The Rumble in Lost Wages Part Deux – The GOP Poker Game

Posted on December 16, 2015


 photo Las Vegas View_zpszs2tnepo.jpg


My impressions of the last GOP debate of 2015,

will be from the 35,000 foot level and I’ll avoid getting too far in the weeds. This is appropriate because one of the CNN analysts asked, “Did we hear substantive plans?” and the answer is that we did not.

What we did hear, with some notable exceptions, was a lot of empty platitudes, political speaking in code and a loud echo of candidates saying the same things by saying essentially nothing. That’s more what I intend to focus in on.

Here is an outline, in brief of the essential message and thrust of each of the individuals on the stage:

Senator Rand Paul

  • no government censorship or black outs of wide swaths of the internet.
  • renewed focus on the Constitution and particularly the Bill of Rights.
  • quit unintentionally or deliberately arming and equipping terrorists or their sponsors.
  • “boots on the ground” should be Arab boots on the ground.

Governor John Kasich

  • too much political infighting among Republicans, too much rancor.
  • Republicans and Democrats need to unite to solve problems and pigs need to grow wings.

Governor Chris Christie

  • he would keep America safe by employing his skills as a Federal prosecutor and Governor.
  • America is in a state of fear and Christie thinks his ticket out of the cellar in the polls is exploiting that fear.

Carly Fiorina

  • Americans are angry.
  • “Time to take our country back”.
  • Tested leader because of surviving Breast Cancer, burying child and leading a corporation to a shipwreck. No, she didn’t say the last one – that’s an editorial comment.

Governor Jeb Bush

  • Freedom is under attack and economy is underwater.
  • Restore defense cuts and take power away from Washington D.C.
  • “I will keep our country safe.”

Ben Carson

  • As doctor, had to make critical decisions.
  • Declare war on ISIS.
  • Peace, prosperity and safety.

Senator Marco Rubio

  • once again (ad nauseum), his claim to a unique perspective on immigration because of a family of immigrants.
  • Americans feel out of place in America.
  • Allies don’t trust us – Enemies don’t fear us.

Donald Trump

  • America is losing, America is not winning.
  • Need to build up America and a nation without a secure border is not a nation.
  • “People like what I say, respect what I say”

Senator Ted Cruz

  • Obama administration and Obama refuse to describe ISIS as Radical Islamic Terrorists.
  • Hunt down and kill ISIS.
  • We’re “prisoners of Political Correctness”

One interesting thing we learned last night was that Donald Trump is pledging that no matter the outcome of the nomination race, he will not be appearing on the ballot as an independent candidate. Ben Carson seems to have also been reassured by a phone discussion with what many thought they heard him pronounce, Reince Pubus.

The theme of this debate was National Security / Foreign Policy. According to CNN (& the rest of the corporate mass media) their interpretation of the mood of GOP voters, is that these voters want America to step into trouble spots all over the globe and flex military muscle no matter the risk or regardless of whether it bankrupts the country and leads to yet another round of protracted conflicts. Most of the candidates on the stage seem to be taking that reading of Republican voters as well. I say this because it was clear that most of them were calling for an American President, presumably themselves, who would project U.S. military power worldwide – as if we aren’t already, with nearly 900 military bases covering the four corners of the globe.

This was true of Carly Fiorina, who wants to invest in new military spending so that she can poke Russia in the eye with a Sixth Fleet with weapons systems in a threatening posture towards Moscow. This was true of Marco Rubio, who wants to recommit to our so-called ‘allies’, the very same ones (Saudi Arabia, Turkey, Pakistan, Qatar, UAE, Kuwait and even Jordan), that have invested in destabilization in the Middle East and have partnered with the Obama administration in creating the menace of ISIS to use as a stalking horse against Iran and Syria. Both Rubio and Fiorina would have no reluctance to shoot down Russian jets in Syria, risking a direct military conflict that could spiral out of control to an extent that would be, to borrow a favorite Donald Trump expression – a disaster.

It was true, as well of Kasich, Christie, Bush – and Carson, who sadly echoed a fallacy first coined by George W. Bush, that jihadist militants will come here if we don’t send Americans to Iraq and Syria to fight them there.

