2016 Republicans, Debates

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

September 17, 2015

If you want to read me drone on endlessly about how wonderful Carly was, please see Part One.  Curious about Scott Walker, Bobby Jindal, Jeb Bush or Marco Rubio? Same.

In the meanwhile, plenty more contestants to cover:

Don’t compare Ben Carson to traditional candidates. Consensus says Dr. Ben didn’t do so well.  Consensus says his momentum should stop, that Fiorina will cut into his “outsider” appeal.  I’m skeptical of both takes.  Ben Carson does not sound like any presidential candidate I can think of. His delivery is just as unique as Trump’s, perhaps even more so.

He’s calm, thoughtful, unconventional and unafraid to disagree with everyone on stage.  Establishment-types do not think he sounds presidential.  If your measure is what you can remember presidents sounding like, that’s true.  His supporters don’t want someone who sounds like what they remember.  They want someone who sounds like Dr. Ben Carson, pediatric neurosurgeon.  He sounded like himself.  That’s good enough.  Few people who didn’t already have him as a first or second choice were converted last night.  But he already had the best numbers (or very close to it) by that measure.

After the first debate, observers (including me) thought Trump would take a hit.  Not collapse entirely, but begin to slide backward.  Didn’t happen.  Instead he pushed forward.  In retrospect, we made the mistake of comparing him to normal conduct.  Trump did Trump and for the Trumpists, that was good enough.  This is similar.  He may not move much further forward, but Carson needed to consolidate, not further inflate the bubble.

Over the past couple/few weeks, a consensus has developed that places Carson, Trump, Fiorina and Cruz in the same bucket of outsiders.  As a (until yesterday) subscriber of this view, my measurement was how much of the total vote these four received, figuring the three candidates never to have held office and the one who pretends he hasn’t belong together.

Over the past several weeks, we’ve seen the Fantastic Four leap from a combined 40% to a minimum of 60, often closer to 70 percent.  With many supporters of one saying another was their second and/or third choice, the grouping made sense.  Don’t think it does now.

As mentioned in the first round of the recap, Carly sounds like a normal conservative Republican.  If she had served a controversial term as Governor of Silicon Valley instead of CEO of Hewlett-Packard, the delivery and content wouldn’t have changed terribly much.  Her potential to pull together most, if not all of the party is a major threat to other candidates.  She’s not an outsider, just a strong traditional candidate with a non-traditional resume.

If you’ve met the leaders of many foreign nations, you’re not an outsider.  If you’ve served on cabinet agency review panels, you’re not an outsider.  If you ran with full GOP support for U.S. Senate from the largest state in the Union, you’re not an outsider.

None of the four are truly outside the system.  Dr. Carson happened to mention yesterday that he was a frequent visitor to the Bush 43 White House.  It’s possible he spent more time there than Jeb.

Ted Cruz got his start with the most prestigious clerkship in America, with then-Chief Justice William Rehnquist.  Feel free to call him a conservative ideologue, but he knows the American legal system inside out, on both the state and federal level.  As he likes to remind us, Donald Trump knows every important person in the country.  He’s mingled in circles of power since the days when he had conventional hair.

So we don’t really mean outsider.  Rand Paul probably qualifies more easily than they do.  None of these candidates are Bernie Sanders.  I think we actually have a pairing of Trump and Carson.  Neither even attempt to sound like normal candidates.  People choosing them are making a conscious decision to opt out of the usual convention.  Between the two reside approximately 50% of current poll support.

Cruz is a very conservative, Tea Party-friendly, Barry Goldwater for the modern age, with more than a dollop of evangelical comfort to boot.  He’s a separate choice from Carson/Trump.  He correctly realizes there is overlap between his voters and theirs, but that doesn’t mean he’s in the same line in the voter’s mental order of operations.  Many, though nowhere near all Trump or Carson supporters are very conservative.  Should one of those voters prefer a more conventional leader after getting cold feet, Cruz is there.

For now, Carson and Trump just need to worry about satisfying their supporters or those strongly considering them.  Anyone not on board yet, won’t be until either or both hold up for several more months and start winning actual primaries and caucuses.

Was The Donald Trumped?  Yeah, I know.  Dr. Carson did what he needed to, but Trump was noticeably lower energy, actually disappeared for a while and was bested by Carly.  Today, the assumption was he’d hit the wall, the surge is over, the peacock de-feathered.  As a non-Trumpist, it sure seems that way, but we missed the call last month.

In the meanwhile in those non-scientific polls cable networks like to run after debates, the participating public picked The Donald as the winner.  Did he in fact satisfy his audience?  No proof, but I think not.  However, this is not his Waterloo, Watergate, or any other political career destroying event.

His supporters really like him, really root for him.  Many will not vote for another candidate in the primaries.  If not him, then nobody.  You don’t ditch your favorite team because they lost one game.  Instead, you blame the ref, think the other team got lucky, that your guys actually played better.  Eventually scoreboard and standings are all that matter, but not yet.

Trump will need to regroup a bit, perhaps refine a few things.  But he’s still the same guy who had the field by the tail for the whole summer.  The others drew blood this time, but he’s probably wondering what took them so long to finally land a punch or three.  A sharp performance next time, a few strategically placed details, one or two more position papers released and yesterday never happened.

If he loses Iowa, the winner mystique is punctured.  He didn’t lose Iowa last night.  Ben Carson had better odds on Tuesday and has better odds today.  Trump remains the current polling front runner and remains a plausible to extreme underdog for the nomination, same as last week.

Ted Cruz and his reputation aren’t the same candidate.  Supposedly Ted Cruz is a bomb-thrower.  Supposedly he doesn’t care about legislating.  I have it on good authority that he pissed in Mitch McConnell’s Cheerios last week.  When you read a partial Cruz quote, hear a 9 second clip, read a veteran pundit’s take, you might find yourself aghast or otherwise unimpressed.  Why can’t he be like that nice Marco boy down the street?  All the moms in the neighborhood love him.

Yet the guy at the debate last night didn’t sound like Ted Cruz the Reputation.  Instead he sounded sharp, well-informed and principled, with supporting notes for any and all statements.  Kind of like someone who was a champion Ivy League debater, successfully argued cases before the Supreme Court, and is a popular politician in our second largest state.

Don’t sleep on Ted.

This concludes Part Two.  Hopefully there are only three parts.

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