Live-Blogging the Last Pre-Iowa Republican Presidential Primary Debate

Hey, where’s Donald Trump?

It’s prime time, folks.  It’s just too late for establishment Republicans to kid themselves about the fact that either reality TV star Donald Trump or universally un-collegial Texas Senator Ted Cruz is likely at this rate to be their party’s Presidential nominee.  Your well-intentioned narrator will watch…Hoo boy.

…Well, I didn’t stop watching the debate early, but in the last 20 minutes I didn’t hear anything that prompted me to write.  I don’t like to repeat myself, especially when I’m just reacting to the strange things some people are saying.

10:38 pm: Governor Christie has invoked Benghazi and the Republicans’ pointless and interminable investigations again, this time trying to make news out of a Democratic Debate answer from Secretary Clinton. This guy could actually make me stop watching this debate.

10:26 pm: Governor Kasich gives an encouraging speech about the importance of caring for those in need; he mentions not only the poor (whom are at least subjects of serious political debate), but also the mentally-ill.  Kasich isn’t joking-around about the Compassionate Conservatism, and it probably explains a lot about why he’s one of the most-popular Governors in the country…Back to Ohio he goes, as he doesn’t really have a gimmick to allow him to stand-out in this cacophony of a Republican field.

10:20 pm: It’s satisfying to see Chris Wallace ask Governor Christie about the George Washington Bridge onramp closures that were political retaliation ostentibly directed by his aides and appointees.  Christie’s defense is that he was proved not to be involved by 3 separate commissions (that’s nonsense; he was “proved” to not have been involved by the private commission he curiously chose to convene).  He says that, when his own appointees were revealed to have been responsible for the bridge access closure, he fired them.

So, Christie’s defense is basically the same as Nixon’s: For once, I’m satisfied with this surly jerk’s answer to a debate question.

10:12 pm: Christie just shat on being a Washington politician. Woow.  That’s so courageous of him.

I would like to point-out that almost every President elected since Nixon has been from outside Washington. Jimmy Carter, almost universally reviled among Republicans, was a Washington outsider.  George W. Bush was elected from the Texas Governor’s office.  Better to be a “Washington outsider”?

Christie is so full of it…Sorry, I just wanted to establish that.

10:08 pm: (Numerous Republican Presidential hopefuls, some of which have a snowball’s chance in hell of winning the Republican Presidential nomination, challenge each other’s Republicaness for having once supporting immigration reform that would allow illegal immigrants to remain in the United States.  It’s funny, in a melancholic way.)
10:01 pm: Marco Rubio: “Jeb, that was the book you wrote when you supported a path to citizenship.”

Jeb!: “So did you!”

Ah-hah hah…Classic, and true.

10:00 pm: “I know a few things about this issue; I wrote a book on it: Immigration Wars.”  You can get it on Amazon for $2.99.  It’s not a best seller…”  Jeb! probably should have avoided joking that his book on immigration wasn’t a best-seller, as he is not a best-seller.

9:43 pm: Oh boy, a question from a Black YouTube video star about our capacity to monitor law-enforcement.  He’s from St. Louis; Ferguson looms in his thinking.

Senator Paul has an excellent response, focusing on several aspects of the unequal treatment of Black Americans in our criminal justice system.  He has been a smart Senator, focusing on building both personal and legislative relationship-building, and a smart Presidential campaigner, getting his message out tactically, on an issue basis.

That said, the Libertarian message is dying, if anything, and Senator Paul is realistically a non-factor in the Presidential race.

9:33 pm: Senator Rubio manages to speak conversationally while sounding professional. That’s not easy to do, especially not in a debate.

It’s too bad he’s sort of channeling his inner Chris Christie.  We expect Republican Presidential candidates to emphasize that we should be on more of a war footing, but that doesn’t mean they have to say it with such obvious tones of exasperation, almost as if they’re hysterical.  A friend of mine noted that Rubio seems close to losing his composure as he insists that we aren’t prepared to face the strategic threat posed by ISIS; he has a point.

Governor Christie explicitly claims that the Islamist couple behind the San Bernardino shootings weren’t stopped by a report from their suspicious neighbors because President Obama and Secretary Clinton don’t support our law enforcement.  I’ve had it with this man; he is revolting and I just want him to shamble off of the debate stage and go away.

