No All-Star Game at the Halfway Point

The presidential political season has now passed the halfway point, without anything nearly so entertaining as the all-star games that mark the middle of more respectable professional sports, and although the front-runners in both leagues padded their leagues on Tuesday padded their leads the outcomes are at least still somewhat in doubt.
Over on the Democrats’ senior circuit, former First Lady and Senator and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, who was awful in each of those capacities, won decisive victories in the populous and all-important “swing states” of Ohio and Florida, as well as the Democratic stronghold of Illinois, and the populous and possibly Democratic state of North Carolina, and is neck-to-neck with her lone challenger in the populous and even more possibly Democratic state of Missouri. Such a good night gives her a better than two-to-one lead in the delegate count, with all the super-delegates and other cards stacked in her favor, but she’s also had some bad nights, and against the self-described socialist Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders, at that, and he looks to be sticking around. Sanders’ supporters are quite committed to his crazy cause, and quite sanely if inadvertently aware of Clinton’s dishonesty and corruption and incompetence and purely opportunistic stands on the issues, as well as generally low moral character, and they’re coughing up twenty bucks at a time to keep funding his anti-establishment insurgency at a faster pace than the hated Wall Street fat cats can fund her unappealing campaign, and even if the Federal Bureau of Investigation doesn’t get a game-changing indictment against her for her irregular and national-security-endangering e-mail practices, or her scandal-ridden family’s highly suspicious “foundation,” she’s still got problems between now and her long-predicted coronation.
By now Clinton’s unfavorable ratings are so high that the current Democratic administration might be tempted to let the FBI proceed with that indictment, so that some wild card might be played at a contested convention, but Tuesday night’s Republican results suggest she might be running against pretty much the only person in the United States of America with even worse polls numbers. Donald J. Trump, the self-described billionaire and real-estate-and-gambling-and-professional-wrestling-and-reality-television-and-scam-university mogul, also racked up a sizable win populous and swing-state Florida, as well as Illinois and North Carolina, and is quite narrowly leading in Missouri as we write this, and with the winner-take-all rule in Florida and the more convoluted systems elsewhere he added to an already sizable delegate lead. There’s no denying it was another good night for Trump.
He’s got his problems, too, though, even if his own looming legal problems are merely of a multi-million dollar civil nature. He was humbled in Ohio, where favorite son Gov. John Kasich handily won all the delegates in a winner-take-all primary and some potentially important bargaining chips in the potential contested election, where they almost certainly would not go to Trump until at least the final ballot, and he was dogged in Missouri by Texas Sen. Ted Cruz, who has several wins against Trump and almost certainly would have won Missouri if not for the presence of Florida Sen. Marco Rubio, who is now mercifully out of the race after his un-favorite son finish in his home state, and the intra-party opposition to Trump is also committed and contributing and increasingly well-organized, and the deal-maker’s deal is far being made.
Even if he does seal the deal on a nomination, there are still those worse-even-than-Clinton’s polling numbers, and it’s hard to imagine that one of Trump’s stream-of-consciousness rants during his nomination acceptance speech will do much to change, and a certain number of us are going to start choosing between the Constitutionalists and the Libertarians and any other conservative-sounding third party, while a certain number of similarly picky picky Democrats will be investigating the Socialist and Green and other liberal-sounding parties, but until then there’s at least some outside chance of an honest conservative versus an honest liberal.

