The 2016 Presidential Election: No Place For Politicians?
The September 16 Republican Forum....
Twelve of the fifteen Republican candidates who participated in the September 16 debate at the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library in California share a vast amount of political experience and certainly were more than willing to air their views. The pre-debate debate ironically afforded the four candidates who did not make the prime time cut in the polls far more time to express their beliefs, plans and opinions. The fact that there were eleven candidates in the prime-time “debate” made an actual debate next to impossible. (Perhaps it should have been billed as a “forum” rather than a debate.) Most of the candidates attempted to express and defend their platforms, but with the “one- minute-to answer and 20 -seconds -for -rebuttal” rule, they were in most cases cut off at the pass. It became very frustrating for viewers and candidates alike when debate moderators continued to cut off a response in mid-sentence. Think about it: One minute is barely enough time to collect one’s thoughts, let alone form a coherent sentence.
The Career Politicians
The twelve career politicians certainly were as eager as their three counterpoints to share and debate their views. As Mike Huckabee pointed out, "We've all done great things or we wouldn't neon this stage." On the topic of Planed Parenthood, for example, New Jersey Governor Chris Christie said, “I’ve vetoed Planned Parenthood funding 8 times in New Jersey,” which he noted was not an easy thing to accomplish in a notoriously Democratic state. Huckabee defended his support for Kim Davis (the law clerk who was jailed for refusing to issue marriage licenses to homosexuals) by saying, “The courts can not legislate… It’s what we learned in ninth grade Civics.” When asked, “Would you enforce the federal laws against marijuana in places like Colorado where it’s legal?” Rand Paul answered in the negative, adding that Jeb Bush was allegedly against “all medical marijuana.” Bush countered by noting that, in spite of the fact that he smoked marijuna forty years ago, the drug problem is “an epidemic in this country.” (His aside noting that he was sure that his mother would not be pleased with his public admission marked one of the few humorous moments of the debate.) A question concerning the role of the military was answered by Rand Paul with,” I’'m not sending our sons and our daughters back to Iraq,” while Scott Walker insisted that we can’t put restrictions on the military, as he claimed Barack Obama’s administration has done. Referring to countries like Syria and Afghanistan, he added,” Lift the political restrictions so the military can work with the people there.” Senator Lindsey Graham said, "We need to rebuild our military" and added, I want the the Iranians to know I would use it if I have to." Graham also emphasized the fact that he served in the military for thirty-three years and had been to Afghanistan and Iraq thirty-five times, so he felt qualified in saying, "President Obama is making a mess of the world." George Pataki pointed out the fact that Hillary Clinton, "who saw 9/11," is supporting the Iran deal. Like Pataki, Bobby Jindal tried to move the focus of the debate away from Republican infighting and towards the other party when he said, "Our President loves to apologize for America."
When Did "Career Politician" Become A Negative Term?
Clearly, all fifteen candidates were eager (some more eager than others) to state and defend their positions on various topics of national interest. Why, then, did it seem like twelve of them were almost inconsequential? If an ad were placed in newspapers throughout the United States regarding the current race for the Republican nomination, it would not surprise me if this caveat had been added : Career politicians need not apply. Think about it: Of the fifteen candidates who took part in in the second Republican presidential debate (four in the pre-debate debate, eleven in the prime time version), three of them (Ben Carson Carly Fiorina, and Donald Trump) are not "career politicians." Dr. Carson is a retired pediatric neurosurgeon; Ms. Fiorina is former CEO of Hewlett Packard; and Mr. Trump is a multifaceted business mogul. Not only that, these three have continued to rise in the polls, a phenomenon that has driven Fiorina from pre-debate status in the first debate to a major contender in the second, put Carson in second place and established Trump as the frontrunner. These facts speak volumes about how, according to a recent poll, more half of registered Republicans feel about what career politicians have accomplished in this country. During the debate, Ted Cruz actually attempted to cut himself loose from identification with the other 12 career politicians when he said, “ If you’re looking for someone to stand up to career politicians in both parties, I’m the only one on the stage who’s done that.”
The Trump Phenomenon
The “choreography” at work in the prime time debate seemed to be designed to highlight the contender who’s been garnering the most attention, i.e., attracting the most viewers. The eleven candidates were arranged onstage according to their position in the polls, which meant that Donald Trump stood front and center, with Dr. Carson and Governor Bush on each side. Bush attempted to hold his own when confronted by Trump with comments referring to past (negative) remarks about supporting women’s health issues; Bush's response, though, (“I’m the most pro-life governor on this stage”) didn’t exactly hit a bull’s eye. Ben Carson’s “There is a time when you can use your intellect” statement would have left a much stronger effect had Dr. Carson sounded like he meant it.