9:17 pm: Ted Cruz made an alarming-sounding comparison, pointing out that our military’s force strength is much less than it was during the Persian Gulf War.  A more-serious analysis would acknowledge that the Persian Gulf War was fought on a late-Cold War budget, and that we no longer face superpower competition.

Ted Cruz also put-out a pretty big fib when he said that President Carter gutted the military and President Reagan restored it to strength.  We were already in the midst of a planned military buildup under President Carter following a post-Vietnam drawdown under President Nixon; President Reagan simply expanded and accelerated that buildup.

9:14 pm: Senator Paul and Senator Cruz just cautiously avoided criticizing each other while both affirming their skepticism of the NSA’s existing surveillance powers.  Senator Cruz notes that he wants to forge a stronger electoral alliance between the Christian Right and Libertarians.  He has just paraphrased his electoral strategy, which is to…hope that the far right somehow constitutes as silent majority.

9:09 pm: It’s infuriating for Chris Christie to suggest that President Obama and Secretary Clinton haven’t been held to account, and that he has as Governor of New Jersey has.  Christie convened his own investigation of the politicized closing of the George Washington Bridge, which then cleared him.  And there’s no way to say that there has been a full accounting of the measures Christie has taken to momentarily balance New Jersey’s budget and to shore the finances of its cities.  THAT kind of scrutiny should be enough to sink his campaign.  The President and his past Secretary of State, it’s fair to say, have been subject to a lot of scrutiny that wasn’t of their own choosing.

9:04 pm: “I just want to say that I am a maniac…and everyone on this stage is stupid…and Dr. Carson, you are a terrible surgeon.  Now that the Donald Trump portion of the debate is out of the way…”  That’s good for an early extended laugh; I think it’s actually a little risky for these guys to attack Donald Trump while he’s absent from this debate, lest they look passive-aggressive.  But Cruz has made a joke out of it, trivializing Trump as the carnival barker.

It’s also worth noting that Ted Cruz is a particularly belligerent candidate himself.

9:03 pm: Senator Cruz starts by saying that he will remember Iowa when he is elected President: Iowa won’t be flyover country; it will be fly-to country.”  Wow, he is so full of it…There are shades of Francis Underwood in such a hokey and inevitably-insincere promise.

Live-Blogging the Republican Response to the 2016 State of the Union Address

Hey, the Republicans have a few things to say, too.

10:30 pm: Haley had some interesting and daring things to say about racial tension.  She spoke about the white supremacist who killed the 9 Black parishioners who welcomed him into their church.  She noted that he didn’t look, act, or sound like the parishioners who welcomed him in; dark humor would indicate that this would be the time to say that that’s what happens when you’re so welcoming, but of course that’s not the direction Haley took the narrative.  She called the gunned-down parishioners “extraordinary”; in what may be the deftest phrase available to her when discussing a decision that was controversial with the Republican base in parts of the South, she said that her State succeeded in removing “a symbol that had been used to divide us,” meaning the Confederate Battle Flag that had flown on statehouse grounds in Columbia.

10:28 pm: I’ve just realized what a difficult task the 2016 SOTU Response is: President Obama remains very unpopular among Republicans, of course, but how do you speak to a party that’s this divided by ideological differences in the middle of the party’s Presidential primary cycle?  Interesting: Haley warns against listening “to the angriest voices among us,” which means Donald Trump and Senator Cruz.

10:24 pm: Like recently-retired Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal, South Carolina Governor Nikki Haley is the direct descendant of Sikh immigrants from the Punjab region of India; unlike Jindal, her political stock has improved with years in office.  Jindal practically left office in disgrace after governing from the right for 2 terms.

Live-Blogging President Obama’s Last State of the Union Address

I could say that I miss President Barack Obama already, but I know very well he’s still here.  He has always had a surer hand than his critics, so prone to doomsaying, hyperbole, and reductionism and jaundice in reading into his motives, have given him credit for.  So many milestones have been reached in the 7 years of a President who has so often been a reliable voice of reason and conscience for our country.  It was enough to restrain even my cynicism, to which even the name of this blog is a light nod.  I have only appreciated the integrity of his words more with time and experience.

10:00 pm: In what is the most emotionally-satisfying moment of the address, President Obama makes a thinly-veiled reference to Republican frustration with the Republican Party’s primary base.  “I know it,” he says.  “You’ve told me about it.  It’s the worst-kept secret in Washington!”

The President calls for redistricting reform, and the creation of bipartisan or independent redistricting commissions to redraw Congressional and State legislative districts and remove sitting politicians from the process; Democrats rise to their feet and applaud, Republicans remain silent and seated.  He calls for removing private financing and thus the access of deep-pocketed private interests from elections; Democrats rise to their feet and applaud, Republicans remain silent and seated.  The President notes that Washington politicians hate having to raise money from private sources for the TV and Internet ads that actually estrange them from the public; I can think of no clearer expression of the sad effect of that private financing on politics that Republicans don’t want to be seen admitting that they don’t like campaign fundraising even though it’s widely viewed as unethical by their own Conservative base.

9:55 pm: “When someone attacks a religion, when a mosque is vandalized, when a kid is called a name at school, that doesn’t make us safer.  That’s not ‘telling it like it is.’  That’s just wrong.”  The President is entirely willing to accept the terms of political contestation laid-out by the leaders in the Republican Presidential Primary.  He seems contented to make the call of dark prognostication a central subject of the upcoming election.

9:50 pm: President Obama extols his approach to foreign policy in the case of the uranium-enrichment agreement with Iran and the reestablishment of diplomatic relations with Cuba, noting that his administration bucked 36- and 50-plus year trends in opening dialogues that turned-out remarkably well.  He really has ushered in tectonic changes in foreign policy that Republicans will simply have to ignore for years in order to continue to speak in the political dichotomies and terms they’re used to.

9:41 pm: President Obama calls claims of the United States’ strategic vulnerability as claimed by his critics as nonsense, noting that the United States is by far the most-powerful state in the world whether measured by military strength or the quality of its soldiers.  He regards Russia as a belligerent strategic challenge–There’s an interesting change–but places the military emphasis entirely on fighting terrorism.

He takes great satisfaction in speaking of the purpose in doing this, but also attacks the approach of Donald Trump and Senator Cruz again, saying that it’s foolish to intentionally associate a terrorist movement with the 2nd-largest religion in the World: “We just need to call (all-Qaeda and the Islamic State) what they are: killers and fanatics who have to be hunted-down and destroyed.”

9:37 pm: I know that Republicans have ideological, parochial and bottom-line driven reasons for being uninterested in emissions regulations or Federal funding for clean-energy programs or research, but I did  appreciate the spectacle of seeing President Obama note that our foreign imports of oil (a strategic liability in several manifestations) have been reduced by 60%, and almost all Democrats rising to their feet to applaud while almost all Republicans sat (gloomily, I imagine).

9:32 pm: President Obama notes that when the Soviet Union launched Sputnik into space in the opening days in the Cold War, Americans didn’t pretend it didn’t happen.  In a little over a decade, we put men on the Moon.  He goes on to call a cure for cancer America’s new “Moon shot,” and appoints Vice President Biden (whose son Beau, a promising young Delaware politician, died of cancer last year) as the head of the consolidated Federal effort.  This one gets a standing ovation from both sides of the chamber; maybe Republicans are more-interested in being associated with a generational victory before the next election than they are in continuing to fight President Obama on every front; we’ll see.

9:30 pm: “Food stamp recipients didn’t cause the stock market to collapse; Wall Street did.  Immigrants didn’t drive down wages; those decisions are made in the boardrooms…It sure isn’t average American families that put lots of money into offshore accounts.”  We aren’t going to hear a Republican retort to these argumentative points later tonight, that much is certain.

9:25 pm: President Obama notes that Congress is one of the few workplaces where pensions are secure.  The Speaker of the House nods for that one.  He spends time discussing income insurance and putting encouragement of specialized job retraining on top of standard defined-benefit unemployment benefits.  (It really is true that many Americans can’t afford to lose their jobs–even on unemployment insurance, even on a new job.)

9:24 pm: Big applause line when President Obama says that college needs to be made more-affordable.  He says that recent restraint of increases in the cost of college and the rapacity of student loans are a good first step, but that the existing cost of college needs to be tamped-down.

9:21 pm: President Obama just made a bold admission: “Any job can be automated.”  We can see it, including the derived challenge (which the President notes) or pressure put on those workers who have jobs due to competition for positions, and the downward pressure on wages that comes from that competition.

