Questions for Each Candidate after the 11th GOP Debate

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.

Are We Serious?

In the wake of their resounding victories in New Hampshire, the excitement emanating from the Bernie Sanders and Donald Trump campaigns is palpable. Both (old, white) men are populist leaders. Both have built their campaigns on the promise of what they can do for the people, though in somewhat different ways – Sanders by getting the government to fund everything from your health care to your college education, Trump by using his force of personality to revive the economy and stop illegal immigration.

Even if you disagree with Trump and Sanders, which I emphatically do, it’s not hard to understand their appeal. Both men are unapologetic “straight talkers” who claim to be beyond the influence of big corporations and their party’s establishment. In fact, both men only recently joined the parties they are now vying to represent.

I get it. People are fed up with Washington. They’re fed up with Wall Street. They’re tired of both parties, let down by Bush and Obama. Voters are sending the message that they will not be controlled. They will not dutifully line up behind their party’s Chosen One. This year, people are choosing passion over pragmatism.

And perhaps this is not an entirely bad thing. Party leaders who would prefer to bypass the people will now have to persuade them. In a democracy, this is where all power originally resides. But the same can be said for a lynch mob. What keeps our system of government from descending into mob rule, anarchy, and despotism? Respect for the rule of law, certainly, but also the virtues of moderation, prudence, and humility. In embracing Trump and Sanders, I fear we have abandoned both.

My question for America after New Hampshire is, are we serious? Do we realize that we are choosing someone to do a job here, the most important job in the world? This is not reality TV, and it’s not a popularity contest. We are not deciding the next American Idol here, but the leader of the free world.

The next President of the United States will have to work with Congress to pass legislation that the American people will accept. Not a passionate quarter of the electorate, but the whole country. You might love the idea of socialized medicine, but guess what? The rest of the country doesn’t. You may want to deport all twelve million illegal immigrants currently residing here, but this is never going to happen.

The main task of the next president will be to deal with the international crises that have been accumulating over the past seven years, as well as any others that may arise. These include, but are not limited to: the Syrian Civil War, the spread of ISIS, deteriorating security in Iraq and Afghanistan, Russian and Chinese aggression, the threat of a nuclear Iran, saber-rattling in North Korea, and European democracies threatening to buckle under the weight of millions of Muslim refugees.

And yet it is on foreign policy that both Trump and Sanders are at their weakest. Trump offers few specifics beyond “getting along” with Putin, killing the families of terrorists, and doing “much worse” than waterboarding. For all his tough trade talk on China, he erroneously identified them as part of the Trans-Pacific Partnership, or TPP. Sanders is even worse, preferring to ignore foreign policy altogether. I don’t doubt he would dissolve the military entirely if it meant being able to fund his domestic agenda. When Sanders does address the issue of global terrorism, it is to utter something truly idiotic, like the claim that ISIS is the result of climate change.

I know that a good chunk of the American electorate would prefer to ignore the rest of the world and focus on things here at home. I recently had a Bernie Sanders supporter tell me that ISIS doesn’t matter because more people die from car accidents than terrorist attacks. But whether we like to think about it or not, these are dangerous times. In an era of globalization and terrorism, the distinction between domestic and foreign policy is increasingly blurred.

Just think beyond the rallies and debates and campaign trail euphoria, and imagine an actual Trump or Sanders presidency. Do you really want to see either of these men in the Oval Office? Do you want them representing America, negotiating with Congress, and handling all the inevitable crises and surprises of a presidential term?

I realize the Democrats don’t have much of a choice here, as a Hillary Clinton presidency would be no better. Their rejection of Jim Webb, the only Democratic candidate qualified to do the job, is truly disturbing. But Republicans still have options. Ted Cruz and Marco Rubio are conservative alternatives to Trump, though I still don’t see how Cruz gets elected. Even Jeb Bush and John Kasich, though too moderate for my liking, could do the job of commander-in-chief.

