Live-Blogging the 4th Republican Presidential Primary Debate

11:10 pm: Senator Paul calls us “the richest, freest, most-humanitarian nation in the history of the world,” and then decries our (ostensibly) high rate of public spending.  He calls himself “the only true fiscal conservative on this stage.”  That’s it; “mercifully short” is all I can say for Paul’s closing statement.

Governor Kasich also closes as one might expect; referring to his considerable qualifications and vision, and going on a bit too long about it.

Ms. Fiorina also closes-out the way one might expect, attacking Hillary Clinton and warning us that under a Clinton Presidency, “the rich will get richer and the poor will get poorer.”  I think one of her advisors told her that she was widely perceived as being a callous plutocrat, and that she should…say something about inequality.

Governor Bush gives just about the mildest closing statement I have ever heard; he seems to have resigned himself to whatever happens in the Republican Presidential Primary, and to be surprisingly well-humored about it.

Senator Cruz invokes his father’s status as an immigrant and the 1980 Presidential Election that gave us President Reagan.

Senator Rubio leverages his charisma to talk about declining faith in the American dream.  Being a good speaker allows a person pursuing a leadership position to talk about what is scaring people while sounding like he is already at work finding an answer to the threat.

Dr. Carson closes out with a thought for the 5 Americans who have died of drug overdoses during the preceding 2 hours and 15 minutes.

Donald Trump promises that he will make the United States better than ever before.  He does it with somewhat less of the chutzpah from his previous debates and campaign speeches, but there is no “fresh material.”

Moderator Neil Cavuto notes that this debate was edifying but didn’t offer many fireworks, affirming for the viewers that “this isn’t about us, it’s about them,” gesturing to the candidates.  Clever sideswipe at CNBC’s frackas with the Republican Presidential hopefuls, Cavuto.

11:03 pm: Donald Trump identifies corporate inversion as a huge drain of wealth from the United States, noting that there are believed to be over $2.5 trillion–Trump suspects that it is much more–being held by formerly US-based corporations overseas.  He proposes a lower tax rate as a way of bringing that money into the United States.

Why don’t we shift taxation from corporations to investors?

11:00 pm: Senator Rubio says that the Democrats have the same tired ideas–more government, more regulation, more spending–in response to 21st century challenges.  I notice immediately that if you replace the word “Democrats” with “Republicans” and replace each instance of the word “more” with the word “less,” it reads even more-plausibly.  I notice this because Senator Rubio often invokes the fast-paced World of the 21st century…and then repeats his party’s standing positions since the Reagan years.

10:54 pm: Ms. Fiorina attributes the 2008 Financial Crash to “government.”  She specifically notes that the Bush Administration promoted consolidation of larger banks and encouraged extending a longer line of credit to prospective homebuyers of marginal means…but the problem, in her view, is ultimately “government.”  It’s like the relinquishment of an opportunity to learn something about the difference between a sound government policy and an unsound one.

10:51 pm: Governor Kasich argues that Senator Cruz has exhibited an attitude that is unbecoming of an executive: “When millions of people are waiting to watch their life savings disappear…you don’t just say we have philosophical…concerns…Philosophy doesn’t work when you run something.”

10:46 pm: Governor Kasich attributes Wall Street’s growing sense of deviousness and dysfunction to greed.  He quickly speaks up for the free enterprise system itself, but invokes Michael Novak in noting that Capitalism hasn’t by itself promoted enough of a value system to moderate the acquisitive (and thus potentially fraudulent or risk-acceptant) tendencies of financial managers and CEOs.  It’s an appreciable answer philosophically-speaking, but I don’t think “We need to change the culture” is a practical way to restrain risk-prone behavior on Wall Street.  That’s simply what regulations and oversight are for.

Senator Cruz speaks loudly and confidently in opposition to ever bailing-out large American banks again.  He intones boldly and slows as he lands; moderator Neil Cavuto seems surprised by Senator Cruz’s blanket commitment, saying that in a hypothetical collapse of Bank of America “millions of depositors would be on the line, with that decision.”

Senator Cruz filibusters and doesn’t respond.

10:41 pm: Governor Bush calls for higher capital requirements for banks–An intrusive Federal regulation?!–and says that “Dodd-Frank did the opposite of that,” saying that its capital requirements aren’t high-enough.  That’s not the opposite, Governor; Jeb! actually wants more Dodd-Frank, not less of it.  Hmmm…

10:36 pm: Governor Kasich speaks at great length about his own record, both in Congress and as Governor of Ohio.  It’s an impressive record…and he speaks so long and with so little of Senator Rubio’s charisma that I come away with an image of the proverbial snake eating its own tail…though it is a very qualified and politically-moderate snake…

10:34 pm: Senator Rubio again steals the stage, protesting the Islamic State’s hatred of our values, saying there is no compromise to be had with radicals who hate us for allowing women to drive.  He says it’s either our way or their way, and that the Islamic State cannot be ignored.  Resounding applause; Senator Paul has been marginalized in the foreign policy debate.

10:31 pm: Senator Paul attributes the rise of the Islamic State to our support for the Free Syrian Army, arguing that we should have stayed out of this conflict.  He gets the history of the Syrian Civil War disturbingly wrong: We did stay out of the Syrian conflict, to our shame, since the Assad Family Regime employed collective punishment against thousands of innocents starting over 4 1/2 years ago.  Peaceful protesters were replaced over time by armed protesters, then defecting army units, and later, Islamists, many of them foreigners.  It was a conflagration that we ignored; we followed Senator Paul’s ignorant and timorous advice too well.

10:30 pm: A cacophony onstage as half of the Republican candidates try to follow Ms. Fiorina.

10:27 pm: Ms. Fiorina attacks both Trump and Paul for proposing that we not negotiate from a position of strength–in particular, that they wouldn’t allow for a large-enough military.  Ms. Fiorina calls for thousands of more troops in Germany (maybe) as a way of standing up to Russia.

10:24 pm:  Governor Bush attacks Donald Trump for applauding Putin’s intervention on behalf of the Assad Regime.  He chides Trump for thinking of Middle Eastern politics in terms of big fish, bigger fish, where the people we loathe the most are destroyed by those we merely dislike, and those we dislike are taken-out by those who just annoy us a bit.  “That’s like playing a board game.  That’s like playing Monopoly.  That’s not the way the world works!”

Governor Bush speaks in favor of humanitarian intervention, but circumspectly.  He calls out the Islamic State for its long-term agenda of mass murder, invoking beheadings of Christians.

10:22 pm: Donald Trump claims he knows President Putin very well because “we were stablemates” during their 60 Minutes appearance.  He’s all for Putin’s intervention in Syria on the side of the Assad Regime.  Russia is actually helping the Assad Family Regime to batter what’s left of the Free Syrian Army far more than it is taking the fight to the Islamic State.

10:19 pm: Dr. Carson thinks that the Middle East is going to be Russian President Vladimir Putin’s “base” at this rate.  That’s kinda funny; I thought it was more like Syria is Russia’s last ally in the Middle East, and Putin is burdened with defending the Assad Family Regime.  The same can be said for Russia’s ugly intervention in Ukrainian politics, which has led to wasteful war in the southeast of the country.  It’s not an enviable position; some Republicans, understandably frustrated with seeing so much Russian adventurism in other countries, have confused what is really Russian desperation with Russian strength.

10:13 pm: The music tried to play-off the debate for a commercial break, and it slowly faded-out, beaten by an ad-hoc agreement between a moderator and a candidate.  It’s pretty funny.

10:12 pm: So, Donald Trump tells us that the Trans-Pacific Partnership is a disastrous deal for America.  Note that Donald Trump has managed to avoid having discussions of the efficacy of the free market with the other candidates.

10:05 pm: An interesting and (in my recollection unprecedented) argument breaks-out between Senator Paul and Senator Rubio over Rubio’s proposal to increase military spending.  Rubio calls Paul an isolationist.  Paul avers that he is concerned about national defense (though I admit I suspect that his ideas about what that entails predate the Jackson Administration) but that he doesn’t want to “bankrupt this county.”

Senator Cruz defends Rubio, saying “If you think it’s expensive to defend this country, you should see how expensive it is not to defend it.”  Big applause.  The Republican Party is not attracted to a leaner Defense posture.

Ms. Fiorina steers the conversation back to 0-based budgeting.  She doesn’t want to talk foreign policy.  She doesn’t want to talk much about any policy issues besides slashing spending and regulations.

When it’s Donald Trump’s turn to speak, he also speaks in favor of a larger Defense budget and military.

10:03 pm: Senator Rubio is forced to defend tax credits for children.  He sounds passionate.

Senator Paul identifies Senator Rubio’s proposal for a refundable child tax credit as a $1 trillion welfare transfer payment.  Libertarians really will stick to their guns, Saturday Night Live-style: Families are not sacred and to be protected, they are potentially another object of welfare transfer payments.

10:01 pm: Governor Bush just shared an anecdote in which 2 men once told him that with another $2,300 (presumably coming from a tax cut), they would go back to South Carolina and start a business.  There’s another hour in this rose-colored glass house?

9:56 pm: Senator Cruz proposes no taxes on the first $36,000 of Americans’ income, and a flat 10% tax rate on income beyond that.  It eliminates the capital gains tax, the payroll tax and the corporate income tax, and yes, it eliminates the IRS.  There would be a 16% flat tax on business.  Cruz promises about a $4,000 tax reduction on a mother in a family of 4 making about $40,000 a year.  Is he accounting for her deductions?  A moderator asks about paying for the tax cut, and Senator Cruz says that the Tax Policy Foundation scored about a $3.7 trillion cost–about the size of the entire Federal budget–to those tax cuts over 10 years.  He then leans on the idea that flatter and lower taxes would stimulate economic activity and thus make up for all the programs (and entire Cabinet Departments) he would close down.

9:53 pm: It occurs to me that Republicans can generalize their discussions of economic policy through phrases that are impossible to like, such as Dr. Carson’s “This is America, the land of dreams, and we need to give people an opportunity to realize those dreams.”  Who wants to argue with that?  Few in this country want to quibble with the idea of a thousand flowers blooming in the market economy; the issue is whether Republicans’ supposedly pro-growth slashing of taxes, spending, and regulations would create the rising tide that lifts all boats.  Unfortunately, it’s pernicious, self-serving nonsense.  It sounds good to simplify it to respect for people’s dreams, though.

9:51 pm: Neil Cavuto shows us a county-by-county map which indicates an above-average interest in taxes as an economic issue in…mostly the Republican counties nationwide: Fascinating.

9:45 pm: “The truth is, the secret sauce of America is innovation and entrepreneurship.”  Ms. Fiorina goes back into her speech on breaking regulations.  She characterizes Governor Walker’s breaking of both public- and private-sector labor unions as “building a meritocracy.”

Does she really give a damn about that woman who expressed fear for her children’s future?  I don’t believe she does.

Asked what she would replace the Affordable Care Act with, Ms. Fiorina proposes high-risk insurance pools.  She also says we should try something we haven’t done in American health care to-date, which is unleash the free market…That was what led to problems of rejected claims, dropped coverage and denial of coverage for preexisting conditions, Ms. Fiorina.

9:42 pm: Oh, look, Senator Cruz has chosen to get offended at the suggestion that his unyielding opposition to any immigration reform makes him “anti-immigrant.”  Yes, it’s not the 11 million mostly-Hispanic illegal immigrants who don’t qualify for public benefits and are afraid even to talk to the police because of the likelihood of deportation are not the ones who are marginalized in America today, it’s opponents of immigration reform who have decided that they have been called a name.

9:39 pm: Senator Rubio offers more conventional Republican boilerplate ideas wrapped in a reference to the competitive challenges of a global economy.  He really relies on his charisma (which is considerable).

9:37 pm: “Thank you for letting me speak at the debate, Neil, it’s very nice of you…”  Governor Bush opens with a well-delivered joke, expressing his sense of his own undue marginalization…and then, as a friend notes, he seems to smell blood in the water and affirms everything Governor Kasich said about allowing illegal immigrants to remain in the US, work, and get right with the law and finally apply for citizenship.

