The Round Two Winner is …

Look, I don’t really have the energy to do a good job reviewing tonight’s 3.5 hour debate, because, well, I just got done watching a 3.5 hour debate. I guess 3.5 hours of debate beats 3.5 weeks of non-stop Fed/interest rate talk, but I think some people have better diversions from their day job than I do. I digress.

It was a long debate – too long – but there were some illuminating moments. There is no point to mentioning how unpresidential and weak and ignorant and narcissistic and shallow Donald Trump is, because anyone reading my blog already knows that, and if they don’t, they aren’t going to agree now. He is incorrigible, but not as incorrigible as his minions are. I assume Sean Hannity went on air tonight to praise his advanced studies on immigration and serious, impressive approach to, say, jurisprudence, but for my readers whose IQ exceeds Sean Hannity’s, which is to say, all of you, Trump was a disaster. The air is coming out and the only question is how fast. I assume his handlers will take that slap mark off his face that Carly left squarely on it. Highlight.

Carly was strong, really strong. She should have left the Christie thing alone when he rightly scored points for pointing out the irrelevance of Donald’s and Carly’s pedigree. Going back to it a second time was not necessary, but all in all she was really outstanding – sort of an anti-Hillary: Impressive story, well-spoken, likable, informed, intelligent, charismatic.

Jeb had a disastrous first half of the debate, and did do better in the second half. His line defending his brother was ironically the strongest point of his campaign so far. Jeb’s problem, though, is unsolvable – totally unsolvable – and that is that he is lacking in mojo, and mojo is not to be bought with PAC fundraising. He is bright, and he is a solid conservative, but he is a yawner, and that is not going to work this time around – I promise you.

I don’t have anything to say about Rand Paul or Mike Huckabee.

Scott Walker tried. He was well-prepared with cute lines. But he comes across desperate now. He barely had the mic. He just doesn’t seem relevant. For him to get back into this thing it would be a far bigger comeback than what John McCain experienced in 2008, and that thing was for the record books. I like the Governor, but I do not believe he is Presidential.

Dr. Carson had a bad night. It was supposed to be his night to pick up those Trump folks who maybe perhaps have a brain or a conscience, and he did not do so. He started slow, and he didn’t pick up much throughout the night. His Afghanistan material was abysmal – like shockingly bad. You can tell he doesn’t have a campaign filled with consultants because I assume if he did they would have told him to do a better job tonight.

Christie had a good night. He is going nowhere, but he had a good night.

I want to give Ted Cruz a chance, I really do. But I have no tolerance for his hypocrisy on the Justice Roberts issue (he CLEARLY and EMPHATICALLY supported a Roberts nomination at the time), and his disingenuous use of the “amnesty” term is unbecoming someone of his intellect. He is bright, and he is formidable, but he grated on me tonight.

Kasich had a bad night, and perhaps one he won’t recover from. That may be too dramatic. But his waffling on the Iran deal is ridiclous – there is no “if” when it comes to Iran funding Hamas and Hezbollah – we KNOW that they ARE doing so. We don’t have to see IF they will do so. His people have him tunnel-visioned on this 1990’s nostalgia thing, as if American fondness for the balanced budget will give HIM more points than Hillary CLINTON in the end. Totally bizarre. Kasich is a strong candidate because he governs a state that probably delivers the Presidency, and he is a grown-up. But he had a bad night. He can recover though.

I am perfectly fine with readers believing my own biases for Marco Rubio prohibit me from giving an objective assessment of his performance, but I would suggest that anyone who watched the debate who does not believe Rubio simply SHINED is the one lacking objectivity. Solid on Russia. Solid on Syria. Solid on ISIS. Best foreign policy credentials on that stage. Best economic message – solid vision of hope and aspiration. Articulate. Out of the fray with Trump the Clown. Really a great night overall.

So here we are. Two down. I don’t remember how many to go. Tonight should have counted as two. We have three or four people I’d like to see up there. It will take awhile. The report card tonight:

Rubio and Fiorina – the winners
Kasich and Carson – the losers
Huckabee – kinda sad
Rand Paul – I found a guy who dislikes him more than me (but I dislike that guy)
Christie – good night
Walker – mediocre
Bush – some warm; some cold; so lukewarm
Cruz – irritated me tonight
Trump – I’m excited to hear Trump will have a team to tell him the names of world terrorist leaders. I’ll pay him to stop giving people five on stage and making me wince at the awkwardness

Good night.

We Will Never Forget

The second week of September is always going to be a tricky one for me.  Every year it involves the celebration of my September 8 wedding anniversary to Joleen, and every year it involves the tragic rememberance of the September 11 nightmare that fell upon our country.  I love the beginning of the week’s memory; I loathe the latter one.  As our country reflects on the events of 9/11, the loss of human lives, the assault on our freedoms, our land, our way of life, I remember the actual day like it was yesterday.  I remember that moment of being utterly frozen, unable to process what had really happened.  I can’t comprehend how many features I have watched and read over the years on various individuals who we lost that day – various heroes who gave their lives to try and save others – and even various stories of surviving that defy any level of natural belief.  This is a giant story of human loss wrapped inside a giant national story of our country’s own freedom, dignity, and purpose.

There is a sense in which we lose some of the story by assuming the attacks went to the twin towers merely because of their height and ease of reach …  The monsters who perpetrated the attacks were not merely thugs with boxcutters, they were not merely hooligans, they were not merely angry disenfranchised terrorists.  They were actually part of a very large, very wealthy, very organized, and very ideological organization.  They were ideologues.  The ideology of Al Qaida loathes the western life, it loathes Judeo-Christian values, and it loathes a culture of American freedom that serves as the domicile for western civilization and Judeo-Christian values to live together.  At the heart of the successful American experiment has been free markets, and at the heart of free markets has been capital markets to drive these free markets.  The twin towers to a large degree but to an even larger degree that entire hub of lower Manhattan that is the site of the ground zero, the trade center complex, the corner of Wall and Broad, and that great entry into the world – our world – is a symbol, and in fact THE symbol, of American capital markets – American free markets – which is to say, American freedom and flourishing.  They did not go after the twin towers because they were tall, they went after them because they were rich.  Because they were aspirational.  Because they were, American.

An attack on the aspirational society that is America continues today, and often that attack is from within our own borders, and praise God does not allow the murder of 3,000 people.  It involves instead an assault on freedoms and pursuits that are at the essence of our way of life.  The existential threat continues from outside our borders today as well, embodied in the fanatic Islamic fascist threats we face from Iran to ISIS to Al Qaida.  They no doubt plan to strike again.  We seem, at times, to no doubt be unable or unwilling to stop them.

I believe in the aspirational society that is America and I mourn the attack on that society that took place on 9/11.  I say that “we will never forget” because I know that there is a remnant, however diminishing it may be, that indeed will never forget.  My heart goes out today to those who lost loved ones on 9/11.  Howard Lutnick, CEO of Canter Fitzgerald where nearly 700 employees died on 9/11, said today that he now has 51 grown kids of lost Cantor employees working at Cantor – it occured to me that the Kindergarten boy he walked to school the morning of 9/11 must now be starting college.  A lifetime has gone by, or at least an entire childhood.  But today I refuse to forget why the attack happen, the nature and character of the animals that perpetrated the attack, and what it will take to protect the American value system that was itself the reason for the attack.  May we all never forget, and may we vigilantly honor those who were lost – honor them by defending the aspirational society, and advocating a militant protection against the soulless demons who would gladly do this again.

The GOP and China

So a not surprising thing has happened in response to the reality TV star dominating the news in the GOP primary, but also in response to recent economic volatility around China and their growth slowdown. In fact, it happens every election cycle on the other side of the aisle. The China-bashing has begun.

Now, my kind of China-bashing involves thoughtful and sensible critiques of their deplorable human rights record. Instead, we have gotten a barrage of comments forcing observers to take notes on various candidates economic IQ’s.

Gov. Scott Walker, a respectable foe of union thugs, said that he has hardened on China in recent weeks because they have recently devalued their currency. He also called on them to implement free market reforms. Apparently, not a single aide of Gov. Walker’s mentioned that the currency devaluation came about as a result of them increasing market mechanisms towards such, meaning, laying off the interference that had been propping it up! The United States has threatened to call China a currency manipulator for two decades; now, they do as asked, and some candidates don’t like it?

The reality is that Sen. Rubio is right to hammer China for their piracy violations and massive flow of iniquities in the observance of human rights. But beyond standard politico-pandering, any suggestion that the United States is going to start a trade war with China any time soon is pure poppycock. If the United States wants to give China less leverage, she can shrink her deficit and balance her budget so as to regain the upper hand. In the meantime, the various threats Republican candidates are making against China remind me of what President Bush said to us at the SALT conference a few years ago about Obama’s campaign promise to shut down Guatanamo Bay:

“Oh. That never bothered me for a minute. I knew there was absolutely no chance he’d really do it once he got his very first national security briefing. No chance.”

Pandering to a low information voter on matters of economics is par for the presidential course. But the global state of affairs matters, and China is not a subject merely to score campaign points with at this time. Sober and sensible reflection of matters of global economic urgency are the need of the hour. Obama may run the full two terms of his presidency without China dominating the headlines. I assure you, the candidate we elect at the end of 2016 will not be so lucky.

Tapping into Something Serious: Tales of a Carnival Barker

I can handle a guy like Sean Hannity and a gal like Ann Coulter uttering the new stock answer all conservative talk radio types feel compelled to utter, but when the hyper-brilliant Mark Steyn said the same thing the other night, I knew the world had gone mad. There are folks actually willing to say they like Trump (Coulter is one of them). They represent the not very bright part of conservatives. There are people who just know he will flame out and that then this race can begin. George Will, National Review, the main GOP candidates, and if anyone cares, yours truly, are in this camp. And then there is this mealy-mouth, pitiful, irrational, sad tale of backboneless pandering that has taken over most everyone else (from people I think about not at all to people I actually like), and their approach is the:

“Well, you know, Trump has really tapped into something, and I think we have to look at the frustration the people have with Washington and the anger over immigration and look at that this all means …” (blah blah blah).

Look, if credible and intelligent people feel the need to legitimize the illegitimate and validate the invalid, the train has left the station. I remain resolute that there aren’t enough sociologically fragile people to take this carnival barker seriously into the primary win column come next winter/spring. His 22-25% is a shock to many of us, but it is far less than what Perry had in September 2011 and far less than what Guiliani had at this time in 2007. The clutter of the field has made this rise possible, together with a highly complicit media, a lowest-common denominator viewer, and the skill of a remarkable celebrity. A thrice-married, pro-choice until the debate, serial adulterer, single payer advocate, 75% wealth tax advocate, hyper protectionist, reality TV star has convinced 26% people he is a spokesperson for conservatism.

And we criticize Bruce/Caitlyn Jenner for saying he is a female?

Dear Lord. The chorus of Laura Ingraham and now my friend Mark Steyn, who are legitimizing Trump with those irresponsible and somewhat incoherent comments need to take a breath. Kim Kardashian has 38 million twitter followers and I feel no need to wonder what she her popularity means to our society. Some people get an audience because some people in an audience are not very bright. Is this news? The 2016 election is a serious election with serious implications for national security, personal liberty, economic growth, and a future vision for America. The Democrats are threatening to support the most corrupt cronyist degenerate their party has ever put forward, and that is saying something! We have several very, very good candidates, and there is no time for a carnival barker reality star narcissist like Trump. It is embarrassing for our party, our movement, and frankly, for our country.

That’s all I have to say about Trump for the time being.

Debate #1 Comes and Goes: Two Tiers Emerge

There is a sense where I am less excited for this coming election cycle than I have ever been – there are candidates I just KNOW can and will beat Hillary Clinton, and there are candidates I just KNOW cannot – and yet I am too entrenched in my political junkieism to do anything but engage. The big distraction to the race that this Donald Trump sideshow has been is probably immaterial in the long run, but I confess to just wanting it to go away so that the actual race can begin. I want Marco Rubio to talk about a 21st century jobs program. I want Jeb Bush to talk about a sensible immigration policy. I want Scott Walker to talk about the threat to democracy that today’s public employee unions represent. And I really don’t need to hear Trump talk about how “they’re all just stupid. Let’s face it, I mean, they’re stupid. They’re so stupid. And people have told me, and you know what, they’re idiots. And yeah I have been bankrupt a lot, but you know what, I mean, you need ME to fix this mess.” I want to hear more about Rubio’s vocational school ideas and who exactly sees natural gas exports as the environmental and economic boon that it is. But I digress.

Last night was a good night for those of us wanting to see this Trump sideshow come to an end. He gave the entertainment a lot of people hoped he would, but his lone raised hand at the debate’s first question forced him to reveal himself as the self-promoting hack that he is. Will he actually run as an independent? I suspect his eventual reality TV contract with Fox or whatever it is he’s in this for will not allow that. But to see him stand in the middle of that stage and own his own narcissism probably accelerated his demise a bit. If that moment didn’t, perhaps his proud declarations of “using the country’s bankruptcy laws to my favor” and “giving money to politicians and then they do what I want” will.

The night was a debacle for Trump, and that is true no matter what a single media outlet says this morning. The press has a bigger vested interest in keeping this clown going than anyone. He is fun. He is big. And he is known. But the amount of people with a pea-brain and consequent appreciation for “how Trump says stuff differently” (which is surely true, in that I have never seen someone tackle policy with his intellectual prowess before – “this is just dumb; you know what I will do, I will fix it, because, this is it, we just have to fix this”) is actually not that large. Trump will stand around a little while, but he did not pivot last night and give a single grown-up a moment of “oh wait, he may have something going on after all”. Trump’s days are numbered. In the meantime, just hope for some good laughs.

There is no question I am biased in that I look at that stage and have absolutely no doubt that Marco Rubio is the most capable of defeating Hillary Clinton, and I am typing this morning that Marco Rubio stood out last night as the winner … I am not searching for the conclusion I want to be true – Rubio really did shine. He presents an incredible contrast between stale and fresh, old and new, academic and practical, asleep and alive. On policy he was alert and competent, but in his presentation he was personal, connectable, and likable. He helped himself immensely last night.

The Christie/Paul wrestling match was hysterical, and I did rewind Christie’s moment calling Paul out as blowing air in a sub-committee room three or four times. It also was the classic case of your presupposition determining who you think bested who: If you hold to the Chris Christie view that a vigorous, modern defense is needed against terror you applauded Christie’s takedown of Paul; if you hold to the view that the government is spying on your love life and must stop you applauded Rand Paul saying “the bill of rights” four times in one sentence. It was a good debate moment but not a victory for either guy other than giving them both a little more camera time than they otherwise would have had.

Jeb Bush was everything I thought he would be, with one exception. He was smart but stale. He was prepared but boring. He was competent but not compelling. His answer on his education record in Florida was OUTSTANDING, though. I still turned off the debate believing he just does not have the mojo to win this election. I like him. I respect his immigration approach immensely. But I believe the Bush risk combined with the general lack of, well, lack of SOMETHING, is not going to cut it.

Ben Carson really struggled at first and then was ignored for quite a while, but then wow did he shine at the end with both of his final two moments. He will continue to be in the conversation and did not break out last night, but did keep himself alive so that a breakout may be possible in the future.

Kasich had some good moments and benefitted from the hometown crowd, but he also laid it on a bit thick at moments. He should be discarded only by those who really underestimate his political skill and leadership abilities, but I think he has a ways to go.

Huckabee did well, and the pre-scripted line about the “candidate leading in polls, engulfed in scandal, capturing all the media … and of course I am referring to Hillary Clinton …” was outstanding. But as a candidate, he’s dead in the water. But he did not accelerate his demise last night, frankly, to my surprise.

I am more and more convinced, despite my genuine fondness for him, that Scott Walker lacks the charisma and connectability to win this election. He has the policy and accomplishment chops, but when he speaks, I get a vibe that he just doesn’t click the way a Rubio does. I want to be wrong here, but I do not think i am.

For those who missed the warm-up act, Carly Fiorina was every bit as outstanding as you have heard and read and will be coming into the top 10 shortly.

All in all, I would say the top 10 last night broke into three camps:

Leadership material – Rubio, Walker, Bush, Kasich
Stayed alive and may have staying power – Carson, Christie, Huckabee, Cruz
Just need to go – Trump, Paul

If Cruz wasn’t the smartest guy on that stage he would fall into the third camp, as he really is a heavy underdog in terms of the attributes I think will be needed to carry this election. But he is sharp and in the case of his closing line last night, can be very compelling.

My assessment of the debate matches my own preferences and biases way too much to take any of it too seriously. I think we need a top five in the next three months, and I think we will get it (before Iowa). I remain steadfast: Jeb Bush would make a great President, but he does not make a great candidate. Marco Rubio is the man I see so far who invokes the most certainty of a win over Hillary Clinton. Buckle up.