs to happen. Is there a grownup in the room?

Following the leader

The Thinker by Rodin

Oh good, I’m not the only one horribly alarmed by Donald Trump. Actually there are plenty of us, including the editorial staffs of The New York Times and The Washington Post. It shouldn’t take much to feel very alarmed if you actually listen to what Trump has to say. He asserts wild claims as facts that are wholly untrue; such as thousands of Muslims in America were cheering when the Twin Towers went down on 9/11. If that weren’t enough, he is now openly racist. This should not surprise anyone who has been paying attention to him. Trump is one of the earliest to claim that Obama was not born in the United States. Now when members of his overwhelmingly white audiences beat up Black Lives Matters protestors at his rallies, he encourages their lawlessness by saying that maybe protestors had it coming. He wants more waterboarding of terrorist suspects, and wants to surveil American Muslims and mosques.

Normally competing candidates would distance themselves from such wild remarks. With one exception though the remaining Republican candidates seem to be busy following the leader, moving sharply to the right on most of these issues and at best offering nuanced differences between themselves and Trump. I had thought for a long time that the Republican Party was a racist party. Research now proves me right. Some will doubtless point out the success of some black candidates like Ben Carson as proof that the party is not racist. However, when a Carson or Herman Cain comes along they only “succeed” when they parrot principles that keep members of their own race from succeeding. In short, if a black candidate in the Republican Party is stupid enough to say stuff that amounts to “let the beatings on us continue” then the party is happy to let them in.

Still, it’s very discouraging to realize that the Republican Party is basically about maintaining white privilege at all costs. This is after all the party that succeeded in freeing the slaves. Republicans talk all about their party being for an opportunity society while giving those without opportunity fewer means to climb the ladder. In fact, they work actively to remove rungs from that ladder. They actively disenfranchise voters likely to vote for candidates they don’t like. Most red states won’t extend the Medicaid franchise to the working poor (which includes lots of whites). With Medicaid there is some semblance of a floor under their feet that might allow them to get to the next rung. They actively whip up the poorer white folk to work against their own interests. Kentucky governor-elect Matt Bevin won office principally from votes from poor white Kentuckians who are likely to have their new Medicaid benefits (under a KyNect program umbrella) removed. It’s so sad to see these racial levers pushed because it depends on selling poor white people on the notion that they may be poor but are “better” than their darker poor neighbors because they don’t get help from the government, help they desperately need simply to survive.

In any event Trump has moved from carnival barker to pied piper. If the Republican Party were a church, a great revival would be underway, the parishioners would be dancing in the pews and more than a few would be talking in tongues. Trump has effectively hypnotized his own party and has whipped them into a frenzy. He is counting on this of course, because enthusiastic voters vote disproportionately and he will need an overwhelming white vote and a lackluster Democratic vote to win the presidency. The nightmare for most of us is imagining how a President Trump would actually govern. One would hope he would quickly sober up, but there is little likelihood of that. This is because he shows no signs that he actually believes and respects the constitution and laws of the United States.

Trump is an egomaniac. He believes himself not only gifted but also faultless. Of course he is the only person savvy enough to navigate us through these turbulent times, in spite of his many failed marriages and four bankruptcies. He has many of us hypnotized. Since civics is rarely taught anymore he has many of us believing that he could actually do things like building a wall along the Mexican border and making Mexico pay for it. The real danger is that he will do by fiat the stuff he says he will do, which will be against the law. However, he will be counting on the American people to stand by his lawlessness. In short he is showing every sign of being a fascist: an American Mussolini. His tendency to double down suggests that he believes the end justifies the means.

Is there a sane Republican on the debate stage? The lone sane one remaining is Ohio Governor John Kasich, who recently released a damning video on Trump. Due to his poor fundraising it will largely be ignored. What should a sane Republican do? Since Republicans supposedly stand on principle, those who have any left should bail. Perhaps John Kasich and Jim Webb could form a party for sane moderates. There are Republican candidates who if they showed spine could also set an example by leaving. You know most of the candidates on stage don’t believe half the crap they are spouting, including Trump who is more about the end than the means. It’s largely Trump’s presence that has them saying such weird anti-immigrant stuff.

