GOP Candidates Take Sharp Tone in Third Debate

29 Oct 2015 | Author: | No comments yet »

At the Republican Debate, Noise Drowned Out Substance.

There’s a theory in presidential politics that if you’re a young senator facing questions about your inexperience and ability to lead, you can create an aura of leadership through successful campaign moments that can substitute for actual experience.With Hillary Clinton shoring up her front-runner status in the 2016 Democratic race, the pressure was on all of the GOP candidates to stand out in their third debate, which could prove critical in helping to winnow the large field.From April to August, Donald Trump dominated the Republican presidential landscape, a phenomenal, seemingly bulletproof, 800-pound gorilla of a candidate with a double-digit lead in the polls — and so much momentum that pundits dubbed it the Summer of Trump. Kasich opened night’s Republican presidential debate by warning that Americans are in danger of electing “somebody who doesn’t know how to do the job,” whose promises are the stuff of “fantasy.” Unfortunately, we didn’t hear enough of that from Mr.

Donald Trump pulled his punches when it came to Ben Carson, who is eclipsing him in recent polling out of Iowa, the first early voting state on the 2016 calendar. The big storyline going into the debate was decline of Jeb Bush and the ascendance of Marco Rubio, and that narrative got a huge boost with this evening’s cacophonous disaster. The debate in Colorado was billed as a discussion of the so-called kitchen table issues that matter most to voters: jobs, taxes, the federal deficit, and something that host network CNBC called “your financial freedom.” This, it would seem, was an opportunity for the G.O.P. contenders to offer solid ideas for the American economy. In one of his most animated moments, Trump bashed the role of super PACs, the outside spending groups pouring more money into the election than the campaigns. Early on in the festivities, Rubio was asked about his Senate absenteeism, which gave Jeb the opening he needed to spring the clever trap he’d been planning and publicly telegraphing. “You can campaign, or just resign and let someone else take the job,” Jeb said. “There are a lot of people living paycheck to paycheck in Florida as well.

Analysts wondered whether the populist billionaire would bring his long-running feud with Carson to the CNBC stage, or whether he’d try to elbow past Carson by resurrecting his rogue Trumpel-stiltskin personality: mix it up with the moderators, hurl insults at his opponents and brag a lot about his own accomplishments. They are looking for a senator that will fight for them each and every day.” Rubio was ready, telling Jeb that the only reason he was attacking him over this is “because we’re running for the same position, and someone has convinced you that attacking me is going to help you.” The crowd went wild.

There were plenty of strong moments for almost all the candidates not named Jeb Bush, but what made Rubio’s moments so useful for him was that they combined three things: They were well-timed, they shored up his weaknesses, and they came as his rising poll numbers and the vulnerabilities in his rivals’ polling are creating a moment for him. Several candidates trained their fire on the panel of moderators, including Trump, Rubio, Christie, Cruz and, at one point, even the soft-spoken Carson. And unlike the attempts to gang-tackle him in the Cleveland and Reagan Library debates, this time the rest of the field — including Carson and archrival Jeb Bush — pretty much left him alone.

Becky Quick, one of the moderators, had Marco Rubio stammering as the budget hawk tried to explain how he squares his personal financial difficulties with a million-dollar book deal. However, it was hard not to side with candidate complaints about a random question on fantasy football betting — that question, unfortunately, cut off an impromptu exchange between Mr. Rubio said Democrats have “the ultimate super PAC, and it’s called the mainstream media.’’ He cited favorable press coverage of her Benghazi testimony in Congress last week.

From that point on, Jeb was his same uninspired self, mechanically reciting the bullet points of the record he put together in Florida a decade ago that no one really cares about. As Carson gained on him the last few weeks, Trump and the retired neurosurgeon got a little personal, jabbing each other on issues ranging from religious devotion to abortion.

It’s easy for fellow Republican candidates and political analysts to dismiss Carson because his amiable nature and impressive personal narrative simply don’t compensate for his failure to make a plausible argument that he would be better than any of the other candidates — much less all of them — as president. But then Bush jumped in and said that as a constituent he thought Rubio should work for all six years, and compared Rubio’s lack of industry in the Senate to a French workweek. At the same time, however, there were signs Trump’s ability to defy political gravity — maintaining a strong lead despite mean-spirited barbs, opposition attacks, declaring he’d make America great again without specifically saying how — were wearing thin, and armchair advisors (and probably a few professionals) suggested he downsize his larger-than-life personality. The debate occurred at an interesting moment: Today in Congress, the Republican-led House passed a bipartisan budget proposal without a fight that would again paralyze the federal government. They clashed with Mike Huckabee and Trump who said there’s no need for benefit cuts. “You can’t do nothing,’’ said Paul. “That’s absurd.’’ Among her attacks was probably the night’s most entertaining closing statement.

