Donald Trump and the CNN GOP Toe Fungus Debate

Posted on September 17, 2015

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 photo CNN debate line up_zps2pmyribx.jpg

What is wrong with this picture? Test your powers of observation and reply in comments if you discover it.

As to the title of this report, the corporate sponsor of last night’s debate was Kerydin – the latest and greatest OTC toe fungus cure. I’m not sure why Fougera Pharmaceuticals thinks that Republican voters are a prime demographic for toe fungus remedies. Maybe they have discovered that Jublia has a corner on the Democrat toe fungus sufferers. Be that as it may, I’ll take a few moments to reflect on each of the 11 contenders on the stage last night, their hits and misses and who I think won, lost and stayed put essentially.

It’s notable that with one exception, a persistent theme of the candidates on stage was the notion that America is a weak nation, demonstrated by the fact that we aren’t up to our armpits in some series of wars, confrontational troop maneuvers and intervention in sectarian conflicts. This was reinforced by the presence of neo-con radio personality Hugh Hewitt, chiding the senators on the panel, (Paul, Cruz and Rubio) for not supporting Barack Obama’s initiative for a regime change of Bashar Assad in Syria, which any reasonably astute observer of the chaos there knows, would have established a central base of operations for the Islamic State. Incredibly incompetent and puzzling. The GOP voting base may be itching for more military opportunism, but it remains questionable whether this is a selling point to the electorate at large.

Jeb Bush – Governor Bush will lose more momentum in the race and his deep pocket supporters will begin looking at their portfolios and move some money into hedge positions. I loved the fact that in a perverse move, CNN positioned Bush and Trump as direct neighbors. Couldn’t have been more indicative of the dynamic that has emerged in the race so far.

Bush was asked if he was a puppet for donors. He completely steered away from that question, but retreated to his standard defensive position, repeating a stock litany of aspects of his governorship. He did fire a bolt at Trump with the statement that Trump attempted to buy off elected officials to build a casino in Florida. He also threw Nancy Pelosi, Harry Reid and Hillary Clinton in Trump’s face, scoring some hits that Trump couldn’t credibly dodge.

Bush mostly reinforced the existing perception of being wishy washy and overly deliberative on every topic under the sun. He wouldn’t shred the Iran Nuclear Agreement. He wouldn’t have canceled the State Dinner at the White House with China and essentially said that leaving the door open to our country is consistent with American values. None of this was making sense with the likely voters in attendance or in the viewing audience.

One of the things he got hit with, was Trump’s sage critique of Bush’s unseemly pandering to Hispanics in Spanish. Nothing he said exonerated him from that charge. Incidentally, the question most likely arose as a result of a campaign by the policy group, U.S. English, who encouraged their members to flood CNN’s feedback page with requests for the issue to be discussed.

As the debate went on, he became less and less relevant to the discussion. In defense of his brother’s decision to invade Iraq, Jeb invoked W’s “Ground Zero” speech – a speech that rallied and galvanized a nation behind him, but that ultimately turned out to be political capital that he squandered on regime change and nation building, not seriously hunting terrorists. Here’s the (main) problem for Bush. Bush’s open borders position signifies to large segments of the electorate, particularly industrial and manufacturing workers, that he has little if any motivation to protect their jobs or put policies in place to help grow their weekly paychecks. That spells doom for the Bush campaign no matter how much money is thrown at it. Bush will sink even further after last night.

Donald Trump – Donald Trump continues to look ridiculous to all but his large coterie of rabid supporters who are looking (at this stage), not for an authentic and articulate voice for conservatism, but simply a brash, crude and disruptive bullhorn. Nothing of substance issued forth from the Donald – only more adjectives from the stock vernacular of traveling motivational speakers: “tremendous”, “fantastic”, “awesome”, “magnificent”, “the greatest”, etc. Is Zig Ziglar still alive?

I wouldn’t say that nothing of value proceeded from Trump’s mouth, when he wasn’t otherwise pre-occupied with making bitchy comments about the other contestants. He spoke candidly about the Birthright Citizenship (translated “Anchor Baby”) problem and the mis-interpretation of the 14th amendment – which he is entirely correct on. He also mentioned illegal immigration costing America $200 billion annually – a figure that I have not vetted, but is probably close enough to make the situation with immigration enforcement (the lack thereof) a national scandal. But Trump knows that immigration is the girl who took him to the dance. There is a slight problem however. Trump has now settled on a scheme by which, the “bad guys” are going to be rounded up and deported, but the “good ones” – the ones who have merely disrespected our immigration laws and displaced American workers, will be allowed back in on some nonsensical merit system, and fast tracked at that.

The rest of the time he spent regurgitating his stock chest pounding about how almighty his capabilities are and how impotent the rest of the people on the stage are. Right out of the gate, Trump launched into a bizarre, out of context rant directed at Rand Paul, telling him that he shouldn’t be the 11th person on the stage and bellowing at Scott Walker, “I went to number 1 and you went to number 6”.