— Bud Norman

The Race Plods Along

The votes keep coming in, but so far they haven’t added up to a clear winner in either of the presidential races. There are two front-runners who continue to front-run, but neither can feel comfortable with their leads.
Former First Lady and Senator and Secretary of State and once-presumed First Woman President Hillary Clinton continues to slog it out with self-described socialist and Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders, of all people. Clinton picked up another convincing win in Mississippi on Tuesday, continuing a winning streak in southern states where all the white people have long since registered Republican and the Democratic parties are dominated by blacks, who for some vague reasons seem to prefer Clinton to the nebbishy socialist from a lily-white state whose efforts at identity politics have often been clumsy, but she lost a squeaker in Michigan, where the racial demographics are more typical of the country at large, and which the Democrats rely on in general elections.
This wasn’t supposed to happen, but it keeps happening, and this is before Clinton is either indicted on felony charges or has the Federal Bureau of Investigation furiously leaking all the reasons she should have been indicted but was saved solely by naked political favoritism, which can’t help, so we expect this race to continue. The peculiar rules of the Democrat’s delegate selection process seem to award Clinton a “super delegate” or two no matter how she performs at the ballot box, and it remains to be seen how the broad diverse tapestry of the Democratic party will respond to some nebbishy white guy’s call for a socialist revolution, and she continues to more-or-less front-run in the polls, but we have to imagine there is some panic afoot in the party’s smoke-free back rooms. They might even decide to go ahead and let the woman get indicted just to get her out of the race and allow some hair-plugged white knight or faux Indian princess to come to the rescue, or maybe that’s just wishful thinking on our part, but any scenario seems bleak for the Democrats.
They do have the last-resort advantage of running against Republicans, though, and the loyal opposition seems determined to help out. After wins in Michigan and Mississippi and Hawaii, the front-runner is still Donald J. Trump, the self-described billionaire real-estate-and-gambling-and-strip-joint-and-professional-wrestling-and-reality-television-and-scam-university mogul, whose national unfavorable ratings in one recent poll hit an eye-popping 67 percent, which is even worse than Clinton’s, which is saying something. The wins added to a solid but not insurmountable lead in the delegate count, and was sufficient for Trump to boast that it’s all over and time for the entire party to rally around his vaguely defined cause, but surely he’s a shrewd enough negotiator to know that’s not going to happen. A consistent two-thirds of the party continues to vote against him, with a large chunk of it having highly unfavorable views of him, and much more than a few of us are willing to fight him until the very end and beyond, and a careful look reveals that all the undecideds who haven’t yet become enamored of Trump after so many months of saturation media coverage of his garish insult comic routine are predictably deciding they don’t like him, and all this is just as the effective-because-they’re-true negative ads have been starting to come out.
Worse yet, from Trump’s bottom-line perspective, the fractured field that has allowed his pluralities to prevail in so many contests is narrowing, with Tuesday’s results effectively knocking Florida Sen. Marco Rubio out of the race, although he might risk humiliation by continuing to campaign in his home state. Ohio Gov. John Kasich’s narrow-third place finish in neighboring Michigan won’t keep him from contesting his home state as a favorite son, but if he wins that he denies Trump some much-needed delegates, and if he doesn’t it will all come down to Trump against Texas Sen. Ted Cruz, who picked up another upset win in Idaho and once again out-performed the polls in his losing efforts, leads Trump in head-to-head matches in the polls, and is clearly eager to be alone on a debate stage with Trump.
This might end in a race between two of the most deservedly disliked and distrusted people in America, or a nebbishy socialist and an evangelical capitalist, or some combination thereof, or maybe even some hair-plugged white knight or faux Indian princess will come to the rescue, and we’ll even hold on to some faint hope of another deus ex machina.