Rubio, with the help of Ted Cruz and Chris Christie, used the tone and content of the questions to turn the crowd against the moderators and score some cheap digs against the “bias” of the mainstream media. The one with the best reviews was Lindsey Graham, who gave an impassioned plea to “make me the commander in chief.’’ He also drew laughter for defending his moderate record — including his support for immigration reform and climate change science — by rebuking the Democratic field. “I’m tired of losing,’’ said Graham, raising his voice. “My God, look who we’re running against,’’ he said, singling out presidential candidate Sen. That probably would have been a good time for Harwood to point out that zeroing out taxes on capital gains is a massive windfall for the super wealthy, who draw most of their income from investments, but he passed. Trump objected when asked whether his is a “comic book version” of a presidential campaign, bristled at moderator John Harwood’s suggestion that his tax plan was as realistic as his ability to flap his arms and fly (“Then you better get rid of [CNBC host] Larry Kudlow — he loves my plan,” Trump shot back), boasted that “I came out great” after his Atlantic City casinos filed for bankruptcy and said reconciliation is his biggest weakness (“I find it very, very hard to forgive people who deceive me.”) He also mixed it up early with Ohio Gov.

It will be hard for Carson to convince Republicans that he’s the best choice to cut spending and taxes until he proves he’s got a handle on the federal budget. A bigger challenge for Rubio is the lack of leadership and callow youth problem, and being able to best Bush in a moment that will be passed around on social media helps with that. John Kasich when Kasich — whose polling numbers reflect his current also-ran status — continued his attack on him and Carson for making campaign promises a president can’t realistically keep. John Kasich kicked off the debate by reiterating his complaint that candidates like Ben Carson and Donald Trump are ridiculous clowns, and then largely disappeared for the remainder of the event. When Carson countered that he’d probably end up with a 15 percent flat rate, Quick pointed out that would leave a $1.1 trillion revenue gap and either require slashing government programs deeply or running a deficit.

These plans would put us in trillions and trillions of dollars of debt … This stuff is fantasy, just like [Carson] getting rid of Medicare and Medicaid.” Instead of rebutting the allegation with specifics, Trump turned his rhetorical flamethrower on Kasich’s financial record in the Buckeye State, and on Wall Street at a firm that helped trigger the 2008 financial meltdown. “John got lucky with a thing called ‘fracking,’ He got lucky, and that’s why Ohio is doing well,” Trump said. Instead, Rubio showed it. (It was that kind of night for Bush, and he’s now going to have to endure days of suggestions that he should replace the exclamation point with a period and end his campaign.) Rubio also took on the moderators, turning a question about his personal finances into a paean to his humble roots. Unlike the Cleveland debate where most of his responses drew several rounds of applause, Trump only had a handful of applause lines, and nothing that would make for a snappy, attention-grabbing headline. He seemed to have those kinds of lines at every turn. “My mother’s on Medicare and Social Security; I’m against anything that’s bad for my Mom.” This is theater review, but that’s what these debates are as political events. And he largely stuck to the policy script — for tax cuts, against government regulation and in favor of making America a winner again in the international arena.

There are a few good answers to the question of how the government should respond, if at all, to a drug company charging $750 per pill for an AIDS drug that recently cost as little as $13.50 per pill and could be produced for as little as $1 per pill. When he finally did answer the question, he railed against the Republican leadership that “joined with every single Democrat to add 80 trillion to our debt to do nothing to fix the problems.” He stimulated all the anti-establishment nerve centers of the conservative brain, and was far more effective at communicating his message than Rand Paul, who made many of the same points. Democrats have their own solutions, including Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders’s effort to tie the controversy into an ongoing congressional probe into drug pricing.

Right now you have Jeb barely hanging on as the establishment favorite in the race, while Trump and Carson have the hearts and minds of the “outsider” bloc of voters. When she asked where she read his rebuke of the Facebook founder, he quipped: “I don’t know — you people write this stuff.” Perhaps the best example of The New Trump was in his closing statement, when he told moderators that his and Carson’s campaign negotiated with CNBC to cut the debate from three hours to two, or they wouldn’t participate.

If you assume that all three will eventually collapse, then establishmentarian Rubio and “outsider” Cruz are well-positioned to pick up their support networks. Well, there is no question that some people go overboard when it comes to trying to make profits, and they don’t take into consideration the American people. Chris Christie jumped in a few moments later to offer a prescription that required no new regulation from the government but also took into account the possibility that a sudden spike in drug prices could be related to bad behavior in the private sector. “We have laws already. It was evident in Wednesday night’s debate that neither the moderators nor the other Republican candidates had much interest in tangling with a candidate who is both personally popular and unlikely to win the nomination.

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