You wouldn’t choose a doctor, a pilot, or even a dog-walker on the basis of their rhetoric alone. Why are we treating this election with less seriousness?

Time For Republicans to Rally Around an Experienced Candidate

I wrote my first analysis of the 2016 Republican Primary race back in early August, when most Americans were still getting to know the candidates in the respective fields. In the roughly ten weeks since then, we’ve seen three debates: two Republican and one Democrat. Two Republican candidates have dropped out of the race, including an old favorite (Rick Perry) and an early leader (Scott Walker). Now there are reports that Jim Webb is bowing out of the contest for the Democratic nomination.

Yet for all the ups and downs of the campaign, there has been remarkably little movement in the polls. Hillary Clinton continues to tower over the rest of the Democratic pack, despite her many scandals and complete lack of authenticity on the campaign trail. In the recent CNN debate, she made her competitors seem small. None would challenge Her Highness, save the embarrassing and ineffective Lincoln Chafee. On the Republican side, Donald Trump continues to lead the still-overcrowded Republican field, to the bewilderment of the pundits and the dismay of the Republican establishment. Party insiders who scoffed at a Trump candidacy weeks ago are now beginning to entertain the possibility that he just might win. In fact, he will win unless Republicans can rally around a compelling alternative.

With that being said, I’d like to offer my thoughts on the best course of action for Republicans, as well as some general observations on the current state of American politics.

First, the political landscape has changed over the past decade. We used to have a center-left Democratic Party and a center-right Republican Party. The Democrats’ embrace of socialist Bernie Sanders and rejection of centrist Jim Webb is proof that the center-left element of the Democratic Party is gone. In 2008, Barack Obama became the most liberal politician to ever occupy the White House. In 2015, Democrats are debating whether to run slightly to his left (the Hillary approach) or way to his left (the Sanders approach). Keep in mind that Clinton ran to Obama’s right in 2008, just seven years ago.

Three factors help explain this change. First, Obama’s failed policies have been disastrous for centrist Democrats, now an endangered species. After disastrous midterms in 2010 and 2014, most of them are gone. In fact, Joe Manchin of West Virginia may be the last one standing. Second, the only remaining Democrats represent reliably liberal districts or states where they have more to fear from a primary challenge than a candidate from the other party (the same being true for most Republicans). Politicians can now take what would have once been considered extreme positions without fear of voter reprisal. In fact, they have more to fear from appearing too eager to compromise with the opposition. Remember when politicians used to brag about “reaching across the aisle?” Yeah…

Third, Democrats have stopped even competing for working class whites without college degrees, the party’s former bread and butter. They have surrendered the political center in favor of a demographic strategy that relies on rising numbers of Hispanics, African-Americans, Asians, and young people, cobbled together with urban-dwelling, over-educated white liberals, to carry them at the national level.

But while the Democrats’ identity as a hard-Left party is settled, the Republican future is less certain. Moderates like John Boehner and Jeb Bush would like to see the Republican Party remain center-Right or center-center-Right: rejecting the Democrats’ identity politics and European-style socialism, but not the premise of big government intervention in areas like the economy and education. On the other hand, conservative insurgents would like to do to the Republican Party what the Democrats have done to theirs, eschewing centrist compromise in favor of ideological purity. Conservative frustration with the Republican establishment is certainly warranted, and this intra-Republican rivalry is in many ways a sign of health, but it carries its share of risks. If Republicans can find a way to bridge the right wing of their party with what remains of the political center, while making modest inroads with Millennials and minorities, they beat the Democrats in a landslide. If not, the Republican Party may be headed for a messy divorce.

This brings me to my second point – the state of the Republican race. In August, I wrote favorably about the inclusion of “outsiders” Ben Carson and Carly Fiorina. Since then, I’ve had a bit of a change of heart that I think is (or will soon become) fairly typical of Republican primary voters. I now believe that in order to beat Hillary Clinton—who, barring the late entry of Joe Biden, will be the Democratic nominee—Republicans need to nominate someone with political experience. I was never a fan of Donald Trump, and that much has not changed. But if I can rationally conclude that Ben Carson, a man I personally respect and admire, is not qualified to be president, can Trump supporters not do the same?

Don’t get me wrong; I love the idea of a non-lawyer, non-politician running for office. If a successful businesswoman, doctor, teacher, or actor wants to run for senator or governor or delegate, more power to them. This is government of the people, by the people, and for the people, as envisioned by our founders. From there, they can move up to the national stage, like Ronald Reagan did in 1980.

But when you are seeking the highest office in the land, isn’t it nice to have at least some experience running a government? Isn’t it important to have at least some record that voters can judge against the soaring rhetoric of the campaign trail? Expertise in one area does not necessarily translate into expertise or even competence in another. Michael Phelps might be the best swimmer of all-time, but there’s a reason he’s not pitching in the MLB. Tom Brady might be an elite quarterback, but no one is asking him to run the point in the NBA.

In 2008, America was so disgusted with George W. Bush and “politics as usual” that we elected a man who just a few years before was a back-bencher in the Illinois state senate. But lest we heap all our scorn on Democrats, let’s not forget that Republicans also celebrated the nomination of Sarah Palin, an obscure governor who turned out to not have a clue about anything beyond the narrow range of issues affecting Alaskan politics. Both cases were the equivalent of promoting jayvee quarterbacks straight to the NFL. To use Bill Clinton’s term, we put a complete amateur in the Oval Office, trusting that his inspiring biography and professorial eloquence would compensate for a complete lack of experience or accomplishment.

The results speak for themselves: disaster for the economy, which would be much worse if the Fed hadn’t kept interest rates at near zero for his entire term; disaster on healthcare, as Obamacare enters its predicted “death spiral;” disaster for average Americans who have seen their jobs disappear or their wages drop, and disaster in foreign policy as the Middle East falls apart, threatening to take the rest of the world with it. America appears weak and indecisive on the world stage, complacent and divided at home. Yes, we face significant challenges that would exist with or without President Obama, but it didn’t have to be this way. Not only has our country fallen deeper into the hole, we have lost precious time to right the course.

So, let’s consider the Republican candidates.

Fiorina and Carson, while compelling, are not qualified to lead the free world. This should go without saying, but neither is Donald Trump. Of the three, I would trust Fiorina the most to stand up to Vladimir Putin, but I have no idea how she would actually implement her domestic agenda, as there is no political record available for me to scrutinize.

Pataki, Graham, Santorum, and Gilmore remain irrelevant. Jindal has the vision and experience, but not the gravitas or political savvy. Huckabee was never a great national candidate, and his time has passed.

This leaves John Kasich, Chris Christie, Ted Cruz, Jeb Bush, and Marco Rubio as the only five serious contenders. But Kasich, Bush, and even Christie are unlikely to inspire the conservative base, while Cruz is unacceptable to the establishment center. I would put any of these four men against Hillary Clinton, but with reservations in each case. Kasich has nothing to offer social conservatives at a time when they are on the ropes. Cruz has alienated his own party, not a recipe for success for any candidate. Christie has Bridge-gate, and Bush carries more baggage than the rest of the field put together on account of his brother. In this anti-establishment climate, America’s appetite for political dynasties is greatly diminished; Republicans should leave this liability to the Democrats.

Now we’re down to one man: Marco Rubio. He is young, but experienced. He has had enough time to make mistakes (immigration reform), and the humility to learn from them. He can excite conservatives without frightening the establishment class, whose support will be needed to take down Clinton. He is not the perfect candidate, but such a man does not exist. The best the Democrats have been able to dig up so far against him is that his wife got some parking tickets and he bought an expensive boat. This, compared to a Democratic frontrunner whose spouse associates with known sexual predators and who would likely be facing jail time for violating federal law if her last name didn’t place her beyond its reach.

