Unusually for me, I had time to watch some of the debate and I had access to a television. (Yes, I can watch debates on my computer monitor, but I do my best debate watching stretched out on the couch staring at the big screen.) I lasted all the way through to the fight over trade with China, and then my family called me away. Once they were done calling, I discovered that I was too tired to resume. I just couldn’t get my head back in the game.
Since I wasn’t taking notes, I can only comment on a few specific and memorable phrases, issues, and arguments. Otherwise, the best I can do is give my impressions of the candidates.
Preliminarily, Kasich and Carson should not be on that stage — especially Carson. I like Carson. I think he’s a very intelligent man and a good human being. I thought his response about Obama’s rules of engagement against ISIS was spot-on. (Speaking of Obama’s refusal to bomb oil tankers that are funding ISIS, meek, mild Carson said “Tell them if you put people in them, we’re going to bomb them, so don’t put people in them.” Exactly.)
Other than that, though, Carson was passive. In response to each question, he basically said, “I’ll put the experts on it.” Well, yes, that’s what a manager should do, but a really good manager sits down with his experts and begins with his own goals and ideas, before then asking for ways his plan can be done or reasons it cannot or should not. Leadership begins with the leader, not the advisers. A bad manager, such as Obama, listens only to himself and ignores the experts entirely.
My favorite drug in the world is Valium. That’s the reason I never take it. I’m a fairly tightly wound person, and Valium is the only thing that leaves me slow and mellow. If I take Valium, I probably look just like Dr. Carson. Again, he’s a good man, but he’s not presidential material.
Regarding Kasich, I did appreciate his points about his government experience and economic know-how. He’s right about the basic Reaganesque rules for making an economy grow (lower taxes, less regulation, etc.), but he offered a primer, not leadership.
In the same way, Kasich was right to talk about the need for alliances, including telling the Saudi’s we’re on their side, but we won’t pander to their madrassahs anymore. I kept thinking to myself “He’d be a very good adviser, or at least a good sounding board, on the economy and foreign policy.”
Unfortunately for Kasich, I never once thought to myself, “Wow, he’d really be a good president.” Like Carson, I think he’s a good man and brings useful qualities to the conservative political scene, but he’s not prime time material.
Jeb. Ah, Jeb. Lovely resonant voice. If only he didn’t sound alternately disengaged or peevish. He really only brightened up when he went on the attack, but that’s not leadership. I thought he made good substantive points as well, especially about trade wars, but the problem is that I can’t really remember any of his points. That’s Jeb in a nutshell, isn’t it? Good guy, but comes across as a complete nonentity. That exclamation point his team put after his name is the ultimate irony. It’s a shame too, because I think he could have been a great candidate in 2008.
Chris Christie is a good debater. He’s brash, funny, and clear. I also don’t trust anything he says. For example, I found amusing his point that of all the governor’s in America, he’s vetoed more anti-gun legislation than anyone else. That doesn’t necessarily mean that he’s that strong on the Second Amendment. It could just mean that his crazy legislature sends him more bills to veto than are sent to anyone else. I really don’t know and, as I said, I just don’t trust him.
Marco Rubio is another one who rubs me the wrong way. He made a lot of good points, and is an intelligent and informed man. Tonight, I think he might have had too much coffee before the debate, since his voice was quick, light, and too often shrill. (As you can see, how people sound matters a great deal to me. It shouldn’t, but there it is. I prefer a deep, calm voice to a shrill, high voice. Pretty sad, really, considering that I personally err on the shrill, high side.)
Also, as with Christie, I don’t trust Rubio. He’s for free trade, except for Florida sugar. He’s for border control, except for the fact that he’s for amnesty, tuition discounts for illegals, and everything else that makes America a honey pot for every illegal who comes along. His head’s in the right place, but he’s swayed by political power and money.
I’m sorry to say this, because I know there are Donald Trump supporters who come here, but he came across as a really icky person tonight. He made good points about guns, about Islam, about leadership, about New Yorkers after 9/11, etc., but he was also a bully. At a very fundamental level, he did not treat his opponents with respect. You can fight someone — in court, in a political debate, at a dinner party — but still retain your dignity and treat them with the respect all decent people deserve. I thought each of the men on that stage deserved respect. They’re all conservatives, although of varying stripes, they’re all accomplished people, and they’ve all taken on the arduous task of running for president. Treating them like fools didn’t reflect badly on them, but on Trump.
