Here’s my analysis of the 11th Republican Primary Debate in Detroit, as well as some general observations and questions for each candidate.
First, Trump. It should be clear by now that Donald Trump lacks the seriousness, maturity, temperament, policy knowledge, etc. to be President of the United States. Last night, he brought the Republican primary race to a new low by reassuring a national audience of 15 million about the size of his penis. I didn’t really appreciate Rubio’s schoolboy joke about Trump’s small hands at the time, but now I think I get it. It was all bait, and Trump took it.
Trump has dictatorial tendencies like Benito Mussolini and Vladimir Putin. He has to see himself as the alpha male, the top dog. He can’t let a dig at his privates go unanswered. But by answering it, Trump revealed that all his braggadocio and bluster may mask a deep-seated insecurity. It’s never a good sign when you have to fall back on bragging about the size of your manhood. It’s quite pathetic, really, like a bunch of teenage boys measuring themselves with rulers in the locker room. Does Trump realize that he is vying to run against Hillary Clinton, who will be attempting to make history as the first woman president? Does he really think voters care about his size? Trump may have sealed up the frat boy vote, but his short standing with women likely shrunk even further (pun intended, can’t help myself).
I actually think Trump’s low of the night was when he said that the military would do whatever he told them to do because that’s leadership. This is the biggest confirmation that Trump does not understand the difference between being a womanizing CEO and the leader of the free world. It is one thing for a “wolf of Wall Street” to go around bragging about his affairs and penis size, rating women on their physical appearances, and insisting that all his underlings do as they are told or “you’re fired!” The military doesn’t work that way, and neither does this country.
In the course of the debate, Ted Cruz, Marco Rubio, and yes – Megyn Kelly – were able to reveal the full extent of Trump’s “flexibility.” Trump has no core, no principles, just blind faith in his own power of personality to get things done. But Trump has spent his entire life abusing the very system he now seeks to change. He wrote checks to Democrats and checks to Republicans, and you can bet he expected something in return. He defrauded thousands of students at “Trump University,” and left a trail of failed businesses in his wake.
Through it all, Trump always manages to come out unscathed. He has lived the most sheltered, protected, privileged life one can imagine. He already has everything. The question for Trump is: why does he even want to be president to begin with? Despite his oft-repeated red baseball cap slogan, I have not yet been able to answer this question. Was it all just a big joke, a publicity stunt, except too many people took it seriously? The question for America is how long his supporters can persist in their delusions. I still have a little bit of sympathy for the unemployed blue-collar worker still clinging to the hope that Trump can bring back American manufacturing and stick it in the eye of the establishment. I have none for people like Sean Hannity and Chris Christie who should know better.
Second, Rubio. I think it’s pretty clear why fewer candidates attacked Trump early on. Attacking a fellow Republican candidate never makes you look good in the process. But Trump must be exposed, and Rubio is doing the country a favor by unmasking him as a con man and a scam artist. Rubio gave mostly solid answers to questions on foreign policy, gun control, and the economy. But while John Kasich was able to rattle off a long list of governing accomplishments, Rubio’s resume looks pretty thin in comparison. He also got down in the gutter with Trump, interrupted too often, and seemed a little under the weather. His voice was raspy, his energy lower than usual. It’s hard to be the Republican “hope and change” as well as attack dog for the establishment at the same time.
I still love Rubio for his ability to inspire, his appeal to Millennials, and his beautiful family. I’ve seen people falling over each other to get his autograph. I’ve pushed through crowds trying to shake his hand. Like Obama, he has a bit of the celebrity factor. But so much of Rubio’s appeal is the idea of what could be. His lack of experience and willingness to work with the establishment in the past (both Democrats and Republicans) leaves some real questions. I think he has the biggest upside, but also the biggest potential downside if things don’t pan out. The question for Rubio supporters (myself included) is: is he worth the risk? Can he be trusted? I still think so, but in the words of Donald Trump, I’m flexible.
Third, Cruz. I honestly believe Ted Cruz is probably the smartest man to ever run for president. In last night’s debate, he was sharp, prepared, and focused throughout. If voters are serious about turning the establishment upside down, they should vote for Ted Cruz. He would be the most principled, uncompromising man to ever hold the office. But I still have doubts about whether he could get there in the first place. The rest of the country is not nearly as conservative as Cruz, and he would need to build on his existing support. Cruz can be charming at times, but he remains personally unlikeable to much of the electorate. The question for Cruz is: can he grow his support in swing states? If I knew Cruz could defeat Clinton in November, he would have my support now.
Fourth, John Kasich. I hate to say it, but Kasich had a great debate. He didn’t speak as well as Ted Cruz, but he probably picked up more new supporters. He didn’t attack Trump; with Rubio and Cruz leading the charge, he didn’t have to. He got to be the “adult in the room,” as he likes to say. He also reassured conservatives like myself on the issue of religious freedom, a topic over which he had stumbled in the previous debate. I personally know at least four moderates, some of them Democrat-leaning independents, who voted for Kasich in the Virginia primary. They would support him over Clinton, but not Rubio or Cruz.
The question is, would the moderates Kasich picks up outweigh the loss of enthusiasm on the conservative end of the spectrum? My guess is yes. One of the biggest conservative goals is a balanced budget, and Kasich seems like he might be the guy to do it. Usually nominating a moderate Republican is a bad bet (see Romney, McCain, Dole), but this year moderate Democrats are looking to jump ship. They’re not all socialists like Sanders, and they’re not all so forgiving of Clinton’s pretty obvious corruption.
In terms of personality, Kasich still reminds me of a high school guidance counselor, or your awkward-but-sincere uncle. He’s Mr. Responsible, at the ready with some old-fashioned life advice, or (when needed) a hug. Kasich’s a little too “aw-shucks-y” for my taste, but based on resume alone he’s the most qualified for the job. The question for Kasich: is it too late? Also, would he be tough enough to take the fight to Hillary Clinton, or would he once again stay “above the fray,” this time to his detriment?
Of course, the bigger questions are for the Republican Party (can they survive Trump?) and the country (will we go from eight years of Obama to at least four years of Clinton?). I think the answers can still be yes and no, in that order, but only if we are very careful.
Everyone is talking about the need for more candidates to drop out, but I think that would actually be a mistake. If any of the remaining three non-Trumps leaves the race now, it just means more votes for Trump and a greater risk that he wins the required number of delegates outright. None of the three are currently strong enough to take Trump down on their own. In my opinion, they should all stay in the race and take us to a brokered convention in July. Rubio, Cruz, and Kasich should start building the necessary bridges between their campaigns now to pave the way for the coming reconciliation.
As for Trump supporters, there’s a very real chance they refuse to come along and instead go full-rebellion mode. There’s also the chance that the GOP establishment resigns itself to the fate of a Trump candidacy, but a smaller one after the recent allegations of racism and the prospects of a 2016 shellacking in the House and Senate. But each week that goes by exposes more Trump weaknesses. The coming onslaught of attacks will prevent him from gaining additional followers, as he has already failed to win over late-deciders. We may have already hit peak Trump. My guess is the rural, working class whites who form the base of Trump’s support are more interested in sending a message to the establishment that they will no longer be ignored than they are personally loyal to the New York billionaire.
The breakup of the Republican Party and the election of Hillary Rodham Clinton are still possibilities, but they are far from certainties. There is still time for the party of Lincoln and Reagan to rally. For the sake of this country, I pray they do so quickly.