The pro-immigration reform candidates on the stage are getting bigger applause from the audience tonight than the deporters.

9:33 pm: Governor Kasich follows 1 of Donald Trump’s rambling speeches about building a wall and deporting illegal immigrants by invoking President Reagan’s 1986 amnesty for 3 million illegal immigrants.  He gives a brief nod to fencing-off the border even more…and then he says deporting 11 million illegal immigrants would be both a practical impossibility and an inhumane act.

This leads to an agitated back-and-forth with Trump that leads to Trump petulantly saying that he’s a billionaire who runs “an amazing company,” and thus doesn’t have to listen to Kasich…You’re a little 1-note, Trump.  Oh, congratulations on inheriting a large fortune, Trump.

9:30 pm: Dr. Carson says he is OK with vetting.  I recall his Meet the Press interview on Sunday, when Dr. Carson said that he’s never seen media scrutiny against a Presidential hopeful like that done to him–including, he specifically opined, both Clintons!


9:25 pm: Senator Paul is right that inflation hurts the poorest the worst; this doesn’t change the fact of his own opposition to a minimum wage (which certainly doesn’t hurt the lowest wage-earners) and opposes programs like Medicaid and SNAP benefits (Food Stamps) which definitely benefit the poor, inflation or no.  How can Republican candidates speak of helping the worst-off when millions of Americans cannot meet their basic needs for physical health and secure shelter on a minimum wage, and they oppose both a minimum wage increase and those basic Federal safety-net programs while proposing flatter income tax rates?

9:21 pm: “Under Bill Clinton, the economy added about 221,000 jobs a month.  Under George W. Bush, the economy added only about 13,000 jobs a month.  What would you say to those who say that Democratic Presidents create more jobs than Republicans?”

Carly Fiorina responds by talking about a woman who admits she fears for her children’s future.  She then proposes 0-based budgeting, flattening Federal taxes out dramatically, eliminating Federal regulations and auditing and investigating the Federal bureaucracy.  “WE HAVE TO TAKE AMERICA BACK!” she closes, to applause.  She didn’t really answer the question, and I don’t really see how eliminating Federal programs is actually about that mother’s children’s future.

9:19 pm: Governor Bush proposes big tax write-offs for investments…Isn’t there any moral hazard to that?  Wouldn’t that be very expensive for the Federal Government from a revenue standpoint?

9:18 pm: Governor Bush and Governor Kasich have a small fight over who gets to speak next: The debate stage is still crowded.

9:16 pm: “From 2008 until today, the economy has grown about 1.6% a year on average.”  Senator Cruz probably wants to include 2008 (Bush’s last year in office) and 2009 (the bottoming-out of the Great Recession) in any of his talking points about economics.  Senator Cruz romanticIzes Ronald Reagan and tax cuts…Ugh, there it is.

9:15 pm: Governor Kasich proposes an 8-year freeze of non-Defense discretionary spending.  Basically, he represents the cautious middle course in what I expect to be a legion of dramatic promises.

9:14 pm: Oops, game show buzzer–Governor Kasich bid over…on time.

9:10 pm: Senator Rubio says “If raising the minimum wage would be the (best way to help Americans at the bottom) then I’d be for it, but it isn’t.”  He invokes the 21st century; interesting, that Republicans propose their 19th century policy proposals as a response to changes they don’t fully reckon with on their own terms.

Rubio expresses a concern that raising the minimum wage will facilitate further automation; we should probably consider how many jobs have been lost due to automation, consolidation and outsourcing at the middle of the income scale.

He also says, “We need fewer philosophers (coming out of college) and more welders!” to much applause.  A naive plea for more unneeded and less-skilled labor resonates with Republican Primary voters, because the party has become the mustering place for badly-misguided working-class Whites who see their way of life collapsing due to rapid economic change and don’t see a way out.

9:08 pm: Dr. Carson is for lowering the minimum wage.  He said it should be lowered because it will lead to more minority employment.  For the record, when he referred to “tak(ing) advantage of opportunities,” he meant prospective employees at the bottom of the income scale who already can’t support themselves on the minimum wage and who he now proposes to undercut.

9:06 pm: Donald Trump is against the $15 an hour minimum wage not because of any articulated expectation about the problem of higher labor costs at the bottom of the income scale, but because “We don’t win anymore.”  He is against raising the minimum wage at all; respectful applause.

You’d think he’d notice that States with lower minimum wages don’t necessarily have a lower unemployment rate or better job or GDP growth and that it might be more complex than “We can’t raise the minimum wage because we don’t win anymore,” but that’s not Trump’s schtick.

9:04 pm: So, if the Republican Presidential candidates go over on time, they will be warned by a gameshow buzzer.

9:02 pm: I’m glad that the Wall Street Journal is a part of this debate; it has serious reporting credentials.  As a contributor to The Nation put it, “The Wall Street Journal is actually two newspapers–one with a crack news staff and one with a crackpot editorial staff.”  In any case, here’s an obvious benefit of Rupert Murdoch buying the newspaper years ago.

9:01 pm: “Abraham Lincoln debated a few blocks away…”  Yes, but that was an actual debate–1 on 1, structured, with actual judgment on substantive arguments offered in response to key questions.

9:00 pm: Nice POV camera shot walking through an unremarkable cinberblock hallway to the debate venue.  Adds dramatic tension.

Live-Blogging the CNBC Republican Presidential Primary Debate

After a very good week, Hillary Clinton has gone from being highly-  to being extremely-likely to be the Democratic nominee.  Have the Republican Presidential prospects learned anything?  Stay tuned…

Something else to consider: Dr. Ben Carson now leads Donald Trump in Iowa Caucus polling!  That’s the Christian Right vote for sure, and is probably not a transferable asset; Trump still leads by almost as much in nationwide Republican Presidential polling, though Carson is still on the ascent.  The Liberal Ironist is morbidly-curious to see if this is really going to be the year that Republican Presidential Primary voters actually buck historical habit (and good judgment and nominate a non-politician) and nominate a Republican with no political experience whatsoever as their Presidential candidate.  Not every non-politician you could run for President is Dwight Eisenhower (who as Supreme Commander of Allied Forces during World War II definitely had impressive prior political experience), and Donald Trump, Dr. Carson, and Carly Fiorina for sure are no Dwights Eisenhower.

10:25 pm: This really was the best Republican Presidential Primary Debate to-date by far.  There were some hard questions here, but they stayed focused on topics the candidates themselves generally wanted to discuss, and those questions inspired some good discussion.

Donald Trump handles post-debate interviews with far more discretion and thought than we’re used to hearing from his campaign speeches and even his debate performances…It’s been asked several times already, but are we witnessing a performance artist?

10:19 pm: Governor Bush says he won’t indulge in divisive rhetoric, that that’s no way to lead.  It occurs to me that the subliminal story behind all the audience boos over panelists’ attempts to set the Presidential hopefuls against each other is that the (slightly trailing) candidates are quite happy to indirectly attack one another (including rather harshly) and hope it will make an impression on watching or listening Republicans.

10:17 pm: Senator Rubio really is the establishment communicator right now.

10:16 pm: Donald Trump is upset because “We lose, we don’t win.”  There’s nothing to talk about here: Donald Trump says Barack Obama deals weakly and he’ll deal strongly.  This coming from an heir to a fortune who has won some and lost some and generally always occupied positions wherein he could bark orders to people.

10:16 pm: Carly Fiorina promises that she is “Hillary Clinton’s worst nightmare.”  Fiorina is more-comfortable going on the attack than she is talking about what she believes in or what she wants to do with political power.  Maybe she lacks the presence of mind to grasp the difference.

10:15 pm: Senator Cruz promises to stand up against (any legislation by President Obama or which President Obama could sign).  Vintage Cruz.

10:13 pm: Governor Christie promises he will be a good Realpolitik President, invoking his record in New Jersey.  He is prone to refer to vigilance against Islamist terrorism; the shadow of September 11th is very deep in New Jersey.

10:12 pm: Senator Paul’s closing statement consists of a general enthusiasm to (extremely) limited government, then a promise to filibuster the compromise between Congressional Republicans and President Obama on the 2-year budget.  That filibuster is doomed.  Vintage Paul.  That’s Libertarianism in Federal politics: A statement of general principles, followed by shouting in the storm.

10:08 pm: Dr. Carson says that personal finance must play a role in making seniors’ finances more-secure.  Social conservatives (speaking very broadly) do add 1 element to political debates which is difficult to find elsewhere: They will talk about actions by ordinary citizens outside of government action as a partial (or sometimes, more-naively, total) corrective to policy problems.  I can see the appeal of that call–to a point.

10:06 pm: Governor Bush seeks to reestablish himself as a policy-minded candidate with candor, asserting that he believes his economic plan would lead to 4% annual GDP growth, but that it would still be necessary to restrain Social Security and Medicare spending growth, something Trump was too…vague to commit to.

10:05 pm: “We’re going to bring jobs and industry back.  We’re going to deal with the deficit, and we’re going to fix Social Security and Medicare.”  It’s not hard to understand where much of Donald Trump’s constituency is: There are a lot of ideologically-vague Conservatives who want to be told encouraging things.  Trump’s campaign is a pure cult of personality, with a racist temper.

10:04 pm: Governor Huckabee really likes to talk about public health.  “Alzheimer’s, diabetes, heart disease, and cancer–You fix those, and you’ve fixed Medicare.”  Huckabee is running as the senior candidate–and when he talks about public health, particularly the health of the elderly, he seems to have a point in doing so.

9:56 pm: Governor Bush, who is himself a Fantasy Football participant (currently 7-0), admits that it might need to be regulated by the government due to a lack of oversight into how money is gambled through it, or how big data can be used to monitor consumer habits through it.  He says that if the NFL cannot oversee it fully, it may have to disassociate itself from it, or that government may have to regulate it.  Governor Christie gets some applause with a Seinfeldian, “Are we really talking about having government regulate Fantasy Football?  Let them play it.  Who cares?”

9:50 pm: Governor Christie stays on the question of threats to the moral authority of public servants, noting FBI Director James Comey’s recent inference from a rising crime rate in some cities that, due to a heightened scrutiny and apparent loss of public confidence, police seem to be ambivalent to engage in the face of possible acts of lawbreaking.  He speaks well on the point, but it doesn’t carry to other debate participants.

9:49 pm: Governor Huckabee is asked if he believes that Donald Trump has the moral authority he needs to be President.  Boos from the audience!  Lots of boos!

Considering Governor Huckabee (and many Republicans) have called for a President who possesses greater moral authority, it’s hard to see how this is an unfair question.  Think about Donald Trump’s life, and especially the tenor of his campaign.

Governor Huckabee, a Baptist Minister by vocation, defends Trump.  Trump intejects “What a nasty question–Thank you Governor,” and Huckabee immediately attacks Secretary Clinton.

9:47 pm: Trump is asked if he would feel more comfortable if his own employees were armed (you know, in self-defense).  He responds (very unconvincingly) that he probably would…He really does look uncomfortable thinking about the prospect.

9:46 pmSenator Rubio says we need to reform our immigration laws to make naturalization to the United States more merit-based (essentially removing family immigration privileges).  Senator Rubio’s “bow to political prudence” in joining his fellow Republicans back in the Coolidge era is sad to see.  He had what I would call a redeeming quality on policy; now I don’t see how he is distinguishable on substance from a Tea Partier.

9:45 pm: Donald Trump insists that “(immigrants) have to come into the country legally.”  He has tapped into a refrain that has been typical of the Right since George W. Bush proposed what is essentially the current comprehensive immigration reform proposal back in 2004.

9:39 pm: Governor Kasich gets a question about marijuana reform.  The debate is being hosted in Colorado; the State has seen scores of millions of dollars in new revenues from its full legalization of marijuana by popular referendum.  Governor Kasich’s answer is a celebration of State policy innovation: Let 50 flowers bloom.  He lands neatly on what he has accomplished in almost 5 years as Governor of Ohio.  (He was re-elected just shy of a year ago with 64% of the vote.)  Republican Governors consistently have more to say for themselves than Republicans in Congress, at least when they ask the American people for a promotion.

