Who’s Hot, Who’s Not: Cruz Cruising While Rubio Looks Outmaneuvered

HOT: The big dogs of the social conservative movement have voted, and their candidate is Ted Cruz.  The effort among leading social conservative organizations to coalesce around one candidate – in order to maximize their influence on the nomination process – is a quadrennial initiative which usually comes to naught.  But this year, doubtless due to fear of The Donald, the objective was achieved.

As noted previously, Cruz has been endorsed this week by the National Organization for Marriage and Richard Viguerie.  Other participants in the social conservative consensus project will follow suit.  But the big get is Iowan Bob Vander Plaats, whose network of pastors across the state is widely considered sufficient to swing the caucuses to Cruz.

That sets up a big bounce for Cruz going into New Hampshire.  Of course, the Iowa and New Hampshire electorates are very different (the former evangelical, the latter libertarian), and in fact, New Hampshirites revel in going their own way.  But winning Iowa puts Cruz in the top three in New Hampshire and sends him into South Carolina with Big Mo.

NOT HOT: Marco Rubio.  The cruel calculus of the nominating process is that you actually have to win somewhere early on.  If Cruz does indeed pull out Iowa and South Carolina, with The D taking New Hampshire – or if Cruz comes in second in South Carolina to The D, which will be fun because so many heads will be exploding here in D.C. – there isn’t much oxygen left for Senator Rubio.  Continue Reading

Who’s Hot? Ted Cruz; Who’s Not: “Gentle Ben” Carson

The Republican mating ritual is getting down to brass tacks: policy substance is of increasing importance, and the two candidates whose persona is most about substance are Ted Cruz and Carly Fiorina.

The field continues its winnowing, now down essentially to four candidates: Trump, Carson (for the moment), Rubio and Cruz (though Fiorina is capable of a come-back). Cruz is lapping everyone other than Carson in fundraising, having had a great 3rd quarter and a strong post-debate bounce. He has released a tax plan which is superficially attractive (whether or not businesses get to deduct wages will determine its actual stimulative effect and political appeal). But Cruz also gets that the narrative on why economic growth is so anemic must include over-regulation and the Fed’s monetary manipulation. He’s getting close to the whole package on economic policy.

Plus Cruz has all along been the choice of those voters looking for a fighter, the articulate candidate most willing and best able to tear into the presumptive Democratic candidate. Cruz is now certain – barring unforeseen developments (which means the possibility I am wrong) – to finish among the top three in Iowa and New Hampshire.

Say it Ain’t so, Ben

No candidate in the Republican field is less able to withstand the charge of biographical enhancement than Ben Carson. His political persona is entirely about character, trust, faith, I’m-not-like-the-others-ness. What compels a man of such objective accomplishment to dissemble about being accepted to West Point? Does he think he hasn’t done enough in his life? Continue Reading

Who’s Hot: Marco Rubio, For Quietly Becoming the Favorite “Insider” Candidate

Hot: Marco Rubio

A gang of six is emerging in the Republican presidential field — which once sported 17 candidates.  The six are: three outsiders (Trump, Carson, Fiorina), two senators (Rubio, Cruz), and one former governor (Bush).  The top of the “insiders” is now Marco Rubio.  The question is, why?

Doubtless Rubio has benefited from the withdrawal of Scott Walker, whose political persona was most similar.  Rubio is besting that other candidate from Florida (what was his name again?), because former governors aren’t playing well this cycle.  Rubio is the most “outsider” of the “insider” candidates (he certainly isn’t averse to playing hooky from the Senate).  And he’s got that almost Reaganesque, above-the-fray, won’t-engage-in-attacking-other-candidates thing going on.

But to solidify his position as a first-tier candidate, he has to be about more than style, more than about a personal narrative (which is actually his parents’ personal narrative), more than about embracing the future, and more than about delivering well-rehearsed debate answers.  The central rational for his candidacy remains unclear; he will have to articulate a governing vision, or wither.  But for the moment, he has an opening to do so.

Not Hot: Ben Carson

The regularity with which Dr. Ben Carson leaves voters scratching their heads is becoming a real distraction to his candidacy.  Here he is today on ABC’s “Good Morning America” with George Stephanopoulos, explaining the difference between a man robbing a store with a gun and a gunman targeting bystanders.  Five minutes on a national broadcast, and four are wasted not explaining why he should be president. Continue Reading

Who’s Hot, Who’s Not: Second GOP Debate Edition

Carly Fiorina is on fire.  And to think she barely got into the Wednesday debate — only after CNN relented to pressure and changed their eligibility rules.

We don’t know yet if she actually won the debate, because that judgment can only been made after we’ve seen how the American people respond to her.  But tactically, she scored a lot of points.  More than any other candidate on the stage, she conveyed to the audience a sense of who she really is.