Rubio is likeable and competent: a good fundraiser, debater, and campaigner. He might not be your favorite candidate, or occupy the top slot of your “dream ticket,” but is there anyone you would rather pit against Hillary in a one-on-one debate? Would you rather Donald Trump insult her appearance, or Ben Carson put her to sleep?

No other candidate can articulate an optimistic, conservative agenda with Rubio’s combination of nuance, clarity, and passion. If Republicans are going to win in 2016, they need to unite the political right and center against a Democrat who will be running to the Far Left. Trump, Carson, and Cruz supporters can throw up their hands and say “it shouldn’t be this way,” but that doesn’t change the fact that it is this way. Politics is about more than lofty rhetoric and personality; it is the art of the possible. Our Founding Fathers devised a political system in which compromise is necessary to accomplish anything; whatever our personal beliefs, we should have the maturity to accept this. The contrast between the two parties has never been so clear, and the stakes have never been so high.

The State of the Republican Primary Race

I prefer to avoid writing about politics, despite spending far more time thinking about it than I would like to admit. They are usually not happy thoughts. You see, when it comes to our society and our culture, there is a light in the darkness. In people there is hope, because in people there is Christ. The best one can wish for in politics is an incremental decrease in corruption and dysfunction, or a gradual increase in goodness and sanity. Government is not our salvation. It is not a force for good in the world. As our Founding Fathers well understood, government is a necessary evil that always carries the potential of becoming an insufferable one.

I wish I didn’t care who won the 2016 presidential contest. I wish it wasn’t going to dominate the news for the next year and a half. I wish the outcome wasn’t going to affect my life and the lives of my children in real and meaningful ways. I wish this election wasn’t going to determine whether America rights itself in time to stave off disaster or slides inextricably into decline.

Presidential elections matter far more than they should. If we still had a true system of federalism where the states retained control over most matters of domestic policy… if we still respected the constitutional limits of the executive branch… if technology did not so greatly increase the state’s ability to encroach upon individual rights… if we did not live in a dangerous, volatile world with the likes of Iran, Russia, and ISIS… maybe then, it wouldn’t matter. But the regrettable truth is that it does. So we might as well get used to it.

On that hopeful note, here’s my analysis so far of the 2016 Republican primary race.

Let’s start with the obvious questions. Yes, there are too many Republican candidates. Yes, Donald Trump is hurting the GOP’s 2016 chances. If you don’t believe me, I strongly suggest you read Thomas Sowell’s piece in Investor’s Business Daily.

How is it hurting the GOP that there are 17 presidential candidates, including one bombastic egomaniac? For starters, consider the upcoming Fox News debate. Carly Fiorina, the first serious female candidate in GOP history and a successful business leader, will not be on the stage. Bobby Jindal, the first Indian-American candidate and a successful governor, will not be on the stage. Instead, we will get to hear from the likes of Donald Trump, Jeb Bush, and Chris Christie. If it weren’t for the inclusion of Ben Carson, and to a lesser extent Walker and Rubio, I would boycott this debate entirely.

How were the lucky “top” ten chosen? By an average of available polls. But when there are seventeen candidates, many of whom are unknown, what do the polls really reveal at this stage? Two things: who is already well known, and who is the most differentiated from the rest of the field. Neither of these measures is any guarantee of success. Name recognition may be a sign that a candidate’s time (or in the case of Jeb, his family’s time) has passed. Being different is also not a clear plus, as it may indicate a weakness in uniting the various factions of right-wing America.

The most frustrating thing about this whole situation is that never before have there been so many great Republican candidates. 2008 and 2012 did not have any great choices, or even good ones, and the results were disappointing in both cases. John McCain? Mitt Romney? Boring, uninspiring moderates. Both were honorable men, but neither could persuasively articulate a compelling vision for the future. Neither could convincingly claim the mantle of Reagan conservatism—a growing economy, a strong foreign policy, and a commitment to human life. Neither could reach out beyond the traditional frontiers of the Republican Party at a time when middle-class white men comprise a shrinking slice of the electoral pie. The best thing that could be said about either of the previous GOP choices was that they were better than Obama, which is a pretty low bar to clear. Whoever the GOP chooses will be better than Hillary, but for all her weaknesses and scandals, this will not be enough. So let’s take a closer look at the field.

The Unserious

Jim Gilmore, Lindsey Graham, and George Pataki know they will not get the nomination. They know they will not be president, now or ever. Maybe they are hoping to garner some national attention, or see their names included on an important list? I don’t know. But they should do everyone a favor and drop out now. Let the serious candidates debate.

The Long, Long, Long Shots (A.K.A. the Tricky Ricks)

Neither Rick Perry nor Rick Santorum made the debate stage. Both seem to be good people who have some good ideas and have achieved decent results. It’s easy to see why Rick Perry in particular thinks he would make a good president, after what he has been able to do for the economy of Texas, a rare beacon of growth in the Obama years. They each had their moment in 2012, mainly due to the weakness of the field. They should both move on and accept that their time has passed.

The Sure Losers of Moderate-land

Chris Christie, John Kasich, and Jeb Bush are moderates who would lose to Hilary Clinton. Conservatives were briefly infatuated with Chris Christie in 2012, back when he sounded like a real straight-shooting reformer. Then came the bizarre embrace of Barack Obama days before the 2012 election that stopped just short of a French kiss. Then Bridge-gate. Now most conservatives have moved on, myself included.

When it comes to Jeb Bush, I tend to agree with his mother—America has had enough Bushes. Jeb may have done a decent job as governor of Florida, but he is no conservative. He walks and talks like a moderate, and would no doubt govern as one, if he ever got that far. It should tell us something that he and Clinton are courting the same donors. Reports that he helped direct money to Planned Parenthood as a director of the Bloomberg Family Foundation are sure to fire up social conservatives in the wake of its ongoing scandal. But for all his moderate mushiness, the bottom line is this: we have already had two President Bush’s. Two presidents is enough for any family. America is supposed to be a democracy, right? The presidency is not something you inherit. Fairly or not, this would be the perception. Let the Democrats be the party of yesterday by offering up another Clinton. Republicans need a new name and a fresh face.

The Donald

After Donald Trump’s bizarre announcement of his presidential candidacy in which he instantaneously alienated a key segment of the electorate, my husband told me that Trump would surge to the top of the polls based largely on his celebrity status. “No way,” I replied. Well, honey, if you’re reading this, here is one of those rare “you were right” moments.

I don’t even know where to start on this one, so I’ll keep it brief. Trump is not a conservative. He’s not even much of a Republican. He is pro-choice and pro-socialized medicine. He has praised Hilary Clinton and given lots of money to Democrats. He has already accused Mexican immigrants of being rapists, disparaged John McCain’s war service, and admitted that he doesn’t ask God’s forgiveness. He might be a nice guy in person, but in public he comes across as a loudmouth egomaniac whose favorite subject is himself.

The Democrats could not have devised a more perfect nuclear bomb to set off in the middle of a promising Republican race. While few believe Trump will get the nomination, his controversial candidacy has kept the media attention off of Clinton’s missteps and his better-qualified but lesser-known GOP rivals.

Stretch Break/ Interlude

Well, we’ve already cut nine of the seventeen candidates. I feel a lot better; don’t you? The remaining eight are all acceptable choices, but not all are good or inspiring.

The Acceptable Candidates—but Likely Losers

Rand Paul, Ted Cruz, and Mike Huckabee are all okay in their own right, but I highly doubt any will win the primary or could win the general. I like a lot of the things Cruz says, but I just don’t like him personally. He doesn’t come across as genuine. He also doesn’t seem capable of playing nicely with other Republicans, which any successful GOP candidate will have to do. Mike Huckabee had his moment in 2008 as the only conservative left standing against John McCain, gaining national attention that helped earn him a job at Fox News. But he is not the right person to reach out beyond the white, Southern, evangelical Christian conservatives that form his support base. There are better, more inspiring choices this time.

