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unhappiness in the land of happy days

i may be getting addicted to the process of republican debates. tuesday saw them in milwaukee and after last month's debacle on cnbc [i didn't write it up? god, i'm slipping], the focus was largely on fox business channel even more than on the candidates. however, it took about five minutes to determine that fox had come prepared, which means that we all got to focus on [mocking] the candidates again.

you'd assume that, as a progressive, i would want a very weak candidate to emerge, but in fact i'd prefer to have someone with a solid grasp of policy [or at least english]. i don't think that's what republicans want, though and, no word of a lie, that saddens me. i was shocked at how poorly john huntsman fared last time, which goes to show you that i just don't see in their candidates the way they do. but that's part of what makes it fun!

tuesday's fight for the right took us to milwaukee, home of the 1985 and 2015 world series champions and the seventies television show happy days, of which i have never seen a full episode, because even as a small child, i found it intolerable. those are actually the only two things i know about milwaukee. apparently, i know less about milwaukee than i thought. kansas city won the world series this year, as they did in 1985. i know milwaukee is in wisconsin and their baseball team is the brewers. i also know that it's pretty far from kansas, believe it or not.

the stages had been rearranged a little, with chris christie and mike huckabee pushed off the main and lindsey graham and george pataki pushed off entirely because of their low poll numbers. for crying out loud, just let them talk. let everyone talk. do a  series of debates over a few nights if you have to, with rotating candidates. yes, it would be expensive, but the koch brothers, the walmart heirs, sheldon adelson and all those other billionaires you have backing you have a lot of money. get some of the candidates' super-pacs to throw some cash in. the "undercard" debates help nothing.

the "awkward-off" competition
the kids' table debate ::

first things first: no lindsey graham was a huge mistake. he's been by far the most interesting part of the previous two debates and i was truly looking forward to him chugging out of a flask mid-stream, because who would stop him?

chris christie :: clearly did not belong as part of the opening act. focused the entire time on hillary clinton rather than attacking others [we'll get to that shortly] and seemed a bigger person [stop laughing] than his cohorts. that said, he's received positive reviews for all his debate performances [including from me] and it's done nothing for him.

mike huckabee :: how screwed up is life when mike huckabee seems like the moderate in the room? didn't do himself any harm, didn't do himself any good, which means he's unlikely to be going anywhere but down. your moment was 2012, buddy and you blew it.

bobby jindal :: jesus h. christ man, did chris christie bang your wife? you spent more time trying to start a fight with him than you did discussing your own policies. you did find time to brag about denying food stamps to poor people, which was almost, but not quite as good as last time when you bragged about closing charity hospitals. you are a nasty, angry man, even in this crowd.

rick santorum :: maybe not at the level of christie, but arguably had the high point of the night when, after christie and jindal scrapped a little about the importance of being a "true" conservative versus winning in a normally blue state. come and get it, just like you almost did four years ago. started hollering at one point, which was a bit scary, but potentially effective. that said, there's been a subtle shift in the desires of the electorate since 2012, when his brand of social conservatism was more popular. this time, the emphasis seems to be on weird. i believe you can do this, rick.


the big show ::

jeb bush :: a huge improvement on his previous debate performances, but that's really not saying much. his comments on immigration were possibly the high point of his entire campaign thus far. he desperately needed a strong performance and he delivered... somewhat. in a campaign where the electorate seem to hate political insiders, he somehow seems the most insider-y, despite never having held office in washington. thanks, family. i do think that the democrats are more concerned about him than they let on, but he's struggling so much to make an impression that he needs a minor miracle to revive his moribund run. of course, we're approaching the season of miracles...

mathematician john nash believed in a conspiracy of men with red ties
ben carson :: his performance alternated between a nearly catatonic state and feverish delirium. i'm not exaggerating: there were times when his wording was so convoluted that i doubt even he remembered what he started off trying to say. because he was given more speaking time in this round, his inability to make rational arguments was more exposed, however, a room full of undecided primary voters overwhelmingly chose him as the winner of the debate. i'm beginning to think that his appeal is that he sounds relaxing [which he absolutely does] and his characteristic mumbling diction means that the audience simply here's some key words and phrases that they like. damned if i can understand his appeal, but whatever he's doing, it's working.

ted cruz :: he committed what should have been a rick perry-level screw up when he faltered in naming the five departments he would shut down, but he dealt with it so much better, just pushing the crazy plow forward through the brush. take that instant out of the reckoning and i'd almost say cruz ran away with the debate. his performance was slick, but still human. challenged by an incredulous host when he said that he would allow even the bank of america to fail in the event of another economic meltdown, he dug in his cowboy heels. the idea that the largest bank in the country could just be allowed to collapse with no safety net is more than a little crazy, but cruz' response made him look principled and the host look argumentative. and his numbers tell an interesting story: his support has been increasing slowly and steadily, based on a foundation of increasingly strong debate performances and refusing to criticize even the craziest things that his opponents say, all while biding his time. machine gun bacon for everyone!