I study American history and frankly I can’t think of a time in our history quite as dangerous today. Our constitutional government is seriously threatened by a Trump presidency. Trump is showing that he has neither morals nor scruples and will do or say anything that will get him nominated. Polls seem to be bearing this out. Democrats will nominate someone sane, but they will need someone sane but passionate to close the enthusiasm gap. Hillary Clinton is not that candidate. However, Bernie Sanders is.

The 2016 election will be an enthusiasm election. Whichever side has more of it will win. Traditionally you could count on the American people to act rationally, but not this time. Which leaves me (an agnostic) considering prayer. Pray for our country.

2016 Republican Presidential Debate #4

The Thinker by Rodin

By now these candidates are all getting a bit uncomfortably familiar — at least to those of us that tune into these debates. With some exceptions though they all pretty much sound the same and parrot the same ideas. What made this latest debate a bit more interesting than the other ones is that from time to time some actual debating happened.

This debate, hosted by the Fox Business Channel and held in Madison, Wisconsin had a heavily conservative tone to it, which made the candidates happy after the last debate when the moderators had the audacity to backtalk the candidates with actual fact checking. Moderator questions came laden with assumptions that doubtless made its owner Rupert Murdoch happy. Stuff like this from moderator Maria Bartiromo:

Today the national debt is at record highs and growing unsustainably. Interest will be the fastest-growing part of the federal budget, tripling over the next 10 years. Social Security, the lifeline of millions of American seniors, is rushing toward insolvency.

In fact, the budget deficit has been cut by more than two thirds since the start of the Great Recession, virtually zero interest rates have made financing the debt a lot more sustainable, Social Security is reaching a point where it may pay out more than it receives, but is not anywhere close to insolvent as its assets are invested in U.S. Treasury Bills that will be redeemed to pay benefits. Given the false assumptions that underlined many of the questions asked, the only surprise was that some actual debating took place. As usual, it was the marginal candidates that did most of the pot stirring, i.e. John Kasich and libertarian Rand Paul because what do they have to lose?

Kasich went for being the only grownup in the room again, which he was. In fact much of the time he sounded like a Democrat, which was why toward the end he was actually booed by the audience. Kasich did feel neglected and felt compelled to barge into the debate at inopportune moment near the end, but in fact he got plenty of airtime. Kasich’s sensible and pragmatic solutions though were not something fellow candidates and the audience wanted to hear. I found myself agreeing with much of what Kasich had to say. If he had a realistic chance at the nomination, the party might also have a realistic chance of winning next year’s election.

Rand Paul was the other discordant note, in particular when he called out Marco Rubio for not being a true conservative because he wanted to give a tax credit to lower income people, which he accurately portrayed as an entitlement. On foreign policy Paul was definitely the isolationist and kept noting that defending the country costs lots of money and our foreign interventions usually backfire. Again, this did not win him any favors from other candidates or the audience because cognitive dissonance like this apparently gives them severe migraines. Everyone was like: just shut up Rand and John already!

I really wanted Carly Fiorina to just shut up already. She went on an impassioned rant about the need to cull regulations and to have zero-based budgeting. However, she wouldn’t adhere to the regulations of the debate to stop talking after her ninety seconds was up. Two bells calling time went blithely ignored as she just kept yammering and yammering. While the most egregious violator, she was hardly alone. One of the biggest yammerers from the last debate, Chris Christie, has been disinvited to the debate and sent to the humiliating “undercard” debate instead.

Picking winners was hard, but picking losers was easy. Kasich is likely to get undercarded soon because he speaks to a vanishingly small moderate base. Ditto with Rand Paul, for stroking libertarian feelings largely absent in the Republican Party. And Carly Fiorina is coming across as a simply nasty lady, so she will likely get undercarded again soon, particularly given her mediocre polling numbers which barely qualified her for this debate.

Donald Trump specializes in nasty, but with a dose of humor that Carly doesn’t have. He was repeatedly called out by Kasich for his impossible to enforce plan to deport all undocumented immigrants but as usual he said he could part water and get it done along with his thousand mile wall along our border to Mexico, which presumably they will somehow pay for. On this topic none of them noted that President Obama has been vigorously removing undocumented immigrants, something that gives most Democrats heartburn. However, they did latch on to his executive order that makes it less likely that these immigrants who are caregivers would be deported anytime soon. Apparently it’s really evil to keep parents and their legal children united.

