As I said in a previous post, we are going to examine in greater detail examples from Thursday night’s Republican presidential debate at Detroit and on Fox News.
As part of the analysis, I will spotlight errors or rhetorical misdirection by the candidates, including Trump, and try to shed light on the motivations of the moderators in the questions they chose to ask and the manner in which they asked them. You can make up your own minds about whether I am on target or not, who won or who is qualified or whether this or that moderator was, ultimately, fair.
My encouragement to you to support Trump is neither blind nor permanent. As an American, I hold steadfastly to our liberty and to our being the governed whose consent is required by any candidate in any election. If we elect them, the candidates work for us; we do not work for them. A candidate has to earn our votes in the course of his candidacy and/or of his performance. If we find either deficient or defective, we may withdraw our support at any time. We are under no obligation to be or to remain loyal. It is the obligation of the candidate to remain loyal to us and to the proposals he proffered to gain our support.
Trump is at least honest about one thing: the need for flexibility. Get used to the idea that a candidate is likely to compromise on legislation. Only dictators get everything they want, and many voters don’t give a hoot about the ideology behind a law or policy, only whether it produces the result they wanted.
That said, we do want a candidate whose laws and policies take us in the direction he said he was going to take us. To the extent that a candidate does and fulfills his word and remedies the ills of the country, producing the effects we desired, we may choose to remain supportive. To the extent that a candidate fails in those things, we can withdraw our support or, if we have already elected him, make him a one-term president.
My context for understanding the debate and the candidates is the craving of the Republican elite establishment and its media arm to oust Trump from the race to thwart his policy proposals and to make sure the voters accept the candidate who will most likely guarantee their privilege.
Whether you agree with Trump or not or with his brash style, Mitt Romney, standing in the stands, cowardly throwing rocks at Trump from above the sideline, sickened me. Trump is correct: Romney failed. Look at how few Republicans he was able to draw out to vote in 2012! He choked at the end, despite the support he did receive. And here he is, the failure, trying to prevent someone else from succeeding. That was worse than a vulgarity uttered and was itself the embodiment of offensive vulgarity.
The talk of a brokered convention proves to me the establishment does not want to lose control to an outsider. That’s why they hate Trump and are ganging up on him. They barely like Cruz more and would just as soon oust him, too.
Further proof is the establishment’s manipulation of Marco Rubio, whose career is all but over. They manipulated Rubio into launching even worse personal, vulgar attacks at Trump than Trump had launched at others. Rubio compromised his core personal values to do the establishment’s filthy work, and I suspect they are ready to toss him aside after he fails to win Florida. He will have been useful and become “expendable.”
It will probably take a few posts to makes the vital points. Sometimes I will use my own recording of the debate, at others a transcript I downloaded from the Washington Post, at others a mix of the two. Sometimes I will condense and/or paraphrase; at others I may offer and extended paraphrase or quote. The analysis will be in-depth, I hope, so I will begin here with just the first question to each candidate, except for the question to Kasich.
In the First Round of questions, note that Trump gets hit with two, and Rubio, Cruz, and Kasich each with one.
The FIRST QUESTION OF THE FIRST ROUND is to Trump from Wallace: bascially, Mitt Romney ripped your reputation this morning, questioning your legitimacy and the legitimacy of your proposals, what is your response?
TRUMP REPLIES: Romney is a loser. He (Trump) does believe in free trade and supports it, despite Romney’s attack, but not when the United States is sustaining such huge trade deficits to China, Mexico, and Japan. We are getting “beat so badly.” We have to redo our trade deals to make them favorable to the United States.
ANALYSIS: Wallace’s lead-in to the first question was lengthy, so though Trump does not answer every criticism by Romney that Wallace enumerated, Trump does endeavor to respond directly. Trump points out that Romney’s failure to win undermines the former nominee’s critique and says he believes what Romney believes about free trade but not how free trade was negotiated nor how it is being executed.
