2016 GOP debates

The Marco Rubio Show (Rookie Hijinks)

Detail of photo by Jason Reed/Reuters.

“In essence, not voting for it is a vote against it.”

Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL)

This is the Marco Rubio Show:

For months, Republican presidential hopeful Sen. Marco Rubio has been dogged by questions about his rampant absenteeism from the Senate. On Friday, the senator from Florida missed another vote. This one stood out more than most―for the legislation’s scope and the extent of Rubio’s criticism of it.

Rubio was one of just two senators who did not vote on on a sweeping tax and spending bill that passed with bipartisan support. His three Republican Senate colleagues running for president each cast votes.

(Sullivan)

The thing is, Mr. Rubio said on Thursday he knew “enough to say we’re going to oppose it, and I know enough to say that we should use every procedural aspect that we have to slow it down and perhaps force some changes on these things that we’ve been discussing”.

Or, as Steve Benen of msnbc put it:

But when Rubio said “we,” he wasn’t referring to himself. In fact, he did not take any steps to pursue his goal: the Republican didn’t show up on Capitol Hill to try to delay the process, and a day later, Rubio also didn’t show up to vote against the bill he wanted to kill.

(more…)

The Carly Fiorina Show (Reality Reeling)

Carly Fiorina, former chairman and chief executive officer of Hewlett-Packard Co., pauses while speaking during the Iowa Freedom Summit in Des Moines, Iowa, on Saturday, Jan. 24, 2015. The talent show that is a presidential campaign began in earnest saturday as more than 1,200 Republican activists, who probably will vote in Iowa's caucuses, packed into a historic Des Moines theater to see and hear from a parade of their party's prospective entries. Photographer: Daniel Acker/Bloomberg via Getty Images.

Republican presidential candidate Carly Fiorina wants to be a CEO again, only this time the letters stand for Chief Erroneous Obfuscator.

"Fiorina says she didn't misspeak in saying that Gen. Keane (who retired before Obama) had to retire early for disagreeing with Obama" (Jordyn Phelps, via Twitter, 15 December 2015)GOP presidential candidate Carly Fiorina said she did not misspeak during Tuesday night’s debate when she said that Gen. Jack Keane retired early because he “told President Obama things that he didn’t want to hear.”

But Keane, who served during the Bush administration, retired before Obama became president.

(Phelps)

To the one, lying is nothing more than we’ve come to expect of Carly Fiorina; it is, after all, her track record.

To the other, though, what the former HP boss knows is pretty much the same thing we all recognize, that truth doesn’t matter in the Republican Party.

And that’s the thing; she will pay little to no penalty during the GOP primary for being a liar. The only question is whether her business acumen can make that pitch in the general, should she win the nomination.

After all, if she wins the nomination and must, as part of her pivot, explain her lies, she has two main avenues for defending herself, either repeat the lies or make up new lies. That is, she can either hold the line or pretend she didn’t say anything at all. According to her track record, the actual historical record is irrelevant to her candidacy.

The only question is whether the rest of American voters are as gullible as Republicans.

This is the Carly Fiorina Show.

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Image notes: Top ― Carly Fiorina, former chairman and chief executive officer of Hewlett-Packard, addresses the Iowa Freedom Summit in Des Moines, Iowa, 24 January 2015. (Photo: Daniel Acker/Bloomberg via Getty Images). Right ― Tweet by Jordyn Phelps, 15 December 2015).

Phelps, Jordyn. “Carly Fiorina Digs in on Claim That General’s Retirement Was Due to Obama Dispute”. ABC News. 16 December 2015.

Clown on Clown Debauchery

U.S. Senator Marco Rubio (R-FL), part of the U.S. Senate's 'Gang of Eight', speaks during a news briefing on Capitol Hill in Washington, D.C., 18 April 2013. (Photo: Reuters/Jason Reed)“Marco Rubio, again, looked like three small children stacked on each other’s shoulders wearing a suit. He spent much of the evening sparring with Ted Cruz over their respective positions on immigration. When he wasn’t doing that, he was repeating the same canned answers he gives to every question. Usually, a Rubio answer starts with an anecdote about his upbringing as the child of Cuban immigrants, then devolves into a blizzard of words that tickle the Republican g-spot―opportunity, America, great, unleash, America, capitalism, America―before his sentences just sort of meander into a nothingness of a point that lies flat on the ground, as if beaten into a coma by its own banality.”

