For anyone who believes in a smaller, less costly, and less intrusive government, last night’s GOP debate was truly dispiriting. For anyone who believes in a serious discussion of the important issues, it was even worse. But at least it was grand political theater.
My thoughts on how the candidates did (roughly in order of performance grade):
Carly Fiorina. Carly was the hands down winner on debate points. There is no doubt that she is smart, prepared, and thinks quickly on her feet. She sounds, well, presidential. I can imagine her in the Oval Office, and we probably could do worse. That said, she seemed anxious to inherit Lindsey Graham’s “Dr Strangelove” mantle of strident militarism. And, while her personal tragedy makes it understandable, her stand in the drug war is lamentable. On abortion, I’m pro-choice, so I clearly disagree with her, but I thought her answer on planned parenthood was formidable. Expect to see a big rise in the polls next week.
Marco Rubio: Rubio often seems to be campaigning for last non-Trump standing, low-key, acceptable to nearly all conservative factions. He debates well, even if he seldom scores any real “moments.” Most viewers will come away with a good impression. Alas, he is another uber-hawk, but he appears more sober and stable than some of the others. I think he helped himself long-term, though it might not show yet.
Chris Christie. Debates fit Christie’s style, and he performed last night. He was the only candidate to talk sense about entitlements, but spent way too much time on his law and order shtick. You get the feeling he would rather be running for sheriff. And his 9-11 talk was emotional but over the top. Probably helped himself, but that’s a pretty low bar.
Ben Carson. Carson was Carson, low key, not terribly well informed, but extraordinarily likable. I honestly can’t recall what he said about any issue, other than schooling Trump on autism and vaccines. He didn’t have a big moment like his brain surgery line in the last debate, and I doubt he helped himself much – but he didn’t hurt himself either. Besides, his strength comes from meeting him, especially with evangelicals. Unless he blows up in one of these debates, they won’t have big impact.
Rand Paul. There were glimpses last night of what a Rand Paul candidacy could have been. His answers on war in Middle East and the drug war were terrific. But he showed little spark most of the night and wandered off into vaccine La-La Land with Trump. Good Rand/Bad Rand
Ted Cruz. I thought Cruz had an off night. Normally, I find him a compelling speaker, even if I disagree with him on substance. Last night, I found him canned. He delivered mini campaign speeches rather than answered questions – and in an odd, overly dramatic voice. He probably didn’t hurt himself with his fans, and is positioning himself to pick up Trump supporters, but his rush to the right is disconcerting. Earlier in his Senate career, he flashed occasional libertarian streaks. Those are long gone now.
Jen Bush. Well, he showed more energy, and pretty much anything would have been an improvement over his last debate performance. But he still provides absolutely no rationale for his candidacy. Why, exactly, does he want to be president, other than that it is the family business. And, he did nothing to distance himself from his brother. His performance wasn’t terrible, but certainly won’t rescue his flailing campaign.
John Kasich. Kasich started strong, playing the adult in the room, but then all but disappeared. A solid conservative in Congress, he insists on running to the Left, as if the GOP is desperate for the return of Jon Huntsman. That might be good enough for second or third in New Hampshire. But, after that, what?
Donald Trump. I’m sure his fans loved his performance. But I would hope the combination of juvenile insults and lack of policy specifics will run thin eventually. And his answer on autism and vaccines wasn’t just ignorant, it was dangerous. Trump is pretty much impossible to critique – he is what he is. Sadly. His performance won’t hurt him (his fans don’t care), but it may help cement his ceiling in place.
Mike Huckabee. Huckabee gave an impassioned plea to become chief theologian in the emerging sharia regime (echoing Jindal and Santorum from the first debate), and delivered an over the top call to defend Western Civilization, but otherwise had little visibility.
Scott Walker. Walker really needed a home run to revive his fading campaign. At best, he delivered a bunt single. Aside from his “taking on the unions” schtick, which is a bit stale, does anyone remember what he said? Does anyone remember that he was there?
This was supposed to be the best GOP field in decades. So far, it’s been a tremendous disappointment.
Given some of the ill-informed opinions being expressed on my Facebook feed and elsewhere (including by several Republican presidential candidates), let me go on the record with absolute clarity: There is no excuse for Kim Davis – none, zero, not any – to refuse to do her job and issue marriage licenses to gay couples.
I say this as someone who a) supports gay marriage, but b) believes that business owners, such as bakers, photographers, and musicians, have the right to refuse to participate in gay weddings. Religious liberty, indeed liberty generally, should protect people from being compelled to take part in activities that violate their conscience. In other words, bigots have the right to be bigots. The only exception to this should be cases when such discrimination is so wide spread, and normal social sanctions so ineffective, as to make it impossible for those discriminated against to participate in normal society, such as the Jim Crow south).
