Trump Continues Lead after CNN Debate

GOP Presidential Nomination Debate, CNN September 16 2015, Reagan Library.

I just love watching these political debates.  It is so interesting watching folks joust openly and off the cuff for what is the most powerful single position in the world, President of the United States.

The early evening debate (made up of the bottom 4 polling nominees) was clearly won by Senator Lindsey Graham.  He has disappointed me so far, seeming detached from popularism and unable to put his ideas into marketable words and phrases.  This changed last night.  If Graham started the evening in the bottom 4, he ended the evening in the top 11.  

I felt sorry for Rick Santorum.  I felt that Santorum’s ship sank deeper and deeper last evening.  Grahame took him to task over a failed immigration bill, Santorum’s future immigration ‘plan’, that had previously failed in the house. But Graham stepped up his game and emphasized how he wants to put American’s in the line of fire in the middle east.  Graham’s policy of increased military presense globally is a risky one.  This is not pandering to the masses but defensible leadership.  Santorum sunk further when he suggested that elected officials should flout a law if they disagreed with it.  He should have focused on changing a law if it is wrong, not breaking it.  That leads to choas.  

Bobby Jindal was upbeat, in a bit of a rush, but understandable.  He said all the right ‘fighting’ words but lacked details.  Grahame overall won the early round and his self-deprecating humor helped a lot too. Bobby Jindal had the best closing comments.

Then the top 11 polling nominees took to the stage.

Bottom line: Trump (“We need $19tn dollars”) did fine, even a little better than the in the previous debate.  He did not implode, nor did he put his foot in it.  A couple of times he said things that raised the eyebrows; his opening remark attacked “1% Rand” which didnt make sense – why attack the least popular guy at the table?  He was also perhaps, in some peoples mind, condescending to Carly Fiorina (“She is a lovely woman”) but that’s Donald.  When it came to improving his position he did many of the things he needed to do: he showned signs of humility, honesty, while keeping his scathing remarks in check.  The boy did good.

Carly Fiorina did very well too; my “most improved” nominee.  She is an artful CEO.  Her poise was perfect; she rarely spoke first or jumped in.  But she waited for the others to lay out their stall and then she often tried to close and take an argument with a highly marketable catch phrase or poignent piece.  This was an effective tactic for her.  She was artful, respectful, meaningful, and calm.  She did not answer her first question posed to her dirrectly: If Donald had his finger on the button, would she trust him?  Why didnt she attack?  She should have said yes or no and either attack or defended.  She avoided this but as a CEO, she knows when and how to attack.  She would do well against Hillary.  At least (1% Rand) Paul said he would not trust Trump with his finger on the button.

Donald did touch on the depressing side of the lobby group.  Trump is right about the crass influence over politicans and how money and lobbies, peddling for every interest group, influence some politicians.  Donald even trumped Jeb Bush who tried to suggest he was not involved in the smear, and that Donald was.  Who knows if Trump tried to lobby Bush for a casino in Florida?  Who cares?  Lobby groups are out of control – read my book review on This Town by Mark Leibovich, Blue Ridge Press, 2013. 

Carly was very effective and involved with regard to foreign policy with Russia and the middle east.  She wants to rebuild the sixth fleet (of all things) and she implied a massive increase in defense and military spending….but how would that be paid for?  Her words certainly roused the beating chests of the empire building world policemen among us, but again that’s a risky policy.  It does not pander to the masses, just the smart one’s out there.  She knows how to communicate a message.

Initially Rand Paul seemed no longer to be the isolationist his father and he had originally been.  By the end of the evening this was all gone.  He reminded us that he would not use force until the last moment.  He might be too late to send in the troops and the damage he suggests he wants to avoid may already have happened.  Shame – I still like many of Rand Paul’s ideas regarding momentary policy and support for the constitution.  The 10th ammendement came up – which was great to see.  Federal government really has gone bananas trying to control everything around us.

Huckabie nailed the Iran agreement.  This could be a topic that undoes the Democrates if only the Republicans can message the issue in 20 words or less.  Huckabie’s argument was, for me, his high-point of the night though he remains still on the fringe, not realy making the general debate move forward.

I thought initially that Jeb Bush was finished. He just does not speak simple words on camera.  He fumbles for words, and seems not sure when to stop speaking.  He finds a strong phrase or response, then seems to try to carry on as if a gene inside tells him that politicians win arguments when they stop the other guy from speaking.  A few times he upped his game.  His jousting with Donald was much better (“more animated”) and I think he recovered from his poor performance in the first debate.  But he is not a ruthless tiger when he needs to be.

Marco Rubio was effective, and put together a couple of good sections with marketable phrases.  But he did not seem to dominate.  His strong start in the first debate is fading. Maybe he works better in smaller settings?

Ted Cruz was clearly told to speak to the camera – I dont think I ever saw him speak to the local audiance.  He is an accomplished lawyer and political operator.  But he seems too close to the establishement.  He talks a good game about how he made change happen from within, but overall faith in the system is the challenge the people have – not with politican A versus politican B.  I am not sure he gets this yet.  But he is a strong challenger nonetheless.

Ben Carson was stable and did fine too.  I called him out as a possible Vice President when I first saw him in the first debate a month ago.  I stick by my idea than.  Carson would be a great VP to add to a ticket led by a strong politican – the problem is we dont have one.

Scott Walker didnt do much for me.  He was fine, don’t get me wrong, but he did not shine or stand out.  John Kasich said a number of good things, and held his ground just fine.  But can he keep pace with the pack?

Chris Christie, an original favorite of mine, did better this debate than in the first.  But he is coming from behind and has a lot of ground to catch up.  I think he is also marketable and seemed engaged and involved last night.  He husbanded his words well.  Any politician that can say something meaningful, and end on a high note, and allow a pause before anyone else steps in, wins the day.  Christie has that skill too.

At the end of the day I suspect the chance of a Trump led ticket is becoming fleetingly possible.  I never thought it would but could it work?  Is it that strange?  If he had a very capable and engaged vice president, it is just becoming possible…  Trump/Rubio?  Trump/Carson would be cool but could never happen.  But will Trump attract enough of the female vote?  Will he attract the Hispanics?  He may gain the rest of the middle class though, and lose a fraction of the other groups.

This is how I see the GOP “race” right now:

Front runner by a couple of lenghts:  Trump

Second: Fiorina

Small group ahead of the pack led by Rubio (beginning to fade), Carson, Cruz, and improved Bush

Christie, ahead of the pack by a neck.  

The pack is bunched up: Pataki, Huckabie, Kasich, Jindal, and Graham who is improving.  The back of the pack and begining to drift: Walker, and Paul.

Santorum, after stumbling at the first, still several lenghts off the pace, bringing up the rear.

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