Saturday, August 8, 2015

Post-Debate Wrap-up

See my continued dissection of the first GOP debate at Part Two (Happy Hour) of this series. See also my answers to the Happy Hour debate questions in Part Three  Part Four.

All in all, this was a very entertaining debate. While, at times, I wondered if I had managed to pick up the Israeli Prime Minster's debate instead, and it's never fun to see that the consensus position on the Middle East is that we need to face off against ISIS and Iran AT THE SAME TIME (because strategy is unworthy of 'Murica) there were still some reasons to hope. A full ranking and discussion of the candidates follows the jump.

1 The Donald

Donald Trump was clearly the candidate to beat going into this debate. Hell, even the moderators tried to take a shot at it. In the face of all this, he dominated the first half of the night. By refusing to pledge not to run against the eventual GOP nominee, Trump cemented his position with those disgusted with the establishment. By holding firm against Megyn Kelly's sexism question, Trump showed that his promises meant something: a man who won't back down is a man who can also keep his word.

Per Vox Day's hierarchy, Trump was the only alpha male there. Because of this, he managed to communicate certain things with his body language that the other debaters couldn't. Compare his looks of disgust when disparaged by other candidates/moderators with Rand Paul's while facing Christie. There is a palpable difference: while Mr. Paul looks frustrated and unable to turn the situation around, Trump signals that the thing has become a farce, and invites us to jeer at it.

See also Bush's attempt to take a more aggressive stance when he was challenged. In that, as in many things, he simply cannot summon any fire, and so he looks more like Trumps long-suffering friend than a serious rival. These are subtle things, sure, but things that could push Trump to the top. Given that Americans are largely immune to dialectic, body language will likely speak far louder than even the most expertly crafted talking points.

The second half of the night wasn't quite as strong. He visibly dodged many of the later questions. Even here though, Trump's sheer confidence saves him from disaster. Rather than nervously inserting his CV, as Governor Kasich did, Trump maintained his commanding frame, as though to say that clearly the question posed was not important, and he was going to tell you what was. All in all, even with numerous flaws, Trump easily earned his >40% of the Drudge Poll.

However, it's worth noting who didn't like him. The focus group Fox polled after the debate had strongly swung away from Trump. Given that this was a notably old group, this is not negated by the Drudge poll, which, as a matter of necessity, required a minimal level of comfort with the internet to access. Even among people I personally talked to, older voters tended to have more negative views of Trump, questioning whether such a man was presidential enough.

Nevertheless, elections are determined not by an actual majority of Americans, but by those who show up. Excitement brings voters to the polls, and unless one of the establishment candidates can build some (almost oxymoronic given the very term "establishment") the Drudge voters likely carry the day. After this first debate, Trump remains the candidate to beat.

2 The Reverend

While Trump remains the candidate to beat, the best overall performance in this debate was delivered by Governor Huckabee. While almost every other candidate was awkward, stilted, and ineffective, Huckabee took full advantage of his television experience, bringing a calm confidence that made him impossible to ignore. With high name recognition from his prior Presidential runs, Huckabee is a candidate to watch.

In addition to an overall strong performance, Huckabee was able to finish the strongest of the field. His joke conflating Trump with Hillary was masterful. While the other candidates mostly seemed to fear the Donald, avoiding direct confrontation lest the baneful Eye of Sauron lay upon them, Huckabee wasn't afraid to engage. And instead of making a direct attack, Huckabee worked deftly, forcing even the real estate magnate himself to concede his point. While Huckabee didn't bury Trump with his joke he showed that, unlike the rest of the field, he could play in the same league.

3 The Doctor

The final strong candidate of the night was Dr. Ben Carson. Although he certainly doesn't have the commanding presence of a Trump, Carson wins points for simply being likable. The Doctor was calm and collected. Most importantly while he, like all of the other candidates, is likely two or three standard deviations smarter than your average bear, Dr. Carson spoke simply and clearly, using his intellect to remain centered and in touch with his audience, rather than outkicking his coverage.

Dr. Carson also went out with a bang.First impressions may be important, but last impressions are too. Few people likely remembered in the morning Senator Paul's constitutional argument against wiretaps, or Governor Huckabee's against abortion. What they did likely remember is how the candidate made them feel. A good number of people likely feel really good about Dr. Carson right now... or maybe enough to help them forget his position on gun control.

4 The Latino Heat

Another competent candidate with a cancerous cause was Senator Marco Rubio. Despite going against a majority of Americans on immigration, Rubio didn't back down, and managed to hold up much better under questioning than most. While his demeanor stank much strongly of politician than the previous three, at least he appeared to be a capable one. For those Republicans whose primary motivation is "not being racist" rather than "not being genocided" Rubio might have serious appeal. 

5 The Jersey Shore

Given the all-consuming media spotlight enjoyed by Mr. Trump, it may be hard for some to remember that Governor Chris Christie was the original hard-edged no-nonsense Republican. Luckily everybody but Rand Paul also forgot that he managed to lose the 2012 election for Romney by his fawning reception of President Obama at the storm-ravaged coast. To show you how lame the GOP is, while Jesus was betrayed with a kiss, Romney only merited a hug.

Nevertheless, Christie was back in form tonight, managing to have one of the more interesting dialectic moments of the night during his showdown with Paul while at the same time showing off his edge. Depending on your point of view, this may make him Trump-lite, or the thinking man's Trump. What it doesn't make him, however you see it, is irrelevant.

6 The Lesser

Paul the lesser, that is. Rand is certainly not his father. However, the little of his father's greatness he does have is enough to keep him in the running.

