Gifted Hands


Ben Carson finally dropped out of the presidential race yesterday. I was beginning to think it would never happen.

Or, at least, he’s kind of dropping out. He’s not going to tonight’s debate, and he sees no way he can win the nomination, but he’s not formally suspending his campaign. Honestly, as confusing as his campaign has been, it makes sense that even its ending is a muddle.

My impression of Carson changed a lot over the past year. I didn’t know much about him when he announced his run, but what I knew of his medical career was impressive. He seemed intelligent, sober-minded, and more deliberate than most politicians. I liked that, even if I wasn’t wild about his candidacy.

He briefly rose to lead some polls, and I thought he would attract the votes of some serious Protestants (as opposed to the alleged evangelicals who support Trump.) But it became clear that, whether he knew it or nor, Carson’s campaign was being run as a perpetual money machine, with most of the funds raised being directed back into fundraising. Very little was spent on actually trying to get people to vote for Ben Carson.

The biggest question is ho much Carson knew of all this. Was the whole thing a cynical scam? I doubt it. I think Carson is personally honorable. But the degree to which he was taken in by advisers and scamsters is a great demonstration of why political outsiders are not necessarily the answer to the Washington establishment’s corruption. Someone without knowledge of how the game is played is more likely to be a mark than a winner.

Despite it all, Carson still managed to outpoll John Kasich in several Super Tuesday states. There’s a voter base for him, but whether because of Trump stealing all the oxygen in the room, or because of the Carson campaign’s own ineptitude, it wasn’t enough of a base for him to go anywhere.

It surprises me that folks stuck with him for so long, especially after he seemed to get tired of actually campaigning. People are asking where his supporters will go now. The answer to that has to start with figuring out what made them hang around so long in the first place.


Granite State Rumble


Last night, the GOP hosted their first debate since Iowa’s caucus and the last one before the New Hampshire primary on Tuesday. Mercifully, finally, they made the change they should’ve made weeks ago:

That was the only thing the ABC debate moderators got right, as they somehow bungled the entrance.

Once the candidates finally assembled, the folks at home could see that the field had narrowed to seven: Jeb Bush, Ben Carson, Chris Christie, Ted Cruz, John Kasich, Marco Rubio, and Donald Trump. Carly Fiorina was excluded, but given the confusion, she probably could’ve snuck in.1

ABC moderator (and Clinton Foundation donor) Martha Raddatz started out by trying to get the candidates to attack each other.

Trump got a question about whether he was temperamentally suited for the Presidency.

The moderators encouraged Carson and Cruz to argue over Cruz’s campaign tactics in Iowa, a subject no voter cares about.

They finally got their wish for LOUD NOISES in a clash between Christie and Rubio.

Readers of this blog will know I’m a Rubio supporter, but the early minutes looked bad for our man. The moderators drew blood, and it was the high point of the night for them.

Raddatz shifted the focus to Cruz and quibbled with him over his answer about immigration.

Rubio drew some pointed questions on the same topic.

Christie smelled blood, and jumped in again.

Mary Katharine Ham, the one moderator not pushing Democratic talking points, was finally allowed to join the conversation with a question to Trump about healthcare. He answered it…kind of.

They talked about eminent domain. Trump claimed it was good, because it let us build roads and pipelines. Bush suggested that building a road is not the same as seizing an old lady’s house to build a limousine parking lot for a private casino.

Jeb won the crowd over, so Trump attacked them, too.

Trump was asked to explain how he is a conservative.

Rubio jumped in with a stronger answer, and began to recover from the Christie attacks.

Christie joined the fray with his tried-and-true “Senators talk, Governors work” routine.

On foreign policy, Rubio was on surer ground, and Trump repeated his earlier plan to bomb ISIS’s oil, then seize ISIS’s oil.

The moderators brought out a leftover question from 2008, and asked about torture:

There was a question of the type reserved for Republicans: how would you “change the tone” in Washington?

On drugs, and specifically heroin, Cruz had a rare humanizing moment.

Carson and Christie got a question about the emerging threat from the Zika virus.

Another blast from the past came in a question about the military draft.

Rubio and Bush talked about the Veterans Administration problems.

On an abortion question, Rubio defended his pro-life beliefs and questioned why the Democrats’ positions aren’t examined as closely as Republicans’.

Christie’s more moderate position left the viewers cold.

The candidates made their final pitch to the voters.

Nobody had a great night, and opinions varied on who could be said to have triumphed.