9:34 pm: Governor Bush decries the fact that about the bottom 1/2 of Americans on the income scale pay no Federal income tax (which is true), and again uses that phrase, popular among Conservatives, that we “lower the rates and broaden the base.”  How can Republican Presidential candidates continue to claim that they can lower taxes on the rich and deal with the Federal budget deficit while also not raising taxes on the working class?  If you’re already lowering tax rates on the rich, you can’t get a whole lot of money back by taking away their deductions!

Naturally, this segues into a debate over whether Senator Rubio’s tax cut would effect a tax increase on the working class.  He denies that it would (wow).

Point of interest: George W. Bush cut taxes on the rich, the middle class, and the lower-middle class in 2001; that was what he spent the Clinton-Republican budget surplus of the 1990s on.  No one was soap boxing on budget deficits, you see; it was still possible to be ideological without being cruel then.

9:29 pm: Senators Cruz and Paul have a love-in over their bill to audit the Federal Reserve Bank.  I’m not sure what they expect to find, but I imagine another Congressional (Republican) trip up a creek with a small lamp.

9:26 pm: Senator Rubio says “The Democratic Party has the biggest super-PAC there is: It’s the mainstream media.”  Thunderous applause.  Pressing his luck (without suffering injury), Senator Rubio claims that the 11 HOUR Congressional hearing actually caught Secretary Clinton’s deception in her emails…Ugh, yawn.

9:25 pm: Trump rails against super-PACs–again!  He calls them a scam and says they have degraded the tenor of national political campaigns.  (Wow!)  There is a lot of evidence now that Conservative or Tea Party-themed super-PACs are in fact often multilevel marketing campaigns.

9:23 pm: Senator Rubio has a smart proposal for the H1-B (foreign workers in the tech industry) visa: Increase the rate at which such visas can be issued, but require that any tech job which an tech company wants to offer to a foreign worker on this visa to be advertised for 180 days, then pay the foreign worker more than a domestic worker would have been offered, then bar companies that fail to follow these regulations from ever using the H1-B visa program again.

Interestingly, when asked about his apparent stated criticism of Rubio’s stand on this issue, Donald Trump expresses his strong support for the H1-B visa program and says that he has no problem with Rubio’s proposal.  His panel questioner wonders where she heard that he made this assertion, and he shrugs: “I don’t know, you guys write this stuff.  I don’t know where you get it.”

9:15 pm: Carly Fiorina says that it’s hypocritical for Secretary of State Hillary Clinton to campaign as the prospective first woman President when Barack Obama’s policies (by implication Secretary Clinton’s policies) have been so disastrous (supposedly) for women.  This point really doesn’t make any sense; that just goes to show that, in Presidential politics, you can sometimes make claims that make no sense upon inspection–as long as you state them very slowly and in a low pitch.

9:12 pm: Governor Kasich calls for raising government revenues through increasing economic activity.  He then calls for a balanced budget amendment to the U.S. Constitution.  That’s a doomed dual rallying call for the man who wants to return to Congress.  (In the 1990s John Kasich was a prominent Republican Congressman).  In Ohio, Governor Kasich raised a lot of revenue by allowing hydraulic fracturing of natural gas, as disparagingly noted by Donald Trump.  The United States does not enjoy Ohio’s relatively simple fiscal (and geographical) incentives to just drill for more natural gas and tax it.

9:08 pm: Ms. Fiorina, in response to a question about the controversy surrounding online retailers that don’t pay sales taxes (an incentive created early in the Internet era which now disadvantages traditional brick-and-mortar retailers that employ more people and also pay property taxes), she says that government created a problem by creating the special incentive for Internet retailers in the first place.  She gives other examples, claiming that the Federal Government maintaining low student loan rates and FCC maintenance of Net Neutrality is more of the same: Government imposes an arbitrary policy to address one problem, and the result is harmful market distortions.  That’s a case of smart reference to a general Republican talking point.

9:06 pm: Asked if he would support a deal in which Democrats offered $10 in budget cuts for $1 in tax increases, Governor Bush says that for a Democratic offer like that, “I’ve give (such a Democrat) a warm kiss.”  I guess that’s a yes.

9:03 pm: Noting that he had previously said that no executive during the bailout era went to jail for negligence, Cramer asks Governor Christie if anyone at General Motors should go to jail for hundreds of deaths in vehicular accidents caused by faulty acceleration switches in their cars.  Christie, a former prosecutor, answers that government should regulate business less, but that the Federal Government needs a more-aggressive attorney general to prosecute lawbreaking by business.

That’s a bold call from a Governor of New Jersey–like, maybe any of them.

9:02 pm: Cramer’s question was about whether the government should be involved in price-setting for prescription drugs through various entitlements and regulations.  Dr. Carson answers that government over-regulates many aspects of business.  Cramer, a very conservative Democrat, seems genuinely appreciative when he says “Thank you, Dr. Carson.”

9:01 pm: Jim Cramer!  Will he shout “They know NOTHING!”?

8:54 pm: Senator Cruz still believes in President Reagan’s 11th Commandment (“Never insult a fellow Republican”)–just not for Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, whom he called a “liar” on the Senate floor.  He refers to an exchange between Governors Huckabee and Christie as “good,” saying they are “both right.”

Governor Huckabee had made a clever argument for a Republican, arguing that Social Security and Medicare are not welfare programs because the programs are funded through “their money: They already paid into the system.”  Actually, it’s your money if you are working now, as Social Security checks and Medicare services are both funded contemporaneously out of the payroll tax in your paycheck–You, the contemporary American worker, pay for the benefits of current program recipients.

Governor Christie accused Governor Huckabee of engaging in fantasy, saying that Social Security and Medicare are dangerously insolvent.  (Don’t cry that the sky is falling before it is, Chris.)  That’s actually a pretty big difference in perspective and policy among Republican Presidential contenders.  Huckabee’s defense of Social Security and Medicare, while inaccurate in principle, is far more politically-canny; Republicans are deeply-reliant on White retirees today.

8:48 pm: Senator Paul is asked about his opposition to outgoing House Speaker John Boehnor (R-OH)’s 2-year budget deal with Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) and President Obama, saying that the deal is taking money from Medicare and Social Security over several years to meet discretionary spending preferences now.  (The truth is that Medicare spending needs to be restrained over the longer-term, which I’m sure Senator Paul agrees with.)  He temporizes, declining to make an ideological argument about steep across-the-board budget cuts which we know he wants.  (They’re in his budget proposal.)

8:47 pm: Chaos.  Senator Cruz started it.

Senator Cruz had been asked about what to do about the Federal debt limit, and he saw this as yet-another opportunity to go after the mainstream media for bias.  (It’s just…not as convincing when Senator Cruz does it as when Senator Rubio does it.)  He said that the Republicans onstage each have more wisdom and prudence than any of the Democrats running for President.  “Their last debate was like a debate between the Bolsheviks and the Mensheviks.”  Yeah, this guy is capable of acting in elected office outside of the deep South effectively…

8:43 pm: In response to a difficult question about her firing as CEO of HP, Ms. Fiorina responds that “politics” forced her out of the boardroom–an answer that people who are just difficult to work with frequently give–and that Tom Perkins later expressed regret about her firing, and said that she had, upon closer inspection, been a good CEO.

In response, Fiorina was asked about Perkins’ controversial statement earlier this year, that wealthy Americans should get more votes than poor Americans.  (Wow, as if they weren’t benefiting from good fortune enough already.)  Fiorina’s answer is clever but flippant: “Well, now you see why Perkins and I had disagreements in the boardroom!”  Maybe we do, maybe.  Fiorina steers away from Scylla while there is no Charybdis on the other side of her ship.

8:39 pm: Governor Bush tells Senator Rubio that he’s not on a French work week; if he isn’t going to show up for work–Bush notes that he had supported Rubio not just as a mentor but as a constituent, and that he considers Rubio to be coming up short on constituent service.  He tells him to “Show up for work–or resign!”  The Senator fires back that Governor Bush had said he now wanted to model his campaign on Senator McCain’s comeback campaign–and that Senator McCain skipped many votes to campaign and is still a mover-and-shaker in the U.S. Senate!  Hah!

8:37 pm: Senator Rubio gets the hard question about the Sun-Sentinel editorial: “Rubio should resign, rather than keep ripping us off.”  A panel moderator notes that Senator Rubio has missed most of his Senate votes so far in the 114th Congress…and Senator Rubio notes that Senator Graham and then-Senator Obama missed a lot of Senate votes–fewer than him–while campaigning for re-election or for President, and notes that the Sun-Sentinel endorsed Graham while the papers didn’t criticize Obama’s absence.  “This is just another example of the mainstream media’s bias against Conservatives in politics.”

Judging by the crowd’s reaction, Senator Rubio just hit a fastball out of the park.

Let’s go Mets!

8:36 pm: Carly Fiorina grandstands a bit on tax reform, noting that about 60% of Americans hire a tax professional to help them understand the available income tax deductions.  She might do better tonight on substance, in a domestic policy debate.

8:28 pm: Dr. Carson was told that his tax plan would create multiple trillions of dollars of new debt that practically couldn’t result in a balanced budget through spending cuts, and he disputes the numbers.  That’s going to be hard to do with a panel of political journalists from CNBC, who are probably all briefed on aggregate budget forecasts.  Through the narrowed eyes from which he exudes that charming calm, Dr. Carson is probably aware that he has a large support base in the Christian Right that feels appreciation to the point of fidelity to him because of his consistency…and his stubborn lack of regard for what those not in the Christian Right think of him.

Governor Kasich criticizes multiple candidates on the stage for their pie-in-the-sky tax and budget proposals in their Presidential candidacy.  I wonder if the Republican Establishment will ever take a serious interest in Kasich as a possible redeemer for next year.

Trump jumps on Governor Kasich, noting his low poll numbers (outside of Ohio), criticizing Ohio’s reliance on hydraulic fracturing for natural gas as a source of revenue, and saying that Kasich was on the Board of Managers at Lehman Brothers in 2008.  (Ouch!)  Trump will attack his opponents onstage in Republican Presidential Primary debates from the left.

Kasich seems eager to defend his record.  He notes Ohio has a diverse (and diversifying) energy industry, including renewable energy production.  He also corrects Trump, saying he was not on the Board of Managers at Lehman Brothers, but that he was a banker, and that this helped him to learn about business at the local level.  (What, Trump got his facts wrong?)

8:18 pm: “You guys know that in a lot of job interviews, you get the question: ‘What is your biggest weakness?’  Now, in 30 seconds, without saying ‘I work too hard’…what is your greatest weakness?”

Governor Kasich ignores the call for probity and makes a campaign plug.  He isn’t a superficial candidate, but as a moderate-Conservative he’s just desperate to stand-out in this field.

Governor Bush tells us our greatest days lie ahead.

Senator Rubio says our greatest days lie ahead.

Donald Trump answers the question!  Wow!  He answers this question seriously!  He says his greatest weakness is that he is trusting of people whom he relies upon to a fault.  And then, if he feels that his trust or expectations are conclusively not met, he never forgets and tends to hold grudges.  He says his wife noted this about him and told him to let-up.  That was actually a good answer.

Dr. Carson says perhaps his biggest weakness was that he couldn’t imagine himself as President until hundreds of thousands (of the Conservative grass-roots) called upon him to run for President.  That wasn’t his greatest weakness, it was his modesty and his good sense, and it’s on hold now.

Carly Fiorina joked that she has been told since the last debate that she should smile more.  Either she sees this question as just a losing proposition for her in 30 seconds or less, or else she lacks self-knowledge.

Ted Cruz jokes that his greatest weakness is that he’s too agreeable, then he gives a serious answer that he’s too passionate and too prone to confrontation over his beliefs.  He is, and that is indeed a great weakness.  I would sooner say, maybe, that it’s his cynical opportunism, his “failure to distinguish fame from celebrity,” as Christopher Lasch would put it, and his inability to make friends in his chosen profession is his greatest weakness, but at least it’s a substantive answer.

Governor Christie, with his own character now much in controversy both within New Jersey and without, declines to answer the question, instead talking about what he perceives as the flaws in the Democratic Presidential prospects.  That ought to increase confidence in his sense of perspective…

Senator Paul also answers the question by not addressing it.


8:15 pm: CNBC goes for a…kinda funny dramatic opening.  I like it, but I’m not sure it’s for the right reasons.  I feel like the Mets-Royals World Series is a more authentic serious tone.

Live-Blogging the First 2016 Democratic Presidential Primary DebateG35

So far, Republican Presidential contenders in crowded, cantankerous debates have promised to impose a national sales tax, have vowed to repeal the Affordable Care Act (though Governor Walker is out of it now), resorted to decades-old rhetoric in opposition to gun control, bickered over who isn’t disowning Chief Justice John Roberts fast-enough, proposed walling-off Mexico and even Canada, and with a few exceptions have talked about the “problem of illegal aliens” as if the migrant workers and families in question aren’t even human.  The show has been stolen by celebrities devoid of any political experience whatsoever; Donald Trump and Carly Fiorina have competed to see who can exude more visceral nastiness to gratify the frustration and wrath of the Republican primary voter.  Tonight, the much smaller field of Democratic Presidential hopefuls meets in Las Vegas, to discuss their differences.  Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV), for one, said we should expect less personality-driven controversy and more talk about policy.

The only way to see how far a crazy train has carried you from the normal is to be walked back to the normal.  Stay tuned…

11:02 pm: Former Secretary of State Clinton brings the plane in for a textbook landing.  She is ready for the general election.

I’d even say she’s eager to get to it.

11:00 pm: Senator Sanders, oddly, doesn’t have a compelling closing statement.  (I say that because he really has made the most of his debate time on his own terms.)  Interestingly, he refers back to America’s almost-unique lack of paid maternity leave; Sanders definitely wins elections on substance, because he doesn’t have a sense of showmanship.

10:58 pm: Governor O’Malley notes what you didn’t hear in the Democratic debate tonight–no bashing of immigrants, little resentment or frustration–and associates this more open-minded, less-miserable and terrified perspective with younger Americans.  He sounds good.

10:56 pm: Senator Webb calls for building consensus.  He says he wants to confront poverty and the political power of corporations and centralized wealth.  I don’t mean to cast aspersions in saying this, but I really think he would rather run for President 50 years ago.

10:55 pm: Governor Chafee closes by calling himself a taker of difficult, principled stands.  I feel for him; I remember being fascinated by the Liberal-Republican Senator from Rhode Island.  But he’s losing-out in support to the candidates with long-established reputations as Progressive Democrats (or independent Socialists).

10:53 pm: Candidates are asked to name their enemies!  Well, interests and entities that just don’t like them.

Governor Chafee: “The coal lobby.”

Governor O’Malley. “The National Rifle Association.”

Secretary Clinton: “The drug companies, the insurance companies, the Iranians…maybe the Republicans, too.”

Senator Sanders: “Wall Street and the pharmaceutical companies.”

Senator Webb: “…I guess I would have to say the enemy soldier who wounded me with that grenade, but he isn’t around to talk to right now, so…” *shrugs*

10:43 pm: Senator Sanders notes that only the United States “and a few small countries”–geopolitical curios–have no paid maternity leave policy in their national regulations.  He calls this our “embarrassment.”

I like how little time in this debate is spent simply referring to 1 candidate or another’s odd offhand comments.  Democrats are talking about particular policies they want to enact, rather than laws they want to repeal, those policies are focused on making life easier for people rather than harder…If you’ll pardon the cliche, it’s like coming up for air when you didn’t know your breathing had been restrained.

10:42 pm: Secretary Clinton notes that Republicans say we should not regulate businesses to require paid family leave to raise small children–but that State and Federal laws regulating women’s reproductive options is not only alright by them, but an urgent policy priority.  It’s true, Republicans sure do have a lot of ideas about how women should live considering none of them provide any benefit for them whatsoever…

10:36 pm: Senator Sanders gives a superior answer to the “coronation” question–by changing the subject.  He notes that he has raised impressive fundraising totals in small donations by little-guy donors, and that he is the only Presidential prospect who has not created a super-PAC.  Sanders gets props for working an important subject–private money rampancy in our politics–into a typically-CNN fluff question.

10:35 pm: Governor O’Malley gives 1 of his less-compelling answers of the evening–not because it sounds bad, but because it’s unconvincing: In response to Anderson Cooper’s question about whether Hillary Clinton’s election would be a “coronation,” O’Malley expresses his respect for the Clintons, but says we need new leadership to transcend partisanship.

This is nonsense, frankly.  Governor O’Malley was Mayor of Baltimore and Governor of a State where Democrats enjoy supermajority representation in the legislature; outside of a more-moderate and Realist orientation in foreign policy. O’Malley has been burnishing his Liberal governing record all night.  I find that combination welcome–but it makes him seem like a poor entrepreneur of compromise between the parties; O’Malley has never really had to work with Republicans before.  He doesn’t know what Republicans are like, let-alone the Tea Party.

10:33 pm: Coming back from the (long) commercial break, Senator Clinton is asked the very-de-jure (and kinda stupid) question about whether “The Presidency shouldn’t be a crown passed between 2 royal families.”  I feel bad that she has to answer this kind of question; I’m serious.  What other First Lady has been talked about as a serious Presidential aspirant?  Who would ordinarily have the temerity to suggest such a bid was plausible?  It has always seemed like a possibility with Hillary Clinton, because of her merits.

10:28 pm: CNN will return with a lot of no-doubt profound questions on environmental policy, right  after these words from our fine corporate sponsors!

…You know, CNN came back from a commercial break, introduced the Democratic Presidential hopefuls, had Shania Twain sing the National Anthem, and then cut back to commercial.

10:28 pm: Senator Sanders explains his statement that we need, um, revolution.  (A Socialist calling for revolution on national television; some optics.)  Sanders manages to decry our low voter turnout, reaffirming his point that higher-turnout elections trend more-Democratic.  (Democrats outnumber Republicans in the United States and always have.)

10:23 pm: Governor Chafee says he would bring Edward Snowden, the NSA contractor who stole government documents and fled the country, releasing them all in an embarrassing and unfocused trickle, home and commute any sentence he was to receive.  Secretary Clinton and Governor O’Malley both note that Snowden revealed through his actions that he was no whistle-blower but a criminal.  (Adults in the room in a discussion of national security policy!)  Senator Sanders defends him, though note quite with Chafee’s passion.

Senator Webb avers in an interesting way: “I would leave Mr. Snowden’s ultimate fate to the legal system.”

10:21 pm: Senator Sanders promises that as President he would not reform the USA PATRIOT Act (which the other candidates all say they will do), but end it.  He mischaracterizes the NSA’s PRISM program.

10:15 pm: Governor O’Malley calls for some fairly-radical (in our ossified political context) immigration reform measures, calling for extending the benefits available to American citizens under the Affordable Care Act to currently-undocumented immigrants.  He says President Obama’s executive orders allowing millions of currently-illegal immigrants to remain in the United States indefinitely don’t go far-enough.  He later notes that Maryland passed a State-level version of the Federal DREAM Act–and that it passed a public referendum with 58% of the vote.

Our bench isn’t as deep as the Republicans’, but it’s deep-enough to see real variation among the candidates.  Secretary Clinton essentially hews to President Obama’s position, which is already well to the left of the Republicans but too incrementalist for many Liberals in the Democratic Party.

10:00 pm: Secretary Clinton pushes further from President Obama’s proposal for tuition-free community college to Federal funding for tuition-free State university education; she is reminded that she was just asked if she supported Senator Sanders’ call to increase funding for Social Security.  She backs-up and expresses support for increases Social Security payments for limited-income seniors.

Senator Sanders notes that seniors can expect to live in poverty on Social Security, and calls for ending the cap of the payroll tax on the first $108,600 of a person’s income.  Sanders’ stature is going to rise after this debate, even if his lack of charisma is almost his defining trait.

10:05 pm: Senator Sanders affirms that he would have passed the TARP bailout of Wall Street as an acute necessity, but that he did confront some of Bush’s appointed former banking executives and ask–not rhetorically–why they weren’t paying more to bail their own institutions out, instead relying on taxpayer funds to essentially protect their own jobs and investments.  He wants his adversarial position towards Wall Street to be widely-known; Secretary Clinton cannot out-maneuver him on this question and shouldn’t bother trying.

10:02 pm: Senator Sanders gets in 1 of the likely headline quotes of the night: “Congress does not regulate Wall Street; Wall Street regulates Congress.”  The man knows how to negotiate a Democratic primary.

10:00 pm: Secretary Clinton avers, surprisingly unconvincingly, that she was sensitive to the issues of speculative banking and banking consolidation before the 2008 Financial Crash.  Her vague answer on this question suggests that her heart really isn’t in this fight.

9:57 pm: Governor O’Malley sounds the call to separate speculative investment banking from commercial deposit banking–a return to the Glass-Steagall Act–and says that Senator Clinton couldn’t enjoy a renewal of his endorsement form 2008 due to her lack of a call for accountability for the banks.

9:50 pm: A question from a viewer: “Do Black lives matter, or to all lives matter?”  Senator Sanders, having previously had a speech crashed by Black Lives Matter activists, has learned to listen: “Black lives matter,” he says, earning applause as he talks about institutional racism.

Governor O’Malley talks a great length about the complexity of race relations: Tepid applause.  Great Scott, man! why didn’t you just open with “Black lives matter”?  Of course, Governor O’Malley was the source of the ill-starred “All lives matter” rejoinder.

Senator Clinton talks about confronting oppression and inequality with policies; huge applause.  You can offer a nuanced answer and steer the conversation if you are already a giant in the discussion.

Senator Webb notes his pursuit of racial justice through the Department of Defense.  He doesn’t get the tense quiet that O’Malley has as a contextual default, but this isn’t red meat.  Senator Webb will have a hard time answering these questions in a Democratic primary.

9:46 pm: Secretary Clinton notes that the House Republicans’ interminable investigations of her have not served their stated purpose of improving diplomatic security (she says there have already been 7 Congressional committees convened to study that issue), and that about $4.5 million have been spent investigating Secretary Clinton without finding anything.  Senator Sanders defends her, saying “Americans are tired of hearing about your damn emails!” which Clinton agrees with.  This is a huge applause line; it’s also a huge applause line when Governor Chafee calls the question of Clinton’s use of a private email account to conduct State business as a major accountability issue; Anderson Cooper asks Secretary Clinton if she would like to respond.  “No,” she says, to immense applause.

Hillary Clinton is winning this debate.

Governor Chafee cannot get a toehold here.

Senator Sanders reminds me of Louis Black.

Governor O’Malley agrees with Clinton and Sanders, putting this issue to bed.

9:40 pm: Each of the candidate is asked what they think to be the greatest national security threat to United States.

O’Malley: Iran’s pursuit of a nuclear program.

Clinton:  The spread of nuclear weapons technology and nuclear material, which is already possessed by unstable governments and pursued by Islamist terrorists.

Sanders: Human-induced global warming. (applause)

Webb: Cybercrime, terrorism, instability in the Middle East.

These answers are oddly-hard to compare; Senator Sanders gets credit for thinking outside of the box, but I think the other candidates would rejoin that he is thinking outside of the genre.  Clinton’s answer is the most-straightforward.  She really does strike me, personally, as the most-prepared candidate (or at least the most prepared to talk about issues that will be faced by a President).

9:40 pm: Senator Webb calls the acceptance of the Iran nuclear agreement to be symptomatic of general weakness, and attributes Iran’s recent test of a ballistic missile as a response to President Obama’s acceptance of this agreement.  I think Europe’s withdrawal from the sanctions regime in frustration might also have looked “weak” in Senator Webb’s view.

9:34 pm: Secretary Clinton defends the Libyan intervention that prevented a massacre in Benghazi and overthrew Colonel Muammar Ghaddafi.  She shines when she talks about humanitarian intervention.

Senator Webb temporizes: President Obama should have requested Congressional authorization for the Libyan intervention…so that Senator Webb could have condemned the action.  Our intervention saved a city the size of San Francisco from a Hama-type massacre.  Senator Webb says the drive from downtown Tripoli to Tripoli airport has become almost impassable due to militia roadblocks; I think as both a Liberal and an ironist that it’s more-important for major cities not to be massacred than for the drive to an airport to be reliable.