Jeb Bush managed to improve his performance but not in a distinctive way. Marco Rubio held steady, coming on strong but falling back toward the end of the debate in part due to lack of airtime. Ted Cruz will probably get a bump, as he stayed with nasty and unrealistic, which is what Republicans want to hear. He did say he wanted to eliminate the Department of Commerce twice, which would be quite a feat. He also wants to eliminate the IRS, which is a great thing if you don’t want to go to prison for not paying your taxes. Cruz was mostly in comfortable La-La Land, which is where most of the audience wanted to be as well.

There were other amusing faux pas:

  • Marco Rubio actually talked about the “Democratic Party” when every good Republican knows the Right and Fox News has rebranded them as the “Democrat Party”.
  • Ted Cruz also talked about going back to the gold standard and how great the country was when we were on the gold standard. The Washington Post wonk blog though noted that the Great Depression was caused by slavish adherence to the gold standard.
  • Ben Carson claimed that by 1876 the United States was the largest economic power in the world, which no doubt was news to the United Kingdom, which claimed that title at the time.
  • Carson also said that the Chinese were deeply involved in the conflicts in the Middle East, while China has wisely largely stayed out of the conflict.
  • Donald Trump said we are losing jobs like crazy when we added 270,000 jobs just last month and we have netted jobs every month for the last seven years.
  • Macro Rubio said there was nothing more important than being a parent, effectively slamming singles.
  • Rand Paul wants everyone to pay a flat tax of 14.5 percent, less a home mortgage and charitable deductions. So a poor person earning $10,000 a year should pay $1450 a year income taxes, in addition to the sales taxes they disproportionately pay? It’s sounds fair I guess in Rand Paul’s insular world.
  • Carly Fiorina thinks it’s bad that Obamacare brought the uninsured rate below ten percent because of socialism or something.
  • Ben Carson said only 19.8 percent of black teenagers have a job, which would mean 80% of black teens do not, when in fact more than fifty percent of black teens do have jobs.

So there was the usual obfuscation and erroneous claims, par for the course for these fact-free debaters, but it seemed the more wrong the statistics were the more the audience ate it up. More dubious facts will doubtless be revealed in their next debate, which fortunately won’t be until December.

Next up: a second Democratic debate this weekend.

2016 Republican Presidential Debate #3

The Thinker by Rodin

I’m not much on Twitter but I decided that if I was going to watch the latest Republican Presidential Debate at least I could be trendy and live tweet it. Alas, it didn’t occur to me until shortly before it started. So unless you happened to follow me on Twitter you wouldn’t have known. (And if you aren’t following me on Twitter, why not? Follow me here.)

Those asking questions got dinged by a couple of the debate participants. The questions did not seem too bad to me and if the questions seemed unusually snarky then it’s because the candidates don’t watch much CNBC. I’ll agree the question on fantasy football was a bit silly, but most of the rest were actually fair questions. The questioners were not shy about pushing back with facts when the candidates steered away from toward their own versions of the truth. I’d like to see more of this in future debates. In fact, live fact checking should be a feature of debates, with check-ins from the fact checkers periodically so viewers could know when candidates are blowing a lot of smoke. So overall, I liked CNBC’s format, although I know I am in a minority.

Live tweeting the debate also gave me a great way to take notes, and I use them here as memory jogs. You can see all of them on my Twitter feed.

I didn’t like the opening question when candidates were asked about their weaknesses. This is another “When did you last stop beating your wife?” sort of question. There’s no good way to respond to it. You invariably pick some tiny little thing no one will care about and go with that, which always comes across as insincere. In any event, it takes enormous ego and chutzpah to run for president in the first place. Just by declaring your candidacy you are stating that there is something extra special about you compared to the rest of us.

You could tell Donald Trump didn’t like this debate any more than the last, mainly because he wasn’t allowed to dominate it. He looked sort of neutered and peevish. It would not surprise me if he invents a reason to opt out of these soon. He did manage to get off one attack on John Kasich, but only after Kasich had offered the opinion that many of his policy solutions were nonsense, which in fact they are. This immediately elevated Kasich in my mind, which sort of gave permission for others in the debate to speak moments of actual truth. Some of these moments were pretty bizarre. Ted Cruz, whose campaign is largely funded by moneyed business interests, said that principally the middle class was supporting his campaign. Carly Fiorina cried out about “crony capitalism” which she said was a result of corrupt government when it’s a result of policies championed by pretty much all Republicans since after Teddy Roosevelt to put the interests of the moneyed and businesses ahead of everyone else. That’s what caused our oligarchy.