Rand Paul is intriguing as the somewhat toned-down version of his libertarian father. I love his tax plan, which I think is the best so far, and I respect his concern for individual liberty. I love how he is trying to reach out to traditionally Democratic-voting groups, including low-income families, young people, minorities, and urban-dwellers. But he loses too much on foreign policy, having previously stated that we have nothing to fear from a nuclear Iran. I’m sure he’ll try to beef up his rhetoric after the recent Iran “deal”, but with the rise of ISIS and the perception of dwindling American power, his anti-interventionist streak risks appearing weak. He also doesn’t seem to really want to be president or enjoy campaigning.

The Good

Scott Walker and Marco Rubio seem like good, solid-across-the-board candidates. Their appeal lies mainly in their ability to unite both the conservative base and the more risk-averse establishment. I am very confident that both could beat Hillary and win the general election in November. Rubio in particular is an excellent communicator and a happy warrior, someone who can unite and inspire. In some ways he is the Republican version of 2008 Obama, but with the substance, experience, and ideas to back up the hype. The problem is, he’s not the only Hispanic, nor is he the only Floridian in this race. As a freshman senator, he messed up on immigration reform. Cruz and Bush are likely eating into his support, and his criticism of Trump doesn’t seem to have helped his case.

Walker won three tough elections in a blue state, and is a true conservative. His appeal lies mainly in his Middle America, everyman charm. On the stump, he is guaranteed to look a lot more relaxed in jeans than Mitt Romney. Walker is like the basketball player who can rebound, shoot, pass, and score well; he doesn’t have any major deficiencies, but doesn’t necessarily stand out as the star. Still, everyone wants him on their team.

The Inspiring

I have grouped together Carly Fiorina, Bobby Jindal, and Ben Carson not because they are the token minorities in the field—far from it. All are serious, appealing candidates. The fact that none are white males is a coincidence, although it could help them broaden the appeal of the GOP brand.

Carly Fiorina has been nothing short of impressive so far. Everything she says is spot-on, from the economy to abortion to foreign policy. Her weaknesses are largely fixed and out of her control: she has never won a campaign, has low name recognition, and was fired from her previous job as CEO of Hewlett-Packard. Fiorina probably won’t get the nomination, but either way, her voice deserves to be heard.

Bobby Jindal is a successful governor, a solid conservative, and a great American immigration success story. But for a man who seemed to have unlimited potential in 2008, Jindal hasn’t yet proved capable of inspiring a national audience. He’s on this list because he has inspired me, as someone who follows politics closely and appreciates his optimistic vision. Unless he sharpens his attack and finds a way to raise his profile, he will have a difficult time breaking out in this crowded field. Being left off the debate stage doesn’t help.

Finally, I have been impressed with Ben Carson ever since his famous speech at the National Prayer Breakfast—you know, the one where he systematically destroyed all of Obama’s failed policies while standing approximately five feet from Obama. As a former brain surgeon who has saved children’s lives, Carson is a breath of fresh air from the career politician lawyer class. In temperament, he is the opposite of Trump. Not loud or brash, not in your face. Rather, he is a confident but humble man who rarely raises his voice, but speaks from a reservoir of deep faith and strong convictions.

Going into the race, Carson’s biggest perceived liability was his penchant for being politically incorrect, but he seems to have moved beyond this. He actually answers questions with honesty and nuance in a way that is more likely to persuade than to overpower. While social and racial tensions have intensified under Obama, Carson’s message of education and opportunity could unite white and black America. It doesn’t seem that Carson particularly craves the title of POTUS, having been drafted into the race by his many ardent supporters. But this should be a good thing. Remember that George Washington guy? He didn’t crave the office either, but he used his faith and common sense to lead our nation through a trying time.

So there you have it, folks: Round One of the Republican Presidential Primary. In 2016, we have the chance to select a great candidate, a good candidate, or a loser. I pray we choose wisely.