9:30 pm: “Let me just say here: We are already flying in Syria, just as we are flying in Iraq.”  Pushing back against loosely-philosophical talk against (often-humanitarian) foreign intervention, Clinton calls for closer consultation with US allies to increase status quo policies aimed at destroying the violent Islamist uprising that straddles much of Syria and Iraq.  She really such an advantage in foreign and national security policy discussions as the former Secretary of State.  She just talks in terms of concrete situations more-easily.

9:25 pm: Governor Chafee attacks Secretary Clinton’s vote in favor of the Iraq War Resolution, noting that “I did my homework” as the sole Republican to vote against giving George W. Bush the blank check that became the Iraq War.  He also compliments Senator Sanders for beating him to the punch in condemning the decision to go to war in Iraq, thus implicating Clinton with the Neoconservatives.  (“The enemy of my enemy is my friend.”)

9:22 pm: Secretary Clinton argues that Russia’s intervention in Syria is intolerable; I have always had a soft spot for Clinton’s hawkishness, but Putin’s intervention in Syria is more-ill-advised than it is intolerable.

Senator Sanders says in response that the invasion of Iraq was “the worst foreign policy decision in American history,” to applause.  (We didn’t lose 58,000 American servicemen and kill 2 million civilians in Iraq, but Iraq is much fresher in people’s memories; I will agree that our intervention in Iraq was a costlier strategic blunder than Vietnam, at least, as well as incredibly expensive.)

9:17 pm: In an interesting exchange, Senator Sanders defends himself against Governor O’Malley (who passed relatively strong gun control legislation in deep-Blue Maryland in 2013), saying that rural States like his home State of Vermont have a different culture and mentality regarding guns, and that Republicans (presumably) will have to be part of the solution in Congress if any new Federal gun control legislation is to be passed.

9:14 pm: Senator Sanders notes his D+ grade from the NRA.  (A good Vermonter, he is frequently noted to be relatively gun-friendly for a contemporary Democrat.)  He notes that he voted against a bill that would have held gun store owners liable for crimes committed by those who purchase guns in their stores; but he also notes that he thinks gun manufacturers need to be confronted for their cozy relationship with lawmakers.

Secretary Clinton hits Senator Sanders, trying to get to his left.  She notes that Sanders voted against the Brady Bill (Remember President Reagan’s support for gun control after he was almost assassinated by a disturbed lone wolf?).  She also smuggles in the premise that Senator Sanders will not take any action against gun manufacturers.  She says it’s time Congress stood up to the NRA–to round applause.  She notes that the vast majority of NRA members think that gun purchasers should have to pass a criminal background check, but the NRA organization reflexively opposes them.

9:10 pm: Governor O’Malley gets a (contextually) difficult question about his 800-pound gorilla in the room: He was Mayor of Baltimore, and champion of assertive policing.  Police misconduct was cited as the probable cause of the death of Freddie Gray, arrested without a charge, which led to devastating riots in that city’s inner city commercial district.  Governor O’Malley notes that arrests had fallen to a 38-year low the year before the Baltimore riots; that answer is a subtle one under the circumstances, but it isn’t likely to satisfy those who implicate the Governor in Baltimore’s reputation for harsh police tactics, and were looking for a discussion of what happens behind the thin blue line.

9:06 pm: Senator Sanders calls for proactive policy support for small and moderately-scaled businesses as a counter to Secretary Clinton’s call for corporate profit-sharing and harnessing of the power of markets on behalf of of those left behind.  This is probably going to be the terms of the Democratic Primary going forward: Can markets be coaxed into new arrangements that will provide for the middle- and working-class, or do they have to be regulated from an adversarial position to prevent corporate greed from becoming rapacious?  This question is increasingly the substance of articulate ambivalence.

9:00 pm: Secretary of Clinton does well with her first question, characterizing her occasional shifts in view–for example, her recent shift to saying that President Obama has been too harsh on immigration policy and in no longer saying she supports the Trans Pacific Partnership–by saying that she changes her mind in light of new information.  It’s what she should say; that’s as may be, her shifts of position on both of those issues to discredit President Obama with the Left almost certainly constitutes positioning.

8:57 pm: Former First Lady, Senator, and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton launches right into a positive list of proposals for how to increase middle-class economic security.  She sounds rehearsed (which is not to say that I buy the myth that Secretary Clinton is more of a performer than the average politician, though some may leave with that impression), but I notice that she offers answers–moderate answers, perhaps, but answers–to the economic inequality and fragmentation that Senator Sanders just decried.  It may not satisfy a Sanders supporter in substance, but it reflects a more-canny political psychology: Don’t talk about the depth of the problem more than about what you want to do.

8:55 pm: Senator Sanders, the Vermont Socialist–No, he’s really a Socialist, just ask him–is angry.  He does exude more of the vibe you can feel on the dominant Republican Presidential candidates right now.  He talks more explicitly about existing social problems–inequality, domination of the political system by special interests.  To a Liberal, he’s endearing–but his lack of charisma has never been more clear than on a national debate stage.

8:51 pm: Governor O’Malley speaks with pride of his tenure as Governor of Maryland; it is his tenure as Mayor of Baltimore, once at a cursory glance thought to be transformative, that is likely to continually haunt him, particularly during this primary season.

8:50 pm: Having heard Governor Chafee and Senator Webb introduce themselves, I’m stricken by the expectation that the Democratic candidates are going to emphasize the positive: Chafee talked about his managerial record as Mayor of Warwick and Governor of Rhode Island, and difficult votes taken as a 1-term Republican Senator.

Senator Webb talks about his personal background: He is a military man, he worked in the Reagan Administration.  Some of it is structural, but I note that neither candidate talks in the resentful terms towards the present that characterize so many of the Republican candidates.

8:39 pm: Oh yeah, former Governor Martin O’Malley, former Senator Jim Webb, and former Senator and Governor Lincoln Chafee are also running for the Democratic nomination.  The Democratic side of the field really has gotten insufficient attention…

8:37 pm: Listening to CNN’s stylized auto-narration for the debate it is going to moderate reminds me why I don’t like CNN.  They spend all too much time contextualizing the way we are supposed to interpret what we see and hear; it isn’t postmodern and subversive, it’s oppressive and patronizing.  It reminds me of words that adorn a work of visual art in the National Portrait Gallery: “An excess of self-consciousness leads to perversions.”

Live-Blogging the CNN Republican Presidential Debate

11:108 pm: Governor Walker’s claim to fame remains the fact that he broke the power of most public-employee unions in Blue Wisconsin, and that he recently made Wisconsin a “Right-to-Work” State in which workers in a trade aren’t automatically union members.

Scott Walker’s claim to distinction is that he is personally an agent of the unraveling of worker security in America.

11:04 pm: Dr. Carson closes by recalling having been a “radical Democrat” until he heard former California Governor Ronald Reagan speak.  He said Reagan “sounded logical,” and that he hoped he sounds “logical.”

He’s now a radical Conservative (he should probably mostly stick to medicine), but Dr. Carson doesn’t cause the Liberal Ironist’s spider sense to tingle.  He is politically naive, with very hard views and no government experience, and it is very difficult for me to believe that he could be a good President, but he is sincere and thinks before he speaks, and he knows how he sounds and doesn’t make it for show.

While he plays well with the Conservative base, he’s nothing like Donald Trump.

11:01 pm: Senator Rubio closes by talking about his heritage.  China.  Cuba.


He’s eloquent, but it’s not trite to observe that the World has changed.  There is a lot of politicized and institutionalized evil out there and in international politics; let’s see if Senator Rubio can move out of the Cold War binary thinking while maintaining his hawkish foreign policy liberalism.  That could be interesting.

11:01 pm: Governor Huckabee closes by hoping for an America in which abortion is as much an abhorred part of our past as slavery.  That will play well with the Pro-Life crowd; President George W. Bush used to invoke the Dredd Scott Decision as a way of condemning Roe v. Wade.

Governor Huckabee also wishes for a return to greater civility and respect; he’s too far gone to be the President who could give us that.

10:58 pm: As a lighthearted question to close-out the debate, the Republican hopefuls were all asked to give themselves Secret Service code-names.  Senator Paul the Libertarian proposed “Justice Never Sleeps.”

Brevity is the soul of wit, Senator: You’re supposed to arrive at 1 word, preferably a short one.

10:37 pm: Senator Rubio makes the same tired argument that we’ve always heard from Conservative opponents of gun control: Only law-abiding people follow the law, so gun control can never stop criminals.  The problem of gun violence in America, thus, must be…all of the problems in society.

Sadly, it seems that America has waay more social problems than the rest of the Western World (or East Asia) with their lower murder rates (and incidentally, much stricter gun control).

Yes, his answer to a general question about gun control was vacuous and it has been the Conservative refrain on this issue for a long generation while it has been repudiated empirically.  (Basic effective gun control by the States, as by other countries, is strongly associated with lower homicide and suicide rates overall.)  But Senator Rubio speaks so well.  I’m keeping an ironic eye on him.

10:27 pm: A question about the Federal laws against marijuana is addressed to Senator Paul.  He makes a good case about hypocrisy in politics and the War on Drugs.  He notes that 1 candidate onstage has admitted he smoked pot in high school–

–Oh, it was Governor Bush.  Anyway, Senator Paul notes that low-income and racial-minority and inner-city drug users who are caught by police tend to fall victim to mandatory-minimum drug sentencing while affluent or White kids don’t.  Senator Paul calls the War on Drugs immoral and unjust.

Governor Bush thinks that Colorado should be allowed to legalize marijuana for its own residents if they want that.  But drug use as an issue looks very different in Florida, with many scary cases of roving criminality and a lot of hard drug use.

Governor Christie defends limited decriminalization of marijuana, of which he was a relatively early adopter, and medical marijuana–but he adamantly resists drug decriminalization.  Paul cleverly doubles-down, insisting that enforcing the Controlled Substances Act of 1970 over the wishes of Colorado which wants to legalize marijuana, violates the 10th Amendment, which reserves much statutory power “to the States respectively, or the the people.”  He’s right; the War on Drugs is authorized by an unconstitutional statute.

10:20 pm: Senator Cruz attacks Governor Bush for having previously supported Chief Justice Roberts, and for defending him now; Governor Bush quotes Cruz on having previously endorsed Roberts’ appointment to the Supreme Court; Cruz admits that he endorsed Roberts then but that he made a mistake.  I believe he’s now saying exactly what Governor Bush said about Roberts.

…The informational quality of this debate is frayed by the number of participants in it.

10:18 pm: Governor Bush avers that Supreme Court Chief Justice “John Roberts has made some good decisions, but he didn’t have the proven record” of Conservative jurisprudence that Republicans should have demanded of a Supreme Court appointee.  Chief Justice Roberts makes decisions at around the middle of the Supreme Court now; he is calling his brother’s more-famous Supreme Court appointee into question.

In good Liberal Ironist fashion, I think that the cases where Conservatives feel “betrayed” by Chief Justice Roberts–He is a high court judge, not their monkey–are exactly the cases where he proved his integrity as a judge and as a legal scholar…and as an umpire.

10:17 pm: Ms. Fiorina grandstands a bit trying to enumerate every aspect of her proposed defense policy–but  she ends on borrowed time on a strong note, saying that veterans of the United States Armed Forces are dying without getting the health care they are entitled to through Veterans Affairs.

10:14 pm: “There will always be a Bush or a Clinton if you want to go back to war in Iraq,” Senator Paul says, obviously allergic to all of the Neoconservatism on the stage around him.  Sometimes his indignation is easy to understand.

10:13 pm: Governor Walker insists that he will only deploy military boots on the ground in a war if our national security is at stake, and that if we commit to a war, our armed forces will have the full support of the public.  What our armed forces are going to need are the full support of *the administration,* and a public that will pay attention to the war they’re fighting–but it is good to hear that Governor Walker is saying.

10:07 pm: Governor Christie speaks with electric clarity about his experiences on and after September 11th.  He speaks at length and is allowed to finish.  He defends George W. Bush’s national security and foreign policy record with a fervor that exceeds even that used by his brother.