This was my favorite, though:

  1. Yes, “snuck” is a real word. Deal with it!

The Field Narrows


Since Ted Cruz’s victory in Iowa, Rand Paul and Mike Huckabee have given up their quests for the Presidency. I suspect Rick Santorum is not far behind. Before it’s too late, I thought I’d rank my favorites of the remaining candidates.

  1. Marco Rubio. He’s knowledgeable about a variety of subjects and good at communicating it in his speeches. His candidacy is inspiring as an American success story, but there’s actual substance there, too. I think he is a little bellicose, but I’d rather a President who looks a little tough than one whom other world leaders suspect of weakness. Plus, this online quiz says my views match his most closely, so it’s not just a matter of liking his speeches. Rubio would be a good president, and stands the best chance of beating Hillary Clinton.

2. Jeb Bush. I’ve given Bush some grief on this site, I know, but when I look at his intelligence, his grasp of the policies, and his history of conservative governance in Florida, I believe he would make an excellent president. His experience is a plus for me, because I believe it means he could be good at the job from day one. As negatives, the way he’s attacked Rubio and Kasich instead of our real enemy, Donald Trump, pisses me off, and makes me think his campaign people would rather have Hillary in the Oval Office than Marco.

3. Chris Christie. Like Bush, he has governing experience, and like Rubio, he’s good at expressing conservative ideas in a way people can understand and get behind. On certain issues, especially on crime, I disagree with him, but I think he’d give Hilary a good fight and govern well if elected.

4. John Kasich. I’ve been a fan of Kasich’s since his 2000 campaign for the presidency (he dropped out before Iowa). He’s a pragmatic conservative, which I think plays well with independent voters (it worked well for George W. Bush). I don’t think he’d much shrink the size of government or enact any massive changes in Washington, but Kasich knows how the system works and would get things done while governing conservatively. He may surprise in New Hampshire, too, if Rubio doesn’t capture his voters.

5. Carly Fiorina. I’m not wild about the idea of someone who’s never held elected office going straight to the White House. Eisenhower did it most recently, but winning World War II at the head of an international coalition is pretty damn good job training, too. I’m not sure heading a tech company is. On the bright side, Fiorina is knowledgeable about the issues and gives energetic and convincing speeches about them. She’s plenty conservative and plenty tough, but I don’t give her much chance of breaking through. I hope she’s in the next president’s cabinet.

6. Ted Cruz. On paper, Cruz’s positions look good and he is a solid conservative. He’s intelligent and accomplished. I just don’t like him, and I think the voters won’t either. If he is nominated and wins, I’ll be thrilled, but I think he’ll have a hard time defeating Clinton once the media gets behind her. I would love to see him on the Supreme Court.

7. Jim Gilmore. Here’s where it starts to get difficult. I like Gilmore. His national security and defense knowledge is good. He was a fine governor. But he’s already missed loads of states’ filing deadlines, so I’m not sure if he’s seriously trying to win.

8. Ben Carson. Carson seems like a good man. He’s intelligent. He’s conservative. But his campaign is a joke and I think he’d get rolled by the Clinton machine in November.

[UPDATE: Santorum is leaving the race. –2-3-2016] 9. Rick Santorum. I voted for Santorum for Senate in 2000 and 2006, and I’d be pleased if he were still representing my state in Washington. As president, I think he’d be a flop. He’s conservative enough, but his conservatism is mostly focused on areas where I’m not that conservative–like keeping the Import-Export Bank going. He’d be good for the pro-life cause, but that’s about it. 

10. 9. Donald Trump. The problem with Trump is that he’s not conservative. He’s for big government, crony capitalism, single-payer healthcare, and gun confiscation. His signature issue is that he doesn’t like Mexicans coming to America. I think our immigration system desperately needs reform, but not the way he wants it. Trump would lose to Clinton. If he won, he be bad for America. So nah.



Tonight, the Republicans will gather for their fourth debate in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. I suppose the locations don’t matter, but why they don’t do it in Iowa is beyond me. Anyway, the debate (on Fox Business Network) will be a little smaller this time, not because anyone has dropped out of the race, but because the debate organizers have required that a candidate average 1% in the national polls to participate. Three candidates, Jim Gilmore, Lindsey Graham, and George Pataki, have failed to reach even this low bar.

