The Republican presidential candidates took the stage last night and shone brightly on the Fox Business Network debates. Although the debates seemed to drag at times, that may have been me. I might have been maxed out on politics and the campaigns. I think just about everyone scored high marks, so I will just leave my key impressions.
The post title indicates three qualities of the debate: oil represents the form or rehtorical quality of the candidate, water the substance, and fire the political or leadership character of the candidates.
I am not sure why Mike Huckabee and Rick Santorum cannot gain traction. They know the issues very well, their respective characters blaze brightly, and their rhetoric is sound. They are good Americans, and pro-American and pro-Constitution without any veneer or compromise.
Somewhere in the mettle of Carly Fiorina’s being lies a warping. She’s knowledgeable and a leader, but something isn’t right, and I am not sure what it is. It might be the sense that I don’t think I would like to work for her. She might be too harsh, not superficially so, which so many people look at these days, but deep inside. I would favor her over Hillary Clinton, but Fiorina isn’t even my third choice for president.
Rhetorically, Ted Cruz performed outstandingly. He possesses a brilliant intellect, and he discombobulated Donald Trump last night with the rebuttals to Trump’s birth questioning, most painfully and inadvertently extracting an expressed willingness by Trump to entertain becoming Cruz’s vice-president. It was an astonishing moment, and the first and so far only serious misstep Trump has made. Trump may have played that card to indicate his willingness to test the birther issue on Cruz, but if so, it was lost in the messy dialog of the moment, and it made him look bad. How much, if at all, it disrupts his standing in voters’ eyes remains to be seen.
Cruz won the debate. He owned the oil last night. A careful spectator will note, however, that Trump’s attacks prior to the debate worked and revealed another side to Cruz: He has his foot inside two doorways: the insider doorway and the outsider doorway. Only the most gullible could gather enough non-sense to place any credibility in Cruz’s explanation that leaving off the $500,000 loan from Goldman-Sachs, where his wife works, was a “filing error”. It was a “not filing error”, because Cruz did not list it on his report to the Federal Elections Commission when he ran for the senate as an outsider. It clearly would have made him look different than he wanted to to voters. In my opinion, Cruz lied when he left the loan off his report, and he is lying now about it being an error.
On top of that, his diatribe against “New York values”may have alienated liberal folks thinking about voting Republican.
Does that disqualify him for me? No. All politicians lie to some extent. But practically, with Huckabee and Santorum never having gained traction, Cruz drops from being my No. 2 choice to No. 3 and Rubio rises to No. 2.
Rubio has been near the top in his substance and form all along. He isn’t perfect. His inexperience, which open him up to being manipulated, his missed votes in the senate, and his sometimes misleading campaign ads mitigate his qualifications and character. The flip side is that I believe he has a much better than average mastery of national intelligence and foreign policy. When he looked the camera in the eye and said what happened to our sailors would not happen during a Rubio adminstration, his spirit, his greatest asset, was palpable and thoroughly embraceable – much more so than Cruz, who sometimes is too brilliant and planned out for his own good – and I couldn’t help but shake my fist and say, “Yeah!”. Of all the candidates, he has moderated his presentation the most to convey the impression that he is the coolest, calmest, and most collected under fire, even when Bush is stabbing him in the back. Though I dislike his connections to the establishment, Rubio is a legitimate candidate.
In some ways, Bush looked like he had his best debate, but he overreached when he told Trump he would teach him about the nuclear triad, then falsely tried to wax inclusive when he said he would support anyone on the stage, and came “unhinged” when Debate Moderator Neil Cavuto asked him whether he thought people who agreed with Trump’s proposal to temporarily ban Muslim immigration were unhinged, as he had described Trump. Bush was a deer caught in the headlights in that moment. He didn’t expect Cavuto to be driving that question (indeed, finally a tough question for Bush). Of course, Bush had to say, “No”, but it set up a contradiction: either he doesn’t really think Trump was unhinged (incorrect, perhaps, but not unhinged); or he does, and he really thinks anyone who supports the Trump ban is unhinged, too. Either way, it appears Bush lied.
To me, Bush has the smallest fire up there on the main debate stage. He has had every opportunity and advantage in his life and as governor, when he had a very friendly legislature to work with, something he won’t necessarily have in Washington, as his older and more competent brother discovered. He is like a kid who brings all his friends with him to fight one guy because he needs the support. I cannot support his candidacy.
Christie is too much of a politician, as is Kasich, who like Cruz has keen ties to Wall Street. I cannot support either one. Carson isn’t qualified, using humor to mask his deficiencies.
That leaves the Donald. The debate setting brings to the surface Trump’s rhetorical weaknesses, simply because he isn’t a lawyer or academic debater and doesn’t have much experience with formal argumentation. He is a businessman and patriot who brings his keen intellect, savvy, skills, and winning spirit and ways to bear on getting things done efficiently and profitably. Thus, he excels in the board room, the negotiating conference, and on the campaign with a crowd or one-on-one. That is not to say he fails to deliver standout moments. He delivers them, as the targets of his counterattacks well know. He remains the most qualified candidate, an outside the box thinker who will not be bound by trite politics, conventional thought, and special interests that pervade the institutions of government and the spooks who haunt them.
Trump may seem harsh on the outside, but on the inside, he is one of us, just more successful.
In that regard, and contrary to conventional wisdom, I think Trump would perform better against Hillary Clinton than Bernie Sanders, though I think he would defeat both.