I don’t know how we made it through the last 33 months without a presidential debate, but thankfully our nightmare is at long last over. In words a thought I would never utter, Fox News put on a spirited, lively and informative debate last night. At least the second group of moderators – Megyn Kelly, Chris Wallace and Bret Baier – did. More about the crew moderating the “kids’ table” debate later.
Although the chances of my voting for any of the 17 candidates in a general election are pretty low, here are some impressions from the two events:
- John Kasich surprised me with his grasp of issues, as well as for his empathetic views on those who are less fortunate and on same-sex marriage. He has run afoul of Republican orthodoxy for having the temerity to actually accept federal Medicaid dollars for low-income Ohioans, but explained it to voters who twice nominated a so-called “compassionate conservative” for the presidency.
- Marco Rubio also impressed me. He was articulate and knowledgeable. One thing that surprised me about him is how large his ears are – a feature that is not exactly an impediment to becoming President.
- Jeb Bush and Donald Trump were the least surprising candidates. Bush continues with his plodding style that is unlikely to get anyone excited. Trump, of course, gets lots of people excited – some for, some agin. He did candidly acknowledge that he gives a lot of money to candidates – including Democrats – because he expects something in return. He contributed to Hilary Clinton so she would come to his wedding!
- The moderators in the earlier debate – the “kids’ table” or the “happy hour” debate – were as bad as the later group was good. Martha MacCallum and Bill Hemmer appeared to be auditioning for promotions in the Roger Ailes/Fox News hierarchy. The underlying assumption to many of their questions was an acceptance of right-wing heterodoxy as reality. Should mosques be placed under surveillance? How do we stop government hand-outs? The second group, by contrast, asked specific policy-related questions, often tailored to a particular candidate’s previous positions.
- Lindsey Graham will take us back to war in Iraq with ground troops. Ben Carson – a doctor – will resume waterboarding because he is opposed to “politically correct wars.”
- Carly Fiorina was clearly the star of the early group.
- It is unclear why either Jim Gilmore or George Pataki is running. Neither adds anything not offered by another candidate, although you could say the same about at least another half-dozen. Both of the former governors stress they were in office on 9/11 – a dubious qualification at best, and reminiscent of how Rudy Giuliani was able to convert that into winning exactly one delegate.
- Rick Santorum remains capable of turning any issue back to abortion. In response to a question on same-sex marriage – a group that likely does not have many unwanted pregnancies – into his staunch record opposing a woman’s right to choose. Apparently, this was in case anyone does not already know that about him. Mike Huckabee topped that with a statement saying “scientists” have proven that human life begins at conception because of some muddled description of DNA testing.
In terms of actual policy positions, there is not much variability among the 17. All are opposed to funding Planned Parenthood, but with one exception opposed to abortion. (Pataki is the lone pro-choice candidate, and as one moderator pointed out, a pro-choice candidate has not won a Republican primary in the last 35 years.) All are opposed to the nuclear deal with Iran, although Fiorina seems to be the lone pragmatist acknowledging it was the best we are going to get. Immigration? You can probably guess. Obamacare? Please.
The most remarkable omission from the list of debate topics is a subject that should have been foremost – race relations. There was no mention of it during the first debate. In the second debate, there was a question to one candidate (Scott Walker) about “Black Lives Matter,” but nothing approaching a discussion. Then the last question of the more than three hours of debate was one about the state of race relations – to Ben Carson. There were, however, questions to several candidates about whether he had received a “word from God,’ that was then incongruously mixed in with a question about veterans. In fairness, however, the Democratic candidates have not exactly covered themselves with glory when the matter of race comes up.
All in all, however, I thought the second Fox crew did an excellent job in managing an unwieldy group of 10 candidates in the two hours (including commercials) allotted. We at least know more about each candidate than we did two days ago.