The field is still unwieldy enough to require two debates. Chris Christie, Mike Huckabee, Bobby Jindal, and Rick Santorum will sit at the kids’ table, while Jeb Bush, Ben Carson, Ted Cruz, Carly Fiorina, John Kasich, Rand Paul, Marco Rubio, and Donald Trump take the main stage. I hope a debate among eight debaters proves easier to manage than one with ten, which has just seemed absurd at times.

As before, the task for the candidates in the first debate is to get noticed. As the primaries near, this begins to look more and more like a lost cause, but there is still some hope. Jindal polls higher in Iowa than he does in the national polls that determined his placement here, and Christie has the ability to make himself heard. The other two, if they don’t make a strong showing in Iowa (and they haven’t so far) are doomed.

At the big show, Kasich, Paul, Fiorina, and Bush are fighting against the draining of their supporters to the two emerging leaders among the normals: Rubio and Cruz. That sort of a break out is difficult: Fiorina achieved it once, in the performance that elevated her to the grown-up table, but since then her support has receded. For Paul, the number of like-minded libertarians in the party may be too small to move him any farther than he already is. Kasich does well among moderates and the media, but even the disproportionate attention he gets hasn’t raised his standing among actual voters. And for Bush, the challenge is the most acute. He went for the knockout last time, and Rubio counter-punched him back into his corner. It’s hard to see any different result this time.

Trump and Carson continue to struggle to find respect among serious voters, and I don’t see how they’ll do so tonight. Both have run policy-free campaigns. Will they get serious this time? I doubt it. Expect more bombast from Trump and weirdness from Carson.

That leaves the two frontrunners among serious candidates, Ted Cruz and Marco Rubio. Cruz won some hearts in the last debate with his cogent policy remarks, self-awareness, and attacks on the inept moderators. More of the same won’t hurt him. Rubio, the recipient of several high-profile endorsements since the last debate, needs only to replicate his previous performances to show that he is the proper mainstream candidate around whom the party regulars should continue to coalesce.

On to Boulder


COORS12PKCANS3bfhrp6SlXf_anHTonight, fourteen of the fifteen remaining Republican candidates meet at the Coors Event Center in Boulder, Colorado for their third debate. As before, the size of the field forced the organizers to split it into two debates. In the first, which no one will watch, Bobby Jindal, Lindsay Graham, George Pataki and Rick Santorum will struggle for attention. Jim Gilmore wasn’t invited. How much longer will these men continue to campaign? Jindal, alone, has a chance of breaking out of the pack, and even his odds are looking longer by the day.

In the main debate, erstwhile frontrunner Donald Trump will participate from behind in the polls for the first time. He must do something to regain his dwindling fanbase, but I don’t think it’s possible. What brought them to him in the first place had nothing to do with words or reason, and no words or reason can bring them back. What will be interesting is how he tries: will Trump attack the new favorite, Ben Carson, or will he continue his assault on Jeb Bush?

Carson, who now outpolls Trump in Iowa by a significant margin, is difficult to figure out. It’s hard for the other candidates to go negative against him because even people (like me) who don’t want to vote for him still think of him as a decent man. The usual Trump bombast might backfire. On the other hand, a more solid performance from Carson might increase his lead, especially if he looks less bewildered than last time.

For Bush, who I think who would do the best job as President, the challenge is to show himself as the best candidate. His campaign has featured the most well-thought-out policy proposals of any of them, but he has yet to translate earnest desire for the job into a more inspirational fire in the belly that will draw supporters to his cause.

Of all of the candidates, Marco Rubio has risen the most in my estimation through his debate performance. He consistently knows what he’s talking about and comes up with thoughtful, conservative answers. His poll numbers have been rising, and another good performance could convince undecided voters that he is up to the job.

Since her inspiring performance last time, Carly Fiorina has been coasting back down to the middle of the pack. She’s the most credible of the outsider candidates, and this is her chance to show it again. Cruz, too, could use this debate as the chance to push ahead of the pack. As the only candidate to straddle the outsider-insider divide, he could pick up some of the supporters Trump is losing, especially if he manages to sound more bellicose. They seem to like that.

Christie has been out of the news so much I keep forgetting he’s running. He had a good showing last time, but something seems to be holding him back. Likewise, Kasich has been getting some supporters, but seems blocked by the other mainstream candidates. Paul will keep looking for the libertarian moment. Sadly, I don’t think 2016 is it. But some good answers on civil liberties questions might brighten his candidacy.

Huckabee will probably make some good conservative answers and sell a few more books, which seems to be the point of his candidacy.

If you’re tired of my opinions, here are some from a few other people: