Friday, January 15, 2016

And Then There Were Two

I have long believed that the Republican Party has too many presidential candidates. They take up air time, distract the electorate and make it more difficult to make a decision. Psychological research suggests that having too many options diminishes one’s capacity to make an intelligent decision.

After last night’s debate, it looks like we are down to two, and maybe three Republican candidates. Trump, Cruz and maybe Rubio. If you ask me, and you did not, I would say that it’s really down to two: Trump vs. Cruz. Apparently, establishment Republicans can't figure out whom they hate more. 

As it happens, the Democratic Party has done a better job of finding a candidate while also keeping the party united. The Republican Party is seriously fractured by now, with large numbers of voters swearing that they will never vote for either of the two leading Republican contenders.

If I am allowed one far-fetched prediction, since everyone believes that Hillary will be the Democratic candidate, all Republicans should consider the possibility that she will be gracefully pushed aside… perhaps by an FBI criminal referral… and that a new candidate will emerge. Perhaps a Joe Biden or even an Elizabeth Warren.

Recall the vice presidential debate in 2012 between Joe Biden and Paul Ryan. Biden made Ryan look weak and ineffectual. Running against Hillary is not the same as running against Biden. When choosing a candidate most Republicans are asking themselves who will do best against Hillary. They should ask who will do better against Joe Biden or even Elizabeth Warren. Keep in mind, Biden plays the tough guy better than most people. And he generates a great deal of personal sympathy for having lost his son. No one is going to bulldoze Joe Biden. Also, Warren is exceptionally intelligent and talented. Neither of them will be a weak candidate like HRC.

Also, a Hillary withdrawal with a Biden re-entry would be compelling television drama. Since that is what seems to matter most these days, we should be prepared for the eventuality.

This scenario assumes that Democrats are devious—huh?— and that they will do what it takes to win the election while keeping their party united.

Last night was really the Trump and Cruz show. Marco Rubio showed signs of life near the end when he accused Cruz of being a politician, but I did not see him as forceful or confident. Chris Christie showed some signs of life; Ben Carson did not. Jeb Bush seemed uncertain and nervous while Kasich, easily the most qualified candidate, did not seem presidential.

I must say a word about “New York values.” As you know, Cruz suggested that Trump embodied New York values. He was referring to the fact that Trump had declared in an interview with Tim Russert that he believed in the social and political values that the vast majority of New Yorkers hold. These are decidedly liberal, as no one doubts. And they are rigidly enforced, as no one should doubt.

Later, Trump declared that he had changed his mind, but Cruz was making sense. The alternative is to believe that Trump does not much care about those issues and therefore was willing to say what you need to say in New York if you ever want to be invited to another cocktail party. If not that, he was simply unwilling to confront the cognoscenti… point which does not bespeak serious principles or intellectual courage.

For my part I am closer to Cruz on this issue. I once wrote that New York is a city full of free thinkers, all of whom think exactly the same thing. I meant that New Yorkers know that they must hew to the party line, lest they suffer social ostracism.

I was exaggerating slightly for rhetorical effect, but if you lean right in New York you pay a social price. Groupthink is alive and well in the Big Apple, and anyone who thinks otherwise is not thinking.

The New York Times fact checked Cruz’s assertion. Steve Eder wrote this:

Senator Ted Cruz, playing up Donald J. Trump's New York roots (and possibly paying him back for saying "not a lot of evangelicals come out of Cuba"), said that not a lot of conservatives come from Manhattan.

While not known as a hotbed of social conservatism, there are clearly more than a few who would consider themselves conservatives in the economic sense, at least. A look at the voter registrations in Manhattan shows that while Democrats greatly outnumber Republicans, there are certainly more than a few of the latter.

As of Nov. 1, there were 613,634 active registered Democrats and 83,970 active registered Republicans in Manhattan, according to the state elections board.

