Post-Debate: Trump the Undisciplined

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Congratulations, Hillary!

W.J. Astore

Last night’s debate made for grim watching.  I’m a fan of neither candidate, but Hillary performed far better than Trump.  She kept her poise, she smiled, she stayed on her talking points.  She was, in a word, disciplined.  Measured.  And smart.  She admitted she was wrong about the emails, apologized, and moved on.  She projected calm.  Not surprisingly, she was well prepared and knew her stuff.

Trump was the total opposite: ill-prepared, mugging and pulling faces for the camera, angry and unsmiling, wandering from his talking points, often losing himself.  He was, in a word, undisciplined.  And Trump never admits he’s wrong, whether about the Iraq war or the birther issue or his tax returns or what have you.  Instead of calm, Trump projected anger.  Despite running for president for more than a year, he seemed ill-prepared and not in command of the narrative.

Whether any of this matters in the long run remains to be seen.  But what surprised me the most about Trump was the lack of a positive message.  Where was Reagan’s sunny optimism? Where was George W. Bush’s compassionate conservatism?  Where was the hope?  Trump just seemed angry: angry at Mexicans, angry at the Chinese, angry at corporations for taking American jobs overseas, angry at Hillary for her negative ads.  (I guess “Crooked Hillary” doesn’t count as negativity.)

Can you win a presidential campaign when your primary appeal is an angry one?  Anger that is often directed at various minority groups as well as your opponent?  I suppose we’ll find out, come this November.

Trump sniffled a lot and was perhaps suffering from a cold.  As the debate dragged on, he lost steam and grew increasingly incoherent.  You could see Hillary’s confidence grow. She’s not the best debater; she has a tendency to lecture, to drone on, to lose the attention of the audience. But his dismal performance overshadowed her occasional forays into the weeds of wonkishness.

Trump, in sum, emerged the loser, and for a self-professed “winner” like Trump, that is indeed a bitter pill to swallow.

The Republican Debate of Texas

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Let the insults fly (Rubio and Trump)

W.J. Astore

Last night’s Republican Presidential Debate in Texas would dismay almost anyone interested in debates or politics.  Insults flew.  Boasts filled the air. Donald Trump, Ted Cruz, and Marco Rubio postured about which could be meaner toward “illegals” (undocumented workers).  There was more talk of border walls, of higher defense spending, of cutting taxes, of eliminating Obamacare, of reanimating Antonin Scalia and restoring him to the Supreme Court (think of Stephen King’s “Pet Sematary” but retitled as “SCOTUS Sematary”) — OK, that last one I made up, but if they could, they would.

I took a high school course on “debate and discussion,” and later as a professor I graded my students on debates.  Remember rules like staying on subject?  On following the rules? On keeping to the time allotted, on being civil to your opponent, on sticking to facts, on relying on evidence?  If you don’t recall those criteria, join the club of Trump, Cruz, and Rubio.

Almost any objective observer of the debate would score a win for John Kasich, the governor of Ohio.  He was clear, passionate, and stuck mainly to the subject.  He stressed his executive and governmental experience, spoke in complete sentences, and avoided insults and sound bites.  I don’t agree with much of what Kasich advocates, but he has the temperament and qualifications to make him a sound choice for the presidency.

Trump, of course, plays up his business acumen as preparing him for the presidency, and his argument against bickering politicians like Cruz and Rubio is compelling.  But let’s face it: watch the debates for just a few minutes and you realize Trump is a bully whose main attribute is bombastic self-confidence. By temperament he is unsuited to be president. The grim reality is that Republicans appear to have no answer to him.

This is partly because the debates are about issues only in passing.  They’re mainly about show, and “The Donald” knows how to put on a show.  As Cruz and Rubio split the vote, and Kasich and Carson slowly fade, Trump tightens his grip on the delegate total needed to grab the Republican nomination.

The amazing thing is this: It’s now quite conceivable that come January 2017, we will see Donald Trump inaugurated as president.

The Republican Alternate Universe of Paranoia

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Paranoia will destroy ya

W.J. Astore

I watched last night’s Republican debate so you wouldn’t have to.  Leaving aside the usual mugging by Donald Trump, the usual jousting over side issues like whether Ted Cruz is a natural born citizen, I thought I’d take an impressionistic approach to the debate.  You can read the debate transcript here (if you dare), but here is my admittedly personal take on the main messages of the debate.

  1. Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton are coming to take your guns. So you need to elect a Republican who will allow you to keep your guns and to buy many, many more guns while carrying them openly in public.
  2. Related to (1), ISIS is coming to these shores. In fact, they’re already here.  That’s one big reason why everyone needs guns – to protect ourselves from ISIS and other terrorists out to kill Americans on Main Street USA.
  3. America is weak. Obama has gutted our military.  The Iranians and Russians laugh at us.  To stop them from laughing, America needs to rebuild its military, buy more weapons, and use them freely.  In fact, all the next commander-in-chief needs to do is ask military leaders what they need to win, give them exactly that, then stand back as our military (especially Special Ops troops) kicks ass.  Victory!
  4. America is weak (again), this time economically. The Chinese are kicking our ass.  They’re tougher than us and smarter than us.  We need to teach them who’s boss, perhaps with a big tariff on Chinese imports, combined with intense pressure on them to revalue their currency.
  5. The American tax system is unfair to corporations. We need to lower corporate tax rates so that American companies won’t relocate, and also so that American businesses will be more competitive vis-à-vis foreign competitors.
  6. The most oppressed “minority” in the U.S. are not Blacks or Hispanics or the poor: it’s the police. Yes, the police.  They are mistreated and disrespected.  Americans need to recognize the police are there to protect them and to defer to them accordingly.
  7. The only amendment worth citing in the U.S. Constitution is the Second Amendment.
  8. The National Security Agency, along with all the other intelligence agencies in America, need to be given more power, not less. They need broad and sweeping surveillance powers to keep America safe.  Privacy issues and the Fourth Amendment can be ignored.  People like Edward Snowden are traitors. “Safety” is everything.
  9. Bernie Sanders is a joke. Hillary Clinton just might be the anti-Christ.
  10. Immigrants are a threat, especially if they’re Muslim. They must be kept out of America so that they don’t steal American jobs and/or kill us all.

What I didn’t hear: Anything about the poor, or true minorities, or gender inequities, or the dangers of more war, and so on.

My main takeaway from this debate: Republican candidates live in the United States of Paranoia, a hostile land in which fear rules.  Think “Mad Max, Fury Road,” but without any tough females about.  (I have to admit I missed Carly Fiorina/Imperator Furiosa on the main stage.)

Only one candidate struck a few tentative notes of accord through bipartisan collaboration and compromise: Ohio governor John Kasich.  In his closing statement, he spoke eloquently of his parents’ working-class background.  He’s also the only candidate with the guts not to wear the by-now obligatory flag lapel pin.  I’m not a Republican, but if I had to vote for one, it would be him.  Why?  Because he’s the least batshit crazy of the bunch.

Yes, it was a depressing night, one spent in an alternate universe detached from reality.  In the end, old song lyrics popped into my head: “paranoia will destroy ya.”  Yes, yes it will, America.