Tuesday, August 04, 2015


Monday night tens of people tuned in to CSPAN to see the Republican Presidential candidates play an exhibition warm-up forum prior to Thursday night's prime time debates. Fans were disappointed to learn that Donald Trump would not be there. But, because this was a pre-season game, it only makes sense that team GOP rested their starter in order to avoid injuries.

Much like an NFL exhibition, this event did not challenge any of the candidates with direct regular season competition as much as it provided a controlled environment for individual evaluation.  Hard core fans will probably want to watch the game film here. But keep in mind, this was also muck like an NFL exhibition in that it's very difficult to say what, if anything, of value was learned.

Each candidate was given about a minute or two on stage to answer what appeared to be pre-arranged questions suited to his or her favorite talking points. After all 14 participants had rotated in, they were called back for a second, very similar, round but with 30 seconds added for "closing statements."

This was a heavily scripted performance of each candidate's standard stump schtick.  But it's worth at least observing how well they pull that off on stage. So, there were a few notes worth scribbling down, or tweeting out, or whatever I did. Here are those.

Given that the substance is staged boilerplate, I guess the thing we're looking for first here is style points. Sadly, everyone was pretty bland. The only candidates who distinguished themselves did so in the negative sense.

For example, Lindsey Graham's description of his trade policy, "Clinched fist or open hand. You choose," sounded weird the first time he said it. By the third repetition it started to sound almost dirty. Rick Perry didn't forget any list items or anything. But he did squirm in his chair a lot and generally look goofy. Ben Carson seems half asleep when he speaks and holds his "Gifted Hands" awkwardly. Ted Cruz was tangibly creepy but that's nothing new.

The most disappointing presentation by far was from presumed contender Marco Rubio who just isn't very good at talking. Rubio, like the two other Senators who participated, was beamed in via satellite link but was the only one of the three who couldn't figure out that he needed to wait on the delay to avoid talking over the host.  He also stumbled over his own words a few times and looked very much like he needed a glass of water.. which is kind of a problem when people are specifically watching for that.
Almost all of the candidates wanted to talk about "border security." Rick Perry began by saying he once "looked the President in the eye" and told him that Texas would secure the border if the feds would not. And then, according to Perry, Texas went ahead and did that so I don't really know what he's complaining about now.

Other Republicans talked more effectively about "border security" in relation to the version of economic populism many of them will try to sell this year.  John Kasich, Rick Santorum, and Lindsey Graham all talked about the effects of immigration on wages in the US.  Although they also spoke in favor of "guestworker" programs which apparently don't hurt anybody. (oops!) It's interesting also that all of these "free traders" have spent their careers supporting agreements like NAFTA, and now the TPP and TTIP which demolish fair labor and environmental standards across international borders but have no shame in demagoguing against their deleterious effects.

But hypocrisy is a given on the campaign trail.  This is how Chris Christie can declare, "The war on drugs has been a failure" the same week that he also said this.
"If you’re getting high in Colorado today, enjoy it," Christie, a Republican presidential candidate, said during a town-hall event in the early voting state of New Hampshire, according to Bloomberg.

“As of January 2017, I will enforce the federal laws,” he added.

Christie, who has long opposed recreational marijuana and said early this month that he has never tried pot, has stated that unlike President Obama he would not selectively choose which federal laws to enforce.
It's also how  Ted Cruz can, with a straight face, rail against "career politicians in bed with special interests" while this is going on.
Senator Ted Cruz’s standing in many national polls may be middling, but Friday brought fresh evidence as to why he should not be underestimated: The Texas Republican is a magnet for big donors.

How big? Toby Neugebauer, an energy investor, donated $10 million to Keep the Promise II, a “super PAC” supporting Mr. Cruz.

The donation represents one of the largest amounts given by a single donor to a Super PAC so far this campaign cycle and demonstrates the potential influence that individuals can have upon a presidential election and with a senior lawmaker.

Mr. Neugebauer, the son of Representative Randy Neugebauer, Republican of Texas, is the co-founder of Quantum Energy Partners and has been an active investor in the oil and gas sectors, overseeing billions of dollars of assets.

There were other knee-slappers.

"Libertarian" Rand Paul seemed pretty adamant that the government has a right to summarily execute you as long as it says you are a "terrorist."

Scott Walker says it's important that climate change policy is "balanced" against the needs of industry which seems like a totally legitimate way to go about things given the circumstances.

George Pataki is also running for President.

Of course our friend Bobby Jindal was there too.  He comported himself pretty well, in fact. This was not a repeat of his infamous State of the Union response which I think we should all just stop talking about now.  Bobby has improved his presentation at least to a level where it is no longer laughable.

I'm less impressed with his improvement than Oyster seems to be, though. Jindal will always come off as a nerd and a phony.  But we've elected nerds before. (Think George H. W. Bush) And certainly we've elected phonies. (Think every President ever.) So there's no reason to dismiss Bobby Jindal's campaign based on style. One poor impression he made on TV six years ago does not mean he isn't to be taken seriously now.

The things he says are ridiculous too but no more ridiculous than any of his opponents' offerings listed above. Monday night Jindal coolly recited some of the pet phrases he's been honing during his many trips to Iowa and New Hampshire.

"I'm tired of talkers. We need doers."

"We need to get off of the path towards socialism."

"American Dream" vs. "European Nightmare"

You may have heard these before.  Have you heard this new one yet, though?
“We need a doer, not a talker,” he said in his valedictory. “We can’t afford four more years of on-the-job training.”

And, he assured the audience, he has the “bandwidth” and “backbone” to get the job done.

“We’ve had seven years of a great talker,” he said. “Let’s elect a doer.

“Let us believe in America again.”
What on Earth could that "bandwidth" thing possibly mean, we asked Twitter. Twitter responded, convincingly enough.

In other words, Bobby is going for that "Geek Appeal" again. 

But as long as Bobby is talking about his "bandwidth" maybe one or two local Iowa or New Hampshire reporters would like to take it as an opening to ask him why he has so much while his state has so little
Louisiana was set to receive an $80 million federal grant to expand broadband access in North and Central Louisiana. I know, for an absolute fact that, behind the scenes, Mary Landrieu’s staff worked diligently to ensure Louisiana had an opportunity, and I’m not at all surprised that Senator Landrieu has been so vocal about this issue. You see, last week, the Commerce Department rescinded the grant because Louisiana couldn’t get its act together. More specifically, Governor Jindal and his administration couldn’t get their acts together
Of course it won't make much difference.  Bobby will simply say that, because the $80 million in broadband access for the poor was coming from the federal government and not a private cable operator, that he was really giving us "freedom" instead of bandwidth and isn't that better anyway.  It won't hurt Bobby with Republicans to have to say that.

In fact, it will be right in step with Scott Walker's claim that "freedom" is better than a union job with full benefits or George Pataki's claim that "patient empowerment" is better than actual health care. This is the meat they're all serving this year. These are the lies you tell if you want to be the Republican nominee And Jindal tells them every bit as well as or better than the rest of them.   

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