In response to Paul’s observation that Trump is behaving sophmorishly, exhibiting character more to be expected from someone in Junior High, defaming others about their looks, Trump shot back, “I never attacked him on his looks and believe me, there’s plenty of subject matter right there.” Carly Fiorina took and landed some big bore shots at Trump and landed them, including her response toTrump’s disparaging remarks about her looks and wounding Trump on his manipulation of the Bankruptcy laws.

I should say parenthetically, that in the abstract, there should be no great stigma about bankruptcy and these laws have now been tweaked to the benefit of the wealthy, but you can’t describe your business dealings as unqualified successes and pretend bankruptcy is merely a financial strategy. To Trump, his shrewd gaming of the system is a feather in his cap. Voters may have doubts. No matter what happens with Trump going forward, we can all thank him for driving a fatal stake through the heart of Jeb Bush’s campaign. Trump may hold his polling numbers for now, but my guess is that he’s at the crest of the hill and heading downward soon. But it will be more gradual than his rise in the polls.

Ben Carson – Ben Carson is a nice man and a decent man and certainly an intelligent man, but unfortunately his positions in a handful of instances were revealed as very inconsistent and contradictory. Carson, like the majority of other contenders, wants to expand the military – but like each and every one of the others, has no explanation of where the money is coming from to pay for all of it. He thought invading Iraq was a bad idea and told the audience that he advised George W. Bush as such back in 2003. Fair enough. He was ahead of me on the wisdom of that position. He also talks about “smart” foreign policy as a more successful strategy than “muscular”. Also good. But then he undercuts this by explaining that the reason there is so much instability and free ranging terror in Iraq, is because we pulled out. He’s not alone in that thinking. Carson’s numbers will be heading down.

Ted Cruz – Cruz did nothing to harm his momentum of late, but did little to increase it. To be fair, the questioners steered away from him much of the night. He pledged to rip up the Iran deal first day in office – which makes sense, but then he invoked a loaded talking point that has become a cliché among Republican office seekers and the neo-con element of the GOP – “Obama leading from behind”. Leading from behind implies that the world is more dangerous because the United States armed forces aren’t jumping in and fixing all the problems that in reality, not only we, but our “allies” in the Middle East have had a hand in creating. This is a departure from what, until now, has been his best asset – a balanced foreign policy that realizes that America as the “World’s Policeman” is a posture that is often counter-productive to stability.

Cruz has studied the Trump insurgence and is acting accordingly. Curiously, Donald Trump made the only genuinely favorable reference to another candidate on the stage when he related that he had consulted with Cruz on a national defense issue, “Ted and I have spoken…” The two have been very cozy the last few months, a fact that hasn’t gone unnoticed.

Cruz did well on the sub debate that occurred on the Roberts nomination with Jeb Bush and reminded voters of his own excellent legal credentials, having served as chief law clerk for Justice Rehnquist – and as a U.S. Attorney, staved off the United Nations, the World Court and attacks on the 2nd Amendment. Cruz may get a slight bounce now, but has much more upside potential, if he stays the course and doesn’t appear to be pandering to the Trump supporters too blatantly.

Carly Fiorina – Here, I have a real dilemma. I have serious questions about Ms. Fiorina’s judgment based on her record of previous statements, business dealings, associations and a speech riddled with historical inaccuracies she made pandering to Islam on September 26th of 2001, to a group of HP employees.

But that aside, as to her performance she was extremely high impact in this debate. She may have honed her presentation skills to a degree that eclipses most of the others on the stage. She was strong on the Planned Parenthood issue and showed well on policy specifics. One of the really uncomfortable moments was when Jake Tapper brought up Trump’s uncharitable comments about Ms. Fiorina’s appearance. Fiorina’s handling of this exposed Trump’s vicious temperament and demeanor. Fiorina deferred to the voters the question of whether Bobby Jindal’s assessment of the risk of Trump being in charge of the nuclear codes being a national risk.

Reviewing the debate clips, Fiorina’s visceral reaction of disgust toward Donald Trump was clearly evident on her face – which, by the way, I have no issue with. Fiorina is a cancer survivor and one would reasonably expect a decent human being to be respectful. That’s asking too much from Donald Trump.

Again, she was one of many, who pledged to rebuild the military and ticked off a shopping list – rebuilding the 6th Fleet and various other items. The reader should be reminded that as dismal as all of these candidates make the condition of our military sound, we maintain bases in over 850 spots on the globe and have a defense budget, according to various estimates, equal to or greater than 10 other leading military powers combined, including China, Russia, France, Germany, India, Saudi Arabia, the United Kingdom, Japan and Italy.

