Thursday, September 17, 2015

Putting the "Duh" in Dubates

Last night was ROUND 2 (Fight!). The venue was the Ronald Reagan library--and the network was CNN.  This is a very good breakdown.  It notes that in the (unscientific) Fox News poll gave Trump the victory--followed by Carly Fiorina.

While we won't know "who won" for a few days (and last time it was Carson--a shocker for most viewers) The Omnivore does have some opinions.

Winner: Carly Fiorina

She came off as smart and capable. Her exchange with Trump on her face was a home-run. If you didn't see it, it went like this:

  1. Trump tells Jeb that when Jeb said we shouldn't give 500MM to "women's issues" (Planned Parenthood) Jeb didn't misspeak--but rather meant that. Trump was like "I heard you say it. You meant it."
  2. A question later, they asked Fiorina about Trump's look-at-her-face comment and noted Trump had clarified he was speaking about her demeanor.
  3. She pointed out, elegantly--and with few words--that just as he said he knew what Jeb was saying, women everywhere knew what Trump was saying (and how he meant it).
This was good because it was (a) well delivered but more importantly (b) not a prepared talking-point line-of-attack. She thought on her feet, used an answer from a previous question, and delivered the attack perfectly.

Losers: Walker, Jeb, Rand Paul

Walker desperately needed a break-out and did what he did last time: gave reasonable answers in an uninspiring manner. For someone who desperately needs to make the case for his presidency, he didn't do it.

Jeb was more energetic and hit Trump effectively on casinos in Florida (he told Trump that Trump's influence didn't buy Trump casinos in Florida--apparently TRUE, despite what Trump said). The problem for Jeb was that he demanded Trump apologize to his wife and Trump refused. Jeb didn't seem to get angry enough. Again, as with Walker, for someone who needed an about-face, this probably wasn't enough.

Rand Paul just looked kind of petulant (same as last time) and while he stuck to his non-interventionist policy (including waxing nostalgic about Saddam--who he described as a stabilizing factor), it's pretty clear that the GOP wants a ground-war with ISIS.

Lost In The Crowd: Cruz, Christie, Huckabee, and Rubio

The amount of time people got to talk was wildly varying. Ted Cruz virtually vanished into the three-hour slog. Chris Christie got some good face-time but it doesn't seem likely to help him. Huckabee slung far-right talking points about Kim Davis (old news) to probably no-great-effect.

Kaisch looked like the adult in the room--his game-plan--but reasonable isn't selling these days.

Rubio looked good--but didn't do much.

Who Knows: Carson and Trump

Trump had a hard night. He got hit, effectively, from all quarters. He doubled down on not having clear policy positions ("I'll have advisers for all those Middle Eastern name guys"). A lot of pundits thought he looked like a bully--and not an especially smart one. 

The Omnivore isn't sure. Firstly, he didn't apologize to Jeb's wife. That may count for more than people would like to think. Secondly, while he got smacked by Fiorina (effectively)--for a base that may well be skeptical of women's "issues" as a vote driver, that may not count like you'd hope.

In short, Trump has proved indestructible so far: The Omnivore isn't sure if/how much this hurt him.

Similarly with Carson: he's pretty darn radical right--but he comes off as humble and personable. That's a winning combination. The problem is that he also comes off as not especially politically savvy. Mostly that's a bonus--but in his case, it might just look unexciting. He also tended to close his eyes when he speaks (why?) that might not help.

The question for Carson is more of capitalization: he's surging right now. Will his relatively sedate performance help that? Or hand the torch to Fiorina?

The Moderators

Fox News did a much better job than CNN. The questions were just generally better and the control was much tighter. A lot of the CNN questions were of the form of "[ This other guy on stage ] said [ bad things ] about you. What do you want to say to them!?" When the candidates, like Christie, refused to take the bait we just got talking points. When they went at each other, it was often just a bit ugly.

The Shutdown

Right now we're facing a government shutdown and very few people on that stage came out against it (in the undercard debate there was a good point about how shutting the government down won't accomplish anything). However, Cruz and Huckabee want a shutdown--and surprisingly Chris Christie gave tacit approval for it by refusing resolutely to speak against it. Fiorina too. 

This is pure political gamesmanship: For Cruz, it helps his brand. For everyone else on that stage not-in-Congress they've no real skin in the game. For people who actually have to live and work in Congress, the shutdown is likely to be a bloody disaster.

Driving it because it helps your political ambitions is pure politics.


The debate exposed both why this round of candidates is, really, pretty strong--and why, at the same time, it gets described as a "clown car." Individual answers were good--a lot of these candidates (i.e. Rubio) know their stuff. However, the gestalt was a lot of empty rancor (egged on by the CNN moderators). The debate wasn't any kind of disaster--but the length and the aimlessness (and way, way too many people on the stage) mean that this is, in the Omnivore's guess, Peak Debate. The next one probably won't draw the viewer numbers (and that goes 10-fold if Trump is out).

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