rubio's so cute even the donald can't resist that tight butt
carly fiorina :: this woman lies better than i can tell the truth. as with last time, a solid, professional performance based on a foundation of pure bullshit. elegantly blew off the toughest question of the entire night- how she would respond to the accusation that the economy has been better when democrats have been in the white house- by not even attempting to answer it and was not pushed by the moderators. her most memorable moment, however, was being shushed by donald trump, to a solid round of boos. in a post-match interview, she answered a question of whether she perceived his admonishment as sexist by saying that everyone was interrupting, but she was the only one he called out for doing so, and she'd just let other people make up their minds. her responses to his gender-baiting are the stuff genius. notably, when cnn talked to their audience of republican voters, she was the only candidate who'd managed to win someone over.

john kasich :: had the performance that jeb bush needed to have. he was loaded for bear and repeated his assertion from the last debate that the big-sounding plans his opponents' have to deal with immigration are "silly". also achieved something that his opponents have struggled to do thus far [with the exception of carly fiorina]: making donald trump look bad. trump's petulant comeback that he was rich enough that he didn't need to listen to kasich got a visceral reaction from the audience, who thus far have let the whole billionaire thing slide because he did a good act of being "one of the people". the danger for kasich is that those floating high on the dreams of trump's wall or carson's... whatever will find his "the emperor has no clothes" routine to be a major downer.

rand paul :: this was the debate where he finally seemed to come to life, emphasizing the differences between him and the other candidates on foreign policy and military interventionism. his father got booed for those sort of statements four years ago, but rand got a muffled ripple of applause. made all his opponents look foolish because he seemed to be the only one on stage who knew that china wasn't a signatory to the trans-pacific partnership. i doubt anyone in the audience knew china wasn't part of the tpp, but they'll mind that their candidates didn't know it. his good showing might not be enough to bring back the excitement he generated last year, but it could be enough to keep him from switching places with chris christie at the next debate [december 15, hosted by cnn].

that joke isn't funny anymore? 
marco rubio :: not bad, but his worst performance to date. his most memorable moment was actually what he didn't say, which was anything about immigration. he continues to be able to dodge questions on a subject where he is both vulnerable, as the sole candidate to have supported the dream act, and a potentially huge asset in a general election. throughout the debate, he seemed a little tired, a little too robotic, bringing back memories of the truly unfortunate "water bottle" reply to the state of the union address. he fumbled through an answer about the increasingly sticky problem of his personal finances without sounding convincing. cruz, who seems to know that rubio is going to be the opponent he'll have to best in the long run, took some effective shots at him regarding immigration, while never mentioning him by name, thus robbing him or saving him from having to respond. still a long-term threat and the candidate the democrats least want to face.

donald trump :: the magic is fading fast. he was booed multiple times for taking mean-spirited shots at the other candidates and, with the greater emphasis on issues, seemed more out of his depth than ever. other than the booing, the response that has gotten the most post-debate coverage is his comparison of his immigrant deportation program to that of dwight eisenhower in the 1950s. the media he's criticized so harshly have been only too happy to point out that the program was called "operation wetback" and is viewed in retrospect as a racist embarrassment. a stilted, unfunny performance on saturday night live [possibly the fault of the writers as much as the donald] coupled with a weak performance here may well herald the end of the republican trump experiment, as he continues to lose ground to the limp but apparently likable dr. carson. he's far enough ahead, particularly in new hampshire, that i can't see him backing out for a while, but it's going to happen. now about that potential third-party challenge.

can we just take a minute to admire the sumptuous venue?
overall, enough people were solid that it's hard to say if tuesday's debate will create a lot of movement with the republican primary voters [don't forget that in these early stages, checking the polls in the early primary states of iowa, new hampshire and south carolina is more important than looking at national ones]. the number of undecided or "soft" supporters of any candidate is massive, likely reflecting the befuddlement of voters trying to evaluate more than a dozen suitors. with relatively few people truly committed, differences between the candidates can seem a lot greater than they actually are: in a room with ten voters where four support me, if i'm able to win over just three people, my support goes from forty to seventy percent. so the bottom line is that there is a lot of room for movement. even a slight edge in on the ground effort could be enough to carry a candidate over the line.

this week's winners [most likely to see an increase in support] :: cruz, paul, bush, possibly christie and santorum [assuming enough people saw the early debate]

this week's stalwarts [most likely to hold their ground] :: carson, rubio, fiorina, kasich

this week's losers [most likely to see a drop in support] :: jindal, huckabee

[please note that almost all my predictions last time were wrong before taking this too seriously.]

until next time...

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