If someone wants to make a case that a better allocation of that money we’re already spending is in order, that would be a valid discussion. Obama, for all of the sins he’s committed and all of the reasons he should be removed from office, and there are a multitude, has not “gutted our military”. I think we have to speak more intelligently on this issue, because fudging the facts for short term political gain, will subtract from our credibility in the long term. Fiorina moves up in the polls. Big bounce.

Marco Rubio – Rubio spoke about using the military to intervene in sectarian conflicts internationally and as did Carly Fiorina, proposed a confrontational foreign policy. It was clear that he would put boots on the ground. He also raised an issue relating to Syria that casts considerable doubt on his understanding of the Syria situation. He lamented that the Obama administration hasn’t successfully identified and trained “moderate elements” of the opposition.

The fact of the matter is that Obama and Clinton and Panetta and Petraeus have actually armed many of the rebel faction in Syria and that faction, composed of various elements of al Qaeda, the al Nusra brigade and other jihadists among the so called Free Syrian Army, have all folded their operations into what we know as the Islamic State. For him to claim otherwise is puzzlingly disingenuous.

The existential threat of ISIS in Syria, Iraq and Libya is accountable to the training, supplying and logistical assistance of Islamic militants by the Pentagon, the CIA, Saudi Arabia, the UAE, Qatar, Britain’s MI6, Kuwait, Jordan and Turkey. Rubio’s only saving grace was being on record as opposing the invasion of Syria. Rubio did little to rehabilitate himself on immigration. He could have simply agreed that speaking English is profitable for all immigrants, but couldn’t resist going back to what is at this point, a well worn story about his grandfather from Cuba and granddad’s civic lessons in Spanish. Rubio stays put in the polls, but doesn’t gain any traction here.

Scott Walker and Rand Paul – I’ll deal with these two together, because although they have differing policy emphasis in many areas, their campaigns are struggling, mired in the same dimensional morass. Walker smartly hit back at Trump on Trump’s criticisms of Walker’s fiscal record as Governor. Walker, however, seems to have difficulty expanding his argument for himself beyond that of his story of fighting the government unions in Wisconsin.

Walker took exception to Ben Carson’s minimum wage proposals, contending that skills development, education and training, combined with job creation are the keys to upward mobility for the unemployed, underemployed and low income Americans. Walker balked on the notion of giving hedge fund traders – a non productive element of the current financialization based economy, a hair cut. He harkened back to the Reagan tax cuts, but fails to recognize that since those cuts, the 1 percent have re-engineered the tax code to largely exclude themselves from the burden of big government.

Rand Paul. Rand Paul, with respect to the same subject matter, proposed elimination of the IRS tax code – all 7,000 pages of it, and getting rid of the payroll tax. He should spend more time talking about dumping the payroll taxes. That is a proposition that could catch fire with a lot of middle income, working class GOP voters. He also stood his ground successfully against Chris Christie on Governor Christie’s proposal to shut down recreational marijuana use in the states that have legalized it. So much so, that Christie, as well as Ms. Fiorina, were forced to concede that the “War On Drugs” has been a spectacular failure and that decriminalization and decreased incarceration are better solutions, combined with treatment of serious drug abuse as a medical, not criminal issue. Jeb Bush got busted for having smoked pot in high school, which added a light hearted element to the proceedings.

Rand Paul laid out his national defense / foreign policy agenda as based on identifying a clear national interest in deploying troops; gaining consent of Congress; formulating a plan for victory; bringing all assets to bear, and bringing troops back home. He was decidedly the outlier among the group in this respect. Both Walker and Paul remain in the single digits for now.

Kasich, Huckabee and Christie – Kasich is patently a moderate and deliberative candidate. While he is very proud of that, it is not cutting any ice with this election’s voters. He believes the path forward is bi-partisan compromise. His advocacy of waiting to see how the Iran nuclear deal turns out, is poisonous to his chances of moving up in the race.

Huckabee was personable as always, but everything he does and says – much of it too sensible to outright disagree with, is targeted to evangelicals. No surprise. He decided to take a unique tact in trying to rise above the personal attacks and bickering.  He had some very powerful comments about the recent Supreme Court decisions, invoking Thomas Jefferson’s rebuke of “judicial tyranny” and telling the audience that SCOTUS failed “9th grade civics” in redefining marriage. Also hit solidly on the government accommodating Major Hasan, the Ft. Hood (terrorist) shooter and Gitmo detainees more sensitively on their religion than it does the Christian majority in this country.

Chris Christie, chided Donald Trump for his incessant boasting about his business deals and argued that the race is not about him or anyone else on the stage, but about what the American people want and desire from their government. He was polished and personable. Christie might pick up a little of the ground he has lost, Kasich should be headed for the exit and Mike Huckabee will have to hope that he can take away a portion of the evangelicals that Trump, oddly enough, is sitting on at present. Christie and Huckabee, very slight bounce – Kasich … bye, bye.

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