9:19 pm: The President names 4 questions he wants to ask his audience about our current challenges: How do we make the economy work for us?  How can we anticipate and negotiate the challenges posed by technological change?  How can we face our national security challenges abroad?  “How can we make our politics reflect what is best in us, rather than the worst in us?”

9:15 pm: President Obama warns us that “Like it or not, these (destabilizing) changes are only going to come faster.”  With a thinly-veiled reference to Donald Trump and Senator Cruz, President Obama says that those who promise the restoration of a brighter past on the backs of an out-group are just appealing to fear, and that those fears have always been overcome by past generations of Americans, and (quoting Lincoln) past dogmas discarded by them.

9:12 pm: The President’s  first mention of policy substance is a nod to new House Speaker Paul Ryan, thanking him for his conduct of the House’s business thus far, and expressing a hope that Democrats and Republicans can work together in an election year on criminal justice and criminal sentencing reform.  That’s striking a good tone, I think.

9:11 pm: “I’ll try to keep this short.  I know that some of you have to get back to Iowa…I’ve been there!  I’ll be shaking hands afterwards if any of you want some suggestions.”  Hah.

9:09 pm: President Obama has to tamp down chanting of his name.  7 years into his Presidency, he can inspire a celebratory mood among his base of political support.

Live-Blogging the CNN Republican Presidential Debate in Las Vegas

After ugly outbursts of Islamist terrorism in Paris, France and San Bernardino, California, terrorism and the strategic challenge posed by the Islamic State have emerged as key points of concern and conflict in tonight’s Republican Presidential debate.

Ecccentric real estate billionaire and reality TV antihero Donald Trump in particular has been a further beneficiary of the fearful (and angry) reaction to the resurging trend of Islamist violence outside of Syria and Iraq, one-upping House Republicans’ recent and cowardly efforts to block resettlement of Syrian and Iraqi refugees of civil war violence in the United States by calling to bar non-American Muslims from travel to the United States.  Many, many Republicans (but notably not Senator Ted Cruz of Texas) have criticized these comments as not only un-American and stimulative of our worst impulses, but also positively dangerous and a possible boon to Islamist radicalization and terrorist recruiting.

Since calling for barring foreign Muslims entry to the United States, Trump has actually broken the 40% mark in national Republican Presidential Primary polling in the NBC News/Wall Street Journal polling for the first time.  Tactically if not ethically, it seems this bigoted populist can do no wrong.  This is the last opportunity for half a dozen other Republican prospects–particularly Senators Cruz and Rubio, widely recognized as the current 2nd and 3rd-placers–to outshine the Republican candidate of the lowest common denominator in prime time.  Here we go…

11:07 pm: Talking about what Trump has said–regardless of whether he has made a new outrageous statement or not–is boring.  “We don’t win anymore,” and if we elect Donald Trump, “We will win again.”  It’s almost like a deliberate parody of Ronald Reagan’s “morning in America” talk, as if the 1980s actually cured the growing insecurity of middle-class life in the United States.

11:05 pm: Senator Cruz is unable to explain why he is running for President without mentioning  Barack Obama than Ronald Reagan.  Most political candidates have ideas; all Cruz has is brand loyalty.

11:03 pm: Senator Rubio reaffirms the American dream and calls for rebuilding US military and intelligence apparatus.  He’s still the most-interesting to listen to.

10:59 pm: Senator Paul thinks that the greatest threat to our national security is our national debt.  Terrorism, global warming, nuclear proliferation, a new financial crisis, the Middle East, North Korea, Russia…”Oh, God!  Quick, let’s all become Libertarians!”

I don’t see it; nor does almost anyone else, for that matter.

10:52 pm: Senator Cruz really loves pandering to fools.  He says that President Reagan defeated Communism (which he didn’t do) by “committing all of his forces to defeating” Communism, and claims that President Obama hasn’t done the same.  (I guess Cruz is suggesting he just doesn’t feel like it.)  I wonder if he thinks that George W. Bush’s problem was that he just…wasn’t committed-enough to destroying al-Qaeda.

How did he get on this subject?  Oh, we was asked some vintage CNN nonsense about  something he said “behind closed doors” about Donald Trump and his temperament, whatever.

10:46 pm-10:50 pm: Several Republican Presidential candidates say that the military should be expanded and its equipment modernized.  They’re right.