Obviously, a 7 to 1 ration suggests that Manhattanites skew left. It also suggests that free and open debate is simply not allowed in the city. It suggests that Manhattanites all think the same thing and all vote for the same candidates. New York is a one party town. As for what counts as a Republican in New York City, that would include people like Michael Bloomberg and John Lindsay….

Being a Republican in New York is not the same thing as being a Republican in South Carolina. True enough, writers on the National Review and the Wall Street Journal editorial page also live in Manhattan—at least, some of them do—but most of them do not much cotton to the unprincipled real estate mogul.

Responding to Cruz, Trump skillfully evoked 9/11 and seemed to get the better of Cruz in the exchange. He used good debating tactics and appealed to emotion. It's his specialty and he did it well. It does not address the issue.

Of course, Trump was himself lying when he declared that he never suggested a 45% tariff on Chinese goods. The Times fact checked the story, not a very difficult task since it has a transcript of an interview Trump did before its own editorial board:

When Donald J. Trump visited the editorial board of The New York Times last week, he fielded a question about how he would pressure China if he were president. He suggested imposing a 45 percent tax on Chinese goods brought into this country….

I would tax China coming in — products coming in. I would do a tariff. And they do it to us. We have to be smart. I’m a free trader. I’m a free trader. And some of the people would say, ‘Oh, it’s terrible.’ I’m a free trader. I love free trade. But it’s got to be reasonably fair. I would do a tax, and the tax — let me tell you what the tax should be. The tax should be 45 percent."

Mr. Trump added that such a tax would be equivalent "to some of the kind of, you know, devaluations" that China has done to its currency.

Most commentators thought that Trump came out ahead in the debate, but that Cruz is the better debater. Trump is better at appealing to emotion while Cruz has a better command of the facts.

Note the remarks by Michael Barbaro, of the New York Times. Since the Times recently ran a hit piece on Cruz, Barbaro is showing that not all of its stories are biased. Just some of them.

Anyway, Barbaro saw it thusly:

Mr. Cruz did not just dominate much of the Republican debate, he slashed, he mocked, he charmed and he outmaneuvered everybody else onstage — but none as devastatingly and as thoroughly as this campaign’s most commanding performer, Donald J. Trump.

In the process Mr. Cruz — the high school student who once recited the Constitution from memory and the Princeton debater who dazzled judges with his ability to entrap less shrewd rivals — showed the American public that his surging candidacy is not a fluke.

Barbaro continued:

For the first time in the wild, caustic and bruising Republican campaign, Mr. Trump was in the position that so many who have tried to challenge him had found themselves in: flustered, frustrated and unable to regain his footing.

For those watching on television, including Democrats who had lumped Mr. Cruz and Mr. Trump together as a dream ticket of easily marginalized (if not parodied) general election candidates, Mr. Cruz seemed like something else: an intelligent and brutal tactician who may prove a more formidable and nimble opponent, should he gain his party’s nomination.

Also, keep this in mind. When Trump attacked Cruz over his qualification to be president—the so-called birther question—he evoked the authority of Harvard Law Professor Lawrence Tribe. And he said that Tribe was Cruz’s professor.

As Cruz responded, Tribe is a partisan liberal supporter of Hillary Clinton. I would add that, during the 2008 campaign Tribe stepped forward to vouch for the intellectual brilliance of one Barack Obama. As you know, Obama was such a brilliant students that he has never allowed anyone to see his grade transcripts. For a Republican to evoke the authority of a Lawrence Tribe is absurd on its face.

It is also important to note that Harvard Law Professor Alan Dershowitz, also a liberal but not a partisan, declared that Ted Cruz was probably the smartest student he ever taught in fifty years at Harvard Law School. If Trump had been willing to do some research and had not wanted to do a drive-by on Cruz, he would have known that Dershowitz publicly declared that Cruz fulfilled all constitutional requirements for the presidency.

For your edification, here are some remarks by Nate Silver, of the 528 blog. Statistician Silver used to be at the New York Times where he had an excellent record of analyzing polling data and predicting election outcomes.