Many of these candidates went into friendly la-la land when responding to questions. Ted Cruz basically said that Democrats were communists. Even Senator Joseph McCarthy would not have gone this far. Everyone said that Social Security and Medicare were failing systems but no one bothered to mention that Social Security would be solvent if the payroll cap was simply raised. No, benefits had to be cut and the retirement age had to be lifted. For many poor people whose life expectancy is about 70, this effectively means never even getting to retire. Some talked about reigning in government spending, but not one of them had the courage to say that you can’t keep cutting taxes and solve the budget deficit.

Certain words grated, like Chris Christie’s repeated declaration that the government was “stealing” your social security deposits. It was known from the start that the system was pay as you go system, not a lockbox system. The reason why it is under stress is there are fewer workers paying into the system than in the past, something that could be mitigated with immigration reform. These are the real causes of the actuarial problem; there was never anything nefarious about it.

Kasich again was the sanest person in the room but also its least photogenic. He looked grey, washed out and unattractive as well. I enjoyed watching Trump, particularly the violent way he turned his neck toward someone saying something he doesn’t like. Ben Carson looked so unanimated it’s a wonder why anyone would be enthusiastic about him. Ted Cruz bizarrely talked about how much he respected the constitution, even while he and his party worked hard to keep people they don’t like from voting. Jeb Bush had a hard time getting noticed or even called on. Trying to reproach Marco Rubio for voting so infrequently got him bitch slapped by an animated Rubio. Pundits said Rubio won the debate. I doubt that, but I do think Bush lost it by sounding petulant and insincere when he did talk, and by otherwise fading into the background.

No one asked the obvious question about Trump’s wall: even if you build it, how do you keep people from digging tunnels under it? It has been done for decades as a way to smuggle both illegal immigrants and drugs into the country.

Policy though did not matter as much as attitude, or maybe I should say sassitude. They were going for applause and that mainly occurred by berating the questioners or finding some other way to sound mean or pissed off. This record has been played too many times before. You would think even Republicans would be tired of it.

If Rubio “won” the debate, it’s only because he made himself look marginally better than the rest of the tired candidates and was more prepared with scripted comebacks. It’s an advantage of relative youth, perhaps.

Anyhow in less than two weeks we get to go through this whole tired scenario again. I’ll try to live tweet that debate as well as it helps to stay awake through it. They sure don’t make it easy.

2016 Republican Presidential Debate #2

The Thinker by Rodin

I skipped the first of these interminable Republican presidential debates because I simply couldn’t stomach it. I did watch the second debate last night with some misgivings, mostly because like everyone else I wanted to see if Donald Trump would get his comeuppance. Still, I have limits and yesterday’s was two hours worth. I kind of felt sorry for them forced to stand there for three hours with Reagan’s Air Force One as a backdrop. I know my bladder wouldn’t hold out for three hours and I’m betting most of the men on the stage have enlarged prostates too. I’m betting they were wearing Adult Depends.

Trump did not exactly did get his comeuppance but he was sort of neutered because the moderators wouldn’t allow him to yammer on and hog the stage like he did during the first debate. This was good because it gave other candidates a chance to talk about issues instead of personalities. With the exceptions of John Kasich and Ben Carson though the rest seemed shopworn, irritating at worst and uninteresting at best. Carson was clearly going for the nice guy angle, which helped contrast him not only with The Donald but everyone else except Kasich. Granted that Carson’s actual policies are just as wacky as the others’ are, and are in some cases even wackier. Kasich was the sole moderate on the stage, although even Ronald Reagan would not have recognized him as a moderate Republican. Kasich at least sounded reasonable and pragmatic, as did Carson at times simply because he wouldn’t raise his voice or criticize any of his fellow candidates. That doesn’t seem to be what Republican voters want in a nominee this time, but we’ll see.

