southernbeau

Making sense of the non-sensical world of American politics

Fox News Debate: A Presidential Prize Fight

Modern American political debates are too often like heavy weight prize fights; you buy the pay-per-view package and the fight is over before the burgers are off the grill. That is to say, they are underwhelming, disappointing and anti-climactic. More times than not, they most closely parallel Super Bowl XLVIII in 2014 in which Seattle was a mile high ahead of Denver by halftime, and the only thing left to see was Bruno Mars. Surely a Republican presidential debate, hosted by Fox News, with ten surly men crammed onto a stage, would be headed for this same dubious fate. This night, I surmised, was on a one-way fast train for the dustbin of history. Turn out the lights; the party’s over before it starts.

First things first: allow me to make an admission by writing the following phrase which might signal the apocalypse. Fox News produced an organized, engaging, effective and substantive debate which I did not think was possible given the format and Fox’s widely held reputation as being the mouthpiece of the Republican Party. I figured there was no chance that the obnoxious, pernicious pre-debate build up would ultimately be matched by the debate itself. I have not been so wrong since I argued that reigning MVP Steph Curry was too small to be an effective NBA guard. This thing was Holyfield/Tyson good, sans the ear biting (though Rand Paul came close). The three moderators, led by Megyn Kelly, were tough, confident and direct. They demonstrated complete control of the action when, given the sheer numbers and egos involved, the debate could have easily and quickly devolved into utter chaos. Captivated, I watched the debate from start to finish, instantly doubling my previous time spent viewing Fox News combined. Much to my pleasant surprise, I had time for wings, popcorn and dessert (Haagen-Dazs’ rocky road).

The main draw for the debate was the cantankerous and unfiltered Donald Trump; as such, with some regret and revulsion, I will start there. Bluntly, I think Trump damaged himself beyond repair. To his great credit, Mr. Trump stuck to his stylistic guns, spewing invective and vitriol at everyone from Megyn Kelly and Rosie O’Donnell, to his fellow debaters, to President Obama and Hillary Clinton. His vast array of verbal jabs were as impressive as they were numerous. What was not impressive was his display of vocabulary as his use of the word “stupid” would have made for an ideal drinking game. Uninspiring, too, was Trump’s grasp of the issues. Trump’s great hope is that his caustic tongue somehow overshadows his dearth of policy knowledge. Unlike the campaign trail where slick-tongued personal attacks suffice, the debate stage does Trump no favors in this regard. Perhaps inevitably, he was exposed, left naked to engage meekly in the policy discussions with which he was surrounded.

Ted Cruz’s flickering star has quickly faded into a black hole coinciding with the recent rising fortunes of Donald Trump. There is only enough oxygen in the room for one ornery, hyperbole-prone braggart, leaving Mr. Cruz gasping for air. On this night, he was memorable for being truly forgettable. Until his rather amusing and crafty closing statement, so, too, was Dr. Ben Carson. I kept hoping someone on the stage would pinch Dr. Carson to ensure that he was awake, or at least alive. When he did speak, agonizingly slowly and droningly, he displayed a clear lack of breadth and depth on the issues which should summarily disqualify the good doctor from contention. As for Mike Huckabee, where does one start? Considering some of the filth and non-sense that comes out of his mouth, it is often difficult to remember that he is a man of faith, and one who was once interesting, charming and likable. Now, I can’t imagine enough voters putting their faith in Huckabee to keep his flailing, desperate campaign alive. File him squarely in the category of “also ran….again….why.”

Given their rather comical verbal duel, I will lump Chris Christie and Rand Paul together. If you watched the debate, you will fondly remember the lively exchange between Christie and Paul concerning national security, the federal eavesdropping program, and more generally the collection of personal data. While I thought both scored points with their respective bases, Governor Christie served up several devastating body blows by reminding folks that he was a federal prosecutor on September 11, 2001 charged with prosecuting many of the terrorists involved. Though combative, Mr. Paul came off as defensive, naïve and probably too dovish for much of the Republican primary electorate. Responding to Paul’s assertion that the data should be collected by obtaining a warrant issued by a judge pursuant to the Fourth Amendment, Governor Christie delivered the technical knockout with this little dandy, “Listen senator, when you’re sitting in a subcommittee just blowing hot air about this, you can say things like that.” Score the round for Christie; while Paul is most likely down for the count.

Jeb Bush, or Jeb (as he’s called in Florida), did fine. Unlike several observers, I do not think Jeb was badly hurt by his pedestrian debate performance. It is true that he seemed nervous, uneven and tepid, particularly early in the debate. But I did not expect Bush to be overly assertive and aggressive; it is not his style. I appreciate his composure, cool under fire, and respect for his fellow candidates. Further, I admire that he has not taken the bait to move to the right on immigration, becoming more divisive and ugly in the mold of Trump, Cruz and Huckabee. More than these three, certainly, he looks and feels presidential. Jeb lives to fight another day.