As the brash, vocal Republican frontrunner who appeared to fear no one, Donald Trump stole the spotlight during the early days of the campaign to the point that some of the otter candidates had little choice but to fight him off. The September 16 debates, however, made it clear that quite a few of the candidates realize that sparring with Donald Trump is merely wasting valuable time and certainly not the way to win an election.... despite the fact that the CNN moderators established by their initial questions the fact that they hoped to continue the momentum of the Trump vs. The-Other- Republican -Candidates Sparring. ( Bottom line: This strategy admittedly has proven to entice an increased number of viewers.) During the pre-debate debate, when posed a question about The Trump Phenomenon, Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal, who in many ways shined through as the brightest star on the stage at the time, remarked, “Let’s stop treating Donald Trump like a Republican… He believes in Donald Trump. Do we trust in proven Republican principles or a narcissist?” On the subject of Trump’s notorious personal attacks on fellow Republicans, former Pennsylvania Senator Rick Santorum offered, “I think personal attacks please just one person: Hillary Clinton. I don’t think it helps when Republicans attack Republicans personally.” (If you happened to catch Clinton on “The Jimmy Fallon Show” later the same night, she did seem to be particularly relaxed ... possibly even a bit amused.)
At one point, the moderator alluded to the fact that voters in South Carolina seem to prefer Trump over Native Son Lindsay Graham. Former New York Governor George Pataki was reminded that early in the campaign he had pledged to support whoever received the Republican nomination and asked why, then, he’d recently tweeted that he would not support Donald Trump. Pataki replied, “ Donald Trump is not going to be the Republican nominee,” and continued, “Donald Trump is unfit to be President of the United States. Look what he did in Atlantic City. He will do for America what he did for Atlantic City.” During the second debate, Carly Fiorina strengthened her position as a serious contender when, after Trump gratuitously attempted to modify his previous comments about Fiorina’s “face “ she replied, "I think women all over this country heard very clearly what Mr. Trump said.” Fiorina’s timing couldn’t have been better orchestrated, considering how Trump had been insisting that Jeb Bush had made a comment about not funding women’s health care and punctuated his insistence with, “I heard you say it.” To his credit, New Jersey Governor Chris Christie, like Pataki, Jindal and Santorum, made a valiant effort to re-focus the debate on noting blunders made by the opposing party rather than on attacking fellow Republicans.
An Editorial Aside:
A good part of Donald Trump’s appeal is the fact that he's a businessman rather than a career politician, which does say quite a bit about how disgusted many people have become with those who have been running the country. ( Some of us would end that sentence with the words into the ground, I suspect.)
I, however, was (finally) pleased to hear some of the candidates express what I feel were valid points pertaining to Mr. Trump. Quite a few people with whom I’ve come in contact, however, would disagree. I’ve been told that Trump is “honest,” “refreshing,” “not a politician,” etc., etc. I’m not quite sure, however, how “refreshing” it is to hear Trump tossing unwarranted personal insults at people like Megan Kelly, Carly Fiorina, Rand Paul ("Rand Paul shouldn't even be on this stage,") et al, ad infinitum. Also, I feel that his brash, insulting persona is, in fact, his political modus operandi… But he’s not a politician?). According to the polls, it seems to be working. During this debate, however, the Trump Fear Factor that had seemed to stalk some of the other candidates seemed to have dissipated.
For example. when Mr. Trump was asked why he would make a better President than former Hewlett Packard CEO Carly Fiorina, he replied, “She can’t run any of my companies. I can tell you that.” Without missing a beat, Fiorina replied, “You ran up mountains of debt using other people’s money,” and pointed out that Trump had been forced to declare bankruptcy four times.
When reminded that Rand Paul had accused him of behaving like a junior high school student, Trump responded by saying that he had never criticized Paul’s appearance despite the fact that “There’s plenty of material.” That pretty much validated the junior high comment but also was likely to energize Trump’s supporters who applaud him for his “honesty.” And therein lies the oxymoron: Exactly what do rude, unnecessary, politically irrelevant comments have to do with “honesty?”… and why would anyone want the leader of the free world to be an expert at insulting people?
Did The Setting Set The Tone?
Was it irony or strategic planning that accounted for the fact that CNN chose to hold the debate in the library of one of the few U.S. Presidents- one with a relatively untarnished legacy, at that- who was not a career politician? No matter…Most of the candidates attempted to use that fact to their advantage to the point that the glowing references to President Reagan almost seemed like pandering, although some of their comments certainly didn’t hurt their cause. Ben Carson, for one, noted,” I was a radical Democrat before I listened to Ronald Reagan.” With Reagan’s Air Force 1 as a backdrop,, Ohio Governor John Kasich statement, “It’s about the person who lands that plane, not the person who talks about it” was particularly effective.
In all fairness, it did seem that Donald Trump’s advisors (whoever they may be) had suggested that their candidate focus take on a more Reagan-like persona, concentrating more on the issues and less on the personal attacks. One of Trump’s comments, “We’re all talking about Iran. What about North Korea, who has nuclear weapons and says they’re ready to use them?” was particularly insightful. During a post-debate interview, a genial Trump refused to take the bait when asked how he felt the other candidates had performed and replied to various forms of the question with, “Everybody did very well. I have a lot of respect for a lot of the people on the stage.” (Of course, this look at the Newer, Kinder Trump might have inspired a bit of cynicism with some viewers.)
As for the Democrats… the unprecedented lack of support that Republicans have shown for career politicians doesn’t appear to have eroded that sector, although support for the person who previously had appeared to be their hands-down choice to run for President has dwindled steadily. As one of the Republican candidates noted, “All of us will be revealed over time and under pressure.” And that, of course, is the bottom line... along with Carly Forina’s declaration: “My story- from secretary to CEO- is only possible in this nation.” Hail to that!