Ohio Stands Tall

On a night when the Trump wave continued to roll across America, inundating yet another of the Republican candidates and washing Marco Rubio out of the race, one state stood out.  Ohio was a breakwater against the Trump tsunami, with Governor John Kasich knitting together a coalition of Kasich supporters, Rubio supporters, and Trump opponents to beat Trump convincingly.

635918131274016669-ap-gop-2016-debateThe pundits will talk about what Trump’s victories in Florida, North Carolina, Illinois, and (apparently) Missouri mean, and his chances of reaching the magic number that will allow him to be the Republican nominee.  I don’t think there’s much need for analysis on the former question, really.  Marco Rubio put his finger on it in his graceful concession speech last night:  there are a huge number of frustrated, angry, disaffected people out there who feel left behind, and Trump’s anti-establishment status and promises of a future where America gets “better deals” and “wins” again appeals to them.  I think the strong perception that he is a candidate who will bring about change — whatever that change might be, precisely — has attracted people who see his candidacy as a reason to participate in the political process and vote for the first time in years.  In primary after primary, these Trump voters are making their voices heard.

There are still a number of states where voting has yet to occur, and with the Republican race down to Trump, Kasich, and Ted Cruz, voters in those states will have their chance to determine whether Donald Trump does well enough to compile a majority of Republican delegates.  As Rubio noted, we are a republic, and the elections in those other states will be the final decision points.  Last night, Ohio had its say in the process, and the Republican primary voters in the Buckeye State have resoundingly voted against the Trump approach.

Whatever the ultimate result might be, I’m proud of my state.

The Proper Victorian Gent And The Donald

In The Right Stuff, Tom Wolfe depicted the news media as a kind of prissy, proper Victorian gent, applying notions of marriage and conduct to the Mercury astronauts and their families that were outmoded even back in the early ’60s.  As a result, to win the public relations battle, the astronauts and their wives had to relentlessly portray themselves as examples of prim domestic perfection.

victorian-vest-1I thought of Wolfe’s notion of the press as the proper Victorian gent recently as I was reading coverage of the Republican presidential campaign.  The media pundits were reacting with horror at the tone of the Republican candidates, accusing them of falling to the level of schoolyard taunting and insults and — amazingly — being more critical of Marco Rubio than of Donald Trump, whose insults and willing embrace of crassness started the candidates down that road in the first place.  It is as if the press expects, tolerates, and perhaps even celebrates that kind of behavior from Trump — boy, he sure is a rebel who is breaking all of the rules for presidential candidates, isn’t he? — but can’t abide it when other candidates meet fire with fire.  Those other candidates are presented as somehow having lost their cool or taken the campaign to the gutter.

Of course, the press is really the reason why the other candidates have resorted to mocking Trump and trying to do so in ways that will attract media attention. The media is so infatuated with Trump, and the coverage is so lopsided, that the other candidates are starved for attention.  On the night Chris Christie endorsed Trump, I turned on CNN and it was carrying a Trump rally, live, as he sprayed water from a water bottle while belittling Rubio.  Other campaigns need to buy air time to get their message out to that kind of audience, but because of Trump’s antics he gets that kind of publicity for free.  Can anyone legitimately blame the other candidates if they try to respond in kind in hopes of attracting a bit more coverage?  In Marco Rubio’s case, his willingness to hurl a few insults back at Trump seems to have worked and attracted more press attention.  And while Trump won the lion’s share of contests yesterday, his opponents won some, too, and it looks like races were closer because the other candidates finally may be starting to break through the media wall around the Donald.

Of course, I would prefer that political candidates maintain a civil discourse and engage in a spirited, but elevated, discussion of the issues.  With Trump in the race, though, such hopes have long since been dashed, and it is senseless to try to hold other candidates to lofty standards when Trump is breaking all the rules and being effectively rewarded for it.  With the media perfectly willing to cover every outrageous incident of Trumpish behavior, rather than digging into and exposing Trump’s past, the only hope for voters who want to learn about Trump’s record will be the other Republican candidates — and if they need to throw in a regrettable bit of coarseness to get the media’s attention while they do so, I’m not going to wring my hands and bemoan the lack of propriety.  This is a case where the proper Victorian gents of the news media have only themselves to blame.