10:45 pm: Governor Christie calls for retaliatory cyber-attacks against the People’s Republic of China to release compromising information about official policy and official corruption to the Chinese people.  He criticizes President Obama for being unresponsive to cyber-attacks by certain political interests in China.  He has a point–but he of course tries to implicate Clinton in this inaction, which is both inaccurate and probably very misleading.

Governor Bush strongly seconds Christie’s sentiments regarding our right to retaliatory cyber-attacks.  I have no idea just what kind of effect that would have on Chinese foreign policy or Chinese politics; we are in uncharted territory here, and what is being discussed is too vague–for now.

10:42 pm: In response to a question about North Korean dictator Kim Jong Un, Ms. Fiorina showcases her foreign policy acumen by calling China a rising threat.  So many Republicans spouting-off like angry couch surfers who will never be President…

10:36 pm: It’s sad to see what has become of Governor Christie.  He didn’t rub me the wrong way in his first term as Governor of New Jersey the way he did many Liberals, but hearing him pander so dully to sentiments that the government is dysfunctional and ineffective–and that women can be terrorists too–as a complete argument for closing the door to tens of thousands of refugees from Syria just makes Christie look every bit the thug his critics have said he is.  Populist anger is a stinky cologne, Chris.

10:33 pm: Senator Rubio says that if we allow 100 Syrian refugees into the country whom are fleeing violence, and 1 of them turns out to be “an ISIS killer,” then “we have a problem.”  I agree that we would have a problem in that case, but that hypothetical proportion is utter nonsense.  Republicans in Congress have simply ignored the process or the length of the wait involved in processing refugees entering the United States.

10:32 pm: Dr. Carson, while eagerly dropping the names of Middle Eastern locales, assures us that the best thing to do would be to keep Syrian refugees in refugee camps in the Middle East…preferably somewhere in Syria…so that they can more-easily be re-settled in Syria over the longer term.

10:30 pm: Governor Bush criticizes President Obama for declining to do anything to implement immigration reform to maintain it as a wedge issue; all he is able to come up with as a demonstration of this is slow construction progress on the border fence.  WOULD HE LIKE TO TALK TO THE HOUSE REPUBLICANS THAT REFUSED TO EVEN VOTE ON THE BILL THAT PASSED THE SENATE AND WAS PREVIOUSLY ENDORSED BY THE PRESIDENT?  Republicans really are determined to run on their own near-decade of Congressional intransigence.

10:21 pm: Senator Rubio gets the question about his co-sponsorship 2 years ago, along with Senate Democrats, of an immigration reform law that would allow illegal immigrants to remain in the United States and work, pay back taxes, and start an application for citizenship.  (Broadly-speaking, both President Obama and President W. Bush before him have called for exactly the same reform.)  He finally, after being backed into a rhetorical corner, admits he is still open to allowing immigrants who either entered or remained in the United States illegally an opportunity to stay and apply for citizenship.

During the following exchange with Senator Cruz, he points out that Cruz de facto supports allowing some illegal immigrants to remain in the United States and expanding work visas for specialized workers.

This leads to a 4-way shouting match between moderator Dana Bash, Senators  Rubio and Cruz, and Ms. Fiorina, who says that this is why people are fed up with politicians–and then tries to insert herself into the political debate.

10:13 pm: “It seems that if you want World War III, you already have your candidate!”  The noninterventionist Senator Paul gestures towards the Neoconservative Governor Christie.  He decries Christie’s promise to shoot down Russian planes in enforcement of a no-fly zone in Syria.  I agree that that’s a pretty scary thing to promise just to burnish your credentials as a hawk during a foreign policy debate, and I side with the hawks in substance.

10:09 pm: Governor Christie just called for backing out of the nuclear agreement with Iran…because Iran needs to be watched.  He says that Iran and the Islamic State “are inextricably linked.”  That will come as news to the Islamic State, as they broke from the umbrella organization of al-Qaeda because the older terrorist organization disagreed with its policy of mass murder of Shi’a Muslims.  Iran is a Shi’a Muslim theocracy sponsoring the incumbent regime in Syria which the Islamic State would like to replace.

10:06 pm: Senator Cruz tries to steamroll a moderator and re-litigate a past argument.  Wolf finally gets the lawyer to quiet down by reminding him that he is violating debate terms he previously agreed to.  There you see the most-hated man in the U.S. Senate at work.

10:02 pm: Former HP executive Carly Fiorina criticizes Trump for…saying the government should spend money on roads.  Wow.

9:57 pm: This is tiring to watch.  Senator Cruz blames the Obama Administration for the Libyan uprising and (more-ridiculously) the overthrow of President Mubarak in Egypt.  He reduces the Muslim Brotherhood, a widespread party in Egypt, to a radical Islamist group.  The Obama Administration, in Cruz’s worldview, simply controls events in the Middle East, and there are no moderates involved in contentious politics in Islamic nations.  In his response he refers to them as “purple unicorns.”

Senator Rubio passionately defends intervention on behalf of Libyan rebels in 2011 (which is both courageous and smart of him), and makes the additional daring claim (which is probably spot-on) that Colonel Gaddafi was a state sponsor of terrorism with a long record, and that he only moved towards greater cooperation with the United States in the wake of the 2003 invasion of Iraq.

Governor Kasich, in turn, also affirms as Rubio did that there are moderate political forces among those who call for revolution in the most-despotic Middle Eastern regimes.

9:55 pm: During the commercial break, there is a re-election ad for President Frank Underwood, the Machiavellian antihero of House of Cards.  It is awesome.

9:48 pm: Senator Rubio, with great presence of mind, blames Syrian President Bashar al-Assad for essentially creating the civil war in Syria in order to force a political choice between the incumbent family-led single-party regime and chaos in Syria.  He would make a serious foreign-policy candidate, a challenger to Secretary of State Clinton on her strong suit.

9:44 pm: Donald Trump got applause (though not resounding applause) when he accused Senator Paul of saying that “They can kill us, but we can’t kill them,” but loud boos from when he called for China-like restrictions on the Internet (which I agree is weird and scary talk).  There’s definitely a very particular sort of crowd in the room tonight.

9:42 pm: Dr. Carson gets some of the loudest applause of the night for no other reason than because he was asked if the punishing air attacks he called for against the Islamic State would kill thousands of civilians.  Watch the exchange: He got huge applause because he was asked that question about his own military strategy.

9:40 pm: “Donald, you aren’t going to be able to insult your way into the Presidency.  That isn’t going to happen.”  That’s Governor Bush, calling a toupee a toupee.  It’s the right thing to say, it sounds right and it goes over well; it won’t stick.  It never sticks.

9:3o pm: Wolf tries to get Senator Cruz to admit that he has implied he would use Vietnam-style massive bombing campaigns against the Islamic State, which in its home territories of eastern Syria and western Iraq could kill thousands of civilians.  He says he wants those airstrikes to be surgical…which would leave us with the approach President Obama is following already.

Senator Rubio calls for expanding the military budget, notes that the Islamic State can’t be completely destroyed by air strikes, and criticizes Senator Cruz for what a short-sighted support of military budgets that were constrained by deep sequestration budgets cuts that weren’t in the interest of US Defense policy.  Rubio is consistently impressive in discussing Defense, foreign, intelligence and national security policy.  He’s shining onstage tonight.

9:22 pm: Governor Jeb Bush says that his brother, President George W. Bush’s words that the United States is at war with terrorist groups and not in a civilizational war against Islam or against Muslims”are still relevant if we want to destroy ISIS.  We can’t disassociate ourselves from peace-loving Muslims.”  The pushback against Trump’s (and Cruz’s, and Carson’s) general advocacy of closing-off the country in various ways to different groups of apparently-threatening people is interesting in that it is now very coherent and certainly going to stay, but it hasn’t actually advanced against Trump and his supporters among Republicans.

9:18 pm: Senator Paul attacks Senator Rubio from the right on immigration; Rubio comes back pretty strong, defending the NSA’s controversial surveillance programs and calling further measures to restrict immigration as trivial in comparison to the ambiguous location of future terrorism threats.

9:13 pm: CNN’s Dana Bash points out that Senator Cruz supported the USA Freedom Act and its proscription of the NSA metadata collection.  She asks if he changed his mind in light of the Paris and San Bernardino terrorist attacks.  He rejects the premise of her question.  Don’t forget that he is a Harvard-trained lawyer…

9:07 pm: Senator Cruz explains his emphasis on the Islamic religious beliefs and identity of the terrorists and terrorist groups we have been fighting since 2001 with a metaphor he learned from his father: “All horse thieves are Democrats–but not all Democrats are horse thieves.”  He doesn’t hate all Muslims or such; he’s just close-minded and shallow and can’t really function professionally outside of confrontation.  OK, I understand.