MISSED OPPORTUNITY: Trump’s lack of rhetorical skill manifests itself here as in other places. We don’t want our candidates to be nothing more than varnish, but we appreciate some polish and depth, too. Trump could have pointed out Romney’s outburst betrayed not only himself as one whose endorsement Romney sought, obtained, and cherished, but also betrayed the party and its faithful as well as average Americans.
Trump should have made the case that Romney’s low-road criticism betrayed Trump’s and other candidates’ voters by Romney’s focus on ideology and perfect form instead of substance, and that Romney perpetuates the deafness of establishment Republican politicians to the needs and desires of average Americans in their party. Did spouting ideology and principle while dividing Americans into two classes (the elites and the “other 47%”, though I suspect in Romney’s World the “other” 47% is probably the “other 87%”) bring about the benefits promised to Americans, with or without Romney elected as president? No, it did not. It can be argued that Romney’s electoral failure gave birth to Obama and his checkered administration. It produced polarity and gridlock in Washington that accomplished virtually nothing for Americans. If he (Trump) is angry about that like a lot of other Americans, then his indelicate utterances are just steam being vented, and Romney and the deaf establishment elite should be paying more attention to voters’ concerns.
Meanwhile he, Trump, should say that he is making an appeal to mainstream Republicans who have suffered economically, culturally, and politically, who have gone unheard and unrepresented by the deaf establishment crowd compromised by special interests. That’s why Republicans are coming to the polls in record numbers and voting for outside candidates in record numbers. Romney failed to speak to them in 2012, and since that time, establishment Republican elected representatives have failed to respect them and honor the commitments they made to them.
FIRST ROUND, SECOND QUESTION TO TRUMP FROM WALLACE: Wallace states there has been a “race controversy” (as in racial as opposed to a controversy within the Republican race for the nomination, though a man as intelligent as Wallace probably meant both) fueled by a question about David Duke, a white supremacist who endorsed Trump. Wallace said he wanted to go further and ask Trump about his views of the Ku Klux Klan (KKK).
TRUMP RESPONSE: Trump answers directly and says hyperbolically but meaningfully that Wallace’s question is about the 18th time he (Trump) has been asked it. Trump enumerates the many times historically and recently he has disavowed David Duke and white supremacy. He notes that journalists look at and report on his Twitter comments all the time but somehow they didn’t see his response on Twitter immediately after the interview in which the press claims he fumbled the answer, A Twitter response in which he unequivocally disavowed Duke.
ANALYSIS: One of Trump’s best responses of the night. He clearly and directly answered Wallace’s question and put to bed the press-manufactured “controversy” about which so many journalists were hyperventilating.
FIRST ROUND, THIRD QUESTION: Anchor Brett Baier asks Marco Rubio about what he (Rubio) said three weeks ago, and he quotes Rubio: “I don’t do the personal attacks, primarily because it is not who I am, because I think it’s beneath the office that I am seeking, but also because I do not want to embarrass my kids.” Baier says in the past week Rubio has mocked Trump’s tan, made fun of his spelling, called Trump a con artist, suggested Trump wet himself backstage at the last debate, and spouted other vulgar jokes and jabs. Baier finished with “What happened?”
RUBIO’S RESPONSE: Donald has been mocking everyone for the last year, and if ever anyone deserved to be attacked that way, it’s Donald Trump. Rubio said he would “much prefer to have a policy debate” and hoped the Detroit debate would feature that. He added, “Let’s be honest, too, about all this. The media has given these personal attacks that Donald Trump has made an incredible amount of coverage.”
ANALYSIS: In my opinion, this was the period to Marco Rubio’s fall from grace and from electoral opportunity. Rubio does not answer the question, and the Fox News moderators do not follow up to point that out and to demand an answer, as was their duty, and as they so often do with Trump. That Trump may have deserved the medicine he doled out does not mean that Rubio should have been the one to give it back to Trump.
If personal attacks and vulgarity and offensiveness render a candidate unpresidential, a father a poor model to his children, and a man a loser of his character, as Rubio said they would, then Rubio converted himself into someone who is a poor role model to his kids, who is beneath the office of the president, and who loses his character.
Rubio fell prey, perhaps, to pressure from the establishemt or to the manipulation of his campaign handlers or to his own poor judgment or to some combination of those.
That the media has given Trump’s brashness coverage says nothing about Rubio’s character change. He whiffed hugely.
It was most unpleasant to see, and I can’t help but feel that the establishment Republicans used Rubio before intending to toss him aside. Shame on biased Fox for failing to pin down Rubio as he tried to squirm away with his misdirecting answer!
TRUMP’S REBUTTAL: Says he takes back calling Rubio a lightweight then backhandedly says, “He’s not that much of a lightweight.” Trump then tackles Rubio’s reference to his hand size and its implications for the size of Trump’s phallus. “I guarantee you: There’s no problem.”
ANALYSIS: Generally, I think this was a blundered answer. The first thing Trump should have done was spotlight Rubio’s betrayal of himself, added his change on amnesty, and reiterated that Rubio would frustrate voters in a similar fashion, if elected president. Second, Trump should have admitted the brashness of his spontaneous reactions, that he has been trying to get attention to the issues, and that he does not sit around and plan to say anything that is harsh about anyone. Most people are willing to give Trump leeway because they view him as honest and forthright instead of mean-spirited, a view which could change in a wink. Third, he should have pointed out that Rubio, at the behest of the establishment and like Romney in his treacherous tirade, became mean-spirited and went too far with his suggestive comments and that he (Trump) will never descend to that level. Trump had done just that with Vicente Fox’s use of the F word. Fourth, he should not have said anything about his privates. Not everyone agrees with me on the latter. One woman told me Trump had the right to respond. I think it just gave Rubio room to breathe because Rubio was then no longer further off from decency but had Trump with him.
ANALYSIS OF FOX’S FIRST THREE QUESTIONS: Notice how Fox has asked three negative questions that all involve Trump and which place him on the defensive. Journalists can say what they want about not being dictated to, but they are, or at least they allow themselves to be. Romney’s pre-planned and staged comments deliberately delivered the morning of the debate drove Fox’s first three questions, as they drove every network’s coverage all day. Why? For all the blather about government policy, it’s absent from the first three deliberately chosen questions. In asking their first question, the Fox moderators got to repeat all of Romney’s venomous criticisms. In the second question, they chose to ask Trump to respond to a slur they brought to mind again that had already been answered three days before, over and over again. And with the third question to Rubio, they easily anticipated that Rubio was going to rip Trump, once again making Trump answer for yet another contrivance, this one manufactured by Rubio that “Trump made me do it.”
FIRST ROUND, FOURTH QUESTION, TO CRUZ FROM KELLY: “You say you are the true conservative in this race, but you’ve only won four of the 15 states that have voted so far.” He’s lost with “your core voting groups” including evangelicals and conservatives. “Hasn’t your brand of conservatism been rejected by an electorate that appears to be more taken with Mr. Trump’s more populist message?
ANALYSIS OF THE QUESTION: Superficially, this question appears to be a tough one that puts Cruz on the defensive. In reality, it’s a disingenuous and crafty question from Kelly. First, at this point, Cruz was within 100 delegates of Trump and only a half million voters behind in a primary that has seen such a record turnout that more votes have been cast for each of Trump, Cruz, and Rubio at this stage than had been cast for Romney in 2012! Again, each one of them alone has more votes than Romney did at this same stage of the primary in 2012! Second, Cruz is in second place in a race with three other candidates. Why would this question be asked of Cruz when there are two other candidates behind him? Third, isn’t it a bit early to ask if voters have rejected the No. 2’s brand of conservatism? And why did Kelly add Trump and “his populist” message to the question, if not to highlight her implied contention that Trump is not a true conservative? Why didn’t she just leave the question at “your brand of conservatism” without adding Trump? This question is really meant to give Cruz a platform to praise himself and sell his “brand”. Shame on biased Megyn Kelly, who has been after Trump from the beginning!
CRUZ’S RESPONSE: I will not put quotation marks around this paraphrase of Cruz’s answer, but if you compare it to a transcript or your video, you will see it is virtually word-for-word.
At the end of the day, this is not about the insults among the candidates, the attacks. This is about the people at home who are struggling [unnatural pause] through seven years of Barack Obama. This is [about] the single moms who are working two or three jobs 28, 29 hours a week because their hours have been forcibly reduced because of Obamacare. This is the truck drivers and the steel workers and the mechanics with callouses on their hands who’ve seen their wages not grow year after year after year while the cost of living goes up. This is all the young people coming out of school with student loans up to their eyeballs that aren’t able to find a job. And I don’t think the people of America are interested in a bunch of bickering schoolchildren. They are interested in solutions, not slogans. It’s easy to say, “Make things better. Make things great.” You can even put it on a baseball cap. But the question is do you understand the principles that made America great in the first place. As president, I will repeal every word of Obamacare. I’ll pull back the regulators that are killing small businesses, and we will pass a simple flat tax and abolish the IRS. And what that’s going to do, Megyn, is small business is going to explode. We’re going to see millions of high paying jobs. We’re going to see wages go up. We’re going to see opportunity. That’s where our focus needs to be. That’s where my focus is. And that is why my campaign is the only campaign that over and over again has beaten Donald Trump to date. And it’s why we’re the one campaign going forward that can and will beat Donald Trump in this election.
ANALYSIS: Simple. Did Cruz answer the question? No. Did he identify his “brand” of conservatism and Trump’s “brand” of conservatism? No. Did he explain why voters had rejected his “brand” as Kelly asked? No. Cruz doesn’t even deny her assumption, which he would do, and easily enough, if he were answering the question. He doesn’t even explain the conservative principles at work in his ideas and policies.
Cruz embarked on a verbose circumlocution as the Fox moderators winked at him. Using imagery and in preacher fashion, Cruz listed tough situations in which some Americans might be finding themselves, took a few jabs at Trump, and listed a few populist measures of his own, like ridding the U.S. of Obamacare and implementing a flat tax, which will rid us of the IRS. He offers no insight into the problems, and he presented solutions in the same way Trump does, nominally, yet without scrutiny and any hollering about failing to offer details. Where is Rubio’ condemnation that that is all Cruz is offering, a flat tax? Will someone who makes $5,000 a year pay the same tax rate as someone who makes $5,000,000? Really? Is that fair?
To Cruz’s credit, we have to say he usually debates as a master rhetor, in preacher-like fashion, building up the emotion of the audience, their outrage, so that when he offers his solutions, they are all behind them without thinking what they are really about, because what they want most is for the offending problems to be gone.
What you won’t hear out of a Fox moderator is anything that challenges what has been held as a conservative principle. For instance, companies have been reducing what they consider their payroll burden for decades, eliminating full-time jobs and the accompanying pay and benefits for them to replace them with much less expensive part-time jobs. Obamacare, perhaps unintentionally (I do not support it as a policy) gives companies another reason to keep making the transition to part-timers. So Cruz is being dishonest. He will not do everything to make life better for American workers, if under conservatism owners and managers can do whatever they want with workers. A flat tax will almost certainly benefit wealthier people and hurt poorer. What about compassionate conservatism? Did it die with Jack Kemp’s exit from office? Abolishing the IRS: Will it really happen? Who will monitor tax frauds? How will removing EPA regulations make small businesses explode and employment rise, especially when we continue to endure massive trade and national deficits? BTW, Cruz uses slogans, too, like “TrusTed”. It’s on a banner behind him at rallies and news conferences.
Did Fox follow up or pin him down, as they do Trump? Nah! They deliberately threw a softball at him, now that they have turned against Rubio and need someone to support against Trump.
CONCLUSION: Hopefully, just by the opening questions alone (at this point I did not think it important enough to include Kasich’s), you can see the weightedness of the particular questions, of the pattern of questions, and of the moderators’ actions or inactions in response to the candidate’s response. I hope this is helpful to you as you sift through the campaigns and campaign coverage. It isn’t an easy process, and politician’s make it even more convoluted. Thanks for reading!