Cruz kneels


After his brave non-endorsement at the Republican Convention in July, Ted Cruz has knelt before Zod and endorsed Donald Trump. There’s plenty of virtual ink spilled over the reasons and the effects–Ben Domenech’s article yesterday is a good place to start–so I won’t rehash them.

But I will add a few personal thoughts. I didn’t see this coming. Cruz’s strength (and weakness) has always been his willingness to stand on principle. When he refused to endorse Trump in front of a screaming crowd of Trumpites in Cleveland, I thought that would be the end of it. Given Trump’s slanderous personal abuse of Cruz, his wife, and his father, I thought I had good reason to think so.

Of the 2016 Republican candidates, only Jeb Bush and John Kasich have not endorsed. Good for them.

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.

Do Not Call Up That Which You Cannot Put Down


Several times over the last few days, I’ve come across the phrase “do not call up that which you cannot put down.” Mostly, I saw it in reference to Cruz’s dalliance with Trump people, but it’s been used elsewhere. Here someone uses it with reference to Planned Parenhood’s lawsuit against the people that recorded descriptions of their more grisly practices:

Cruz pandered to them in the hopes that Trump would collapse or withdraw and his followers would see Cruz as the next best thing. Good strategy, right? But now, Trump shows no sign of dropping out and with Cruz as his greatest rival, Trump is using the pulpit Cruz helped legitimize to call down damnation on his erstwhile ally.

The phrase comes from an H.P. Lovecraft novella, The Case of Charles Dexter Ward, and its use is a tribute to the triumph of nerd culture. Originally rendered in the story as “do not calle up That which you can not put downe,” it was found in the letters of an 18th-century alchemist and necromancer who had died years ago (or had he?) In more modern parlance, we might say: do not set loose any forces that you cannot later re-bind, if you need to.

In light of Sarah Palin’s endorsement of Donald Trump today, it’s actually made me think of the whole right-wing populist movement as that which we have called up. We maybe didn’t recognize it at the time, but the McCain-Palin ticket of 2008 was a balance between establishment and insurgency. We didn’t use those terms, and we didn’t think of McCain as truly an establishment figure (he was a maverick, remember?) but that was the effect.  The ticket faltered and Palin “went rogue.” But she only had a platform because the establishment forces called her up, hoping to capture the power of the youth and outsider energy she seemed to represent.

I must admit, I was among the ones who cheered at her calling up.

Palin had a fiery spirit that I thought, along with her record against corruption and crony capitalism in Alaska, would charge up the staid Republican party and win the elections. But, as James Fenimore Cooper wrote, fire is a powerful servant, but fearful master. McCain set loose that populism, but he could not contain it. It’s not what lost him the election–no V.P. could have saved him after the markets crashed–but I’m sure picking Palin is a decision he still regrets.

The spirit is loose among the Trumpkins. Populism has always been with us; it’s the dark mirror of democracy itself, mass participation, but for a malign purpose, often heedless of ideas or ideology. In the absence of a perfectly educated, successful, and virtuous populace, it will always exist. Palin didn’t invent populism, but she was its avatar for a time. Now she’s passed the torch Trump, who is even more powerful.

Populism was always going to erupt in an economy like this one, especially in the face of demographic changes that seem strange to some people, but there was no guarantee of it erupting on the right. There is the glamour of populism in the Sanders campaign, as well. But with Palin as his forerunner, Trump was better positioned to harness populism’s fell power. It will undo him eventually, too, but that it exists in the Republican party is down to all of us who cheered Governor Palin’s nomination in 2008.



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.