As stated supra, Senator Paul's civil liberties argument against Governor Christie was one of the most memorable moments of the night, and a rare serious one. For those viewers capable of appreciating a logical argument, Paul will likely have made a strong showing.

But a debate is not a contest of logic, but appearances. Paul, Christie, and Huckabee's willingness to actually formulate progessions of ideas to further ones is not enough to make their night. And of those three, Paul was clearly the least polished.

Unlike the others, Paul looked as if he sincerely believed that presenting the more effective case could bring him victory. However, while such a thing might make sense in the Senate, this debate is not the right format for such tactics. Growing flustered when he realized this also counted against him: like it or not, it is an absolute necessity to remain cool under pressure, even in the use of aggression. If Rand Paul's attempts to find a middle ground between his father and the party are to bear fruit, he is going to have to remember this going forward.

7 The Latino Cold

Ted Cruz, disappointingly for someone whose positions are top tier, has a veneer of weakness. I've heard it said in numerous places that people support Trump not because he holds all of their views, but because he seems the most likely to act on any of their views. Ted Cruz should be getting those votes on substance, but can only do so if he can project enough strength.

Cruz should have tremendous credibility, but he shreds it through his presentation.Stand dead on. Face the camera. Speak slowly, from your gut. If you want people to vote for you, you have to convince them that you have the strength to stick around, not just a big name (more on this later). And most of all, no more pursed lip chin up Obama poses. It barely worked for him, and its not working for you.

8 The Bush

I've often suspected that Governor Jeb Bush doesn't really want to be running for President. Of the many weak candidates in the Republican field, Jeb Bush takes the milquetoast. This debate was no exception.

Interestingly though, he might have tipped his hand as to exactly why he is in the race. Governor Bush was the only person to mention the XL pipeline - twice! Because a constant flow of invaders is worth it if we can only have a constant flow of oil.

Also interesting is how Trump managed to neutralize Bush. When challenged by the moderators, characteristically hungry for blood, Mr. Bush backed down and denied the "buffoon" and "asshole" comments. Trump, generously, then responded to the overture by calling the Governor a "class act." While this does Bush the psychological benefit of diffusing the tension, it also somewhat neutralizes his ability to turn around and attack. This might not be a bad thing for him, he has significant financial backing, and can afford to play the waiting game. Maybe...

9 The Czech

Little known fact, Governor Kasich is of Czech and Croatian ancestry! Well known fact, Governor Kasich wan't everyone to know how many jobs he created! Even when that's wholly irrelevant!

It was painfully obvious that this was the Governor's first experience with such an important stage. More so was what facts he had been memorizing for the night's debate. Kasich took the idea of having pre-planned talking points almost to the level of parody, being the only candidate to not even put forth a reasonable effort to hide his deflections. Wherever Mr. Kasich's home may be, it will not be in the White House. 

10 The Walker

Governor Walker will be more remembered for his wholehearted approval of everything Dr. Carson said than for any point he made himself. Carson thus takes the notable honor of being the only candidate to lock up another candidate's vote after this debate! Congrats Dr. Carson!

Next up, once I have time to view it, the Happy Hour debate!


  1. "...while Mr. Paul looks frustrated and unable to turn the situation around, Trump signals that the thing has become a farce, and invites us to jeer at it."

    This is a perfect summary of the difference I couldn't quite put my finger on. Also the way Rand Paul jumped in at the very beginning on Trump (during the hand raising) smacked of some desperation. Much like a guy who is #7 in the polls shooting for air time by attacking the #1 candidate... I guess the gamble paid off though because I did see some highlight reel coverage of the exchange later.

    ">40% of the Drudge Poll"
    A Drudgereport poll is super unscientific any way you slice it, but sure. It never hurts to win polls.

    It's worth noting that Ted Cruz's standing jumped a bunch after the debate (I believe from #6 to #2 in one poll, although sources vary).

    Also worth nothing (but I understand the absence from this post) is Carly Fiorina. While I personally haven't forgiven her for driving Hewlett-Packard into the ground, she apparently did well at the "kids table" debate and will have a seat at the real stage next time around almost certainly.

    Excellent summary! Moar debates to follow!

    1. I actually watched the Kids Table debate (you can find it here, at least until Fox gets it taken down again, like the first one I saw) While I won't spoil my full Kids Table post, likely coming tonight, I'll say that Fiorina's supposed command performance is completely media driven. She was given more time than some of the others, which may have helped her visibility, but other than that, she was forgetable. Her big line that everyone praises was delievered at half the speed it should have been, and with a tenor that shows it was something her speechwriters had prepared ahead of time. If anyone should have "won" that debate, it would be Santorum, Perry, or Jindal.

    2. "This is a perfect summary of the difference I couldn't quite put my finger on."

      Yeah, the shorter the time frame and the more personal the contact, the more game principles become determinative. It's like the conflict between standard and quantum mechanics. Here Trump's alphaness won the day, but it doesn't really matter, say, how many chicks Tolkien pulled, because he has loads of time in an impersonal medium.

      I'm kind of shocked that more of the candidates didn't take the bait on Trump. Fox was pretty much egging them on the whole time, and aside from Huckabee's joke, they universally avoided it. I think that shows weakness though, the very weakness that makes everyone want Trump instead. No publicity is bad publicity, and if you have any fighting spirit whatsoever, you should be able to ride a Trump mixup to your advantage.

      I think Paul probably had another motivation there though, as the son of the great Ron Paul, likely the last true hero America will ever breed, Rand has to prove to the establishment that he's not like his father in order to be considered safe enough to not be hindered by them.

      Finally, I've seen the Cruz jump from many sources. I just don't see where it's coming from. It's a good thing, as Cruz is one of the more conservative candidates, but it seems inexplicable if the debate is its only grounding.