Gary Legum

Honestly, covering the GOP debates is a bit of an exercise in frustration featuring the latest culmination of a long habit―possibly a deliberate tactic, once upon a time―in which one packs so much wrongness into a political statement that critics don’t know where to begin. Gary Legum, for instance, offers a review that is ostensibly about the proposition that there arrived a moment in the CNN spectacle when it was “almost possible to like Rand Paul”.

Republican presidential candidate Sen. Rand Paul (R-KY) waits before addressing a legislative luncheon held as part of the "Road to Majority" conference in Washington, 18 June 2015. (Photo: Carlos Barria/Reuters)Which, in turn, is a personal assessment; I might not get it, but that doesn’t mean Mr. Legum is wrong―in that moment when the Kentucky junior turned on the Governor of New Jersey apparently struck a chord.

But at the same time, the Salon article actually offers another point to consider: A Republican presidential debate occurred last night, and reading through the review the most profound response I can muster is to remember just how much I loathe the phrase, “That one moment when”.

I know, I know. Still, it’s the Republican presidential contest; we have every reason to pay attention, but at some point these candidates need to actually start running for president.

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Legum, Gary. “The GOP debate’s weirdest twist: That one moment where it was almost possible to like Rand Paul”. Salon. 16 December 2015.

Christian Faith and Character in Iowa

Iowa Christian talk radio host Steve Deace appears on msnbc in undated frame detail; background text via Twitter.

You know, to call Steve Deace a dick is insufficient; it’s too small a word, and not nearly a stiff enough insult.

Still, though: Full vagina?

And people can say what they will about one extreme voice, this, that, and the other, but what is the market calculation, here? Once upon a time this was the sort of thing that put political players on the naughty list, sent them to the penalty box to not be taken seriously at least for a while.

Who exactly is the king of Iowa conservative family values pitching to?

Wow … Fiorina goes full vagina right away (Steve Deace, via Twitter, 15 December 2015.Here’s the thing about the Christian radio host backing Sen. Ted Cruz’s presidential campaign: He’s betting that misogyny sells in Iowa.

What are the chances he’s right?

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Image notes: Top ― Iowa Christian talk radio host Steve Deace appears on msnbc in undated frame detail; background text via Twitter. Right ― Steve Deace message via Twitter explaining that Carly Fiorina went “full vagina” in her opening statement during a presidential debate, 15 December 2015.

Lerner, Kira. “Conservative Radio Host Says Carly Fiorina Went ‘Full Vagina’ In GOP Debate”. ThinkProgress. 15 December 2015.

The Clown Car Breakdown

Detail of 'Saturday Morning Breakfast Cereal' by Zach Weiner, 12 June 2015.

Four paragraphs from Steve Benen:

Nine candidates would be a big field under any circumstances, but in this case, just the governors alone―Bush, Christie, Gilmore, Huckabee, Kasich, Jindal, Pataki, Perry, and Walker―had enough to field a baseball team. Add Democratic governors to the mix―O’Malley and Chafee―and the number swells to 11.

And at a certain level, this is understandable. For many in both parties, it’s long been assumed that governors have the edge in the party’s nominating contests, in part thanks to history―Reagan, Carter, Clinton, W. Bush, Romney, et al―and also because of the nature of the job. Being the chief executive of a state, the theory goes, offers ideal training for being the chief executive in the White House. Governors learn how to manage and respond to crises. They learn how to oversee a massive, bureaucratic team, while working opposite a legislature. They learn how to lead.

How many sitting GOP senators have ever been elected to the White House? Only one. It was Warren Harding, who was elected nearly a century ago. This is hardly accidental―Americans tend to hate Congress, so they don’t necessarily look to Capitol Hill for national leaders.

And yet, here we are. Two of the most experienced candidates of the cycle―Rick Perry and Scott Walker, both governors―have already quit (as has Lincoln Chafee). George Pataki and Jim Gilmore were excluded from the debates altogether this week, while Chris Christie and Mike Huckabee were relegated to the kids’ table, where they joined Bobby Jindal. Jeb Bush and John Kasich made the prime-time stage, but both are struggling badly. The latter faced booing.

