Democratic Debate Scorecard!

Again, I am a Republican. But given that its election season, I will attempt a DEGREE of objectivity when discussing what I thought about the first Democrat debate and how the candidates performed. Of course, having me write objectively about the Democratic debates is akin to the Pope writing objectively about the merits of birth control. That being said, and in order to maintain my sanity, I reserve the right to leave angry rants in the footnotes, which I recommend NOT reading. However, I will attempt to be even keeled with my thoughts on the debate. Key emphasis on “attempt.”

I’ll start by categorizing my winners and losers.

Winners Losers
Bernie Sanders Martin O’Malley
Hillary Clinton Jim Webb
Lincoln Chaffey

The Winners:

Bernie Sanders: The first thing I read in the news the morning after the debate was “Hillary dominates Bernie!” I’ve got to be honest… I didn’t interpret the end result in the same way. Bernie Sanders may not be as polished of a debater as Hillary, but he came off as MUCH more genuine in his responses. By that, I mean that his answers do not sound like they were determined by a committee attempting to keep up with the latest polling trends. Much of his appeal up to this point has been geared towards the genuineness of his beliefs (however misguided I believe they are) and the fact that many Democrats have tired of what they consider to be the relative moderation of Obama and Hillary1. I won’t follow the bandwagon talking about his support of Hillary’s email problem2, so I believe the strongest part of his night was the consistent emphasis on what defines a Democratic Socialist and appealing to those who aspire towards its ideals3. He also effectively zinged the other candidates on the grass-roots nature of his campaign funding, which surely must appeal to those who object to the Super-PACs that create very convincing campaign ads that I am sure we all pay attention to4.

I realize all was not rosy for Sanders; he did come off as a bit of an incensed old man, but I don’t think that Americans EXPECT or WANT him to have the kind of polish that Hillary is expected to bring. That being said, his performance spoke for itself by the fact that he raised $1.3 million by the morning after the debate. How do you like dem apples?

Hillary Clinton: I’ll admit that Hillary was extremely prepared for almost every question. It was as if her team anticipated every obstacle she would face and prepped her answers accordingly. In some ways, I felt like this was, and continues to be, part of her problem. Her answers, while succinct and ‘zingy’, felt, and will continue to feel, as though they are crafted more to votes than to her actual ideology. I think a perfect example was her response of “”I never took a position on Keystone until I took a position on Keystone.” Oooookkkkk.

This aside, it is obvious that she outperformed expectations given that she was expected to be targeted on all sides. She seemed to recognize the need to address her perceived flip-floppiness, and came out ahead when questioned about it with regards to the Trans-Pacific Partnership trade deal (which I would read more about, but I have an Ambien prescription that is already adequate for putting me to sleep). If she wants to win the Presidency, she will have to continue to be aggressive in explaining the perception that she changes positions too often.

In many ways, I think her opponents let her slide by too easily. For starters, there is the overly referenced defense by Sanders around the Clinton email issue. While I accept that many Democrats don’t care about her email woes, there are still many Americans (not just Republicans) who are NOT sold that she didn’t do anything wrong. By not being seriously prodded by other candidates on the matter just means that the Republicans will get to do it someday, and they will not forget nor be forgiving. If in some bizarro world I was a Hillary advisor, I would recommend that she directly address the issue in future debates.

The email issue is just one example of how she seemed to scoot past scrutiny through the night. All in all, I couldn’t help but feel that the debate was a softball thrown for Hillary’s benefit with no serious challenge on her positions, history, and ability.

The Losers:

Martin O’Malley: Was I being lectured by my priest or by Martin O’Malley? I don’t think this is my bias talking when I say he came off as a little self-righteous; like he had personally passed every major Democrat platform while he was the governor of Maryland. Ok, so he said all the expected buzzwords around wanting to raise the minimum wage, avoiding war, and the merits of communism (ok, maybe not that), but it all sounded very much like he was just a meeker version of Hillary Clinton. Since he is in a do-or-die position, he should have picked out areas that truly differentiate himself from Clinton and had the chutzpah to pick on a few of her negative characteristics. Examples he should have targeted include Clinton’s blah-time as Secretary of State and her Beltway/Wall Street connections.

