2016 Republicans, Debates

Debate Recap: Carly Won. Now What? (Part Three)

September 17, 2015

If you haven’t subjected yourself to the first two installments of a debate recap almost as long as the event itself, please do so.  Assuming you’re caught up, on to the rest of the story….

Will the real John Kasich please stand up?  There was once a fairly conservative Republican by the name of John Kasich.  He was the original Paul Ryan and a bit of a foreign policy hawk too.  For years he hosted a show on Fox News.

Last night, a guy introducing himself as John Kasich read from the Michael Bloomberg, Howard Schultz No Labels script.  Many moderates listening at home, most of whom don’t vote in GOP primaries, but do vote in general elections liked what they heard.

Especially as Democrats move left, either by choosing Bernie Sanders, or a candidate like Hillary Clinton or Joe Biden who moved left to accommodate him, Kasich is well positioned to win swing states and several which have leaned blue for years.

But can he get anywhere near that playing field?  Several months ago, Jeb Bush said something to the effect he was willing to lose the primary to win the general, presumably meaning he would start with his eventual general election tone to increase his chances of winning the election, even if it might cost him the nomination.

A combination of rust, lack of political dexterity and Donald Trump have prevented Jeb from campaigning joyfully with a centrist tone for conservative principles.  Kasich is doing his level best to option that unused script.

However, since Reagan completed the transition of the GOP to the conservative party, Republicans have only nominated candidates who run as conservatives.

While many would reject the idea George H.W. Bush, Bob Dole and Mitt Romney are or ever were true conservatives, they still ran as such in their respective primary races.  Kasich is presenting himself far differently than they did, even though his record is to their right, particularly on fiscal issues.

As he is very fond of pointing out, Kasich has a great electoral record, but that’s against Democrats, not fellow Republicans.  According to the candidate, he’s still in the introductory phase.  Hopefully, phase two happens sooner than later if he wants to maintain his position in New Hampshire.

Though he’s held relatively steady near the 10% mark in the Granite State for several weeks, he’s trending slightly downward.  Recently, Ben Carson passed him to move into second.  Fiorina was already nipping at his heels before the debate.

He’s likely to wind up a semi-distant 4th in the next poll and is a bullseye for the Chris Christie and Jeb campaigns, neither of which survive New Hampshire if Kasich does.  This is going to require a Houdini-like escape.

He’s the latest John Weaver-managed candidate to hit a good tone for New Hampshire voters, but if he gets nominated, he’d be the first to get that far.  The guy I heard last night won’t break the streak.

The Counterfactual Christie.  What if?  Two of the saddest words in the English language.  What if Bridgegate hadn’t happened?  What if he’d run in 2012 instead?   What if he hadn’t hugged President Obama?

For 80-90% of his air time, 100% when he wasn’t complaining about the conduct of other candidates, Christie sounded solid.  Of the three candidates most thought of as relatively moderate (Bush, Kasich), Christie likely balanced a general election tone still suitable for many Republicans best.

He sounded electable.  The question is how to actually accomplish that.  Limiting his main campaigning to New Hampshire and having raised adequate funds, Christie probably won’t drop out before New Hampshire, especially if he can avoid winding up in JV debates.

If he can run to Kasich’s right, which is open.  If Jeb is cooked (he probably is).  If Fiorina stumbles.  If Rubio doesn’t make a much stronger effort in New Hampshire, Christie will grab 18-22% by default, perhaps more.

He’s not fully viable yet, but among the three who needed to save their campaign last night (Bush, Walker), Christie is the only one who probably did so.

If a Huck speaks in a forest and no one hears him, did he say anything?  Before the debate I figured Mike Huckabee’s performance was least consequential and nothing happened last night to convince me otherwise.

Let’s pick new teams next game.  Republicans next debate right before Halloween on MSNBC.  I don’t believe the rules are as locked in as they were for the first two, but even if they’ve officially settled on Top 10 and also-rans for the two debates, CNN proved last-minute changes are possible.

Both Rand Paul and Lindsey Graham made strong cases for the inclusion of candidates very unlikely to win nomination.  People with libertarian leanings tended to think Paul did well yesterday.  Even those who disagree with his positions have to concede he wasn’t just recycling standard GOP words.

In the warmup act, Graham dramatically improved on his debut performance making some strong points, taking his usual stance on needing boots on the ground in Syria and being very entertaining at times.  How do you turn your back on someone who wants more drinking in the White House?

If his polling doesn’t improve, Paul could join Graham on the undercard next time, giving early bird viewers a legit debate on foreign intervention.

While the two tiers worked out pretty well the first time and gave the lesser group plenty of speaking time in round two, I wonder if the better approach for the third try would be splitting the candidates randomly between two evenly sized debates.

Some have previously suggested doing god and have added the wrinkle of drafting the names right before the first debate begins, to make it harder for candidates to prepare canned hit remarks.  Not sure if that’s practical, MSNBC will want viewers to know exactly when they can see The Donald, but there’s definitely little if any quality gap between the answers of the A and B teams.

My guess is some sort of structural change happens.  The campaign teams need to decide if the benefits of being part of a main event put their 6th or 8th place candidate in better shape than getting more air time would.

It’s easy to see how Rubio or Christie might prefer a format where they participated in one of two equal debates but received another 5-10 minutes of talk time.

If another candidate or two were to drop out, it would also force a review as an 11th or 12th place candidate would vociferously object to being shut out, but you can’t put 10 candidates in one group and 2 or 3 in the other.  So again, two even debates are a likely resolution to that quandary.

Function follows format, so we’ll stay tuned.

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