This is actually important in its own right; in an anti-institutional year when career politicians who achieve governorships are actually being viewed as career politicians, the landscape really does seem strange from an unradicalized perspective. Indeed, how strange might we now find the recollection that back in April, even Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX) was pitching for senators against governors in the presidential context. Even in unhinged quarters, gubernatorial experience was actually respected earlier in this cycle.

With a flaccid RNC and impotent Congressional leadership, the anti-institutional movement driving Donald Trump and Ben Carson to the top of the polls would seem to get the nod: Ladies and gentlemen, this is your Republican Party.

Nor might we begin to speculate at what that means. Still, as Phillip Rucker and Robert Costa of the Washington Post explore the now perpetual chatter of growing discomfort and even “panic” among establishment Republicans, it is hard to fathom the idea that even in the GOP, this is starting to become an American existential question:

The apprehension among some party elites goes beyond electability, according to one Republican strategist who spoke on the condition of anonymity to talk candidly about the worries.

“We’re potentially careening down this road of nominating somebody who frankly isn’t fit to be president in terms of the basic ability and temperament to do the job,” this strategist said. “It’s not just that it could be somebody Hillary could destroy electorally, but what if Hillary hits a banana peel and this person becomes president?”

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Image note: Detail of Saturday Morning Breakfast Cereal by Zach Weiner, 12 June 2015

Benen, Steve. “Governors find a hostile 2016 landscape”. msnbc. 13 November 2015.

Rucker, Phillip and Robert Costa. “Time for GOP panic? Establishment worried Carson or Trump might win.” The Washington Post. 13 November 2015.

The Carly Fiorina Show (Next Level)

Former Hewlett Packard CEO Carly Fiorina speaks during the WSJ/FBN Republican presidential debate, 10 November 2015, in Milwaukee, Wisconsin.  (Photo: Morry Gash/AP)

“Yes she met him in a green room, but not in a green room before a show. It was before a conference.”

Anna Epstein

The Carly Fiorina Show really does distinguish itself according to strange rules forged in some alternate universe. Then again, former Hewlett Packard CEO Carly Fiorina is a Republican, and running for president at that. And this year the conservative market licks its lips for lies, as Dr. Ben Carson so aptly reminds. Ms. Fiorina, for her own part, works hard to keep up.

Which brings us to the WSJ/FBN debate; Steve Benen observes:

Gerard Baker, the editor in chief of the Wall Street Journal, reminded Carly Fiorina, “In seven years under President Obama, the U.S. has added an average of 107,000 jobs a month. Under President Clinton, the economy added about 240,000 jobs a month. Under George W. Bush, it was only 13,000 a month. If you win the nomination, you’ll probably be facing a Democrat named Clinton. How are you going to respond to the claim that Democratic presidents are better at creating jobs than Republicans?”

If anything, Baker’s numbers were tilted in the GOP’s favor, since Obama’s totals are dragged down by including the early months of his presidency, when the economy was in free fall. Nevertheless, the point is accurate―since World War II, more jobs are created under Democratic presidents than Republicans―prompting Fiorina to reply, “Yes, problems have gotten much worse under Democrats.”

She’d just been reminded of the opposite, which made the exchange a little unnerving. I kept waiting for one of the candidates to drop the pretense and declare, “I reject this version of reality and replace it with one I like better.”

(more…)

The Clown Car Collective

Detail of 'Saturday Morning Breakfast Cereal' by Zach Weiner, 12 June 2015.

“It probably seemed like a good idea at the time. Republican presidential hopefuls, who at least claimed to be outraged by last week’s CNBC debate, suddenly discovered the power of collective bargaining.”

Steve Benen

It is never actually useful to make such declarations after the fact, but come on, who doesn’t see that quote and experience an internal sigh of relief akin to, “Yeah, so I’m not the only one who noticed”?

And you know how it goes. You cock your head, or raise an eyebrow, and when you look around nobody else seems to be reacting, so, you know, maybe you’ve got it wrong.

Whatever. Never mind.

The moral of the story, Steve Benen’s tale, inasmuch as we might risk using the word “moral” in any context remotely related to Republicans, is actually pretty straightforward, and thus pretty much what you might expect:

Putting aside for a moment whether the list had merit―it didn’t―the underlying point was that candidates believed they could leverage their power by acting together. After all, without them, there could be no debates―networks would be expected to meet the Republicans’ demands, fearing that the candidates simply wouldn’t show up unless they were satisfied ....

