Alexander's Column

Best of the First Republican Confab

The "debates" Thursday were endurance exercises, given the number of candidates on stage.

Mark Alexander · Aug. 7, 2015

OK, the “debates” Thursday were endurance exercises, given the number of candidates on both the early and then prime-time stage. We heard from a lot of great Republicans, most of whom are conservatives and connect well with grassroots Patriots across the nation. Because, in both instances, they were answering different questions, there is not an easy “apples to apples” comparison but, as promised, I have compiled a handful of good remarks from each of the candidates on the prime-time stage.

I commend Bret Baier, Megyn Kelly and Chris Wallace for asking many good and tough questions — which you would not have heard from CNN moderators if only Democrats were on stage. I note there were some fratricidal bait questions, but most of the candidates avoided attacking each other, and focused on the serious issues threatening Liberty — the result of Barack Obama’s failed domestic policies, and the abysmal failure of Obama/Clinton foreign policies.

In the next 72 hours, the media will be saturated with polls, but as I noted Wednesday in my introduction for this first round matchup of Republicans, “Polls at this stage of a primary are not particularly relevant. I equate them with the weather in Alaska: If you don’t like it, wait 15 minutes.” But reputable polls are somewhat more relevant now that all the candidates have appeared on stage.

I have only one observation about the debate between the second-tier candidates. In my assessment there was one candidate who absolutely shined above all others, and that would be Carly Fiorina, who has earned her way into the first tier. Among other things, she is the “corporate” alternative to Donald Trump.

The most consequential question of the whole night was the opener from Bret Baier, who asked for a show of hands from anyone who would not pledge their support for the eventual nominee and instead, run as an independent — and in all probability deliver the presidency to their Democrat opponent. While I think this question would have been better asked as the last, not the first, it clearly was a question that conservatives wanted answered.

Predictably, Trump was the only person on stage who raised his hand in response to Baier’s question, and I will leave his supporters to consider the implications. As I noted in “The Trump Card” two weeks ago, “Trump has the potential of being a spoiler in 2016 if his populist campaign lasts beyond 2015 [because] he is a textbook pathological narcissist. He could launch a third ticket and hand the election to Hillary Clinton.”

So in order of their poll rankings entering the first debate, here are just a few remarks that say something significant about each candidate, followed by my own brief assessment of who gained ground on the main stage. (You can read a full annotated transcript of the debate at The Washington Post.)

Donald Trump: “I think the big problem this country has is being politically correct. … We don’t have time for tone. We have to go out and get the job done. … We need to build a wall, and it has to be built quickly. And I don’t mind having a big, beautiful door in that wall so that people come into this country legally. … [A single-payer health care system] works in Canada, it works incredibly well in Scotland. … I gave to many people, before this, before two months ago — I was a businessman. I give to everybody. When they call, I give. And do you know what? When I need something from them two years later, three years later, I call them, they are there for me. I’ll tell you what, with Hillary Clinton, I said, ‘Be at my wedding,’ and she came to my wedding. You know why? She didn’t have a choice because I gave.”

Note: I chose these remarks because Trump’s popularity is based almost solely on his indifference to “PC” and “tone.” Or, as The Wall Street Journal put it, “[T]he evening exposed how little he has thought about the main issues of the day. … His appeal is attitude, not substance.”

However, the most telling thing about Trump was not in his answers, but in this question from Kelly: “Mr. Trump, in 1999, you said you were, quote, ‘very pro-choice,’ even supporting partial-birth abortion. You favored an assault weapons ban as well. In 2004, you said in most cases you identified as a Democrat. Even in this campaign, your critics say you often sound more like a Democrat than a Republican, calling several of your opponents on the stage things like clowns and puppets. When did you actually become a Republican?” In response, Trump said, “As far as being a Republican is concerned, I come from a place, New York City, which is virtually, I mean, it is almost exclusively Democrat. And I have really started to see some of the negatives.”

Jeb Bush: “I’m going to have to earn this. Maybe the barrier — the bar’s even higher for me. That’s fine. I’ve got a record in Florida. I’m proud of my dad, and I’m certainly proud of my brother… I am my own man. I governed as a conservative, and I governed effectively. And the net effect was, during my eight years, 1.3 million jobs were created. We left the state better off because I applied conservative principles in a purple state the right way, and people rose up. … The new normal of 2% [GDP] that the Left is saying you can’t do anything about is so dangerous for our country. There’s six million people living in poverty today, more than when Barack Obama got elected. 6.5 million people are working part-time, most of whom want to work full-time. We’ve created rules and taxes on top of every aspiration of people, and the net result is we’re not growing fast, income is not growing. A 4% growth strategy means you fix a convoluted tax code. You get in and you change every aspect of regulations that are job killers. You get rid of ObamaCare and replace it with something that doesn’t suppress wages and kill jobs.”