Exposing The Know-Nothing

Last night’s Republican debate was a terrific show.  After having to endure months of Donald Trump, America finally got to see him exposed for what he is:  a vacuous blowhard.

imageThanks to deft and persistent skewering by Senator Marco Rubio, who just would not let Trump get away with his standard techniques of interrupting and overstating and insulting, Trump was embarrassed repeatedly.  On health care, immigration, foreign policy, and issue after issue, Trump showed himself to be a colossal know-nothing who has no real positions beyond vague platitudes, and only the dimmest grasp of facts.  That reality became clearer and clearer as Trump flailed and babbled in response to Rubio’s aggressive questioning and, ultimately, mockery.  After that debate, does anyone think that Trump’s promises to “repeal and replace Obamacare with something much better” have any substance, or for that matter that Trump has any idea what a “much better” plan would even look like?

Thanks to Rubio, and to a lesser extent Senator Ted Cruz, we finally got to hear about some of Trump’s actual history and record on things like hiring immigrant workers and “Trump University,” about his clothing lines, and his tax returns, and his lawsuits.  It’s not a pretty record, but I’m guessing that many of the people who were watching the debate were hearing about it for the first time.

Those of us who have long thought Trump an empty-headed braggart may well ask why it took so long for other candidates to finally take some meaningful shots at him — but better late than never.  Until now, Trump has gotten by on sheer force of personality and his willingness to violate all rules of courtesy and decency.  His supporters hear his interruptions and insults and confuse his lack of civility with anti-establishment toughness.  So far, they’ve excused his lack of knowledge on the issues because they think he projects strength and success.  Last night, however, Trump was shown to be anything but the strong, successful frontrunner.  And when, after Rubio’s attacks, Trump belittled the questioner who asked an entirely fair question about Trump’s tax returns — making a mean and gratuitous comment about radio show ratings — Trump looked like a desperate jerk, rather than the confident and unflappable front-runner his supporters have come to expect.  He’s like the loudmouth jerk at a bar who can’t do anything but hurl personal abuse when he’s presented with facts that show he’s wrong.

Lots of people have been talking about “Teflon Don” and his supposed clear path to getting the Republican nomination.  No doubt there are some Trump fans who could care less that he doesn’t know what he’s talking about, but I think many of his supporters just desperately want to change the direction in which the country is headed and think voting for Trump is the best way to do that.  After last night, they might come to realize that Trump is a pig in a poke, and voting for him would be a total leap of faith.  Maybe those who haven’t fully guzzled the Trump Kool-Aid will start to see the Donald for the crass know-nothing windbag that he really is.

No. 9 (Bad) Dream

The Republican presidential candidates had their ninth debate last night, in Greenville, South Carolina.  It was a train wreck.

Donald Trump dominated because he was willing to be even more rude and bombastic and bizarre than he has even been before.  He was like Trump, squared.  With his florid face neatly matching the red backdrop, Trump routinely interrupted and talked over other candidates, called people liars, made sophomoric snide remarks, and actually voiced the paranoid theory that the administration of George W. Bush lied about weapons of mass destruction in order to engineer the Iraq War.  Trump’s inability to give any specifics on what he would do to deal with any policy issue — other than hire “top men,” build a wall, and engage in trade wars — was more exposed than it has ever been before.

Republican U.S. presidential candidate businessman Donald Trump speaks at the Republican U.S. presidential candidates debate sponsored by CBS News and the Republican National Committee in GreenvilleI wonder when, or whether, Trump voters will awaken from their dream and realize that this ill-mannered, poorly informed, red-faced yeller is not suited to be our President and represent our nation in communicating with foreign leaders.  Last night Trump displayed, over and over again, a temperament that is unfit for high office, but his supporters have given his antics a pass before.  Perhaps the best evidence of how angry and marginalized Trump voters are is that they are willing to support Trump even after he obviously embarrasses himself.

Among the rest of the candidates there was a whiff of desperation in the air.  Campaign money has been spent down, and candidates feel that now is the time to step out and make their mark.  After South Carolina the field is likely to be winnowed further, and the logical person to go is Dr. Ben Carson, who really should have been winnowed out already. Carson is more well-mannered than Trump — of course, a caveman would be more well-mannered than Trump — but he appears to have only a tenuous grasp on some issues and seems to be wholly ill-suited, by training and knowledge, to serve as President.

I thought Marco Rubio won last night’s bad dream of a debate, by staying above the fray on the Trump sniping and giving thoughtful, cogent answers to a number of questions.  I thought the brouhaha about Rubio repeating himself in the last debate was overblown by the media — every politician up there repeats the same lines, routinely — but in any case last night’s performance should lay to rest the silly notion that Rubio is some programmed robot.  I thought Ted Cruz fared poorly, and Jeb Bush and John Kasich had their moments.  Kasich is still trying to follow the “Kasich lane” and is relentlessly staying on message as the positive candidate, while occasionally throwing in classic Midwestern phrases like “jeez o pete” and “dollars to doughnuts.”  It’s not clear whether that will sell south of the Mason-Dixon line, but Kasich has, at least, been very effective in staking out his own, unique persona among the remaining candidates.

We get to take a break until the next debate, which will be held on February 25 in Houston, Texas.  That’s good, because we need one.

Time For A New Debate Format

Kish suggested we watch last night’s Republican debate.  Against my better judgment, I agreed.  I should have heeded my judgment, I think.

I’m not a fan of these sprawling debates for a lot of reasons, but the first one hit me as soon as the debate began:  I just don’t like the idea of the moderators picking one person to answer a question about a given topic, and I don’t like the candidates’ ability to not answer the question.  So when the moderator began the debate by asking Ted Cruz about the economy (why Cruz?) and Cruz launched instead into an obviously prepared speech about the ten American sailors captured by Iran, it set my teeth to grinding immediately.

GOP Presidential Candidates Debate In Myrtle BeachThis is a format destined for disaster on a stage with seven candidates hoping to get air time.  At first the candidates act politely and hold their fire as one of their competitors gets to address a juicy topic, but eventually they can’t help themselves and start talking very loudly so that they get to weigh in and get their faces on TV again.  There’s no meaningful way to discipline candidates who go off topic, either.  What are you going to do, tell one of them that they don’t get to respond for the rest of the debate because they didn’t answer a question?  If that rule had been applied last night, basically every candidate would have been silenced long before the debate’s official end.

If I had my choice, you’d start one of these pre-primary debates with opening statements by each of the candidates, so they could vent their canned speeches and you’d at learn about whatever topics were of most importance to them.  I’d establish the order by picking names out of a hat.  Then, once those preliminaries are out of the way, ask a question about a topic and have each candidate respond to the same question.  So long as the question dealt with an important topic, and was not of the “if you were a tree, what kind of tree would you want to be” variety, the candidates themselves would discipline each other to stick to the subject, the way Chris Christie did last night when neither Cruz nor Rubio answered a question about entitlements.  You couldn’t blow off an important topic without the next person in line immediately criticizing you for dodging it.

And I suppose time-limit buzzers are inevitable, especially when seven politicians are on one stage, but they give the debates an unfortunate game show quality.  And, as a candidate’s answer proceeds, I find myself anticipating the buzzer rather than paying much attention to the latter part of the candidate’s response.  The candidates blow right through the buzzers, anyway.  I’d rather have the moderator politely tell the candidate that their time has expired.

Who won last night’s debate?  Beats me.  I thought Trump really zinged Cruz on Cruz’s ill-advised dismissal of “New York values,” recalling how New Yorkers pulled together and moved forward after 9/11 and leaving Cruz to do nothing but keep a frozen smile on his face and no doubt think, inwardly, that he had just taken a self-inflicted wound.   I don’t think those kinds of point-scoring exchanges ultimately mean much in a multi-candidate field, but I do think that, with all the problems we are facing, we don’t need politicians who make cheap appeals to regionalism and pit one part of the country against another.  I was glad to see Cruz take a haymaker.

As for the rest of the debate, Trump obviously has no real substance behind the catch phrases and bloviating, but the other candidates can’t quite figure out how to deal with him.  It’s like they’re trying to climb over each other while hoping that some day, somebody will vote Trump off the island, while Trump stands at the center stage lectern, scowling.  They can’t figure out why people are going for Trump and I can’t, either.

Boots On The Trail

Hey, have you heard about Marco Rubio’s “cute boots”?  What, you haven’t?  What’s wrong, don’t you read the New York Times?

rubio20bootsBecause the NYT is featuring three — count ’em, three — articles on Marco Rubio’s boots.  One bears the headline Marco Rubio’s Shiny Boots Stir Up the Presidential Race.  Another, by the “Times Insider,” is headlined Marco Rubio’s ‘Cute Boots’ and Other Campaign Issues.  And the third, by “First Draft,” is headlined Marco Rubio Reacts to Those Boots That Were Made for Talking.   Hey, I get it — that’s a play on the Nancy Sinatra anthem, These Boots Are Made for Walking!  Pretty clever!

And in case you haven’t had enough of Marco Rubio’s boots (I use his full name because apparently the NYT style manual requires that headlines bear a candidate’s full name when the subject of the article is footwear) from those three testaments to quality journalism by the publication that has pretensions of being America’s Newspaper of Record, you can run a Google search and find articles where the other Republican candidates are razzing Rubio for the coverage his boots have received.

As for the boots themselves — well, they’re boots.  To my untrained eye, they look vaguely like Beatle boots, rather than cowboy boots.  And in any case, who gives a flying fig about boots?  With the Middle East teetering on the brink, North Korea just claiming that it exploded a hydrogen bomb, and the stock market suffering through its worst start to a year ever, the New York Times thinks Rubio’s boots are worth three articles?  Have I somehow been transferred to an alternative universe?

If you’re wondering why America’s newspapers are struggling and losing circulation, look no further.

The Republican Hair Club For Men

Say what you will about the Republican candidates for President, but you have to concede one thing:  they are displaying a fantastically diverse set of hairstyles.  With 16 men ranging from 40s to nearly 70 in the field and not a chrome domer in the bunch, the GOP guys have beaten the odds.  In fact, it’s so statistically improbable that you have to wonder if it isn’t random chance and instead was the a plan of a shadowy, secret organization . . . .

Chairman TRUMP:  OK, I’m calling this meeting of the Republican Hair Club for Men to order.  Gentlemen, congratulations on a good first debate.  Governor Bush, do you have a report for us?

Gov. BUSH:  Yes, Mr. Chairman.  As you all know, our plan was to subconsciously appeal to the deep-seated hair fantasies and vanities of the American male by presenting candidates who cover the broadest possible range of different coiffures short of outright baldness  And I’m pleased to say it has worked beyond our wildest dreams.  Our studies show that not only did that first Fox debate achieve record ratings, but the vast majority of men who tuned in really were just checking out our different stylings.

Sen. CRUZ:  And I’m betting a number of those viewers saw the benefits of Brylcreem, didn’t they?  The success of Mad Men made American men recognize that “a little dab’ll do ya” is a darn good look.  In fact, you might even say it’s slick.  Get it?

Chairman TRUMP (sighing):  Senator — we get it, we just don’t want it.  I’m from the “wet head is dead” school myself.  And I know Governor Bush prefers his distracted professor look, Governor Walker has the “boyish front, bald spot in back” ‘do covered, Dr. Carson’s strongly representing the short hair contingent, Senator Rubio and Governor Huckabee are displaying the benefits of a razor cut at both ends of the age spectrum . . . .

Sen. PAUL (interrupting):  And don’t forget us Kentuckians who want a haircut that reminds everyone of Davy Crockett and his coonskin cap!

Chairman TRUMP:  Still having a bad day, eh?  Yes, Governor Kasich?

Gov. KASICH:  To add to Governor Bush’s report, I wanted to note that the polling data is showing that my little surge in New Hampshire is almost entirely attributable to my coiffure.  I was going for a rumpled, devil-may-care look, but in the North Country where they hibernate for most of the winter, it’s been interpreted as “bed head.”  It just shows the political value of an ambiguous, multi-purpose styling that covers a number of bases.

Sen. RUBIO:  That’s an excellent point, Governor.  And it reminds me:  the barbers, hair stylists, and product manufacturers that have been of our strongest supporters have identified a gaping hole in our coverage of the spectrum of men’s hairstyles.

Dr. CARSON:  It’s the mullet, isn’t it?

Sen. RUBIO:  Precisely.  How about it, Governor Christie?  As the representative of the Garden State, you’re the logical choice, aren’t you?  Of course, you’d have to get a tattoo and maybe a piercing, too.

Gov. CHRISTIE:  I think you’re confused there, Senator.  I could see it if you were asking me to adopt a greasy or spiky Jersey Shore-type cut, but a mullet really is more of an Appalachian look, so I’ll have to defer to Senator Paul to take his tousled ‘do to the obvious next level.

Gov. WALKER:  Speaking of the next level, Mr. Chairman, when are you going to share with us your secret about how you hold that extravagant mane of yours — whatever it is — in place?  Is it a gel or cream?  Is it some kind of top-secret spray?  Lacquer?

Chairman TRUMP:  Sorry, boys — but that information is more classified than the email found on Hillary Clinton’s private server.

Gov. HUCKABEE:  It’s about time that someone talked about the opposition!  I suggest that each of you stop this orgy of self-congratulation and think for a minute about the Democratic front-runner.  Let’s face it:  Secretary Clinton, alone, has covered more hairdos than our entire group.  She’s had short cuts, long looks, hair flipped up at the end, hair curled under — I’m sure if I did enough internet research I could find an ’80s big hair coiff and maybe even a beehive in her past, too.  It’s incredibly impressive.  She’s just one woman, yet she’s managed to span virtually the entire spectrum of women’s hairstyles!

Chairman TRUMP (suddenly somber):  He’s right, men — we’ve definitely got our work cut out for us.  This meeting is now adjourned.  Senator Cruz, could you clean off the back of your chair before you go?