.... But revolts like these only work when compatriots link arms, and in this case, Donald Trump, Chris Christie, Carly Fiorina, John Kasich, and Ted Cruz―constituting a third of the Republican field―have each said they’re not endorsing the demands.

This is a really important point. Conservative policies often seem hostile toward the collective consideration in any collective endeavor. To wit, there is a reason so many of their policies require that some people be left out, excluded from the benefit. And this is always couched in a selfish appeal. And when the underlying motivation is a Machiavellian assertion of self, working and playing well with others is behavior only cultivated for calculated purpose. That is to say, if conservatives seem to face extraordinary inherent challenges when attempting or purporting to work together, yes, there is a reason for that.

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Image note: Detail of Saturday Morning Breakfast Cereal by Zach Weiner, 12 June 2015

Benen, Steve. “GOP debate rebellion starts to unravel”. msnbc. 4 November 2015.

The Carly Fiorina Show (Another Day, Another Lie)

Carly Fiorina, former chairman and chief executive officer of Hewlett-Packard Co., pauses while speaking during the Iowa Freedom Summit in Des Moines, Iowa, on Saturday, Jan. 24, 2015. The talent show that is a presidential campaign began in earnest saturday as more than 1,200 Republican activists, who probably will vote in Iowa's caucuses, packed into a historic Des Moines theater to see and hear from a parade of their party's prospective entries. Photographer: Daniel Acker/Bloomberg via Getty Images.

“Just so we’re clear, Fiorina lied, then she defended the lie, then she repeated the lie, and then she grudgingly conceded that the ‘fact-checkers are correct’. But she still sees herself as a victim of a media ‘attack’.”

Steve Benen

Here’s the tricky part: “This is what the liberal media always does; it attacks the messenger trying to avoid the message.”

This can be taken two ways:

“It attacks the messenger [who is] trying to avoid the message” ― While it would, in fact, be the more accurate interpretation according to the facts, we can rest assured this is not Ms. Fiorina’s meaning, lest she be complaining that messengers seeking to avoid the message might be subject to scrutiny for the attempt.

“It attacks the messenger [while] trying to avoid the message” ― This is more likely what Ms. Fiorina meant, except it’s dysfunctional. To wit: The media “attacks” [calls out] the “messenger” [bearing false witness] while trying to avoid [propagating] the [false] message.

In other words, it seems Ms. Fiorina thinks she’s only being treated fairly if the news media carries water for her presidential campaign.

Then again, what is a serial liar supposed to say?

Carly Fiorina’s alleged presidential merit is her business acumen. Her demonstrable political demeanor, however, is straightforward dishonesty.

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Image note: Carly Fiorina, former chairman and chief executive officer of Hewlett-Packard Co., pauses while speaking during the Iowa Freedom Summit in Des Moines, Iowa, on Saturday, Jan. 24, 2015. (Detail of photo by Daniel Acker/Bloomberg via Getty Images)

Benen, Steve. “Fiorina finally admits she flubbed her facts”. msnbc. 2 November 2015.

The Donald Trump Show (Strangers in Cars)

Donald Trump.

There is plenty about this morning’s report from Niall Stanage of The Hill worth considering:

Republican insiders are reconciling themselves to the idea that Donald Trump won’t be exiting the stage anytime soon — and their main concern now is limiting his damage to their party.

The GOP establishment is almost universally hostile to Trump, who has soared in the 2016 polls on the back of his celebrity, his outspoken statements on immigration and trade deals, and media coverage of his antics.

Many party strategists believe Trump did himself serious damage with his recent remarks denigrating Sen. John McCain’s (R-Ariz.) experiences while a prisoner of war in Hanoi, Vietnam — but there is not yet conclusive polling evidence available.

Meanwhile, Trump has made clear that he has no serious intention of reining in his rhetoric — or curbing his propensity to tweak the nose of anyone who displeases him. On Tuesday, shortly after fellow White House contender Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) had referred to the businessman as a “jackass,” Trump read out Graham’s cellphone number on live television during a campaign event in the senator’s home state.