Plus, Carly is also the only person to actually draw blood in an attack on Donald Trump.  When asked by Jake Tapper about the Trump “look at that face comment,” Carly responded,“You know, it’s interesting to me, Mr. Trump said that he heard Mr. Bush very clearly [when Bush said we didn’t need $500 million for women’s health care] and what Mr. Bush said.  I think women all over this country heard very clearly what Mr. Trump said.”  The audience cheered, and Mr. Trump’s come-back fell flat.

Who’s Not: Gotta be The Donald.  Now, you can lose a lot of money betting against Donald Trump, but we may have witnessed the plateauing of his support this week.  The performance he gave Wednesday undoubtedly pleased Trumpians, but it is hard to see who might have been won over to his side.  He was frequently boorish, and occasionally bizarre, as when asked about his having access to the nuclear launch codes: “First of all, Rand Paul shouldn’t even be on this stage, he’s number 11; he’s got 1 percent in the polls, and how he got up here… there’s far too many people anyway.  Continue Reading

Who’s Hot: Ben Carson, the Leading Un-Trump

Photo credit: Joshua Pinho

The latest CNN national survey puts Donald Trump in the lead among Republicans with 32 percent; Carson second with 19 percent.  But Carson has gained more since the August CNN poll: 10 percent to Trump’s 8 percent.  No other candidate was up significantly, and Rubio, Bush, Walker, Kasich, and Paul have lost ground.  Team Governor (the sum of support for all of the governors in the race) is down to one-quarter support, while Team Outsider is up over half.  Trump and Carson are also the leading second choice candidates, which is interesting; it means they both have more upside potential.

So Carson and Trump are pulling away from the pack, and Carson is emerging as the Un-Trump, or at least as Trump-Very-Lite.  Carson is the clear second choice of Iowa Republicans and within spitting distance of Trump there; in New Hampshire, he shares second place with John Kasich.

Watching Donald Trump’s campaign is like watching a drunk walking a tightrope without a net.  There is a certain morbid fascination waiting for the inevitable misstep.  So far, Trump has recovered from each swoon.  But the question of who will emerge as the alternative to Trump if the fall comes is a key variable in this race, and right now that person is Ben Carson.

Unclear is what Ben Carson represents as a candidate.  The first word that comes to mind to describe him is “meek.”  He holds the microphone with both hands close to his mouth and speaks in a very subdued voice.  Continue Reading

Who’s Hot: Donald Trump, for Taking the Pledge

Photo credit: Joshua Pinho

Yesterday, Donald Trump (speaking at the Trump Palace, or Trump Mahal, or whatever it’s called in NYC) announced he had taken the non-compete pledge and said this: “I will be totally pledging my allegiance to the Republican Party and for the conservative principles for which it stands.”  This guy may actually be serious about running for president.

Taking the pledge and promising to support the Republican nominee removes one potential impediment to expanding his appeal among Republicans.  Announcing his allegiance to conservative principles is a clever in-your-face-Jeb-Bush move (see below).

Honorable “Who’s Hot” Mention: Carly Fiorina, for making it to the show when CNN changed the rules for inclusion in the September 16 debate, but we previously recognized this achievement when it first should have been announced.  CNN will host 11, rather than demoting anyone (Chris Christie).  That will make the JV debate even lonelier.  Now, if we can just get the moderators to ask pertinent questions.

Hugh Hewitt of Salem Radio is one of the moderators, and his interview of Trump yesterday was not promising.  He wanted to know if Trump knew Hassan Nasrallah, Zawahiri, al-Julani, and al-Baghdadi.  Trump didn’t; so what?  Jake Tapper (the other moderator), though, is shaping up as a pleasant surprise; he says he is drafting questions on the candidates’ positions on issues that American voters actually care about.  Refreshing!

Not Hot: Jeb Bush, for launching an attack on Donald Trump that was a bad idea and poorly executed.  You can see it below:

Is it just me, or is this ad so last cycle?  Continue Reading

Who’s Hot: Rand Paul, For Showing How to Have a Heart Without Spending Others’ Money

Rand Paul skipped the Iowa State Fair this week in order to perform eye surgeries in Haiti.  Dr. Paul was using his God-given talents to help people — oh, and he’s also a U.S. Senator.

I hope it will not diminish in anyone’s mind Dr. Paul’s charitable work to observe that his humanitarian mission will also bear political fruit.  Republican presidential candidates will be debating in this campaign how best to assist persons in need.  Kimberley Strassel in today’s Wall Street Journal drew the distinction between big-government surrenderists (John Kasich and George W. Bush) versus small-government reformers (Paul Ryan and Jack Kemp).

The challenge of saying “no” to more government bureaucracy as a response to human need is that spending proponents tend to be self-righteous and demagogic.  They typically accuse the spending skeptic of being heartless, unconcerned about the poor.  But Dr. Paul has showed us what an authentic response to human need looks like.  So when he says there is no charity through bureaucracy, he needn’t take a back seat to anyone in his concern for the poor and the hurting.  Plus, won’t it be fun to watch Dr. Paul contrast his practice of charity with Hillary Clinton’s?