No mention of illegal roundups of Muslims in and outside of the United States, wrongful indefinite detentions including dozens of innocents, the use of torture, an EPA that lied to Ground Zero first-responders knowingly exposing them to toxic air and dust, the badly planned and entirely-unnecessary Iraq War, 4,487 dead American servicemen in Iraq, the Pakistani nuclear weapons technology auction, an utterly failed drug war in Afghanistan, the feckless appeasement of a nuclear North Korea, failure to deal with Iran in any way whatsoever…

Oh, right, George W. Bush’s Veterans Administration made veterans pay an unprecedented $250 copay for doctor appointments.  George W. Bush couldn’t even protect our veterans from a huge hike in their medical bills.

10:00 pm: Donald Trump claims to be the only Republican on the debate stage who was against the Iraq War all along; Senator Paul, who is an ardent non-interventionist, objects; he has to defer his chance to speak.

9:58 pm: Governor Bush is asked about his name; he says that he will in fact appoint some people from his brother’s administration, because a new President will have to do that.  That’s not really true, and besides that weak defense, bear in mind: Donald Rumsfeld, who was an awful Secretary of Defense, had “experience” going  back to the Nixon Administration.  Dick Cheney, who was an unprincipled and corrupt Vice President, was Bush’s father’s Secretary of Defense.

9:53 pm: Senator Rubio makes a hard-charging case that Donald Trump may not be sufficiently-versed in international politics to be President, invoking Trump’s confusion in an interview of a reference to the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Quds Force with the Kurds of Iraq.  This is a hard-charging case…but not a strong one.  Donald Trump is a national embarrassment, but he made a very-credible case that he simply misheard his interviewer.

Where Senator Rubio, who is a foreign policy specialist in the Senate, should have pushed back harder was when Trump claimed that he could learn-up on international politics faster than any other candidate onstage if he won the Presidential nomination and the Election.  That’s nonsense.  Studying international politics and foreign relations is a vocation.  It is a calling.  It takes years, decades, to be an expert in international politics, and it does make a difference.

9:47 pm: Ms. Fiorina went a little further than the other Republican candidates have in attacking Secretary Clinton; she’s done this before.  I don’t know if she attacks Clinton with less ambivalence because she is also a woman…and I’m not particularly interested in that question.  I know that Ms. Fiorina wants to break into the mold of vacuous, angry Conservatism currently occupied by Trump, Governor Huckabee, and (with notably greater gentility) Dr. Carson.

She still wants to hold Secretary Clinton to account for the Benghazi attack in which 4 Americans died at a US Consulate in Libya; she should read 1 of the House Republicans’ several voracious investigations into the incident which have all cleared the former Secretary of State of any wrongdoing.

9:43 pm: Governor Walker notes that he is the only Republican Presidential prospect running this time who has publishes a plan for how to repeal “Obamacare,” the Democratic comprehensive health-care reform passed in 2010 and upheld by the Supreme Court twice since.

No applause from the audience; no defensive rejoinders from the other candidates.  Have Republicans finally given up?

No, there’s no way; former Texas Governor and Republican Presidential Candidate Rick Perry recently called for the repeal of the 17th Amendment and making US Senators appointed by the States again.  Say what you will, Republicans don’t give up even when it’s the right thing to do.

9:42 pm: Senator Paul repeats his call for a 14.5% flat Federal income tax, which sounds almost within sight of being moderate compared to Governor Huckabee’s call for basing Federal revenues on a tax of goods purchases.

9:38 pm: Governor Huckabee is asked about having previously said that he is “disturbed” by the  low rate of taxation on hedge fund managers; he responds that we shouldn’t tax “producers” and calls for replacing the Federal income tax with “a tax on consumption.”  So, we’ve gone from Herman Cain’s “9-9-9” tax which split taxation among income and consumption…to a proposal for a tax on sales solely.  That’s incredibly regressive; the poor have to spend much or all of their income on necessary goods; they would pay Federal sales taxes where they currently get Federal tax rebates!  And this is the tax reform plan proposed by a mild-mannered former minister; that’s the power of being a Republican.

9:34 pm: Ms. Fiorina and Trump get into a fight over who was a better businessperson; Trump quotes a detractor of Fiorina’s; Fiorina dwells on Trump’s…several bankruptcies and what they did to his investors or partners.  She typifies Atlantic City, the old gambling resort city which was notoriously not a nice place to live and which is now decaying, as evidence of the Trump touch; Trump says it’s just a sign of the times and that everyone in business in Atlantic City is hurting now.

Wow, he got mad about that one.

Mercifully, Governor Christie calls this debate childish and self-involved, and calls for re-centering the debate on who is doing well for themselves on the middle- and working-classes, to applause.  That’s how you move in, Chris…

9:31 pm: “We must lead in this nation again.  Some tough calls must be made…” Ms. Fiorina says, burnishing her record as a CEO.  It really makes me feel odd hearing these businessmen talk as if their successes as businesspersons (which I don’t deny or begrudge) incur to them the leadership virtues we need in executive politicians.  That relationship is not established.  Just look at Donald Trump: There is a reason why a man who inherits a fortune from his father says whatever he likes whenever he likes, and an effective statesman does not.

9:27 pm: Carly Fiorina has said that Democrats don’t want immigration reform to go away “because they want it as an issue.”  For what it’s worth, she has just secured my contempt; she noted that President Obama entered office with large Congressional majorities, but she may not recall the 111th Congress, which was very productive yet in which Republicans voted against nearly every major bill in unison; having completed most of his first term agenda in his first 2 years, President Obama had no means of passing comprehensive immigration reform without going through Republican votes in the House since.

9:17 pm: Governor Bush and Senator Rubio both defend speaking Spanish to schoolchildren or prospective Hispanic voters, respectively, to engage them as Americans in whatever language they feel most-comfortable speaking.  They are not booed; actually, they get some applause.

Senator Rubio spoke about his grandfather coming to the United States as an exile from Communist Cuba, and telling his grandson how deeply he appreciates the United States, it’s democratic government, and its tradition of free enterprise–in Spanish.  It sounds good.  Pretty-much everything sounds good when Senator Rubio says it.  I think that “voice” will have staying power; I just don’t know when it will come of age and manifest.

9:15 pm: Governor Bush hit Donald Trump for implicating his wife, who is Mexican-American, in Governor Bush’s, I guess “soft” position on immigration reform.  Governor Bush asks Trump to apologize to his wife for involving her as an agent in the mudfest of the campaign; Trump avers that he’s heard many good things about Bush’s wife but that he doesn’t owe her an apology.

Wow, I bored myself writing that much about that.

9:13 pm: Dr. Carson comes up with his first step of a Plan to Keep all of the Mexicans Out: “A double-walled fence, with a road for easy access for law-enforcement,” as was established in Yuma County, Arizona.  He notes that this fence reduced illegal crossings by 97%.

Setting aside the issue of the fence, doesn’t Dr. Carson’s figure sidestep the fact that illegal migrants and the “Coyotes” that sometimes spirit them across the border simply moved to a less-guarded stretch of the border?  Shall we build the Great Wall?

Yes, that rhetorical question has been asked before.  I’m getting tired of hear Conservatives talk about building a wall, too.

9:10 pm: “First of all, I want to build a wall, a wall that works.  So important, and that’s a part of it.  Second, we have a lot of really bad dudes in this country.  My first day, they’re out of here…”

That’s Donald Trump responding to Governor Christie’s very-practical observation that there aren’t enough law-enforcement in the United States at all levels of government who could be spared to participate in the deportation of about 11 million illegal immigrants.  Seriously, Trump Republicans need to actually think about the things Donald Trumps says and ask themselves if they don’t think it sounds like nonsense.  Forget whether it’s profoundly offensive, because that obviously doesn’t bother them, but just that it’s nonsense.

9:07 pm: Ms. Fiorina shot back at Donald Trump for reducing her to “a beautiful woman” with understandable contempt under the circumstances, and a seemingly-lost Trump doubled-down, “I think she has a beautiful face, and that she is a beautiful woman.”

Fiorina flinched…I think.  I actually don’t find her particularly engaged in her surroundings.

And Trump always seems lost when he campaigns; it’s just that this time I think some of his support base could see it.

9:05 pm: Governor Walker tries to mildly 1-up Governor Bush by noting that he, “defunded Planned Parenthood, but in a Blue State.”

I agree with him that Wisconsin is a Blue State in Presidential politics, but it usually makes pundits’ and pollsters’ lists of swing States even now, because of its potential strategic value in many Republican electoral strategies.

9:04 pm: Donald Trump, who told us he’s confident he could get along a lot better with many World leaders than President Obama, just called North Korean strongman Kim Jong-Un “a maniac” in prime-time on CNN.

9:01 pm: Governor Christie and Ms. Fiorina have both called former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton to account for her association with Planned Parenthood, both referring to a heavily-edited video that misleadingly gave the impression that Planned Parenthood was illegally harvesting fetuses for organs.  Applause from the audience.

8:59 pm: Governor Christie identifies himself as “the first Pro-Life Governor of New Jersey since Roe v. Wade,” and says he defunded Planned Parenthood in his first budget.

Considering Christie entered office with about a 45% projected annual budget deficit, State government in New Jersey ran clear through the low-hanging fruit in budget cuts, and his cut of New Jersey’s contributions to Planned Parenthood might have meant anything, or nothing.

8:55 pm: Governor Bush says that if a Conservative county clerk finds processing the marriage licenses of gay couples contrary to her sacred moral principles, she shouldn’t have to work on them–but someone else in country government should be duly-deputized to do it in her place so that the civil rights of those couples are not impeded in any way.  This is the Utah Compromise on gay marriage rights, and it works.

8:54 pm: Governor Huckabee: “If the Court can just make a decision, and we all just surrender to it, what we have is what Jefferson called judicial tyranny.”

Many Southern politicians would have said exactly the same thing about Brown v. Board of Education, Loving v. Virginia, or Griswold v. Connecticut, or Roe v. Wade, or Lawrence v. Texas…and since he is speaking in response to the instance of a Kentucky county clerk refusing to process marriage licenses of gay couples in keeping with Obergefell v. Hodges, I stand by that observation as in-point, proportionate and fair.

8:52 pm: “This agreement trusts the Iranians to inspect themselves!  That makes no sense,” Senator Cruz says.  I agree, that doesn’t make sense; maybe he didn’t actually read the agreement or any of its constituting understandings, or maybe he doesn’t actually understand them.  That is not the agreement.

8:48 pm: Again, Senator Paul demonstrates a knowledge of Middle Eastern history that we should expect from a man who keeps it both physically and intellectually at a safe distance.  He calls both the Assad Family Regime of Syria (which drops barrel bombs on city streets because it’s an easier way to kill rebels) and the rebels in Syria evil; before the Islamic State reared its dark visage, before al-Qaeda franchised the Nusra Front in Syria, there was the secular Free Syrian Army.  Senator Paul simply says that if we had bombed Assad’s forces 3 years ago, that “ISIS would now be in Damascus.”  You can be serene in politics if you don’t have sufficient vision to know when we’ve missed our moment.

8:46 pm: Governor Huckabee pushes back against Senator Paul (and Governor Bush) in saying that a diplomatic agreement with Iran on unranium enrichment should at least be given a chance to work.  Huckabee mocks President Obama, who he says ” treats this agreement like the Magna Carta, while the Iranians treat it like toilet paper.”  He calls on all of his fellow Republican Presidential hopefuls to commit to tear up that agreement upon entering office.

That’s great; our allies would already have (happily) lifted the sanctions President Obama persuaded them to impose on Iran.

8:42 pm: Senator Paul criticizes Ms. Fiorina’s (and Governor Walker’s) call to break off relations with Russia, and takes the brave move of criticizing the call from the right to “tear up the (nuclear) agreement with Iran” upon electing a Republican President even though he intends to vote against the uranium-enrichment restriction agreement with Iran.

I’m not being ironic, that’s a brave move.  The Senator deftly moved past his old reputation as a foreign-policy isolationist, a brand he inherited from his father.