During that appearance, Trump also called Graham “a stiff” and an “idiot,” and took shots at another critic and 2016 hopeful, former Texas Gov. Rick Perry, saying he’d begun wearing glasses to make himself look smarter.

Among Washington Republicans, the hope is that voters will tire of such comments and that Trump will have to push his boat out into ever-murkier waters to continue to command attention.

Well, okay, sort of. There really is nothing to compare to the reality television spectacle of Donald Trump’s presidential candidacy. Over at msnbc, last night, Steve Kornacki helmed TRMS, and pretty much made the point in the eighteen minute A-block by reminding us that Gov. John Kasich of Ohio also declared his presidential candidacy yesterday. And there certainly remains a question of whether Donald Trump’s spectacularly bizarre performance in South Carolina was specifically intended to obscure the arrival of the sixteenth major Republican presidential candidate.

(more…)

The Donald Trump Show (Artless)

Republican presidential candidate, real estate mogul Donald Trump, speaks at the Family Leadership Summit in Ames, Iowa, Saturday, 18 July 2015. (AP Photo/Nati Harnik)

Among the challenges presented by the mere proposition that anyone should take the Donald Trump Show seriously are, first, that such considerations should be necessary, and also that as such spectacular pretenses of scandal swirl around the Consummate Clown’s candidacy, few will attend these aspects:

For a variety of pundits, this effectively marked the end of Trump’s campaign – it was the ultimate flame out, the argument goes, for a narcissistic candidate who simply can’t control his impulses.

And those assumptions may very well prove to be true, but I wouldn’t bet on it just yet.

Keep in mind, right-wing hostility towards McCain is quite common, despite his conservative voting record, so Trump’s classless rhetoric may not necessarily be a deal-breaker with the GOP base. Indeed, at the Iowa event, after Trump made his remarks, he left the stage to a standing ovation – if the party activists in attendance were offended by what they heard, they didn’t show it.

We’ll have to wait for the next round of polling, but it’s hardly a foregone conclusion that Trump has burst his own balloon.

As for the larger context, I remain eager to hear Republicans explain the selectivity of their outrage. When Donald Trump relies on racism to advance his ambitions, GOP officials tolerate his antics, but when Trump criticizes John McCain, that’s a bridge too far? By what standard is that acceptable?

For that matter, if Republican leaders want to argue that attacks on Americans’ military service are simply beyond the pale, perhaps party officials can take this opportunity to apologize to John Kerry, who was smeared by Swiftboat lies in the 2004 cycle – lies that were celebrated at the time by 2016 candidates like Jeb Bush and Rick Perry – and who saw the spectacle at the Republican National Convention of party activists mocking Purple Hearts. While they’re it, Republicans can express some regret for related smears directed at former Sen. Max Cleland (D-Ga.).

(Benen)

Perhaps this is Donald Trump’s greatest service to the Republican Party. That it will hurt is its own question. For while some might rush to Mr. Trump’s aid and suggest he has some sort of point, be it about Mexicans or McCain or whatever, it is also important to take note of why so many conservatives would rather take a middling path.

It is easy enough to suggest Mr. Trump’s candidacy represents the height of Republican anti-intellectualism, but that would only be to date, in any case. And there is much talk this cycle about the FOX News debate, which is virtually accepted as winnowing the field from seventeen candidates to ten according to national polling in such a manner they might as well simply draw lots; and it does seem true that instead of playing to state-level concerns as we have traditionally seen, candidates are passing on those issues and aiming to make headlines in order to boost national polling numbers. And while far too few make the note about the fact that these are conservatives shifting poiltical power within their ranks from state to national considerations, perhaps it is because that sparkling gem is actually beside the point. That is to say, enjoy it, but such incongruity can wait for another day; there are more important issues afoot.

The real problem for Republicans is that Mr. Trump’s reckless rhetoric is nothing more than an ill-expressed distillation of American conservatism. The arrogant, vicious bigotry is unwieldy even in its most artful expressions, and much like an old saying, it might be hard to define art affirmatively, but its absence is clear about Mr. Trump.

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Image note: Republican presidential candidate, real estate mogul Donald Trump, speaks at the Family Leadership Summit in Ames, Iowa, Saturday, 18 July 2015. (AP Photo/Nati Harnik)

Benen, Steve. “Trump has no regrets after smearing McCain’s service”. msnbc. 18 July 2015.