Still, Paul hasn’t been in Iowa since August 1st.  Summer’s over, Senator.

Donald Trump, who had been showing us some ankle of his immigration policy, decided this this week to give us the full Monty, and boy was it ugly.  His written plan does not actually call for the deportation of 12 million or more illegal aliens, as Trump has in person.  Continue Reading

Who’s Hot: Carly Fiorina, For Making It to the Show

Photo credit: Joshua Pinho

Positive public reaction to Carly Fiorina’s performance at the Republican JV debate last week — most of which was previewed in her speech at the Reagan Library on July 28 — means, barring a dramatic change in fortunes, she will be joining the varsity squad at the next Republican debate, scheduled for September 16 at the Reagan Library.  Chris Christie appears to be the most likely to be demoted, and Jim Gilmore has not yet been invited to the Simi Valley shindig, owing to failure to meet a one percent threshold.

Scott Walker gets the “Not Hot” designation because his pitch just isn’t connecting with the voters.  The past week hasn’t been kind to any of the front runners: Donald Trump, Jeb Bush and Scott Walker.  Trump was down 9 in the Rasmussen post-election survey (but still in first place with 17 percent); Bush was flat in Rasmussen and down 3 in the NBC/Survey Monkey poll; Walker was down 5 in Rasmussen and down 3 in NBC/Survey Monkey.  The peril of front-runner status is that if you aren’t pulling away from the field, you rapidly lose the patina of inevitability.  Trump has his celebrity to fall back on, and Bush has his $100 million IE; this is why we pick Walker as the worse off of the three.

Fiorina’s recent success indicates she is auditioning well for the mantle of “fighter” — the candidate who will most effectively take on Hillary Clinton and drive home a withering critique of the Obama/Clinton legacy.  Continue Reading

Who’s Hot, Who’s Not: Fox News GOP Debate Edition

Iowa GOP/Fox News Debate, August 11, 2011 (photo credit: IowaPolitics.com via Flickr, CC BY-SA 2.0)

Let’s do “Who’s Not” hot first, because it’s an easier call: Fox News and the RNC.  In a week dominated by the first Republican presidential debate, the biggest losers were the hosts of this missed opportunity of a debate.

How can you tell it was a bad debate? The name of Hillary Clinton was mentioned eleven times, and only four of those mentions included so much as a full sentence of criticism. Two hours of prime time television, and the presumptive Democratic nominee was unscathed (although I agree with Ben Carson that she probably will not be the nominee).

It wasn’t the Republican candidates’ fault (although, really, they should get in a dig at Mrs. Clinton at every opportunity, as Carly Fiorina generally does). The problem was the suffocating format devised by Fox and the RNC.  The moderating trio of Bret Baier, Megyn Kelly, and Chris Wallace got confused and thought they were the story. They strangled the discussion with ridiculous questioning intended not to inform voters, but to generate sound bites. It was an evening of playing gotcha.

Here’s an example: the number one issue on voters’ minds is the economy, right? As in, why isn’t it growing? Chris Wallace to Trump: “You’ve talked a lot about how you are the person on this stage to grow the economy. I want to ask you about your businesses. Trump corporations have declared bankruptcy four times over the last quarter century.” So instead of hearing how Donald Trump would stimulate economic growth – an issue voters actually care about – precious time was wasted on the circumstances of Trump availing himself of the bankruptcy law. Continue Reading

Who’s Hot, Who’s Not: Fiorina Scores as Margaret Thatcher!

Photo credit: Joshua Pinho

Who’s hot and who’s not this week in Campaign 2016?

Carly Fiorina: Very hot.

At the Reagan Library on Tuesday, Carly Fiorina delivered a 30 minute tour de force on foreign and defense policy, including a withering critique of the Obama Administration’s international perfidy and Hillary Clinton’s complicity, with rich detail of how Ms. Fiorina would act as president on the world stage.

At times, she channeled Ronald Reagan’s soaring rhetoric, while respecting his 11th commandment to speak no ill of another Republican, reserving her fire for Democrats.

Her best line on Hillary: “And let us not forget our former Secretary of State, who told us that her private server was protected from hacking because she had two Secret Service agents guarding it [laughter].  We were not worried about your server being stolen, Mrs. Clinton, although perhaps you were.  We were worried about it being hacked, or worse being used as a back door to hack into the State Department system, which is exactly what appears to have happened at OPM.”

Then there was this: “It is the height of hypocrisy for Mrs. Clinton to run for president as a champion of women’s rights when her record as Secretary of State is so dismal.”

Fiorina: “I see our nation at a crossroads.  Margaret Thatcher — a woman I admire greatly — once said that she was not content to manage the decline of a great nation.  Neither am I.  I am prepared to lead the resurgence of a great nation.”  She returned to this theme at her close: “I know what … leadership requires.  Continue Reading