Yes, he received some plaudits for pointing out how wonderfully civil everyone was in his closing statement, but this has tendency to elicite more “ahhh, shucks” rather than votes. I think O’Malley will continue to chug along the sidelines for a little while, but he missed his big chance to increase his polls.

Jim Webb: As a former Soldier, I wanted to cheer with a resounding “HOAAHHH!” to Webb’s reply about the enemy for which he is most proud. Of course, I could have gone without the bizarre look he gave as he said it, as it looked like his face was saying “Uh oh, these hippies may not quite get why this is awesome.” After his comment, I proceeded to read about his actions in Vietnam, and seriously questioned why the man doesn’t have a Medal of Honor (although a Navy Cross isn’t a bad day’s work). That’s right, you damn hippies! He’s a hero!

Unfortunately, that was the highlight of his night. To most Democratic ears, Jim Webb really should be running on the Republican side of the house. He evokes more of a Lindsey Graham vibe, which I suspect will not garner much positive press from the liberal side of the house. Even I am puzzled why he bothered to become a Democrat given his moderate and conservative views. He comes off as pro-oil/gas/nukes, mainstream on guns, and as an all-American John Wayne-like stud who knows how to kick some ass! And in case you are wondering, yes, I am insinuating that these John Wayne types have tendency to swing to the conservative side of the political spectrum. That being said, it is doubtful that Webb will bump up his numbers on account of the debate (except on the Republican polls), and I fail to see how his campaign can continue in any meaningful way.

As an aside, Jim Webb was instrumental in writing and passing the Post 9-11 GI Bill, which happened to pay for my graduate school. Thanks Jim!

Lincoln Chaffee: I don’t think there is much to say here. I am pretty certain that the empty podium kept on standby for Joe Biden had more effective commentary than Lincoln Chaffee. I don’t particularly feel like kicking him while he is already down.

Ex Mea Sententia:

All in all, if the Democrats want a well vetted candidate, they need to step up their debate game and really try to punch holes in their opposing candidates while on the podium. I consider the primaries as Spring Training (baseball reference to all zero of my European readers), and if you don’t work out the kinks now, you won’t have time to work them out in the regular season. I also could not help but think that it is interesting that the Democrats can’t put together more REAL candidates on stage aside from Hillary and Bernie. I don’t know if this is a reflection of a lack of bench-depth in their leadership, or if everyone is generally content with the knowledge that Hillary is likely to win the nomination. I am hardly saying that the massive Republican field is a better solution, but at least it does give some more optionality to a crusty ol’ Republican like myself.

Until next time… Go see “The Martian.” It’s a great film!

 

Footnotes:

  1. I don’t actually think that Obama is a moderate. And Hillary could be a right-wing conservative if she thought it would help her poll numbers.
  2. For the record, this is a BIG FRICKIN’ DEAL to anybody who has had a security clearance before.
  3. Democratic Socialism Definition – If someone has money, take it away, and let a bunch of nitwits spend it for you.
  4. Let’s remember what we have learned from Scott Walker; Super PACs don’t win elections.

Assessing Donald

I am a Republican.  I may be GOP through and through, but I am not a Donald Trump supporter. Other than the fact that we both select the same affiliation on our voter registration form, there is almost nothing alike in our respective viewpoints. If the election were tomorrow, I’d rank almost every other Republican candidate ahead of Trump.  (And for those of you who have been watching the debates, you’re aware that there are a bus load of other candidates.)

This is why I – and a good portion of everyone else I know with access to social media sights – remain befuddled by the Donald’s poll numbers.  To tell you the truth, I can’t think of a single person in my social network, or in my social network’s social network that has voiced their support for Trump.  So who is voting for this man?  And why?  Several months have passed since Trump announced his candidacy and he continues to lure a consistent ~25% of likely Republican voters, similar to acolytes of past elections including such distinguished figures (a jest) as Pat Buchanan, Michele Bachmann, and Herman Cain. In some ways, one almost has to admire that he has garnered such strong support from a segment of the population.  Let’s be honest, who amongst you thought Trump would immediately jump to the front of the line and remain there until now?  Is that a hand in the back I see?  No, you’re just stretching aren’t you. One can never be completely certain as to what motivates a voter to pick a single candidate out of a large playing field.  However, here are some of my theories around how Trump has come to acquire some of his support.