Ted Cruz, argued for a laser focus on defeating ISIS, but otherwise avoiding confrontations elsewhere in the world. Rand Paul’s idea of “boots on the ground” is Arab boots on the ground and very little of our own. Both Rand Paul and Ted Cruz are of the belief that the mess we see in the Middle East, in Syria, Iraq, Egypt and Libya, are the consequence of removing national leaders and assisting “moderate rebels” of whom Cruz compared to ‘Purple Unicorns’. Donald Trump was evasive on the subject of defeating ISIS, except for calling for better security at the borders.

On the domestic scene, there was a similar alignment among the candidates. All on stage, with the exception of Ted Cruz and Rand Paul, have no reluctance to trample on the Constitutionally guaranteed right of privacy in the pursuit of “keeping America safe”.

“Keeping America Safe”, was even more of a hackneyed mantra among them than Trump’s slogan of “Making America Great Again”. Carly Fiorina and the rest, want more surveillance on American citizens, not less. She and Chris Christie made that unmistakably clear. Fiorina also boasted about her role in an unholy alliance with the NSA in doing so.

All candidates except for Rand Paul and Ted Cruz, believe that warehousing your phone records and de-encrypting all of your personal and private communications, will enable them to prevent terrorism. Interestingly, the next time that would be the case, would be the first time.

Fiorina danced around the question of whether the federal government should force communications providers to provide the NSA with de-encrypted data of American citizen’s communications. She claims she could sweet talk them into doing so.

Kasich ignored the fact that the Bonnie and Clyde jihadists in San Bernardino could have been stopped by the FBI, just as the 9/11 attackers and the Tsarnaev brothers could have been stopped – all of them, well before they were positioned to murder Americans – without resorting to running roughshod over the Constitution. Kasich, thinks we should err on the side of more Big Brother, not less.

It would be generous to describe that Trump was merely clumsy in his explanation of a comment made on the campaign trail that the government needs to be “closing that Internet up”.  Rand Paul observed that North Korea and China are also adept at doing so. The public in those countries are safe from terror for the most part, they are just not safe from their own governments.  I’d add our “ally in the region”, Saudi Arabia, as another fitting example. Incidentally, it has now been discovered by hackers that Saudi Arabia has assigned IP addresses they bought from the British government to ISIS militants for recruiting on social media.

Summing up. While on the one hand, Trump was still the obnoxious individual that generates the highest percentage of unfavorables among likely voters – endlessly and numbingly boasting about his position in the polls and other interminable self congratulatory puffing, I did find him to have had a remarkable moment, where underneath all the layers of boorishness, he gave voice to a profound, common sense observation.

Donald Trump proudly pointed out that he was among the very few to warn that invading Iraq and removing Saddam Hussein was a critical mistake that would lead to far reaching consequences – destabilization and sectarian / tribal conflicts. He also suggested that we could have done something more constructive to the long term benefit of this country with the $3 to $4 Trillion dollars and the lost lives wasted in those no win wars trying to rearrange Iraq and other parts of the region. We could have built a new energy grid, schools, highways, bridges, jobs, economic stability. He wasn’t quite as detailed in his outline as this, but it was easy to connect the dots.

Rubio and Cruz had some choice moments, with Cruz landing a devastating blow, accusing Rubio of employing “Alinsky – Like Tactics” against him – in other words, deliberately mis-representing Cruz’ votes on the National Defense Authorization Act, in the manner of a radical Marxist. Appurtenant to this exhange between Cruz and Rubio, was an opportunity for Rand Paul to execute his version of tag team wrestling. He jumped in and delivered a bare knuckle flurry of hits to Rubio:

“We are not any safer through the bulk collection of all Americans’ records. In fact, I think we’re less safe. we get so distracted by all of the information, we’re not spending enough time getting specific immigration — specific information on terrorists. The other thing is, the one thing that might have stopped San Bernardino, that might have stopped 9/11, would have been stricter controls on those who came here. And Marco has opposed at every point, increased security — border security for those who come to our country. On his Gang of Eight bill, he would have liberalized immigration, but he did not, and he steadfastly opposed, any new border security requirements for refugees or students. Last week, I introduced another bill saying, we need more security. We need more scrutiny. Once again, Marco opposed this. So, Marco can’t have it both ways. He thinks he wants to be this, oh I’m great and strong on national defense, but he’s the weakest of all the candidates on immigration. He is the one for an open border that is leaving us defenseless. If we want to defend the country, we have to defend against [those who are] coming in, and Marco is — has more of an allegiance to [Sen.] Chuck Schumer (D-NY) and to the liberals than he does to conservative policy.”

