Thursday, August 6, 2015

Watching the elephants

I missed the early "undercard" debate, but I'm glad everybody says Carly Fiorina won that one handily.

The prime time debate was more entertaining than I had thought it would be. The winner there was Senator Ted Cruz. He was the most consistent, and arguably the best prepared. I also think Dr. Ben Carson was a surprisingly solid second.

Donald Trump came very close to embarrassing himself. He didn't quite fall over that imaginary line, but we all could see the line, and how close he was to it. As a result, he failed on temperament.

In the contretemps over massive and warrantless data gathering between Rand Paul and Chris Christie, I'd say Paul won by TKO, because Christie resorted to bluster, and tried unsuccessfully to use the 9/11 attacks as a shield for his own views.

Kasich? Meh. Rubio? Meh, except for the line about how Hillary Clinton could not possibly lecture him about living paycheck to paycheck because he was raised that way. Walker? Meh -- and he admitted as much.

I believed Jeb Bush when he said he was his own man, but he should have had a better answer for the question about whether people are right to worry about dynasties in American politics. If your dad and brother are both former presidents and you sound a little defensive when asked about that, then you're not the populist you claim to be.

Huckabee had some good lines, but not so many that he'll be memorable.

UPDATE: Friend Chuck emailed to say that he didn't think he and I watched the same debate. By way of explaining that comment, Chuck said that Trump seemed "not very much in control of himself." I agree with that, and thought I had said as much, because it's what I was getting at when I wrote that Trump "failed on temperament."

Chuck also said that he thinks Kasich and Walker came out of that debate as the candidates to watch, but I think he's wrong about that. Kasich benefited from what, for him, was "home field" advantage. Walker held his own, but his closing statement was a meandering bit about moral behavior. In fairness, the moderators probably derailed several closing speeches  by asking in a preamble to closing statements that candidates explain whether they thought they had received a "word from God" about "what they should do and take care of first."

It was an odd question and a tricky one, sent in from Facebook and perhaps designed to expose any candidate harboring some problematic combination of ego and presumed intimacy with our Creator.

But the question was posed first to Senator Ted Cruz, and his answer was masterful. "Well, I am blessed to receive a word from God every day in receiving the scriptures and reading the scriptures," Cruz answered. "And God speaks through the Bible." Cruz then personalized the answer by describing how Christian faith rescued his father from alcoholism. He finished by pivoting gracefully from that back to politics: "I would also note that scripture tells us, 'you shall know them by their fruit.' " The verse fit: "We see lots of  'campaign conservatives,' " Cruz explained, "But if we're going to win in 2016, we need a consistent conservative, someone who has been a fiscal conservative, a social conservative, a national security conservative."

Kasich offered only "I believe in miracles" pabulum in response to the same query. Walker's endorsement of moral behavior was more original, but he also agreed with an article that had called him "aggressively normal," and that can be interpreted as refreshing or as self-sabotaging. To me, it sounded timid.

I think Chuck likes Kasich and Walker because, like him, they're midwesterners.

Chuck wants to hear more about entitlement reform, which is a good idea, but you know what? Chris Christie, not a midwesterner, said more about entitlement reform than the comparatively colorless Kasich and Walker.

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