  1. Immigration Policy – The Republican Party seems to be at odds with itself over the immigration debate. On one side there is the Rubio/Bush camp where there seems to be a genuine interest in finding a compassionate way to handle the large number of illegal immigrants, and to clear the path for improved policies that keep America’s doors open within reason. On the extreme opposite end there are the fear-mongers that believe that immigrants are criminals, rapists, thieves, and are “takin’ arr jerbs.”  Since day one, Trump has aligned himself with the latter, although he’s recently backed off his initial headline grabbing comments.  It cannot be denied that there are segments of the Republican Party that buy into and feed off this sort of rhetoric aimed at immigrants. In my experience, the people with significant immigration fears whom I have been exposed to have tendency to lack a good education, have never left the U.S., or encountered another culture. Of course, this is completely based on my experience and I have no science to back this up.  In any event, people do exist that support Trump’s immigration policy and Trump has successfully cornered the market of promising a U.S. free of immigrants.  (Which is sort of an oxymoron if you think about it.)
  2. He’s a Straight Shooter – As I mentioned above, I don’t agree with any of Trump’s views.  But who doesn’t like an honest candidate?  Even I find it somewhat refreshing to listen to Trump’s blunt opinions, a relatively lost art. In an age of political correctness, I suspect many voters are supporting Trump simply on the premise that they find his lack of a political filter to be refreshing. I know most of the readers of this site are probably of the city-folk, well-polished variety, but I have to remind myself that once you get into middle-America and the South, this lack of filter, no-nonsense approach garners a great deal of respect.
  3. Name Recognition – Let’s remember that the elections are still 13 months away and most people haven’t given too much thought to who they will ACTUALLY support. The voter is fickle, and front runners come and go. Just look at the likes of Michele Bachmann (2012), Herman Cain (2012), and even Hillary Clinton (2008!) as examples. In some ways, I would almost venture to say that being an early front runner can be the kiss of death, as the voter oftentimes tires after a few months of excessive press coverage. With the election still very far off, I suspect a scenario playing itself over and over again in which a pollster calls a kind old man/woman in South Dakota and asks who they support. The old man/woman, who is in a rush to finish cooking dinner, call their kids, and mop the floor, remembers that there is a Trump fellow who used to be featured on their favorite reality show, and in haste, say that they support him (for lack of awareness of other candidates). Hopefully, when actual votes are cast, this factor will diminish.
  4. Trump’s Campaign Belong’s to Trump  – Let’s be honest.  Not every candidate’s campaign belongs 100% to that individual candidate.  Every “serious” candidate in recent memory has had large contributions to his campaign.  While we’d like to believe that once elected, the former candidates will make policy decisions simply because its the right thing to do, it would be unrealistic to think that candidates aren’t going to occasionally interpret “the right thing” as giving a little assistance to those who helped get them there.  Enter Trump.  Your first candidate in a long time who is funding his own campaign.  Voters know that if they elect Trump, they will get a President without ties to any other entities.  Except the ones owned by Donald Trump.

While Trump continues to lead the field with 25% of the vote, there still remain a greater number of Republicans who are unwilling to support him. Since there are two sides to every coin (a scientific fact), let’s take a look at a few areas of direct concern:

  1. Immigration Policy – Trump’s plan to deport 11 million illegal immigrants is not only unrealistic and costly, but downright mean-spirited and not of the American way.  The American Dream is to work hard and buy that white picket fence you covet.  Not to be hauled away by the Feds and thrown on the other side of a tall barbed wire fence. Much has been written about how his plan lacks any sense of reality, especially throwing out children who were born in the US, an act expressly prohibited by the 14th Amendment!!!1 The last time I checked, building Presidential platforms around skirting the Constitution is usually a losing proposition. And illegalities aside, by lumping all illegal immigrants as bad actors ignores the fact that most are simply pursuing a better job and money for their family, which is hardly criminal.
  2. Foreign Policy – Trump has tendency to garner media attention on his domestic policy platforms. However, more should be paid attention to his total lack of awareness of foreign policy and its stakeholders. For instance, in an interview, he didn’t know Qassam Suleimani is the head of the Iranian Revolutionary Guard.  As a potential candidate for Commander in Chief of the armed forces, you may want to who know the names of some of the key figures across the world.   Just an idea.
  3. Sexism – The Republican Party has had enough trouble with alienating women due to its hard lines on issues like abortion and birth control. As an obviously important voting bloc, alienating ~50% of the population with statements about Carly Fiorina’s looks (great reply in the debates, Carly) and about Megyn Kelly’s, well, y’know, is obviously detrimental and just plain stupid. And most importantly for me, it’s hard enough to find a date in San Francisco as a Republican; do we have to make it any harder?

These are just three things that come to mind, but there are other issues I could discuss. Examples include his complete lack of decorum, lack of commitment to hard details, and the fact that many of his businesses are essentially branding scams (see the story on Trump University).

This all begs the question; can Trump actually win the Republican nomination? Hopefully I am not eating my words (Dewey Defeats Truman!), but in this writer’s humble opinion there is no bloody way that he will.  There is a long way to go before the eggs begin hatching and its far too early to count your chickens, if you know what I’m staying.  For starters,  Trump actually is relatively liberal on certain points, such as his support of the existing Social Security status quo and his past statements around a single-payer healthcare system which may alienate the more “conservative” faction in the party. Moreover, as I explain above, recent history may be working against him as the early front runner usually falls out in a crowded election field. (See Herman Cain and Michele Bachmann.)  (While we’re at it, John Edwards and Hillary Clinton.)  Another wild card that will undoubtedly present itself is that as the Republican field whittles down, the support that went to those dropping candidates may be spread amongst the other remaining candidates, rather than Mr. Trump.

Trump will certainly be a candidate to continue to monitor.  The campaign trail is but merely heating up.  I’ll continue to monitor the Republican debates and news regarding the candidates as we inch closer to Election 2016.

 

Footnotes:

  1. Amendment XIV, Section 1, Clause 1 (Citizenship Clause) – All persons born or naturalized in the United States, and subject to the jurisdiction thereof, are citizens of the United States and of the State wherein they reside.

The Union Buster is Out!

Well, that’s one down, fourteen to go before we have a narrowed down Republican field!

I admit I am a bit surprised to see Scott Walker bow out this early as I was under the impression that he was financially sound, especially compared to other less-popular candidates.[1] If I was still a betting man (which I may or may not have had to give up due to an affinity for blackjack) I would have bet on Rand Paul, Lindsey Graham, or Rick Santorum to drop out next.

I am sure he could have putted along for a bit longer, but it seems like he took a realistic view of his chances in the current field, and decided to save himself for another year. While this was not a completely selfless act, I applaud him for being realistic and stepping aside for other non-Trump candidates to gain some donors and support.  Hats off to you Governor.

With that, here are my two cents on why Walker failed to keep his momentum and fell from grace so quickly:

  1. Too many candidates, too little money – I couldn’t see how 17 candidates could survive costly campaigns when so few people (myself included) are willing to donate to Presidential campaigns this early in the race. While we don’t yet have 3Q 2015 Federal Election Commission financial summaries, the June statement (which doesn’t include Walker since he started late) demonstrates that most candidates are playing small ball on the donation front compared to Hillary Clinton, Jeb Bush, Marco Rubio, and even Bernie Sanders! I know what you are thinking; “This ignores the Super PAC money!” The thing is, Super PAC money can’t be used for everyday expenses like flying in a charter jet and paying for campaign aides. With so many people and so few dollars, I think we will start to see more candidates drop out for this very simple reason.
  2. Debate Performance – When I assigned grades after the last Republican debate, I ALMOST forgot to include Walker in my scorecard. His performances were so bland that I had no notes on my tablet and I had to go back and watch clips of him speaking to remember what he was talking about. In the debates, Walker seemed to be grasping at any issue or statement that would stick to him and his record, and failed. This, combined with a lackluster first debate, largely sealed his fate.
  3. He ran too much on his history as a Union buster – I admire what Walker did in Wisconsin to stick it to the Unions, as I am a fan of their influence about as much as a craft brewer enjoys drinking Bud Light.[2] However, Walker needed to focus on more national issues than just his main accomplishment in a State that most people can’t even find on a map. While they say that all politics is local, when running for President, you have to broaden your appeal. Walker recognized this fact in the last debate through his throwing darts at different domestic and foreign policy issues, but it came too little, too late, and too desperate.
  4. I have to say it… A lack of a College degree – Ok, so while I don’t think this affected his poll numbers, it may have eventually. As many people are aware, Walker is about a semester short of graduating from Marquette. In this day and age, Walker ran the risk that a number of voters would be silently uncomfortable with the fact that he never bothered with finishing his degree. I honestly don’t have a great justification for why this would bother me.  However, if you are going toe-to-toe with some of the smartest people in politics for arguably the most coveted elected political office in the world, shouldn’t you at least have the degree to point at a as a sort of intellectual signpost? Or maybe I am just a San Franciscan snob who needs to leave the city sometimes to meet real people.  Who knows?  Let’s move on.

With Walker gone, the question becomes who is the next to go? Looking at personalities, finances and the latest polling in Iowa and the national level2, my money is on a relatively quick succession of the following:

  1. Rick Santorum – Does anyone even remember that he is running?
  2. Rand Paul – Yes, yes, we get it. You like States’ Rights.
  3. Lindsey Graham – Good guy, smart on foreign affairs, but has failed to gain any momentum.

Only time will tell. What I can promise you is that I’m not going anywhere and will be right here to cover it. In the meantime, be sure to look out for my forthcoming on what to do about the Syria crisis.

[1] For the record, this assumption was made BEFORE I checked out http://www.FEC.gov, which is worth a visit for anyone who wants the thrill of looking at campaign finances.

[2] For those keeping score at home, master craft brewers do NOT enjoy Bud Light.

Republican Debate Scorecard

I hate to go into my first entry without formally introducing myself, but the debates present too good of an opportunity to begin preaching about the Republican candidates and politics in general. I will, at a later date, formally introduce my general views, background, and all the facets that somehow make me qualified to write on this blog. But for now, let’s make an attempt at reviewing the overall performance of the circus, I mean, debate! As a caveat I will only review the main debate participants, although I wish to give an honorable mention to Lindsey Graham for being a better human being than his competitors in the JV debate. In addition, my winners are definitely skewed towards my views on those who are more viable candidates, and those that don’t want to create the United Christian Empire of America.

Let’s start by categorizing my winners, losers, and ‘ehs’.

Winners

Losers Eh

Jeb Bush

Scott Walker Rand Paul

Marco Rubio

Mike Huckabee

Chris Christie

John Kasich

Ben Carson

Carly Fiorina

  Ted Cruz

Donald Trump

 

The Winners:

Jeb Bush: Six months ago, I had a hard time imagining that anybody BUT Jeb Bush was a truly electable candidate. He isn’t crazy religious conservative, he could ride some resurgence in George W. nostalgia in the Republican Party, and can fund raise like a madman. After watching his campaign trail and the last debate, I began to doubt his enthusiasm and charisma, both traits that are generally required to be elected. Tonight, we got to see him come back from a wishy-washy history in defending his family, and take a firm stance with a zinger to Donald Trump. In addition, he showed he has a sense of humor and personality, which is desperately needed.

On the non-fluffy side, Bush seems to be centering his campaign on a 4% growth target. In principle, he seems to understand that American influence is centered around our economic strength. For now, he would be well advised to stick to the theme of economic growth, and avoid the social issues that stereotype Republican candidates with the “crazy” moniker.

Marco Rubio: I had completely discounted Rubio as a middle-tier candidate who will fail to gain ground. I equated him with being too inexperienced and brash to gain any real headway with mainstream voters. However, during the debate I was impressed with how firm and educated he is with foreign policy, especially with regards to Iran. In addition, his commentary on climate change that the onus is not solely on America to change effect climate change was aligned with more practical approaches to the debate. I realize that foreign policy and climate change does not win elections, but if he can keep his domestic views relatively moderated, he may see a boost in the polls.

John Kasich: I acknowledge my bias as Kasich is currently my favorite candidate. He maintained his theme that he is an everyman that can work across political aisles and apply common sense to contentious issues. My favorite part of Kasich was his insistence that shutting the government down over Planned Parenthood funding is like killing a flea with a bazooka. He conveys that he plays the long game politically, and isn’t going for easy short-term poll boosts by backing Planned Parenthood defunding. Also, Kasich is the most effective at conveying how his past history in Ohio is directly relevant to being a President. Charge on Kasich! I will donate money soon.

The Ehs:

Rand Paul: Rand had extended commentary on the 10th Amendment (States’ Rights), and how it pertains to Marijuana legalization and other issues. This is his strong suit, and he presents it convincingly. However, this will play only to Libertarian voters, and he is not broadening his appeal enough to convince supporters of other candidates to swing his way.

Chris Christie: Lots of post-debate chatter on social media commented that Christie brought his A-game to the debate. I personally was zoning out when he dropped the 9/11 card as the basis for gaining voter sympathy around his foreign policy justifications. I am also not sure if I believe his sudden move towards more conservative social issues, such as abortion. By doing this, he is chasing after religious-right votes that he will likely not get given the other candidates stronger background with those voters.

Carly Fiorina: I apparently am in the minority based on a quick Google search. I realize she had a strong opening zinger with Trump, but she seemed sidelined by the moderators on many of the extended debate topics. I was rolling my eyes at her specifics around increasing the military by X number of Army brigades, X numbers of ships, and X number of Marine battalions. These numbers are simply thrown out to sound quantitative, and are about as scientific as a growth enhancer sold on late-night TV. I want to support Carly, but I can’t help but think that she hasn’t been challenged on how badly Hewlett Packard performed under her tenure. If you are going to run as an outsider, isn’t it better to have a good track record as said outsider? That being said, I hope she starts to take away from Trump’s lead at some point in the near future, as she is one of the more electable candidates.

Donald Trump: At some point in the debates, there will be few enough candidates that we can hear them go into some substance on the actual DETAILS of their platforms versus statements about making America great again (screw that by the way, we are always great). Trump seemed to become more subdued when pressed for details, and for the first time this was extremely noticeable even to his likely supporters. He did come off worse after his quarrel with Fiorina and through any number of other exchanges, but at this point, I have stopped discounting these gaffes as hurting him. The man seems to suck up all the stupid poll numbers. This will be discussed in later postings.

The Losers:

Scott Walker: Walker is desperately trying to grab attention in whatever area he can. One minute he is trying to sound Kasich-esque discussing how bold of a Governor he was, followed by a rant on foreign policy that sounds like he studied up on the WSJ for a week. I think the time has come to bow out, Scott. *UPDATE: Walker bowed out a few days after I wrote this draft. He must have received an advanced copy!

Mike Huckabee: Huckabee and Jindal get my vote for least favorite candidates. Their use of religion as the basis for almost every discussion strikes a nerve, and is not how the Republicans will win the election as they have in the past. His defense of Kim Davis, and his arguments around the “criminalization of Christianity” is antiquated and lacks merit in the modern world. On a very minor positive side, there is no doubt that Huckabee is well spoken, but he needs to avoid grandiose statements about how Presidents need to know what they don’t know.

Ben Carson: I would like to have a beer with Ben Carson. He seems like a genuinely concerned guy who cares about the welfare of the country. However, he earns a spot in my “losers” column because he looks scared to death whenever called to answer a question about the military or foreign policy. His statements about how he didn’t support immediate intervention in Afghanistan came off as extremely bizarre, and I wasn’t sure what the point was that he was making. I don’t think the soft-spoken nice guy act will get him through many state primaries.

Ted Cruz: Explain to me how anyone has ever taken this man seriously. Nice try on the Justice Roberts argument and then falling flat on your face. And while it is ok to disagree with Planned Parenthood, it is hardly a “criminal enterprise.” He could learn a lesson or two from Kasich on how to compromise a little bit.

Summary:

So there you have it! My highly biased yet practical debate report card. Looking back, I recognize most of my observations aren’t necessarily reflecting each candidate’s leadership abilities, history, and policy proposals. It’s hard to have meaningful commentary on the candidates based on their actual policies at this point, as the large debates don’t let candidates go into much detail. I hope to dive deeper into my preferred candidates’ policies in further entries. To be continued!

Next week: My ideal Presidential platform! And reflections on Walker dropping out!