8:38 pm: “Vladimir Putin is someone we should not talk to, because the only way he will stop is if he senses strength from the other side,” Carly Fiorina says.  Having been advanced from the JV Debate to the prime-time event because so many Conservatives liked the cut of her jib, Ms. Fiorina’s own lack of political experience and expertise shows as much as Trump’s and Dr. Carson’s.  Our Presidents even “talked to” the premiers of the Soviet Union.  For all the geostrategic challenges we face today, I wouldn’t go back to George W. Bush’s foreign policy of “We don’t talk to bad guys” for anything.  President Obama hasn’t made any concession to President Putin without his eyes on his own strategic goals, and ultimately frustrated or not, he has made no concessions to President Putin that he isn’t in a position to rescind at his discretion.  Oh, and he’s talking to the man though he clearly doesn’t like him.

8:35 pm: Donald Trump, who has distinguished himself from all other Republican Presidential hopefuls by being far more-willing to insult other people at the first opportunity, just claimed that he would be able to get along better with many World leaders than the current President, “including Putin.”  He also complained about the state of our diplomacy with China and Mexico.  If he’s implying that he would conduct relations with Mexico better than President Obama, that’s just amazing.

8:33 pm: 3 hours of debate…It seems the Keystone Cops of journalism over at CNN can’t even start a Presidential Primary debate at the standard time for national primetime events.  The Liberal Ironist starts live-blogging now.

Happily, there’s still 3 hours to go.

Live-Blogging the First 2016 Republican Presidential Primary Debate

11:04 pm: “It’s over!  Relieved?  They don’t look relieved; they look like they’re saying, ‘Ugh, get me out of here!’ Hah hah hah!”  Megyn Kelly closes-out the debate.

11:02 pm: Governor Walker tells us that he destroyed unions in the birthplace of the progressive movement and gutted the University of Wisconsin system because he was concerned for his children’s future.  Well, Walker would win the election if it were decided by the US House of Representatives…

10:58 pm: …OK, Senator Paul closes his participation in the debate calling himself “a different kind of Republican.”  He speaks of his balanced budget proposal, which would slash or abolish programs that millions of minority voters depend on…and offers as compensation his concerns about police abuse of minorities in the inner city.  I don’t think he is going to outmaneuver the Democratic candidate on this issue in a general election, and I hope he will soon be more-prepared to discuss the particulars of these program cuts and how empowering they will be for the minority voters he is so eager to cultivate as Republicans…

10:55 pm: Dr. Carson speaks very eloquently about how we shouldn’t talk about racial disparities in America, which has become as solemn of a Republican refrain as anything.  I don’t know just how many anecdotes of police abuse and killing of unarmed Black men Dr. Carson and the other Republican Presidential hopefuls can countenance, but I’m sure they will abide the suffering of others with the same unmoved demeanor they are so proud of.

10:50 pm: Senator Cruz gets a question from a concerned (or maybe a very snarky) citizen about whether any of the candidates believe they have received word from God over what would be a priority for him as President; Cruz avers that he gets “a word from God every day, from the Bible.  And the Bible is the Word of God.”  Applause; the Christian Right is strong with this one.

Governor Kasich talks of his upbringing…and then says that “We’ve got to listen to other people,” and notes that America should be an exemplar of human rights.  He’s really serious about this kinder, gentler tone.

Governor Walker actually launches into Christian dogma.  He notes that he turned the other cheek to Liberal critics as a Conservative Governor of Wisconsin; what he doesn’t say as he invokes the Sermon on the Mount is that he told a man he thought was David Koch over the telephone that he had considered putting agents provocateurs into union protests to stir-up trouble from the police, but that he hadn’t gone ahead with it because he was concerned it might backfire.  That’s Scott Walker’s Christianity.

10:45 pm: Senator Paul is good at soapboxing about the national debt, but his inability to discuss it outside of sound bytes is…more-fascinating than infuriating.

10:42 pm: Governor Walker hits President Obama hard on a lack of support for Ukraine and Eastern Europe to guard against Russia, including the more-extensive deployment of George W. Bush’s missile defense.

In fairness to his Republican critics, President Obama’s overtures to Russia, which extended across 5 years, have been rendered a total failure as a result of the events of 2014 and our muted response to it.

10:39 pm: Senator Cruz actually believes that the Islamic Republic of Iran freed the U.S. Embassy hostages in 1981 on the day President Reagan was inaugurated because they were afraid of him; they actually decided to free the hostages at that point in order to give plausibility to the myth that their resistance brought down a U.S. President.

10:37 pm: What Donald Trump just said in criticism of President Obama’s proposed Iran nuclear agreement was too vacuous and dumb to discuss in particular.

10:31 pm: A concerned citizen asks, “What will you do to ensure that Christians are not prosecuted for speaking-out against gay marriage?”  Nothing has to be done to ensure this, as Obergefell v. Hodges will not cause this to happen.

Senator Paul makes the ill-conceived suggestion (Senator Paul is prone to ill-conceived suggestions) that the government should not be involved in regulating guns (He is desperate to assert himself in this debate!) or in marriage licensing.  You cannot remove government from marriage licensing; the courts have to rule on marital disputes, divorce, spousal rights, powers of attorney and inheritance and the like; what are we to do if this is not the subject of statute?

10:27 pm: Megyn Kelly notes Donald Trump’s past pro-choice stance on abortion and asks, “When did you become a Republican?”  Trump says his views have “evolved” (meaning, of course, that political circumstances have forced him to profess to believe something other than what he believes) on abortion.  He talks like a deprogrammed cultist, claiming that he lived somewhere where he was geographically surrounded by Democrats and that he is now coming to his senses.

I don’t think that anyone who is really listening to Donald Trump can really view the way he talks as the benefits of a lucid moment.

10:25 pm: Senator Rubio insists he doesn’t make exceptions for rape or incest victims in prohibiting abortion.  “I believe every single human being is entitled to the protection of our laws…whether they have a birth certificate or not.”  Legal fetal personhood apparently has become the mainstream position of the Republican Party on abortion.  This would enjoin making abortion equivalent to murder in our laws; would these guys like to discuss the implications of this?

10:18 pm: Senator Paul criticizes President Obama for not “negotiating from a position of strength.”  Did he actually read the provisions for Iran’s uranium enrichment and monitoring?  It sure sounds like he didn’t.

Governor Huckabee accuses the Islamic Republic of Iran of genocidal intent towards Israel and an inflexible vendetta towards the United States.  As has previously been noted, his assumptions basically enjoin not only rejection of this nuclear refinement agreement with Iran, but any, and eventual war with Iran.  But at least we’re standing tall…

10:16 pm: Governor Walker is asked what comes next if we reject the Iran nuclear disarmament deal; he invokes his childhood memory of the 444 days American Embassy workers were held hostage in Iran following the 1979 Revolution.

10:14 pm: I’m going to ignore all of Governor Walker’s empty rhetoric about what we need to do to fix this country, and focus on the fact that he wants to repeal the Dodd-Frank financial reform law.  There it is: Republicans have reached the point where they feel safe militating to return us to the fundamental financial instability that distinguished the previous decade in this country.  The Koch Brothers have their knight-errant.

10:11 pm: Donald Trump declares that he has always tried to do his best by his companies, himself, his friends, his family, etc…and he notes that he has never personally declared bankruptcy.

Chris Wallace responds by noting that investors in Trump Entertainment Resorts in Atlantic City lost over $1 billion; Trump comes back by demonizing his own investors and noting that Chris Christie is the Governor of New Jersey!  Cheers and applause.

10:07 pm: Governor Huckabee is asked about his past criticism of Governor Christie’s proposal of raising the collection age of and means-testing Social Security.  Look, a policy debate!

Governor Huckabee proposes cutting Congressional benefits instead of Social Security benefits…If all you could cut after doing that were Social Security, you’d practically have to cut it just as much.

10:06 pm: Governor Christie proposes raising the collection age for Social Security (which is regressive because the wealthy live longer) as well as subjecting the program’s beneficiaries to progressive means-testing (which by definition is progressive).

10:03 pm: Jeb Bush has accused the President of taxing people’s aspirations.  Has he heard of the payroll tax cut? Republicans fought the extension of that in late-2010 in order to extend George W. Bush’s tax cuts for the rich!

He also accuses President Obama for fighting “the energy revolution in this country.”  He is clearly referring to the oil-drilling side of it and not the renewable energy side of it, for which President Obama is actually centrally-responsible.  Also, the drilling permits President Obama’s Department of the Interior has approved has been controversial in some places, and pretty continuous with George W. Bush’s promotion of more domestic oil and natural gas drilling.

10:01 pm: Dr. Carson accuses Hillary Clinton of following “the Saul Alinsky model” of taking advantage of “useful idiots,” asserting that “I don’t think that people are stupid,” and promising to “educate people” about how damaging the progressive Left (who they put in the White House by unambiguous margins twice in the past 8 years) is for America.

10:00 pm: Governor Kasich attributes the economic growth of the late-90s tech boom to a balanced Federal budget.  Things aren’t good for you just because they sound virtuous: Big Republican policy problem.

9:52 pm: Brett Baier asks Governor Bush about his own embrace of Common Core education reforms; many Republicans who know nothing whatsoever about Common Core “boo” him for it.  Governor Bush asserts the many unhelpful Conservative reforms he brought to Florida, such as school vouchers.  Senator Rubio, in response, warns that Federal guidelines always become Federal mandates; isn’t the Senate doing exactly the opposite right now in reforming the No Child Left Behind Act to remove unhelpful mandates?  Is Senator Rubio not going to vote for that reform, the way he usually doesn’t endorse legislation passing through that chamber?

9:52 pm: Dr. Carson just called for a “proportional” tax system: “You make $10 billion, you pay a billion; you make $10, you pay one.”

That is a powerful demonstration of Republican moral logic: A tax system that leaves one person with $9 billion and another person with $9 is a priori “fair,” if that is what the market provides for.

9:48 pm: Donald Trump parries a question about his money donations to the Clintons with surprising cleverness: “When they call, I give,” he says of all politicians.  He notes that he was able to get Hillary Clinton to come to his wedding because he had donated to the Clinton Foundation.  He calls it a broken system but is unapologetic about making use of it.  I think…he’s calling for taking private financing out of politics.  Republicans are usually in such denial about the corrupting influence of this exchange.

Ugh, I was just impressed by Donald Trump!

9:46 pm: Donald Trump is asked about his advocacy for Canadian-style single-payer health care…He first is careful to establish that he opposed the Iraq War…in 2004.  (The war was first discussed in 2002 and launched in March 2003).  Trump first notes that single-payer health care has worked great in other countries, but then calls for simply allowing Americans to buy insurance plans across State lines.

I think that is the only health care idea Republicans have had since early 2009.

9:45 pm: Ben Carson says “There is no such thing as a politically-correct war,” to some applause…I think he is saying he doesn’t care about war crimes.

9:43 pm: Having been asked to discuss his support, knowing what he knows now, for his brother’s disastrous decision to invade Iraq, Florida Governor Jeb Bush blames President Obama for pulling  our occupation force out of that country…8 1/2 years after that war of choice was initiated.  What a weak argument just to defend his family’s name.

9:41 pm: Ted Cruz grandstands: “…If you wage jihad against the United States of America, you are signing your own death warrant!”  Didn’t a Democratic President, whom Senator Cruz offers up for mockery now, actually launch the raid that killed the terrorist bin-Laden?  Senator Cruz calls for ending citizenship for suspected terrorists (wow, due process? no?) and celebrates General al-Sisi, the Egyptian dictator.  Does he have anything to say about the relationship between Egyptian domestic politics and its anti-terror policy?  Is that fair to ask?

9:37 pm: “I will make no apology about protecting the lives of Americans,” Governor Christie says.  He speaks in defense of the NSA’s telecommunications data-canvassing programs.

Senator Paul angrily opposes his response.  He shouts his consternation the way I imagined the Founding Fathers did; Governor Christie tells him it’s easy to inveigh that way in a Senate subcommittee hearing.  Senator Paul fires back that “I don’t trust President Obama with our records.”  He sounds a bit like the town crank; he attacks Governor Christie for hugging President Obama.  (That would be after Hurricane Sandy devastated the Jersey Coast.)  These 2 men are trying to knock each other out tonight, I think.