— Bud Norman

A Not-So-Super Tuesday

Although it’s still too soon to abandon all hope, and never so late that one should abandon the fight, on the day after “Super Tuesday” it seems all too likely that the American people will have to choose between two of the most widely distrusted and disliked people in the country for their next president.
The big day brought split decisions, but the clear winners on points were Donald J. Trump, the self-described billionaire real-estate-and-gambling-and-professional-wrestling-and-reality-television-and-scam-university mogul on the Republican side, and on the Democratic side it was one of the guests at his most recent wedding, the former First Lady and Senator and Secretary of State and rape-enabling charity-hustler and law-flouting incompetent Hillary Clinton. Both have unfavorable ratings well above the 50 percent mark, with sizable majorities of the country having reasonably concluded that they are not the sort of people they would want as a president, yet now are both the prohibitive favorites to win their parties’ nominations.
Trump’s Tuesday wins in Alabama, Arkansas, Georgia, Massachusetts, Tennessee, Virginia, and Vermont give him a nine-out-of-14 record so far, and some recent polls have his national average far enough into the 40s to prevail in even a narrowed field, and the place and show results aren’t likely to do any narrowing. Texas Sen. Ted Cruz won on his home field and also took neighboring Oklahoma — God bless our beautiful ancestral state — which makes him three-out-of-14 but still in the race, and Florida Sen. Marco Rubio finally got a story in the caucus state of Minnesota, where the Republicans well remember their last flirtation with professional wrestling characters, and he would have scored a big win in Virginia if not for Ohio Gov. John Kasich sticking around until the primaries move into his region of the country, so for the next round there will be at least three candidates splitting up a seemingly shrinking portion of the anti-Trump vote.
In his victory speech Trump generously praised himself for his courage in running and with characteristic graciousness described his rivals as “losers,” or “loosers,” as his internet commenting fans are wont to write, but he seemed to realize that he hasn’t yet sealed his latest great deal. The peculiarly proportional rules of Republican politics split up the night’s delegate count in a way that gives him a significant but not at all decisive lead, and still far short of what’s needed to clinch the nomination. Tuesday’s results will at least winnow out the retired neurosurgeon Dr. Ben Carson, either by his graceful withdrawal or unfortunate irrelevance, and one can hope that he’ll join a growing number of Christian leaders and use his remaining influence to denounce the man who slanderously ridiculed his story of faith. Those peculiarly proportional rules of Republican politics remain a problem for any candidate who isn’t pulling in more than 50 percent of the vote, which Trump still hasn’t done, and in getting there Trump will finally face a well-funded barrage of facts about his failed businesses and his penchant for hiring the illegal aliens that he’s vowed to save the country from and why he’s not making the financial disclosures that will prove how very, very rich he is, and he’s even getting some campaign jibes about those short fingers of his, and the late night comics are already having a ball with him, and there’s a deposition coming up in a couple of months regarding that scam university of his, and surely Trump knows as well as anyone that in this crazy election year anything could happen.
Still, for now Trump steamrolls ahead, and at this rate he’s likely to crash into his former wedding guest Clinton in a train-wreck of a general election. Clinton won victories in Alabama, Arkansas, Georgia, Massachusetts, Tennessee, Texas, and Virginia, while her rival, self-described socialist and Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders, won in Colorado, Minnesota, Oklahoma of all places, and his home state. That makes Clinton nine-out-of-14, if you don’t count that highly suspicious series of coin flips in Iowa as a tie, but by the peculiarly proportional rules of the Democrat party every delegate won by either candidate seems to yield two super-delegates for Clinton, so at this rate we have to admit that maybe she was inevitable after all. All the yard signs and bumper stickers and buttons we see in our neighbor say “Bernie,” but there are a lot of chocolate-milk-sipping pajama boys in our fashionable neighborhood near the art museum, which might or might not be representative of the paler portions of the Democratic party, but in Alabama and Arkansas and Georgia and Tennessee and Texas and Virginia the Democrats tend to be black, which seems to be the storyline in the Democratic primary. So far the Black Lives Matter activists and other black trend-setters are starting to side with Sanders, but the overall trend is that the same southern blacks who went for President Barack Obama over Clinton are now going for Clinton and her First Black President husband over that Jewish guy from lily-white Vermont, even if her philandering husband did sign all those mass incarceration and welfare reform bills she now rails against.
Such allegedly racist Republicans as ourselves can at least enjoy the spectacle of the political race war waging within the Democratic party, and the sweet irony that all those white hipsters’ socialism might fail because they are found guilty of white privilege, but it’s a slight satisfaction given the inevitable consequences of such tribalism. Our own party’s clear front-runner recently told a national broadcast audience that he wasn’t sufficiently familiar with David Duke or the Ku Klux or some notion of “white supremacism” to comment on it, and the internet swelled with supporters saying it was a crafty set-up question by the “cuckservative” Jew-controlled media, the front-runner has an annoying habit of re-“tweeting” their “tweets,” and his own tweets have included some outrageously bogus numbers about white people killed by black people, so we’d have to say that the post-racial era of politics that our current widely disliked and distrusted president once promised hasn’t happened.
Perhaps it will all work out in the end, somehow. This Sanders fellow seems honest enough, even if he’s an honestly crazed honeymooning-in-the-Soviet-Union socialist who would bring upon America all the misery that inevitably follows socialism, and that Spanish-speaking and Canadian-born right-winger Cruz talks cold-blooded capitalism and kind-hearted Christianity with the sort of sincere zeal that seems more threatening to the establishment than all of Trump’s”anti-establishment” bluster and vague promises about great deals with the establishment and all his other wedding guests, and no mater the outcome at least it would be a clarifying election. If it turns out to be Rubio or Kasich in the mano-a-mano cage match duel to the death in the finale episode of the Republican party’s reality show that would be good enough for us.
By the peculiarly proportional rules of the American political system, though, it’s looking as if we’ll have a choice between two people that most people don’t think are at all suited to the job of being president.

— Bud Norman

Let’s Make a Deal to be the Last on Gilligan’s Island

The latest episode of the Republican party’s ongoing presidential nomination reality show was the best one yet, but it might yet be too little and too late to save this series from an unsatisfying conclusion.
Telecast by the Cable News Network in Mercury Radio Theatre’s “War of the Worlds” fashion as an actual presidential debate, the episode featured two of the last survivors on the Republican party island, Florida Sen. Marco Rubio and Texas Sen. Ted Cruz, ganging up against the thus-far series favorite, self-proclaimed billionaire real-estate and gambling mogul Donald J. Trump in an entertaining showdown. Ohio Gov. Rick Kasich and retired neurosurgeon Dr. Ben Carson were also featured, and were quite boringly reasonable and level-headed in their brief moments, but they were just “and the rest,” as the first seasons of Gilligan’s Island’s theme song would have put it.
Regular fans of the show already know that Trump’s long experience in professional wrestling and reality shows have given him a decided advantage over the neophyte politicians who are now dancing with the stars, along with his unprecedentedly strong stand against illegal immigration and the fact that he’s not one of those neophyte politicians who are part of the “establishment,” which has long been established as the unseen villain of the series, and thus far his would-be rivals have mostly been preoccupied with sniping at one another. On Thursday night’s episode, though, all of these plot lines saw intriguing twists.
Both Rubio and Cruz demonstrated some professional wrestling moves and reality show savvy of their own, with Rubio noting that despite an unprecedentedly hard line against illegal immigration Trump has a longstanding practice of hiring illegal immigrants, and Cruz happily accepting Trump’s inadvertent compliment that nobody in the hated “establishment” likes him, and both provoking Trump into the face-making and rudely interrupting with shouts of “liar” histrionics that always get the show’s sizable anti-Trump audience booing and hissing.
Rubio got the better of the attack on Trump’s previous preferences for foreign workers, and when Trump objected to Rubio’s revelations that Trump had not only hired Polish workers for the dangerous asbestos removal to build the towering achievement of the Trump tower and had also stiffed them on their wages Rubio seemed to win the exchange by asking viewers to look it up. When Rubio noted that Trump had also preferred to hire Ukrainian maids for his Florida resort rather than American applicants willing to do the job, he was able to add the biographical detail that his own mother was a legal immigrant who had become an American citizen and supported him on his rise to a presidential contender by working as a hotel maid in Florida, and Trump was reduced to the open-borders argument that he merely hiring people to do work that Americans wouldn’t do. When he tried to strike back by noting Rubio’s involvement with the “Gang of Eight” that had sought to do the work of the open-borders crowd, much hated by all the show’s fans, Cruz was able to effectively jump in and note that Trump had been a big contributor to all of the Democratic members of the gang, and that only he of the three had been consistently righteous in his opposition.
Rubio at long last brought up that phony-baloney Trump University scam that’s winding its way through the courts, and the four bankruptcies and and made-in-China Trump ties and alluded to all the other failed Trump ventures of the invincible deal-maker, and Cruz noted that Trump’s claims that it’s all a lie is in itself a lie. Trump claimed to be a strong defender of Israel even as he defended a recent claim that he’d be neutral in a dispute between democratic and capitalist and humane Israel and the theocratic and no-economy-at-all-because-it’s-too-busy-hating-Israel Palestine, and Cruz noting Trump’s history of donating to anti-Israel politicians all the way back to Jimmy Carter. Trump tried to revise a minor plot line from a few weeks ago when Rubio started repeating himself, and wound up repeating himself to a point that the audience laughed along with Rubio. Between the two, Rubio and Cruz also brought up that Trump has been all over all the place on his health care plans, is losing in his beloved polls to the very vincible villain Hillary Clinton, won’t release the tax returns that might reveals he’s not such a successful businessman or generous philanthropist, has clearly lied about his views on the Libyan war, and donated $100,000 to the Bill and Hillary Clinton foundation that is one of the Republican’s juiciest issues.
In response Trump tried to revise another even more minor plot line about how Cruz had sullied Trump’s good friend Carson with a “tweet” of a CNN report about Carson’s withdrawal he was saved from Cruz noting how Trump had ridiculed Carson’s as “pathological” and akin to a child molester only by the intervention of CNN’s generally inept moderator. Another panelist from an affiliated Spanish-speaking network kept asking all the candidates if they “get it’ that the Republicans have to endorse an open-borders platform, which worked to Trump’s advantage, but overall it was a rough night for Trump.
Which won’t matter to Trump’s fans, of course. If their hero anti-immigration hero has a long history of hiring immigrant workers, well, that’s just because he’s a shrewd businessman, which is what’s need to make this country great again. If he’s not such a shrewd businessman as he’d have you believe, well, any source that would report such a thing is obviously not in favor of Trump and is therefore biassed against him, and you gotta hate any media that hate such a media star who’s going to make America great again. If Trump’s anti-Israel that just proves he’s not a stooge of Zionist conspiracy that’s bringing in foreign workers to drive wages down, and if Trump did that he’s just a good businessman. Who cares if he’s for socialized medicine or not, just so long as he builds that damned wall, and if he uses foreign workers to do that it’s just because he’s a good businessman. If he wrote a $100,00 check to his most recent wedding guest Clintons’ money-for-favors foundation, well, that’s just because he got snookered into thinking it was for some good work in Haiti or one of those places where no one ever does a publicized audit.
The far louder than Rubio-and-Cruz-combined media will be saturating the public with even more lurid tales of Trump’s business dealings and personal foibles just after he clinches the nomination, and will starting noticing that his refreshing political incorrectness is actually just downright rude, but until then his fans can revel in how he’s playing the media. With a potentially decisive number of delegates up for grabs in the impending “Super Tuesday” primaries are the next big episode in this series, that might be sooner rather than later. The good news for Trump is that Rubio and Cruz did about equally well, meaning they’ll continue to split that vast majority of the anti-Trump vote between themselves, and Trump’s 35 to 40 percent will prevail.
If the rest of the participants in this bizarre reality show had played their parts differently we might have would up with a sequel that featured a more-or-less conservative against one shade of socialist or another, which would have made an interesting show, but instead we might wind up with a corrupt semi-socalist and the semi-capitalist who paid her to attend his latest wedding in the worst episode of “Let’s Make a Deal” ever.

— Bud Norman

Democracy in the Desert

The state of Nevada has many fine people and is a lovely place to visit, especially those vast portions of it where you won’t find any people at all, but we don’t see why it should play such an outsized role in picking the country’s president. Only two other states had already knocked all the relatively sane Democrats out of that party’s race, a mere three had eliminated some worthy contenders from the Republican race, and now Nevada has apparently decided that it will all come down to the two candidates most disliked and distrusted by the American public.
That’s how the sporting press will perceive it, at least, and their perceptions might once again become reality. Former First Lady and Senator and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton regained her front-runner status over self-described socialist Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders last week with a race-baiting win in Nevada after a shellacking in New Hampshire followed a highly suspicious win Iowa, and after another race-baiting win expected in South Carolina she’ll be back to being inevitable. The boastful real-estate-and-gambling-and-professional-wrestling-and-reality-television mogul Donald J. Trump just picked up another double-digit when in Nevada, too, following similarly strong showings in New Hampshire and South Carolina after a narrow loss in Iowa, which he attributed on rather flimsy grounds to fraud, so the storyline is that the next 56 states will be a cinch.
This analysis will suffice for a lead paragraph, but down toward the bottom of the inverted pyramid are a few facts worth noting. There have only been four states and a relative handful of delegates allocated, although Clinton seems to be picking up these “super-delegates” at a rapid pace, the dynamics of both races could still change in the upcoming states, especially as the Republican field narrows, and Nevada is a weird place. The vast empty stretches of the state are populated by the few people needed to staff the convenience stores required to get one from Reno to Las Vegas to the state capital of Carson City, and in each of those population centers the politics are conducted in a way that would have made state founder Bugsy Siegel proud. It’s a state where the Democrats are mostly black and hispanic and equally put-upon white casino and hotel workers, who are ripe for a race-baiting campaign, and where the Republicans are the ones who hire the Democrats and are not off-put by Trump’s past as a semi-successful gambling mogul, and both party’s caucuses were beset by the quadrennial complaints about incompetence and corruption.
This time around the Republican complaints were mostly against the Trump campaign, which of course will deny it and won’t worry at all that it’s supporters would be the least bit upset if even he had cheated, because at least he fights and the Democrats do it all the time, so that should at least deny the chance to call anyone else a cheater. There will be some sober reflection on whether runner-up Florida Sen. Marco Rubio or third-place finisher Texas Sen. Ted Cruz will be the best one to run in a two-way race against Trump, but Ohio Gov. John Kasich and retired neurosurgeon Dr. Ben Carson will likely be sticking around to siphon a few essential-digits from the anti-Trump vote, and although the Trump victory can’t be written yet all the scribes will be working on it for the tickler file.
Nevada’s a fine place to visit, but it shouldn’t have that power.

— Bud Norman

A Rip-Roarin’ Fight, and No Result

Thursday night’s episode in the Republican presidential mini-series was the most entertaining yet, and for those interested in issues it was also the most informative, but it did little to advance the plot. Everyone did well, everyone took a few blows, and no one scored a clear victory.
Even the bit players did well, although not well enough to matter. Former computer executive Carly Fiorina managed get some attention on the undercard debate with jabs at Democratic candidate Hillary Clinton’s marital problems and rival Republican Donald Trump’s crony style of capitalism, but at this point it seems unlikely to get her back on the main stage. Ohio Gov. John Kasich wasn’t an annoying scold, representing a vast improvement over past debate performances, but that won’t make any difference for a candidate who is far too centrist for the party’s pugnacious mood. Retired neurosurgeon Ben Carson, who was briefly a front-runner in the race, was as always affable and admirable but couldn’t quite overcome the concerns about his policy chops that have caused his drop in the polls. Florida Gov. Jeb Bush, whose calm and presidential demeanor only emphasizes that he is also too centrist for the moment, did well enough to hurt some of the other candidates but not enough to help himself.
There’s still an outside chance of New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie contending for the nomination, what with the first primary being held in friendly New Hampshire, and that chance was probably improved by another strong performance. Being governor of a northeastern blue state has left Christie with some dangerously centrist positions of his own, but he defended his record on guns with vigor and even had a few achievements to cite, and at least his famously pugnacious style suits the fighting mood. Christie also tried to make up for his past literal embrace of President Barack Obama by calling him a “petulant child” for trying to impose gun regulations by executive action, and for the most part he was spared attacks by the others.
That’s probably because at this point the main players are Trump, a real estate mogul and reality television star, Texas Sen. Ted Cruz, and Florida Sen. Marco Rubio, who were mostly saving their jabs for one another.
The first clash came when Trump was asked about his recent insinuations that Cruz’ birth in Canada makes him constitutionally ineligible to become president, a lame reprisal of Trump’s unsuccessful “birther” arguments about Obama, and in his half-hearted stab at the issue Trump carelessly quoted the notoriously left-wing Harvard Law School professor Laurence Tribe. Cruz, who had already done a fine job of jabbing back at a New York Times hit piece over a long-ago loan that he reported on one form but not another, seemed to relish the fight. He shrewdly quoted Trump’s September assurances about his lawyers being satisfied that Cruz is indeed eligible, getting a good laugh by noting that the constitution hadn’t changed since then but the poll numbers have — a point Trump later laughingly conceded — and of course by noting that his former professor Tribe is a notorious leftist. When the former United States Attorney and Texas State Solicitor with a solid winning record in court cases waved off Trump’s suggestion that he take the matter to court, saying “That I won’t be taking legal advice from Donald Trump,” which got another big laugh, only the most died-hard Trump supporter or eastern bloc Olympic judge wouldn’t have scored the round for Cruz.
