A Most Enlightening Debate

Brian McNicoll
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Posted: Oct 30, 2015 8:06 AM
A Most Enlightening Debate

I am not finding myself agreeing with a lot of the punditry that followed Wednesday night’s debate.

Marco Rubio won? Are you crazy? The most memorable moment of the entire debate – by far – was Ted Cruz’s takedown of the media questions. Frank Luntz said he had never seen such a strong positive reaction from his famous debate-watching focus groups. It was all social media talked about. It gave the Democrats what they considered their only opening – to criticize Cruz for criticizing the media. That is not a victory for the Ds.

Rubio finished more like a distant second, and it would have been far worse if the hapless CNBC crew had asked him rather than Jeb! Bush about Internet betting. Rubio favors regulation and has taken substantial sums of money from Sheldon Adelson, the billionaire casino owner who fears doesn’t want the competition for the American gambling dollar. “How could they have missed that?” one Washington insider said to me.

His crack about not being against anything that helps his mom seemed cute, but it actually expressed a tendency that ought to alarm small-government conservatives. If something is not a proper function of government, it should not matter whether your mom is on it.

I also don’t get the big deal about his comeback to Bush on missing votes. Yes, someone probably suggested to Bush to say it. But nothing about Rubio’s response answers the legitimate question of why and for how long he plans to mail it in at the job he does for the taxpayers and chase his presidential dream. This issue has been a real problem for Bobby Jindal as well. It’s fair political game.

Larry Sabato says Rubio’s fundraising has not been that strong, he has no office space yet in South Carolina and “while his favorability in polls is strong, he’s not really breaking through anywhere.” I don’t think he will after this either.

I also don’t buy that the questions had no value. Obviously, they gave the candidates a free swing at the media piñata. But they also allowed some real conservative ideas to get expressed.

I was surprised and a little disappointed in the crowd’s muted response to Carly Fiorina’s answer to the question about whether she, as president, would do anything to provide 401-K plans to Americans who no longer could get them through work.

“No,” she said, then waited for applause that never really came. She then explained that this is not a proper function of government and companies could use benefits to compete for employees. That is the correct answer, and no Democrat would give any portion of it.

Nor would they give any portion of Chris Christie’s brilliant response on the fantasy football question. How on earth does fantasy football become something a president needs to take up?

Some of the punditry is dead on. Jeb! must go and free up those resources for viable candidates. Rubio’s critique – that Jeb only went after him out of desperation – is essentially correct. They’re in the same space on the left side of what eventually will be found acceptable, and Rubio is everybody’s choice in that faceoff.

Kasich may be a brilliant guy, but he is to the left of what will be found acceptable. Rand Paul hasn’t been the same since Christie kneecapped him on national security in the first debate. Mitch McConnell is right on this … Paul should make re-election to the Senate his priority.

Fiorina is right that it would be fabulous to watch her tear into Hillary, and if there were a way to get this before we decide whether to nominate her, I would be all for it. After she’s the nominee, it’s a formula for disaster.

I agree for the most part with the pundits who said Donald Trump and Ben Carson neither helped nor hurt themselves. Trump’s best moment, to me, was his bit about negotiating the debate down to two hours. The squirrelly denial by the CNBC moderator, which Trump immediately called out as a lie, brought a fitting end to a humiliating night for the network.

One pundit observed that Ted Cruz is an underrated politician, and I think this is true. He knows when to throw the knockout punch and when to withhold it. There are dozens of videos on the Internet of people coming to his events to start and argument with him and finding themselves surprised at his willingness to listen and engage.

He is a compelling public speaker who combines encyclopedic recall of facts with the cadence, emotion and delivery of the veteran preacher his father is. He thinks outside the box, as indicated by his dinner with the gay couple in New York and his decision to announce his candidacy first and enjoy weeks of having the field to himself.

He has proven a prolific and disciplined fundraiser and an effective executive of his campaign. And his skills as a political tactician are gaining notoriety. For instance, his decision to force the government shutdown on Obamacare led to the Republicans’ clean sweep of the 2014 midterms.

He has yet to break through anywhere either, but he seems closer than anyone to beginning a steep climb.