Substantively, I thought Trump’s approach to everything was shallow, sound-byte stuff. He’s very clear on his poll numbers, but remarkably vague about everything else. For example, he was doing double-talk about China, and it was clear when he was done that the New York Times was actually correct when it said Trump would be willing to impose a 45% excise tax on Chinese goods. I agreed with the other candidates that, while China cheats, slapping a huge excise tax is not the way to go. Instead, the way to go is to avoid trade wars and strengthen America’s economy by ending insanely high corporate taxes, all of which are passed on to consumers or result in corporations fleeing American shores.
Anyway, that’s just one issue, but it reflects the fact that Trump does bumper-stickers, not serious politics. He throws red meat to the crowd, but I truly didn’t feel there was any substance behind what he said, and I certainly didn’t feel that he understands the political process or the Constitution.
For me, it always comes back to Cruz, the man who adores the Constitution and who has staked out solid policy positions on most issues. I didn’t think he acquitted himself wonderfully tonight, at least in the part of the debate I watched. He was surprisingly self-effacing during times when I thought he could have landed telling blows — but when he spoke, I thought he made sense. For example, Cruz cleverly used Trump’s own words against him when Maria Whoever-She-Is) raised Trump’s birther argument against Cruz. I like Cruz’s flat tax plan, although I felt he could have explained it more clearly.
I also like Cruz’s voice. It’s a little nasal, but I like the Texas twang and I like the fact that it’s deep and calm. When he and Rubio occasionally went at it, as they did when Rubio wrongly characterized Cruz’s corporate tax as a VAT tax (I lived in England, so I know about and hate VATs), it was like listening to a thoughtful, mature man rein in an excitable little boy.
My sense is that Cruz is always worried that he’ll come across as a jerk so, for the time being, when the fights start, he holds back and let’s his main rival — Trump — come across as a jerk. One of the rules of a good lawyer is that, if your opponent is self-destructing, you just stay out of the way. Of course, I know that Trump’s persona, which irritates me, appeals to and even elates others. That’s a personal matter, and Cruz is probably just writing off those voters who are committed to Trump for good or ill.
Although things got chaotic and ugly at times, I think each of the candidates contributes something useful to the education of the American voter. Jeb is the calm, reasoned, albeit bored, voice of the white shoe establishment; Kasich is the old insider; Carson is the moralist; Christie is the fighter; Rubio is a clear voice on non-immigration and trade issues; Trump is the hammer against the media; and Cruz is the brilliant constitutionalist (which is, to me, the most important thing of all).
If I had to sum it up, I’d say that, in an election against Hillary or Bernie, I’d vote for all of the candidates but for Trump in a heartbeat. I’d vote for Trump too, as compared to Hillary or Bernie, but I’d have to give myself a little pep talk to do so.
UPDATE: Peter Wehner is a good writer, a thoughtful man, and a Republican of the slightly to the right of RINO. He’s not totally a RINO, but he’s not a true conservative either. I always read and enjoy what he writes, although I don’t always agree with him. When it comes to his take on Trump, though, I do agree with him, a feeling that tonight’s debate performance only reinforced:
Mr. Trump has no desire to acquaint himself with most issues, let alone master them. He has admitted that he doesn’t prepare for debates or study briefing books; he believes such things get in the way of a good performance. No major presidential candidate has ever been quite as disdainful of knowledge, as indifferent to facts, as untroubled by his benightedness.
It is little surprise, then, that many of Mr. Trump’s most celebrated pronouncements and promises — to quickly and “humanely” expel 11 million illegal immigrants, to force Mexico to pay for the wall he will build on our southern border, to defeat the Islamic State “very quickly” while as a bonus taking its oil, to bar Muslims from immigrating to the United States — are nativistic pipe dreams and public relations stunts.
Even more disqualifying is Mr. Trump’s temperament. He is erratic, inconsistent and unprincipled. He possesses a streak of crudity and cruelty that manifested itself in how he physically mocked a Times journalist with a disability, ridiculed Senator John McCain for being a P.O.W., made a reference to “blood” intended to degrade a female journalist and compared one of his opponents to a child molester.
Wehner says he won’t vote for Trump. I will, because I think Hillary or Bernie would be even worse. I will vote for Trump . . . but I won’t like it.