Now to the man who enjoyed the home field advantage: John Kasich. I did not find the governor to be particularly articulate and he did fumble around a bit; but despite this, he communicated his message better than the rest. He used engaging hand gestures, an endearing smile and a folksy delivery to reach out to, and pull in, the audience.   He displayed an impressive grasp of the issues due to his extensive experience in various political offices. But, more than that, Mr. Kasich was able to portray an empathy, warmth and understanding for those with opposing viewpoints and those less fortunate. He came across as a leader; a viable option for president. Above all, he connected. And, lest we forget, his father was a mailman. Skillfully exploiting his Buckeye State advantage, I believe John Kasich had the second best night of all the candidates.

Marco. Rubio. Marco. Rubio. I would peg Florida Senator Marco Rubio as the overall winner of the first Republican debate. In contrast to Trump, Cruz and Huckabee, the baby-faced Rubio was congenial, pleasant and polite while still deftly hammering home his points. The silent assassin, I will dub him going forward. While Trump uses demagoguery to shout loudly and incoherently about immigration, Rubio displayed an impressive command of the facts and actually provided evidence. Responding to Trump, Mr. Rubio explained, “Let me set the record straight on a couple of things. The first is, the evidence is now clear that the majority of people coming across the border are not from Mexico. They’re coming from Guatemala, El Salvador, and Honduras. Those countries are the source of the people that are now coming in its majority. I also believe we need a fence. The problem is if El Chapo builds a tunnel under the fence, we have to be able to deal with that, too. And that’s why you need an e-verify system and you need an entry-exit tracking system and all sorts of other things to prevent illegal immigration.”

Marco Rubio has an intriguing and compelling personal story, which he cleverly used to his advantage. Smartly setting his sights on the presumptive Democratic nominee, Hillary Clinton, Mr. Rubio scolded, “If I’m our nominee, how is Hillary Clinton going to lecture me about living paycheck to paycheck? I was raised paycheck to paycheck. How is she—how is she gonna lecture me—how is she gonna lecture me about student loans? I owed over $100,000 just four years ago.” Not yet finished with Clinton, Rubio landed a solid right hook when he quipped that while the Republicans have fielded several strong candidates for president, the Democrats can’t find one. Given his Hispanic background, personal story, fresh face, cross-over appeal, composed demeanor, and obvious intelligence and firm grasp of the issues, I contend that the Democrats, and Ms. Clinton, ought to fear a Marco Rubio candidacy more than any other. Following Thursday’s debate, that truth has become all the more evident. Marco with the KO.

It will be fascinating to see the post-debate polling in the coming days, but my conjecture is that Donald Trump’s support will fall precipitously. As John Kasich said during the debate, Donald Trump has tapped into a frustrated and disillusioned artery of the American electorate. For this, he should be commended. Unfortunately for Trump, he was always going to falter once the debates commenced and folks started to pay real attention. Despite the vein he tapped, Americans, at the end of the day, expect their president to be, well, presidential. In the end, Americans do not like, or support, angry presidential candidates. Call Howard Dean for more information; Mr. Trump can give you his cell phone number.

Conversely, I strongly suspect that Governor Kasich will have helped himself in the eyes of the public following the debate. Needless to say, I feel as though Marco Rubio has vaulted himself squarely into contention, and I expect upcoming polls to reflect just that. I did not forget Governor Scott Walker of Wisconsin, though it is difficult to remember a moment in which he shined. For this, I imagine that he will begin to fade away just in time for the start of the Green Bay Packers season.

Throughout life, so often our lofty expectations are rudely met with cold disappointment. Given this, it is truly a gift when just the opposite comes to pass. Fox News and the Republican candidates for president gave us such a moment on Thursday night. A muddied picture has become clearer; a crowded race has seemed to thin. Perhaps it wasn’t Lincoln-Douglas, but it was as good as it could have been.  Following the debate, I never could have imagined that this would become the water cooler question: Where were you on Thursday night when the clock tolled nine, the lights came up at Quicken Loans Arena, and Cleveland rocked? I had a front row seat for the fight, chicken wings and all.

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August 8, 2015 Posted by | 2016 Presidential Election, Chris Christie, Donald Trump, Dr. Ben Carson, First Republican Presidential Debate, Fox News Debate, Jeb Bush, John Kasich, Marco Rubio, Mike Huckabee, Rand Paul, Scott Walker, Ted Cruz | , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment