Attending a debate-watching party in Torrance, CA -- the swing of swing districts, for as Torrance goes, so goes the country -- I watched the Fox News Big Ten Debate live and confrontational. Forget football. For a real full-contact sport, watch a lively Republican presidential debate. Friends of mine who don’t dabble in politics (or sports) looked forward to this forum of A+ contenders rumbling for the spotlight, votes, and the nomination. It was about more than about watching “The Donald,” since the local paper has been covering him constantly (he owns a golf resort in Rancho Palos Verdes). Looking over the deep and impressive bench of candidates, I found a number of big takeaways.
The weakest candidate? Dr. Ben Carson. A wonderful man with incredible talents, he did not inspire or rise to the occasion, although his stress on education for the individual voter is essential as well as credible. Waiting to the last minute to talk about his unique achievements, he still did not explain why a neurosurgeon with a brain to heal other brains deserves the presidency. “You have to a have a brain” is not enough. Trump pointed to his own cranium, though, and perhaps established that he does not meet even Dr. Ben’s criteria.
Sen. Marco Rubio of Florida demonstrated once again his lack of leadership potential in full. Despite his brave and meteoric rise from the Florida State House to the U.S. Senate during the Tea Party wave election in 2010, Rubio has proved to be more of a get along to go along type. First, he signed onto the Gang of Eight immigration reform bills (which rightfully died in the House). He claims that men and women are born gay, without resort to evidence, then caved on defending marriage, and refuses to allow the same “born that way” gays to marry.
During the debate, his refusal to push back against Megyn Kelly on the abortion issue, allowing her to define his views rather than the other way around, showed that he still caves to pressure to say whatever it takes to look “right” to the right crowd. Leaders change polls, not follow them. Marco would be an acceptable VP, but the debate solidified why he is not commander-in-chief material.
Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX) did not step forth and fight as much as in the past. He did not really need to, declaring “We need to tell people the truth,” and “I have never supported amnesty.” His most important statement, which perfectly summed up his foreign policy: “If you join ISIS, you are signing your death warrant”.
What about Ohio Governor John Kasich? His presence (in tenth place) on that stage was good media and history. The former congressman and presidential candidate is now the governor of Ohio could stand with nine other contenders for a home-state presidential debate. He rightly divined that Trump has touched a nerve of frustration with Washington betrayal and inaction (even though he is getting on more conservatives’ nerves with his self-serving antics). Kasich did balance budgets, eliminate deficits, and provide surpluses. But worse than Christie embracing Obama after Hurricane Sandy (which Sen. Rand Paul pithily pointed out in a brief go-between), Kasich embraced Obamacare, with a two billion dollar overrun ruining his balanced budgets. Also pro-Common Core and pro-amnesty, Kasich’s big government social gospel shined out, and will dim his chances.
Speaking of Christie, the former U.S. Attorney appointed the day before 9-11, his rivalry with Rand Paul spilled over, but his tough talk on entitlement reform reminded the audience his penchant for big fights. Then again, the New Jersey public employees are suing him over unpaid pensions. Rhetoric has not matched reality in Christie’s case.
Who had a better night than expected?
Jeb Bush was honest about his legacy, his immigration stance, and support for Common Core. Indeed, his record in Florida is commendable, more than his brother or father. Still, he remains a non-starter for me.
Mike Huckabee. The boldness of speech he presented on that debate forum impressed me. “The Supreme Court is not the Supreme Being” he thundered. He would resort to the Constitution to defend life before birth. Charismatic to the end, reading off a litany of big government failures and character flaws, Huckabee blasted Hillary Clinton (while expertly describing Trump). The former Arkansas Governor’s best line: “The military is not a social experiment. The purpose of the military is to kill people and to break things.” Refreshing, direct, anti-PC.
And the winners are. . .
Trump the front-runner did not disappoint. Funny and irreverent, his comments affirmed his own admission: “I am no debater”. Despite the complaints from the Megyn Kelly haters, her questions were spot-on, from his frequent incendiary remarks toward women (including Rosie O’Donnell), to his questionable political history and alliances as a Clinton, Pelosi, and Schumer donor from way back. When exactly did Trump decide to become a Republican? The jury is still out on that (and growing speculation fuels the argument that he is a Democratic plant) His defense of single-payer health care is inexcusable (Canadians are going private) and ultimately disqualifying.
Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker shined out despite less press time. He did not attack his colleagues, but attacked Hillary Clinton (Russia and China know about her email servers than Congress). From defunding Planned Parenthood first to indicting the Obama-Clinton doctrine to his closing speech, Walker reminded me why he is my first choice: “They tried. . .we won. They did. . .we won. They fought. . we won.” A winner and team player, Walker reminded the audience about his international victory over violent, virulent Big Labor
And then there was Rand: “I don’t want my marriage or my guns registered with Washington.” He fought back against the other big mouth bullies on stage. He has a federal budget planned, and his last remarks solidified for the crowd why he remains a force to be reckoned with.
A great debate, and I look forward to more of them.