CNN Debate Observations

 

Prez debate

I’m of the mind that most TV “debate” shows are a joke. They’re not really debates, they’re joint press conferences, and the stars are always the debate moderators.  So why TV news personalities are debate moderators is a puzzle.  They don’t know how to moderate or control the flow of questions, and being TV people, they always want to make it about themselves, as Megyn Kelly and Candy Crowley demonstrated when they had their turn at bat.

So when I heard Jake Tapper’s pre debate explanation of how the debate was going to run; they were going to ask questions of candidates about what the other (read Trump) candidates said, I thought that for CNN, this was only about trying to start fights for ratings, and certainly the CNN radio ads I heard promoting the debate sounded nothing if not like Wrestling Promos.  And it apparently worked.  The debate was the highest rated event in CNN history, garnering 20 million viewers.

The format worked on the viewer level too.  It was one of the more freewheeling political debates I’ve seen.  The candidates actually engaged with each other, rather than simply answering the moderator’s questions. That being said, I had a few observations about the debate:

No real losers to the debate, but Jeb once again failed to live up to donor expectations.  On a scale from one to ten, he went from a two to a four.  That’s due to taking Trump’s advice and start displaying more energy.

I rarely agree with the conventional wisdom, but this time I agree that best performance was by Carly Fiorina.  One good performance could be a fluke, but two in a row look like a trend.

Chris Christie also did well.  When he gets airtime, he can put on a good show. Under this debate he got enough airtime, 13 minutes, to make a good impression.

Ignore whatever the media says about who won.  For the last debate, they declared Kasich the winner based solely on preferring his positions on immigration and gay marriage.

Carson and Huckabee are vying for the slot of evangelical candidate, and Carson is running far ahead.  Huckabee is trying to go over the top in supporting Kentucky County Clerk Kim Davis, who is trying to cloak herself in religion to keep her from doing her job.  How invested evangelicals are in Davis may be what makes a difference for Huckabee.

There were of course the others, who made little impression (at least on me).

And then there’s Trump… (sung to the tune of the Maude theme song)

Jake Tapper tried to slip the noose of the anti vax truther aroundTrump, a situation he was able to slip out of rather easily.  But he didn’t out and out deny the autism-vaccination link, a weakness which allowed Salon and Slate to declare Trump as still harping the anti vaccination line.  Of course your average Slate or Salon reader will be predisposed to hate Trump anyway.  But journalists read Slate and Salon, so expect further anti-vax questions in the future.

Trump was also weak on policy, specifically foreign policy. I expected him to change tactics this debate to “keep’em guessing”, and he did; he cooled the slapstick and insults and tried to be agreeable, but I expected he would bring some foreign policy zingers to the table to show gravitas for the talking heads. He didn’t do that.

Trump can’t wait until he’s President to bone up on these issues or he’s never going to be President. He needs to bone up now and start demonstrating how much detail he knows about our various foreign policy issues.  It can be done.  Marco Rubio, as a first term senator, already has shown a command of foreign policy issues and has been able to stay ahead of journalists trying to trip him up.

This is not the end of Trump, but if doesn’t start showing that he can discuss policy particulars, rather than just say this will be great, this could be the beginning of the end of Trump.

 

Scott Walker Peaking Too Early?

Scott Walker’s “surprise” win of the Kansas Straw Poll may be a shock to the establishment, but its zero surprise to me. Walker’s win has generated a flurry of articles on Walker as well as an appearance on This Week. But as far back as a year ago, I predicted Walker would probably be the best all around choice for the 2016 Republican primary process. He’s a governor of a purple/blue State who rose to national prominence battling the budget, pension reform, and unions.  He is attractive to both establishment types for a solid record of actually winning, and grass roots types for the ability to take on and wrestle to the ground left leaning special interests; something that’s not seen much these days.Scott Walker

Walker’s national prominence came about with his fight with Wisconsin public sector unions.  I wrote about the skirmish back in 2011 and thought at the time that Walker’s victory could have spelled the beginning of the end for public sector unions.  Alas, so far that victory has remained just Walker’s.   But the enmity he earned from both local and national Democrats and the left in general lead to a recall election, which Walker won handily.

By Republican standards, Walker is a stand out success story.  He battled the left and rather than backing down under a barrage of negative press, which Republicans traditionally do, Walker stuck to his guns and won a pretty substantial victory. Compare that to Jeb Bush, who’s sat out the various political battles since the 1990’s and now expects to ride in on a golden, donor financed chariot to be crowned the nominee based on the divine right of Bushes.

The Republicans do have a deep bench, at least compared to the Democrats.  In fact the Democrat’s bench consists of one person, Hillary Clinton.  If she gets sick, the Dems are in trouble for 2016. But the Republican’s bench consists of establishment types that are anathema to the base of the party, like Jeb Bush, and social conservative types that are anathema to the establishment like Mike Huckabee. The converged area on the Venn diagram of candidates that both the base and establishment can live with is almost as limited as the Democrats presidential bench.

Walker’s major problem with the base is his immigration position.  Walker has tried to be cagey and hold every position on the issue at once.  He has both supported a path to citizenship and made vague comments about fixing the system.”  However the fixing doesn’t seem to include border security or a wall.  In other words, he’s a pro amnesty open borders type, which should please the establishment wing.  Although I would love to make amnesty a disqualifier, the fact is there are no, I mean zero commonly mentioned Republican potential 2016 candidates that oppose amnesty.

In any case if Walker does enter the race, he’ll have to quit being cagy about immigration and speak directly to the issue.

But immigration isn’t even his biggest problem yet.  When I made my prediction on Walker last year, it was based on the idea that the talking heads and establishment media wouldn’t pay any attention to Walker until at least the Iowa Caucuses. But the results of the Kansas straw poll show that plenty of other Republicans were thinking along the same lines as I was.  The media has rediscovered Walker this week and they will remember in short order that they despise him. Walker is like Sarah Palin and Allen West combined, with a little Tom DeLay sprinkled on top. It’s too bad he couldn’t have flown under the radar a while longer, but if there is one Republican who knows how to fight back, it’s Scott Walker.