Carly Fiorina generated the most buzz. She did so right near the start with some false statements about the highly doctored Planned Parenthood videos. She essentially inflamed the Planned Parenthood funding issue in highly emotional and clinical terms to shamelessly draw attention to herself and it obviously worked. She also one-upped The Donald with her caustic reply to a question about Trump’s earlier remarks about her ugly face. I hope that Republicans are wising up to Trump, who is basically a very rich bully. In any event these two events allowed Fiorina to look sort of presidential, at least by comparison to the low standards the other candidates set. Trump’s rampant sexism and plain bad taste seem to have finally become counterproductive. He also made a snide remark about Rand Paul’s disheveled hair, perhaps because his hair is a frequent news story in itself.

More revealing was his degree of sexism, which should disqualify any thinking female from voting for him. He had already criticized Megyn Kelly with a vague reference to menstruation. In trying to dodge his remarks about Fiorina’s ugly face, he dug himself in further. He had earlier said he meant her persona was unpresidential, not her face. In the debate, after Fiorina caustically replied to his comment, he said she had a beautiful face. Would he say this about one of the handsomer men on the stage, like Marco Rubio? Not likely. He sees beauty as an important aspect of a woman. Beauty however is simply a matter of genetics and taking care of yourself. Beauty has nothing to do with judgment. By seeming to suggest it’s important for a woman to be beautiful to be successful suggests that he is handicapping all women that are not or won’t try to be. It must be his cluelessness because there is nothing clever about this at all.

It’s not surprising that when they weren’t criticizing each other or the minutia in their policy differences they were complaining about President Obama and his “disastrous” presidency. They said he was weak on foreign policy, which was laughable as he was the president that got Osama bin Laden, a goal George W. Bush saw as unimportant. Obama also got us out of an unwinnable war in Iraq and is getting out of a similar one in Afghanistan. They chastised him for the nuclear agreement on Iran, even though it keeps us out of the folly of a pointless war and reduces Iran’s potential to develop nuclear weapons. They said he was a disaster for the economy, even though he created more jobs than any other modern president and dropped the unemployment rate lower than their hero Ronald Reagan ever did. It all sounded so hollow. Obama is simply a projection of their own inner frustration at his many accomplishments in spite of their relentless obfuscation. Their solutions to his alleged deficiencies were to do more of the same failed things that haven’t worked before. Not one of them had the courage to admit this was retarded.

At least there was more debate about issues last night and less blather from Trump. Their solutions did not vary much, but it took the focus off of Trump, who seemed out of his element. Trump spent much of his time off camera giving peculiar stairs at the other candidates when they spoke. He seemed to have lost his footing and was only willing to engage when it gave him the opportunity to be judgmental about other candidates. He is a one trick pony who looked very played last night.

It was so painful to watch certain candidates. They are all pretty grating, but Ted Cruz just oozes obnoxiousness. No wonder he doesn’t have a single friend in the U.S. Senate. Ditto Scott Walker and Chris Christie, both well seasoned bullies. Cruz though just has this look that is totally off-putting. Seeing someone like him on the street I reflexively move to the other side. Memo to Cruz: picking fights all the time and saying “my way or the highway” is not leadership. Taking the initiative to solve problems, generally by collaborating with others to find common ground, is leadership.

Jeb Bush tried hard to sound reasonable and affable but none of it made him particularly interesting or helped him shine. Did you notice him standing on his tippy toes when pictures were taken? He was already the tallest candidate but he had to be seen as taller, maybe because he knows history tends to favor the tallest candidate. He wants to look as dominating as possible but this was over the top.

Most of the other candidates tried to get words in edgewise but didn’t have much luck. None of these candidates though, not even Donald Trump, can master a stage like Barack Obama. Of course he’s not running although they were talking about him so much he did sort of command the stage in abstention.

My dream would be to have a debate between Trump and Obama. Trump thinks he’s a wizard on the stage. On the same stage with Obama debating the issues, he would be road kill under Obama’s shoes. I hope during the final campaign the Democratic nominee is wise enough to bring Obama on the road with him/her. History will vindicate Obama’s presidency. None of these potential Republican nominees is ten percent of the person that he is.

I’ll try to critique more of these debates in the future, but it is a struggle. It is intensely painful at times to hear such ridiculous tripe and such nonsensical and counterproductive solutions to our many vexing problems. With the possible exception of John Kasich, it’s horrifying to think what wreckage any of these people would be likely to do if they actually became president. On the plus side, any of these candidates except Kasich might actually make George W. Bush look the better president in retrospect.