Davis, however, is a public official. She is being paid by taxpayers, including gay taxpayers, specifically to perform certain duties. Those duties include issuing marriage licenses. She can choose to exercise her religious beliefs and resign, or she can perform her legally required duties. She cannot continue to pretend to be a county clerk – and be paid as such – and refuse to perform the duties of a county clerk. Moreover, she is not merely refusing to sign marriage licenses herself, which would be of dubious legality itself, she is preventing any of her junior clerks from doing so, making it effectively impossible for gays to obtain a marriage license in her county.
Public officials cannot choose which laws to carry out. How would her defenders feel about a Quaker clerk who refused to issue firearms licenses or a Muslim who would not issue liquor licenses? In fact, the Davis case provides a field day for hypocrisy. How often have we been lectured by conservatives about the sanctity of obeying the law. Illegal immigrants should be deported because “we are a nation of laws.” Young black men who have been killed by police officers, should just “obey the police.” (Liberals have their own brand of hypocrisy. The defense of the rule of law is now coming from defenders of President Obama’s executive overreach and Hillary Clinton’s blatant disregard for legal niceties.)
Davis defenders don’t truly believe in the rule of law, they see the law as a bludgeon for enforcing their moral beliefs. That’s not how it works in this country.
According to polls the first word that comes to mind when one thinks of Democratic frontrunner Hillary Clinton is “liar.” Her number one challenger is a 73 year-old self-described socialist. After that, there’s what? Martin O’Malley? If there was ever an election when Republicans should feel that they have a good shot at winning the White House, it’s this one.
So why are Republican candidates collectively acting like someone slipped LSD into the drinking water at the RNC?
I’m not talking about the three-ring circus that is the Trump campaign. By now we should be used to The Donald saying outrageous or bizarre things. Most recently, he suggested that he would fight ISIS by invading Iraq and Syria and “taking their oil.” But, mainstream – supposedly more responsible – candidates are now saying the craziest things.
Start with Marco Rubio. The Florida Senator recently explained that his support for sugar subsidies is a matter of national security. If you are wondering why ISIS has been quivering in fear at the prospect of higher US candy prices, Rubio has an explanation for his stance – sort of. According to Rubio, without agricultural subsidies, including those for sugar, US farmers will stop farming and sell their land to real estate developers, who will pave over their land and put up condos. Then, once, all our farm land is gone forever, foreign food suppliers will cut us off. America starves. Makes sense, right?
Meanwhile, Scott Walker says that he is open to building a wall along the US Canada border. Walker, who cannot quite decide whether the 14th Amendment means what it says, is apparently frightened by the sudden influx of illegal Canadians flooding across our northern border. It has become Republican orthodoxy to advocate a wall along the 1954 mile border with Mexico, at a cost of at least $42 billion. Now Walker wants to build another one along the 5,525 mile Canadian border, including, I guess, the Great Lakes. But why stop there. Walls can be climbed over or tunneled under. What this country really needs is to be sealed inside a hermetically-sealed glass dome ala Stephen King.
Chris Christie used an appearance last weekend on Fox News to declare war on…marijuana. Christie says he plans to send federal agents into Colorado and Washington to arrest pot smokers, despite the fact that marijuana is legal in those states (under state law). Neither federalism nor the manifest failure of the War on drugs seems to matter to Christie who says “when I’m president of the United States, and we won’t have people getting high on marijuana in Colorado and Washington if the federal law says you shouldn’t.” Of course. Because arresting 8.2 million people for the possession or sale of marijuana every year has done such a good job so far.
And, Rand Paul, who should know better, defended the Kentucky county clerk who is refusing to issue marriage licenses to gay couples despite the Supreme Court’s ruling that states cannot bar same sex marriages. Paul described the clerk’s defiance as “part of the American way.” Um, no its not. Civil disobedience is all well and good, but elected officials (and btw the clerk was elected as a Democrat) should obey the law and do the jobs that taxpayers – including gay taxpayers – are paying them to do. If their conscience won’t let them conduct those duties, they should resign. This is very different from those cases involving private businesses such as bakers and florists who do not want to participate in gay weddings.
Paul may be pandering to the Religious Right, but he is a piker compared to Mike Huckabee, who continues to suggest that he will send federal troops to close down abortion clinics. Huckabee insists that, as president, he would not be bound by little things like Supreme Court decisions.
And on and on it goes. Lindsey Graham wants to use drones to kill any American citizen who thinks of supporting ISIS. Jeb Bush still hasn’t come up with an answer about whether his brother was right to invade Iraq. Ben Carson wonders whether prison rape can turn people gay. It is as if the rise of Donald Trump has lobotomized the entire field.
It looks like it is going to be a very, very long campaign. Sigh.