9:35 pm: “President Obama has talked about ‘fundamentally changing this country,'” Senator Cruz says.  Noting that “There are over 7 billion people around the World,” he essentially preaches fear of immigration and also closes the door on immigration reform, restating his opposition to the Gang of 8 Senate immigration reform agreement.

9:32 pm: Senator Rubio says “America is the most-generous nation in the World to immigrants.”  I don’t think that’s true anymore by any quantitative benchmark.  Rubio means well in saying this, but it is at this point somewhere between a myth and a falsehood.  He notes that lawful immigrants who have had applications in processing for 15 years have come to his office desperately asking for help.  The status quo on immigration is an outrage; how can we restrict immigration further?

Governor Walker immediately inveighs against “amnesty” and essentially closes the door to immigration reform; I don’t think we have to worry about him winning the election, though talk like that might be enough to make him the Republican nominee.

9:30 pm: Chris Wallace asks John Kasich about Trump’s line of argument (why?), and Kasich gives Trump credit for “touching a nerve”–and then launches into a discussion of his Congressional record (That’s right, Governor Kasich served in Congress–and worked for FOX News!–before becoming Governor of a must-win swing State for the Republicans).

9:24 pm: Chris Wallace asks Donald Trump about his claim that the Mexican government has intentionally sent “criminals, rapists, drug dealers” across the U.S. Border.  He asks for evidence of this.

Donald Trump claims victory by default by making the assumption that this…issue has only been raised during the Debate because he had the…courage to bring it up during his candidacy announcement.

Chris Wallace gives Trump an additional 30 seconds of debate time in order to actually provide evidence; Trump uses this time to grandstand further.

9:20 pm: Megyn Kelly asks Governor John Kasich of Ohio about his justification of embracing the Affordable Care Act’s Medicaid expansion by invoking St. Peter.  She asks whether he will “invoke St. Peter to expand every government program.”  Kasich justifies his Medicaid expansion…by actually discussing it on its particulars.  He also champions his record of fiscal management and tax cutting in Ohio.

Kelly used a popular line of argument in Republican politics: Isn’t any justification of the expansion of a government program inherently-dangerous, because it might be used again?  The fundamental lack of trust Conservatives seem to have in the ability of human beings to make pragmatic distinctions is very telling, I think.

9:18 pm: Governor Huckabee has declared that “we know” that human personhood is established at the moment of conception because we know that a fertilized zygote has the same “DNA signature” as a born human being…All I think we know at this point is that we can count on Governor Huckabee to demonstrate the value of argumentative fallacy to ideological advocacy.

9:15 pm: Governor Christie is asked if he is really willing to run on his record in New Jersey.  He responds, “You should see how it looked when I got there.”  …I’m giving him that one; New Jersey’s fiscal shape was almost catastrophic when Christie entered office in 2010.  He has at least elevated New Jersey’s fiscal shape to merely-bad.  But I think one of the considerable strikes against Christie will be controversy over the details of how Christie managed to tide that State’s budgets over.

9:13 pm: Chris Wallace asks Senator Ted Cruz (R-TX) how he can hope to win a Presidential Election when he is such a divisive figure.  Cruz’s response is to equate bipartisan compromise with corruption in Washington, DC.  This is the caliber of insight I expect to hear from Senator Cruz, and I’ve given it too much time already.

9:12 pm: “I don’t have time for total political correctness.”  Donald Trump is not viewed with skepticism because he doesn’t have time to be politically-correct; he is viewed with skepticism because he doesn’t have time to think…either before speaking or upon what he considers reflection.

9:08 pm: Senator Marco Rubio (R-FL) connects with the audience early.  He actually managed to leverage his charisma in order to make observations about current economic insecurities.  He noted that is the largest domestic retailer but has no store locations, and asked, “How is Hillary Clinton going to lecture me about the problem of student loans when I held over $100,000 in student loan debt just 4 years ago?”  Tonight might be the Senator’s breakout opportunity.

9:05 pm: Senator Rand Paul (R-KY) gets the dig in on Donald Trump for giving money to the Clintons (oops!) first.  Senator Paul can attack other candidates for “buying politicians,” since he hasn’t demonstrated his fundraising prowess in this field…

9:04 pm: Brett Baier asks if any of the 10 Republican Presidential prospects will not pledge tonight that they can support the eventual 2016 Republican nominee (as 9 of them will eventually be asked to do).  Only Donald Trump raises his hand, to a chorus of boos.

9:03 pm: “…(S)omewhere between a LeBron James dunk, and the Cleveland Public Library across the street: That is the sort of response we are looking for.”  Brett Baier going for the Cleveland local flavor!

9:02 pm: Looney Tune Donald Trump, who made a name for himself in politics by denying the current President’s American birth, is positioned at the center of the debate stage because he’s currently first-ranked among Republicans in nationwide polling.  I suppose that’s as fair of a means of placement as any; it is also madness.

9:00 pm: Megyn Kelly made jokes about the 10 top-polling 2016 Republican Presidential prospects looking shy onstage; is complying in humiliation part of the character test FOX News wants to subject a field of Presidential candidates to?

…Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker actually did look shy.

8:55 pm: The Liberal Ironist isn’t even morbidly-curious; he’s just curious.  I really don’t know what to expect tonight.  Some of these guys–There are a lot of them, and there are non-politicians who are constitutionally-incapable of being good Presidents but there are no women–have talked a little smack about the others, but many of them have not interacted together in a major national forum.  As Chris Wallace just noted, they finally have the opportunity to meet one another.  “It’s part of the great American process,” as he calls it.

He’s right; this should be hilarious.

Equivocation is Denial: The Armenian Genocide

On this date 100 years ago, Talaat Pasha, Interior Minister to the Ottoman Empire, began hatching a plan for mass deportations and, where that was not convenient, targeted executions of Ottoman Armenians.  Over the next year and a half, the Armenians of eastern Anatolia, an ethnic group that had been native to that region for thousands of years, were rounded-up and death-marched into the Syrian desert.  No water was provided to them, and certain Kurdish hill tribes were apparently commissioned to harass the Armenians on their forced march, robbing and murdering unarmed civilians and kidnapping or gang-raping younger women.
The rationale for this genocide, initiated by the Ottoman Empire’s radical nationalist government, was the leaders’ own belief that Ottoman Armenians were loyal to their fellow Orthodox Christians in the Russian Empire.  Aside from 1 insurrection in a city in eastern Anatolia earlier that year, there wasn’t even circumstantial evidence of this; most Armenians by all accounts considered themselves Ottoman citizens, which they were under the law.
Many young Armenian men, at the urging of their religious and municipal leaders, had enlisted in the Ottoman Army; these men were quietly pulled from their units and executed.  Though the larger Armenian population of Constantinople was left alone (the government’s sole official concession to mercy, made due to the greater visibility of events in that city), prominent members of the Armenian community in the capital city were also executed as suspected agitators.
Djemal Pasha, the Governor of Syria and Minister of the Ottoman Navy and himself a part of Turkey’s ruling triumvirate, violated these genocidal directives and allowed fleeing Armenians to settle in Syria and Lebanon–though he charged his Armenian countrymen for the luxury.
In a year and a half of systematically unsparing murder and manslaughter, out of a prewar Ottoman Armenian population of about 2 million, 1 million-1.4 million were killed with several hundred thousand survivors each in Constantinople, Syria and Lebanon, and what remained of Armenia.  Not only was this a textbook case of genocide, but it was used by Adolf Hitler as a model for his rationale that genocide was a serious option that could be pursued with impunity.
The record of the genocide of Armenians perpetrated by the small directing faction of the Committee of Union and Progress government of the Ottoman Empire, initiated 100 years ago today, was roundly-corroborated, by shocked American nationals, the New York Times and even its perpetrators.  But due to politics and incessant angry denial by all Turkish governments since, discussion of this genocide is inherently “controversial.”
This recent Washington Post article offers some compelling if abbreviated American accounts of what happened in the Ottoman Empire in 1915-1916, but in a resigned nod to politics, its headline is strangely coy.  There is no credible grounds for debate over what happened in Ottoman Armenia, only an acknowledgment of what happened and politically-driven genocide denial, which every Turkish government down to that of the current thuggish and authoritarian Islamist President has now studiously maintained for 100 years.
Some have gotten this call right and have stood-up to the loudest and most-monotonous voices on this subject, which seem to be those of the Turkish government; the German President and Speaker of Parliament and Pope Francis seem to be among them.  So far, President Obama, notoriously taciturn regarding his sentiments on international politics, has not.
A article that succinctly covers both the incident of the Armenian Genocide, or Aghet, and rejects equivocation about the campaign of murder by the Three Pashas, nonetheless arrives at an odd explanation of modern Turkey’s ongoing denial, which it attributes to complicity of the Kemalist government which created modern Turkey with the genocide.  To the best of my knowledge, this is actually an erroneous and misleading association (though it doesn’t change the fact that culpability for denial of the Armenian Genocide extends to the first government of modern Turkey).
The Liberal Ironist thinks that official denial of the Armenian Genocide has less to do with Turkey’s people looking backwards than with Turkey’s leaders continually calculating in the present.  In spite of its current President’s best efforts, Turkey still has the trappings of a modern democracy–but it hasn’t quite emerged from its authoritarian shadow in 1 of the most militarily-contested regions of the World, and has also been a consistently-important geostrategic player in the Middle East in spite of the loss of its empire.  A generation of rapid economic development, its founding NATO membership, relatively large military and usual political stability have, if anything, made it more-important in its region today.  And whenever the subject has left the tips of other statesmens’ tongues, Turkey’s political leaders have cannily played-up their denial of this model genocide as such.  “Fog of war,” they say.  “A lot of people died in our country during World War I, not just Christians,” they say.  “No one really knows what happened.”  This totemic unaccountability for the most-basic transgression of its purpose a state can exhibit has provided Turkey’s leaders a sound barometer of their leverage over their allies for a century.

Live-Blogging the Republican Response to the 2015 State of the Union Address

10:36 pm: The Republican Response to the State of the Union Address was surprisingly cautious.  It was mostly deferential aside from yet-another call to repeal the Affordable Care Act and predictable but terse rhetoric about Executive overreach.  The response was surprisingly light on the substance; I think national Republican leaders were very eager to avoid the reputation for partisan hostility they have reinforced over the past generation, to leave plausible space to win the President’s assent on some of their bills, and possibly to stay out of the way of the many, fractious Republican Presidential hopefuls.

10:33 pm: “We’ll also keep fighting to repeal and replace a health care law that has hurt so many American families.”  Hurt them with less-costly and more-comprehensive health care than they’ve ever had in their lives, does it?  I find that increasingly unlikely, not just because President Obama could veto any such proposal over the next 2 years if it somehow survived a filibuster, but because Republicans truly have no plan for what to replace the Affordable Care Act with, and probably never will.

Also, brief boilerplate about fighting President Obama’s Executive orders; court challenges may restrain some parts of certain of these Executive orders, but I wouldn’t be surprised if Congress fails to do anything about them.

10:31 pm: “There’s a lot we can achieve if we work together.”  Free trade with Europe and East Asia; reform of the tax code focusing on eliminating many deductions and credits and lowering overall tax rates.

The President is given credit for supporting these measures in principle and asked to work with the Republican Congress on them.  So far, the speech is giving the President a lot of slack for an opposition response to the State of the Union Address.

10:28 pm: Senator Joni Ernst (R-IA), a Senate freshman of the large 2014 Republican cohort, recalls wearing breadbags on her feet in the place of viable footwear.  This approach is a gamble, but a Conservative who comes from poverty probably gets a longer rope with the crowd.

10:27 pm: “Rather than respond to a speech, I’d like to talk about your priorities. I want to talk to you about the new Republican Congress you just elected.”

…OK, interesting approach…

10:26 pm: “Good evening.  I’m Joni Ernst.”


Why shouldn’t I give equal time?  Republicans have a vision, too…and they’re probably pretty ticked right now.