December 19, 2014

The Never Ending Campaign

Is it me, or does it feel the campaign for President might never end? Especially when I see things like this:

For heaven’s sake, the 2012 campaign just ended. Can we at least wait until 2013 to start thinking about 2016? (Silly me, I know)

 

Hanover Economic Debate: A different debate, a similar result.

This debate was different.

I tried and tried and tried to write a post about Bloomberg’s “Hanover Economic” Debate on Tuesday night, but just couldn’t do it. I started watching it late, from the beginning, and by the time I finished, even the pundits had packed up. The immediacy of the event had passed, and any urgency to bloviate and pontificate I might have felt passed, too.  Finally, since the format was slower, I decide to spend more time thinking about it, too.

Watching the debate late, combined with the  “kitchen table” (as moderator Charlie Rose called it)  ambiance, completely changed the dynamics of the debate for me.  Candidate combativeness was gone in a setting that felt more like a conference room and less like a game show. The purpose of the debate was the economy. Answers were longer, drawn out, and more in-depth than in past debates. because I was watching a recording and not a live broadcast,  I felt more able to absorb answers (instead of spout pithy snark over social media).

My conclusion? The campaign could use more debates like this. As  entertaining as it is for candidates to attack each other, it generally takes a discipline that only two or three of the candidates have to actually say something useful during those. A Newt Gingrich to ignore media baiting and assert that “anyone of us” would be better than President Obama.

…and its real hard to swing your fists at your opponent when you’re sitting right next to him, or her, at a table.

Unless, of course, you are the classless Rick Santorum. But he’s a non-starter, anyway.

So the debate  was interesting, more sedate, but more useful, I think. There predictable elements of each candidate:

Mitt Romney was unflappable, Jon Huntsman’s jokes fell flat, Rick Santorum went on attack, Ron Paul hit Alan Greenspan and the Fed, Newt Gingrich was diplomatic and on point (“Defeat Obama”), Hermain Cain reminded us of 9/9/9, and Michelle Bachmann reminded us she had 22 foster children. Oh, and Rick Perry–still no plan, still thinks what’s good for Texas is good for America.

Other observations?

With Rick Perry on a trajectory  more akin to the rolling hills of Texas than the rising peaks of Colorado, the moderators seemed to treat him like a second tier candidate (h/t to John English). He didn’t disappoint but managed to sink to the occasion. When Charlie Rose turned to Perry to ask why, after being in race for two months, he had yet to produce a plan for the economy (in contrast with Romney’s 59 point plan), Perry sang to the tune of “energy, energy, energy,” which is great in an oil rich state where land is cheap, but doesn’t necessarily help the nation.

He also said he’d be laying out his plan over the next three days. Today is day two since he said that. Have you seen any plan yet? A Google search doesn’t find one, either.

In the other corner of the Tea Party tent, Michelle Bachmann managed to avoid major mischief, but she also managed to avoid distinguishing herself, either. When Mitt Romney tossed her a softball on what, besides tax policy, she would do for the economy, she bunted to her website rather than give any substantive answer.

Herman Cain, who spent the night enjoying his near front-runner status and reiterating, and defending, his 9/9/9 plan,  took a hit from Ron Paul on Cain’s support for Alan Greenspan, and Paul reminded everyone why he continues to draw a strong and loyal following. Cain sounded like an insider, and Paul almost sounded like the champion of Main Street. I almost expected him to come out in support of the Occupy Wall Street crowds, but he didn’t go there. Paul is a libertarian, not a redistributionist.

The final observation of the night was how the format benefits a front-runner who has ready answers. Each candidate received the opportunity to ask a question of one rival. As the front-runners, Romney and Cain received question after question, with only Romney wisening up and sending one to Bachmann.  As a result, the candidates gave Romney and Cain lots of opportunity to discuss their plans, while the other bottom-feeders languished out of camera. The smart thing to do would have been to ask questions of each other an ignore the front-runners…

But that would have required too much discipline, right? Only Romney could avoid the temptation to take a stab at his opponents with a loaded question, and as such, he benefited disproportionately from the format.

I doubt we’ll see a debate like this again soon, but I hope we do. With the race for the nomination about to start in earnest (New Hampshire is threatening a December 6 primary date) but the actual election over a year away, we have a lot of debates to go. It would be helpful to the American people to hear more in-depth from the candidates than the usual game show format that large debates seem to take.

All that said, the result seemed much the same. Perry and Bachmann continue to fade, Cain and Romney continue to rise, and don’t count Gingrich out.

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What happens when Gingrich gets his mojo on? The CNN/Tea Party Debate.

They say that you can’t win a debate, but you sure can lose one. Tonight, despite walking in at the front of the pack, Perry sure did his best to prove that true. He’ll stay on top of the polls, for now, but he didn’t do himself any favors tonight. Like any front-runner, he took a beating for his record, and he managed, semi-successfully, to avoid saying anything too damning.

That said, he didn’t sound too articulate, either.

And that’s all I’ll say about that.

Now on to the rest of the pack. Left to right:

1. Huntsman: For a guy who started his campaign calling for civility, he sure has come a long ways. I wonder if it has anything to do with his lead consultant, one John Weaver.

2. Cain: Tonight was his best debate, yet, but I don’t think it will move him much. He still brings a breath of fresh air to the campaign, though, and I like that.

3. Bachmann: She’s an insurgent by nature, and she does best on the attack, which she did, taking on Perry on his 2007 executive order by-passing the Texas legislature to inoculate 12-year old girls against human papillomavirus. She’d make a better VP than a President.

4. Romney: After a sharp back and forth on Perry’s social security comments comparing it to a Ponzi scheme, Romney found a chance to lay out his seven point plan to rebuild the economy. He’ll stay in second place, but he took a few blows. He’s no Tea Party darling.

5. Perry: See above.

6. Paul: With Blitzer in control, Paul was noticeably less vocal than usual. And while he may understand motives for anti-Americanism abroad, he struck the wrong cord with his audience when Rick Santorum took him to task.

7. Gingrich: If a debate could be won, then the trophy would go to Gingrich. Deftly dodging Blitzer’s bait, he took Obama to task, focused on the economy, and slipped in critiques of czars and subsidies to GE. Kudos to Newt.

8. Santorum: Good showing tonight, even if I wish he’d go home. Strong at points, petulant at others.

I’ve been told that debates were not a good indication of who would be a good president. That may be, but they sure show a lot about who shouldn’t sit in that seat.

If nothing else, they are great political theater.

Tea Party bait in the NYT: “You are white, Republican, and racist. Oh, and theocratic, too.”

I’ll admit it: just the fact that the story is coming  from the New York Times gives me pause.

But there it is: “Crashing the Tea Party,” by David E. Campbell and Robert D. Putnam, a couple of professors who think they have profiled Tea Party members based on some wide ranging research.

The results are provocative and, if they are in any way correct, indicate that Tea Party members are less naïve about politics than previously thought, tend to hold a low regard for immigrants, and very religious, even wanting leaders who mix religion and politics ….which explains why Michelle Bachman and Rick Perry are getting good reviews from the Tea Party.

Oh, also they are more likely to be Republican.

Whatever the characteristics, Campbell and Putnam suggest that it has contributed to giving the Tea Party a lower  approval among the public than atheists and Muslims. Ouch.

...because blondes have more fun.

But wait! There’s more: the Tea Party is not necessarily a creature of the recession. Tea Party members tend to have already been (as well as being white) very conservative and active Republicans.

Many Americans have suffered in the last four years, but they are no more likely than anyone else to support the Tea Party. And while the public image of the Tea Party focuses on a desire to shrink government, concern over big government is hardly the only or even the most important predictor of Tea Party support among voters.

[…]

More important, they were disproportionately social conservatives in 2006 — opposing abortion, for example — and still are today. Next to being a Republican, the strongest predictor of being a Tea Party supporter today was a desire, back in 2006, to see religion play a prominent role in politics. And Tea Partiers continue to hold these views: they seek “deeply religious” elected officials, approve of religious leaders’ engaging in politics and want religion brought into political debates. The Tea Party’s generals may say their overriding concern is a smaller government, but not their rank and file, who are more concerned about putting God in government.

Hmm…so how about that ‘separation between church and state’ thing? The Tea Party does know that it was one of their darlings, Mr. Thomas Jefferson himself,  that was one of the first to actually phrase it that way, right?

I don’t know about you, Reader, but the last thing I think we need is a litmus test for an elected official the measures religiosity. I would rather an atheist that upholds the law and defends the practice of religion over a deeply religious nut job  person who discriminates in favor of his or her faith. Of course, if we could find a deeply religious person who upholds the law (and doesn’t err on the side of larger government), then I probably wouldn’t mind. But then, it has nothing to do with religiosity, and we’re back at my main point: religion is the wrong litmus test for a leader.

Gov. Rick Perry (R-Texas) led 30,000 Christians in prayer Saturday -- at an event that may boost his fortunes with the GOP's critical bloc of evangelical voters. Photo: Brandon Thibodeaux/Getty Images

And yet, Campbell and Putnam suggest that this very litmus test is the likely reason for Michelle Bachmann and Rick Perry’s success in recent weeks with the Tea Party.

And what about the libertarians that are finding common cause with the Tea Party? I don’t see them reflected in the research discussion or results. In my experience, libertarians are just about growing on Republican trees these days, but they would be the last people to support increased religion in politics.

Which leads me to Campbell and Putnam’s method. The two professors (Campbell is an associate professor of political science at Notre Dame and Putnam is a professor of public policy at Harvard) interviewed 3,000 people in 2006 as part of continuing research into national political attitudes. They returned to the same people this year. They explain that

[a]s a result, we can look at what people told us, long before there was a Tea Party, to predict who would become a Tea Party supporter five years later. We can also account for multiple influences simultaneously — isolating the impact of one factor while holding others constant.

Perhaps. I’d like to take a closer look at the results to find out what kind of questions were asked, how the people were selected, and what the margins of error were.

In any case…

Even as a Republican, and a long time Republican at that, it would be disingenuous for me to dismiss these findings out of hand. While I don’t find them to be definitive, I do find the results descriptive.  Utah’s Tea Party may be distinct  in some respects due to some characteristics that are uniquely local, but in many respects the results seem to apply here.

On the other hand, could this just be Tea Party bait by New York Times liberals?

Religious litmus test or not, elections are not about rationality, but winning, and if it takes that to win, could we expect anyone but a deeply religious person to win the race for the Republican nomination?

Read the full article at “Crashing the Tea Party” in the New York Times.

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