I and some of my colleagues speculated what the Trump – Cruz interaction would look like tonight. There was no rancor or mud slingling from either one of them. In fact, Trump issued the closest thing you’ll ever see to an apology to Cruz, saying, “I’ve gotten to know Ted quite well in the last few days and he has a wonderful temperament”. Between the two of them, you almost wanted to shout “get a room!”

Winners / Losers

Jeb Bush did nothing to gain any momentum. He is a candidate without any real purpose other than he has rich donors who believe he would be reliable in rewarding their generosity. How much longer that can last is questionable. Loser.

Rubio, will hold that segment of his support, but this debate will not give him a bounce or any inroads with additional voters, because the poll numbers he has now – 8 to 10% are his peak, unless Jeb Bush withdrew and then he’d settle in at the 14% range, picking up a few points from other Neo Cons that must leave the race, it would seem, before year’s end. Not a loser or a winner.

On the other hand, Ted Cruz, has graciously reached out to men of his same caliber like Scott Walker and Bobby Jindal and will probably receive most of the Ben Carson and Mike Huckabee supporters when they inevitably close down their shops. Ted Cruz shielded himself from the expected attack from Rubio and left Rubio whiffing at an opponent he could never land a punch on. Winner.

Ben Carson’s candidacy, now that it has come back down to earth, is unsustainable and not much we saw tonight will reverse that. Trump wisely attempted to mend fences with Carson, but whether Carson ever trusts Trump again is doubtful. Loser.

Rand Paul had a healthy contingent of Libertarian leaning supporters in tonight’s crowd and drew energy from them. He may get enough of a bounce in tonight’s debate to fuel his small money donors willingness to keep sending him money until next Spring. Winner.

Why and how John Kasich is still on the main stage debate is a mystery, but he won’t be next time. He is Governor timber, but not Presidential timber. Loser.

Chris Christie got stung hard with a Rand Paul zinger alluding to Bridgegate. His ongoing candidacy is unsustainable. All he had to bring to the table was a tactic of being a fear merchant. Doubtful that it resonated enough because it was overplayed by almost every candidate except Trump, Paul and Cruz. Loser.

Carly Fiorina’s voice is starting to sound like a caricature, like a voice in an animated Disney feature – an exceptionally good one, I might add. I actually think she should look into that. She would be a natural. We heard nothing that justifies a serious second look at her as the nominee, in fact, to the contrary. She would be an asset to the Surveillance State. Loser.

Donald Trump’s performance is a mixed bag. If he misread the GOP voter on military opportunism, then his lamenting the waste of blood and treasure in Iraq and Afghanistan was a misstep. If he read them correctly, then it was a huge tactical success and Ted Cruz and Rand Paul will benefit from being in the same lane. One thing for sure, the rest of the candidates (other than Ted and Rand) are on the wrong side of the refugee resettlement issue. Trump’s defense of this is a winning strategy.

A possible negative is what seems to be revealed by Trump’s ostensible rapprochement with Carson and Cruz on stage. One has to conclude that Trump sees presidential politics as a scripted wrestling match. His improvised and clumsy attacks on his opponents seem like the kind of empty trash talk before a WCW faceoff. Will it become apparent to his supporters as a cheap gimmick at some point? Adding up the pluses and minuses – Trump, Winner.

How do things look going forward? You’ll never get a good handle on it from the national polls that Mr. Trump crows about non stop. A lot of anger and spite and desire to freak out the Washington political elites are built into the sentiment of potential GOP voters an the polling at present. When people actually get set to vote, the realization that a national leader has to be more multi-dimensional than a shallow celebrity with a big mouth, will likely set in. Inside the polling data is an interesting metric, which seems to strongly indicate that Ted Cruz is winning over the still large extant group of what pollsters call “undecideds”.

Meanwhile, there is an entertainment factor here that would be missing without the Donald.