9:05 pm: Senator Rubio criticizes Trump on much the same terms that Governor Bush did, but the debate is like a river, stopping for no one and always flowing downhill.  The conversation moves on.

9:02 pm: Governor Bush attacks Trump’s call to bar foreign Muslims from entry into the United States as “not a serious proposal.”  Trump dismisses him as an ankle-biter, claiming that Bush is “cynically” challenging him from behind when his campaign is nonexistent.  Trump avoids–studiously–addressing the charge that his fortress America talk is a fantasy and a counterproductive vision.

9:10 pm: Governor Christie is being blamed for de-fanging the NSA.  (He’s referring to the USA Freedom Act, an amending update of the USA PATRIOT Act that restricted telephone metadata-gathering procedures of the NSA.)  This time 2 years ago, President Obama was being accused of dictatorial ambitions–in so many words–because of the power of the NSA, which I should add was subject to FISA Court oversight.

Good thing I have my sense of humor.

9:00 pm: Donald Trump gets Wolf’s first question of the night.  (Ugh…)  He defends his recent comments about barring foreign Muslims from entering the United States on strictly national security grounds; oddly, he promptly seeks to link this cause to his call to build a wall along the US-Mexico border and to deport all illegal immigrants–including those who have been given provisional residency by President Obama through executive order.  There is applause–not thunderous and overpowering, but definitely sustained.

8:57 pm: Senator Cruz talks slowly and stiffly.  He’s trying to look strong while pledging to take the fight to Islamic terrorism and to “utterly destroy” the Islamic State.  He isn’t a very impressive performance artist.

8:51 pm: Governor Christie condemns President Obama and Secretary of State Clinton for leaving America an endangered place.  Simply-put, Christie knows better than to judge a President simply for whether terrorism simply happens; I’m saying that on the assumption that he has the perception and judgment in confronting issues of law-enforcement and terrorism as he says.

Also, it’s frustrating, after all that President Obama has tried to do–much of which Governor Christie sustained in New Jersey–to stem gun violence in this country, to see a Republican Presidential candidate talk in such indignant tones as if he doesn’t care or understand that this country has an epidemic homicide problem.

8:50 pm: Governor Kasich, interestingly, chooses to spend a little more time talking bread and butter issues.  He was a bit of a policy man as a House Republican in the 1990s and a very popular Governor of Ohio early in his 2nd term; he is going to be a domestic policy candidate, period.

8:49 pm: “Today is the Bill of Rights’ anniversary: I hope you will cherish that in the fight against terrorism.”  Senator Paul speaks in general terms against Trump’s comments on barring non-American Muslims from entry into the United States, and almost links that by implication to other, more-standard counterterrorism tools and approaches.  He also calls for “Arab boots on the ground” in Syria and the Iraqi war theater to fight the Islamic State.  Uh, good luck?

8:48 pm: HAH! the debate bell is still used to cue a Presidential hopeful that their speaking time is up.

8:45 pm-8:47 pm: A discrete singing of our national anthem: The land of the free and the home of the brave.  Many silent, hearts beating.

8:44 pm: Even just walking onstage, Senator Marco Rubio (R-FL) really is just more-interesting to look at.  Charisma is a hell of an advantage in politics.

8:43 pm: “I’m Wolf Blitzer, your moderator tonight.”  Well, folks, we’re already off to a rough start right there.  Let’s get ready to AAARRGGH!

8:34 pm: “I think we all agree that any one of these candidates here onstage would be a world better than Hillary Clinton.  Are you with me?” -Republican National Committee Chairman Reince Priebus, calling on attending and viewing Republicans to close ranks in the minutes before the last Republican Presidential Debate before the Iowa Caucus.

No, I’m definitely not with him, but it’s interesting to see the RNC Chair try to head-off criticism as much as half a year in advance as the Republican Party leadership seriously debates holding a contested convention brokered by elites–the sort of thing that used to happen 50 years ago and earlier–rather than let Donald Trump–or no one–win this primary cycle.

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.”