Scott Walker: “Let’s be clear, we should be talking about Hillary Clinton … because everywhere in the world that Hillary Clinton touched is more messed up today than before she and the president [came to power]. … It’s sad to think right now, but probably the Russian and Chinese government know more about Hillary Clinton’s email server than do the members of the United States Congress. … This is not just bad with Iran, this is bad with ISIS. It is tied together, and once and for all, we need a leader who’s going to stand up and do something about it.”

Mike Huckabee: “It seems like this election has been a whole lot about a person who’s very high in the polls, that doesn’t have a clue about how to govern. A person who has been filled with scandals, and who could not lead. Of course, I’m talking about Hillary Clinton. … The problem is we have a Wall Street-to-Washington access of power that has controlled the political climate. The donor class feeds the political class who does the dance that the donor class wants. And the result is the federal government keeps getting bigger. Every person on this stage who has been a governor will tell that you the biggest fight they had was not the other party. Wasn’t even the legislature. It was the federal government, who continually put mandates on the states that we had to suck up and pay for. And the fact is there are a lot of things happening at the federal level that are absolutely beyond the jurisdiction of the Constitution.”

Ben Carson: “America became a great nation early on not because it was flooded with politicians, but because it was flooded with people who understood the value of personal responsibility, hard work, creativity, innovation. And that’s what will get us on the right track now, as well. … If I was trying to destroy this country, what I would do is find a way to drive wedges between all the people, drive the debt to an unsustainable level, and then step off the stage as a world leader and let our enemies increase while we decreased our [military capability].”

Ted Cruz: “I believe the American people are looking for someone to speak the truth. If you’re looking for someone to go to Washington, to go along to get along, to agree with the career politicians in both parties who get in bed with the lobbyists and special interests, then I ain’t your guy. … We see lots of ‘campaign conservatives.’ But if we’re going to win in 2016, we need a consistent conservative, someone who has been a fiscal conservative, a social conservative, a national security conservative. … We need a commander in chief that speaks the truth. We will not defeat radical Islamic terrorism so long as we have a president unwilling the utter the words ‘radical Islamic terrorism.’”

Marco Rubio: “This election cannot be a résumé competition. It’s important to be qualified, but if this election is a résumé competition, then Hillary Clinton’s going to be the next president because she’s been in office and in government longer than anybody else running here tonight. … Here’s what this election better be about: This election better be about the future, not the past. It better be about the issues our nation and the world is facing today, not simply the issues we once faced. … God has blessed us. He has blessed the Republican Party with some very good candidates. The Democrats can’t even find one. … What I have advocated is that we pass a law in this country that says all human life at every stage of its development is worthy of protection. In fact, I think that law already exists. It is called the Constitution of the United States. Future generations will look back at this history of our country and call us barbarians for murdering millions of babies who we never gave the chance to live. … I run for president because I believe that we can’t just save the American dream; we can expand it to reach more people and change more lives than ever before.”

Rand Paul: “This is what’s wrong. [Mr. Trump] buys and sells politicians of all stripes… He’s already hedging his bet on the Clintons. He’s already hedging his bets because he’s used to buying politicians. … The Fourth Amendment was what we fought the Revolution over! John Adams said it was the spark that led to our war for independence, and I’m proud of standing for the Bill of Rights, and I will continue to stand for the Bill of Rights. … I don’t want my marriage or my guns registered in Washington.”

Chris Christie: “I’m the only person on this stage who’s actually filed applications under the Patriot Act, who has gone before the … Foreign Intelligence Service court, who has prosecuted and investigated and jailed terrorists in this country after September 11th. … This is not theoretical to me. I went to the funerals. We lost friends of ours in the Trade Center that day. … I will make no apologies, ever, for protecting the lives and the safety of the American people. We have to give more tools to our folks to be able to do that, not fewer, and then trust those people and oversee them to do it the right way. … If we don’t deal with [entitlement reform], it will bankrupt our country or lead to massive tax increases — neither one that we want in this country.”

John Kasich: “The court has ruled [on same-sex marriage], and I said we’ll accept it. And guess what, I just went to a wedding of a friend of mine who happens to be gay. Because somebody doesn’t think the way I do, doesn’t mean that I can’t care about them or can’t love them.”

Finally, before giving my assessment of this first matchup, I am going to do what no other analyst will do today and disclose my own bias. I come into this first round thinking that the most competitive presidential ticket in 2016 would be Walker/Rubio. I am not set on that ticket. That being said, I have subjectively rated the performance of each candidate as either better than I expected, flat or worse than I expected, going into the debate.

So in order of their poll rankings entering the first debate: Donald Trump, flat; Jeb Bush, flat; Scott Walker, flat; Mike Huckabee, better; Ben Carson, flat; Ted Cruz, better; Marco Rubio, better; Rand Paul, worse; Chris Christie, worse; and John Kasich, worse.

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