Silver explains how the debate looked to him:

You’d see, in Trump, a lot of political “street smarts.” You’d see a willingness to draw from a populist grabbag of topics (tariffs on China; a ban on Muslims entering the United States) that candidates from both parties usually avoid. You’d also see plenty of self-indulgence on process topics such as Ted Cruz’s “natural born” citizenship, and a willingness to pontificate on topics he clearly knows nothing about. You’d notice that several of Trump’s opponents seemed too intimidated to attack him. You’d see Trump wobble — sometimes badly, such as in his initial exchange with Cruz — and then recover, almost miraculously.

You’d see, in Cruz, a smart tactician who serves up plenty of red meat, and who (perhaps more effectively than any other candidate) plays to both the debate hall and the home viewing audience. You’d also see a candidate who doesn’t invite sympathy and can overextend himself, sometimes tempting an effective counter-attack, like the one Trump got in about “New York values” and Sept. 11.

You’d see, in Marco Rubio, the ultimate glass-half-full, glass-half-empty candidate. Just when you thought Rubio was finally going to have his breakthrough moment (his opening answer was effective and flashed anger that Rubio has sometimes been lacking), he’d disappear for long stretches of time, with competent but canned-sounding answers that failed to raise him above the fray. Then just about when you were ready to count Rubio out, he’d surprise you with an effective strike, like the one he carried out against Cruz on immigration and other topics toward the end of the debate.

Of course, we need to curb our enthusiasm. No one has cast a vote.


Ares Olympus said...

I don't think there's much here I'd disagree with. The trio of Trump-Cruz-Rubio at least give republican voters something to look at. It's not clear there's anyone else who is going to last through February, unless one of them has a favorite state primary in March to prove something.

And even a hypothetical 3-way debate this month would seem to be in order, to see if viewers are SURE that's enough. (Myself, I think they should do a GOP approval poll for inclusion asking "Who do you want to see in the debate?" with a high 40% threshold, and that would be a quick way to eliminate the rest at least for a more focused debate.)

Stuart: Most commentators thought that Trump came out ahead in the debate, but that Cruz is the better debater. Trump is better at appealing to emotion while Cruz has a better command of the facts.

It is always fun to say someone is a good debater. The main quality I find in Cruz is the ability to say things you know he doesn't believe, but he says them with such earnestness, you still have to wonder "Maybe he's right!". That's a strange skill to have. And it ought to make him good in sales.

I wonder what's an example of his expert skills to slither out of trouble? Maybe Politifact can help?
Ted Cruz, began saying that his military approach to ISIS would be "carpet bombing." that "we will utterly destroy ISIS. We will carpet bomb them into oblivion. I don't know if sand can glow in the dark, but we're going to find out."
"To be clear, Sen. Cruz, would you carpet-bomb Raqqa, the ISIS capital, where there are a lot of civilians? Yes or no?"
Cruz responded, "You would carpet bomb where ISIS is -- not a city, but the location of the troops. You use air power directed -- and you have embedded special forces to direction the air power. But the object isn't to level a city. The object is to kill the ISIS terrorists."

That seems lame but when Cruz says it, you don't notice.

Still, why not just say something honest like "Oh, that carpet bombing Raqqa boast? Oh, well, I just seen that Homeland episode when that apparent psychopath Quinn offers his second suggestion 'Hit reset, pound Raqqa into a parking lot'. But then I realized it was only a cable show, not reality, so we know we can't identify which Syrian refugees we can safely allow into our country, our embedded special forces (i.e. spies?!) will easily tell the good guys from the bad guys in a city of 200,000 and tell the us where to use their smart bombs to avoid civilian casualties."

Okay, I guess Cruz is a better debater than me. Rule #1 - never explain your reasoning honestly. Instead redefine reality to fit your words.

At least Rubio is more sensible...
Rubio: "I believe we should be carrying out attacks against Sunni leadership nodes, videotaping the whole thing and putting it up on Youtube so that the world can see these people are not invincible," he said. "I want the world to see how these ISIS leaders cry like babies when they're captured. I want the world to see how these isis leaders, once captured, begin to sing like canaries if they survive."

So his idea of "A New American Century", reality-TV war. That worked really well the first time we tried it, in Vietnam, right?

But probably we'd better not do live-feeds, just in case our guys are the ones crying like babies. And what if the leaders shout "Allahu Akbar!" before we kill them? Would that spoil the narrative too much?

Anyway, these things need to be debated, so the GOP will be ready to face Bernie!

Marsh said...

Trump won the debate last night. He was on the side of every American on 9/11, while the Canadian born lawyer, was against us.

Cruz never had a prayer of winning NY, but he just lost Florida, as most Floridians are former New Yorkers.

Cruz is a coward, had he come right out and attacked Trump for being a liberal, he'd have done better, but he was trying to make a play for Iowa voters w/ his NY values comment...Trump isn't like us...He is a city slicker. He was either afraid to attack Trump too forcefully for fear of what Trump might do, or he was afraid of losing any chance he had at collecting Trump' s supporters, or both, but he BLEW IT, big-time.

It was the pivotal moment of the debate.

Cruz demonstrated to everyone why he has no friends in the Senate. He can only relate to certain kinds of people. He is only appealing to a small group of voters.

Cruz lost everything last night. Including Iowa. Trump will sweep everything now.

Marsh said...

Also, there is only two. But, it's not Cruz anymore. It's Trump against Jeb, Rubio, carley, kasich. The GOP establishment candidates must be treated as one candidate, as they will all give their delegates to the establishment choice. Either Rubio or Jeb.

Remember that Jeb said he'd win the nomination w/o the base of his party.

sestamibi said...

Joe Biden has suffered much personal grief in his life, and I share his sorrow to that extent, but the fact still remains that the man is an idiot who has made his share of bloopers in his political career, all of which will come back to haunt him if he runs.

As for his match with Paul Ryan, I saw it too. His attitude was grinning and completely dismissive (i.e., "you can't be serious" a la Jimmy Connors) not even taken Ryan seriously. That might work in a VP debate with no one watching and most voters not choosing on running mate choice, but it won't work in a presidential candidate debate. Remember Al Gore sighing and rolling his eyes during his debates with Dubya?

Dennis said...


With some reservations I have seen that conservative argumentation, in general, has always had more complexity and nuance that today's liberal argumentation. This means that analyzation vice links. This of course may be issue determinate. For your edification:
It maybe why so much of the argumentation coming from democrats is feelings based and might apply to some republicans as well. If someone like Hillary has trouble answering questions such as "What is the difference between democrats and socialist?," or "Why do you want to be president?"in might be because the ramifications (Complexity) have not been thought through.
It may be why we never, or very rarely, see solutions for the issues that need to be addressed vice a litany of how great am i and those other people are bad. Sadly, it maybe because the electorate has never taken the time to understand the issues and noted that there are both positives and negatives involved in each so we elect the lowest common denominator who fits our views without thinking about what is in our best interests.
Sorry, but some of the comments reminded me of how far we have fallen..

Roy Lofquist said...

With apologies for sloth, I posted this on Althouse earlier today:

Trump's whole shtick is that he's the greatest, he's invulnerable, he's Superman! Well, Cruz tugged on Superman's cape and the Donald lost it.

Birther? That's so 2008. We all know, thanks to the NYT and WAPO, that birthers are mentally unbalanced, more to be scorned than pitied.

Cruz tweaked New Yorkers, something that seems to play well in Peoria. The Donald responded with a rousing chorus of Amazing Grace sung to the tune of I've Got You Under My Skin.

Now that it's a two man race (sorry Rubio fans, I like him too) the choice is between Jerry Springer and Darth Vader. Given the current mood of the country I think that Jerry should think about renegotiating his TV show contract.