Trump got some points back when Cruz was asked about his statement that Trump represents “New York values.” Cruz initially got the applause by telling the noisily Republican South Carolina audience that people understand the term, which got a knowing a laugh, and he recalled a past interview when Trump admitted that his positions on a host of social issues are in line with the New York City rather than the Republican consensus, but he didn’t make much the needed clarification that he wasn’t talking about the hard hat worker riding the subway home to the Bronx, but rather the hipsters and university faculties and media grandees and ward-heeling socialists and blow-dried crony capitalists and creepy celebrities and everything else about the city that even those hard hat workers riding the subway home to the Bronx hate. This allowed Trump to speak with an uncharacteristic quietness about the city’s many undeniable virtues, and warm even our hearts by noting that the great William F. Buckley was a New Yorker, and eloquently recall its resilient response to the country’s most deadly terror attack, so even the eastern bloc Olympic judges will give him that round. He also effectively blunted what could have been a pretty good line, because people really do know what Cruz was talking about, so we give him a few extra points as well.
Cruz and Rubio also clashed, with both taking a few blows. At one point Rubio packed an 11-or-12-point litany of attacks at Cruz in a few brief bursts of sound, and even a former national collegiate debate champion such as Cruz couldn’t speed-talk fast enough to answer them all. Cruz later responded with Rubio’s past defection on the all-important issue of illegal immigration, which is pretty much the sole reason Rubio is stuck in third place rather than running away with this race, and once again Rubio had no defense other than mostly ineffective counter-attacks. On the whole, we’d say that Cruz got the better of it but that Rubio showed the aggressive style that Republicans seem to favor.
We note that Rubio used everything from Planned Parenthood to Common Core against Christie, who is widely perceived as his remaining competition as “the establishment candidate,” as if any sane candidate in either party would want that title in this particular election year, and also against Cruz, whose Senate insurgencies have made him as unpopular with the hated establishment as any of the candidates and thus endeared him to the party’s base, but he didn’t seem to have anything to say about Trump. That’s likely because Trump has lately been more concerned with Cruz and thus has had little to say about Rubio, so we credit both with tactical shrewdness, but we would have like to have seen two figuratively if not literally mess one another’s hair a bit.
Trump mostly did well, too. Aside from from the nice rendition of “New York, New York” he scored well with a question about South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley’s response to the president’s State of the Union address, in which her comments about not heeding the siren call of the angriest voices was widely understood as a criticism of Trump. Haley had already gotten a huge round of applause from her home state audience at the beginning of the debate, and he deftly praised her but admitted that he is indeed angry. An angry nation will surely understand, even if it can’t quite understand what Trump plans to do about it other than hire the best people and make America great again, and by the end of the evening Trump didn’t even seem the angriest man on stage. We think Trump got roughed up pretty well by all the candidates and even the otherwise disinterested and generally very good Fox Business News moderators on his proposal for punitive tariffs on Chinese goods, and trade matters in general, which is supposed to be the master negotiator’s strong point, but we suspect that went unnoticed by the large portion of the audience that was more interested in who got off the best insult.
Happily, though, we notice these debate audiences, if not the audiences at Trump’s rallies, seem to be tiring of his shock jock shtick, and that even he seems to be noticing. We counted three occasions when Trump was roundly booed for either boasting about his popularity or insulting the character of another candidate. After he called Bush a “weak man,” the boos were louder than Bush’s dwindling number of supporters could have possibly generated. On each occasion Trump appeared genuinely chastened, and we think he much preferred the warm applause from his more generous remarks about his hometown and South Carolina’s governor.
All in all, we still have no idea who’s going to win this thing.

–Bud Norman

The Latest Episode of the Perils of the GOP

The Republican presidential race is quickly becoming our favorite television show, almost to the point that we wish it were already over and we could “binge watch” the entire season to to its cliff-hanging conclusion on Netflix. Tuesday night’s installment was the best yet, with some intriguing plot twists and a refreshing focus on some fascinating but previously minor characters, and some travails of the formerly featured players, as well as much better production qualities.
Our cheapskate ways and aversion to popular culture preclude us from purchasing cable television, so we give thanks to the Fox Business Network, which is obviously the business news affiliate of the notoriously capitalistic and greedy Fox News organization, for making it available for the free on the internet, unlike the previous debate producers at CNBC, where the “C” stands for cable or capitalism and the “NBC” stands for the righteously anti-capitalist and pro-share-the-wealth National Broadcast Company, which insisted that everyone pay for its product. We further thank for them asking actual questions of the candidates, rather than spewing sneering diatribes ended with a question mark, because as much fun as it was to watch the Republicans bash the moderators in the last debate this episode was even better.
Previous episodes had somehow established two political neophytes, blustery real estate billionaire Donald Trump and soft-spoken neurosurgeon Ben Carson, as the frontrunners, but this time both seemed relegated to supporting roles. Another non-office-holder, former high-tech executive Carly Fiorina, seemed to get more air time and to make more of it. When the questions veered from economic issues to foreign affairs, Trump started talking about letting Russian President Vladimir Putin run the Middle East, Carson rambled in his efforts to reconcile his past dovishness in Afghanistan and Iraq with a more popular hawkishness, and Fiorina got the biggest applause of the three with some very tough talk about the need to project American power. Of the three candidates untainted by previous positions in government, which voters suddenly seem to find very attractive, we’d rate her performance the best.
Trump was conspicuously less prominent than in past debates, and his bully boy persona seems to be wearing thin. Much of his ire was aimed at former congressman and current Ohio Gov. John Kasich, who otherwise would have gone entirely unnoticed, and Trump’s argument that Ohio’s recent economic rebound was merely a matter of “striking oil” was easily rebutted, and his sneer that “I don’t need to listen to this man” was booed by many people who certainly never had any intention of supporting the recently mushy Kasich but feel that his long record of public service at least entitles him to have his say in a Republican debate. His complaint that Fiorina too often interjected herself into the debate was briefly cheered by his supporters with their usual pro-wrestling fan enthusiasm, but it surely gave his feminist and other female critics another reason to hate him, and there were enough old-fashioned chivalrous males and less aggrieved women in the audience at a Republican debate that he endured another round of boos. His best moment came when he criticized the Obama administration’s Trans-Pacific Partnership boondoggle, emphasizing that he supports free trade but credibly claiming that he could have negotiated a better deal, but even that didn’t get much applause.
Carson’s more polite presentation fared somewhat better. He stumbled badly when the discussion ranged into foreign policy, noting how darned complicated it all seems to be, but he had good moments talking about capitalism and entrepreneurialism and risk-taking and the economic anxieties of the middle class. At not point was he booed for his boorish insults, and the phony-baloney scandals about him that the press have lately concocted went unmentioned even by Trump, and the first wave of punditry raved about his performance, so our guess is that he didn’t suffer so much as Trump.
Among the candidates who are tainted by previous public service, we’d say that Sen. Marco Rubio of Florida and especially Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas seemed the likely winners. Kentucky Sen. Rand Paul had a good moment talking about the Democrats’ hysteria over climate change, as befits a Senator from a coal-mining state, but his isolationist views and stubborn insistence that a hefty military budget is not conservative made him a whipping boy for the rest of the candidates. Cruz got the best of it by noting that the defense of America is expensive but not nearly expensive as not defending it, Rubio got in a couple of good lines about the necessity of America being the world’s greatest military power, Fiorina also got some licks in, and even the most weak-kneed of the candidates made clear that the Republican party and conservatism still stand for a stronger national defense than any Democratic candidate might prefer.
There was some hearteningly radical talk about abolishing the Internal Revenue Service and other sensible tax reforms from all the candidates, with Cruz going the furthest, and even Trump was forced to concede that all the plans put forth were preferable to the status quo or any adjustments the Democrats were considering. Another big topic was illegal immigration, and although Trump and the obviously irrelevant Kasich had a sharp exchange about the feasibility of deporting every illegal immigrant it was clearly that even of the mushiest of the lot would be more strident than even the stiffly-spined Democratic on the issue. All the candidates came off more stridently capitalist than any of the Democrats, as well, and still sounded more authentically populist in their opposition to crony-capitalism than even the most ardently socialist can claim to be. On most of the poll-tested push-button issues, the eventual Republican nominee will be positioned.
The latest debate gave more time than the previous ones to Kasich and former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush, and they made less of it. Bush’s closing statements had something to do with the Veterans Administration and not much else, according to our admittedly bored notes, and we expect that Kasich’s strong stand as the least strident of the candidates in his opposition to illegal immigration was surely the death knell of his candidacy. There’s no telling how the installment will go, but for now our best guess is that that Bush and Kasich are out, Trump is trending downwards, Carson stays steady, Fiorina retains an outside chance, and that Rubio gains but Cruz does even better, whoever emerges will be better than the Democrat candidate, whose identity remains a mystery, and that there’s no telling how that might turn out.

— Bud Norman