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?

Rubio’s Night Not as Bad as Reported

The big story being reported by the media this morning is that Marco Rubio had an awful debate. Marco Rubio did not have a bad debate. He didn’t say anything offensive, there were no “gaffes,” and he never even appeared flustered. He had a bad ten minutes of what was otherwise a solid performance.

First of all, Rubio gave the best answer of the night on foreign policy, explaining with force and nuance a clear strategy for defeating ISIS. He articulated an intelligent and appealing definition of conservatism’s three pillars – limited government, free enterprise, and strong national defense.

He also gave a good answer on abortion, with a particularly memorable line that he would rather lose an election than be wrong on the issue of life. He was brave to defend all life, even life that results from rape (a crime of the father, not the child). He was pragmatic enough to accept signing a law that limited abortion even if it kept these exceptions. However he also accepted the faulty premise that abortion pits the rights of a pregnant mother against the rights of her unborn child. But, otherwise solid and principled.

Rubio did have a shaky start. It usually takes him about twenty or thirty minutes to settle in and move beyond his talking points. In the past few debates I thought Rubio started off too fast and took a tone that was too angry before he was able to relax and be more natural. But this time, Chris Christie was waiting. He pounced on Rubio early, and kept hitting him hard.

When asked about the question of his limited experience and accomplishments, Rubio smoothly rattled off a list of accomplishments before pivoting to his message, that Obama is a failure because of his ideology, not his inexperience. Christie interjected that Rubio was too inexperienced to be president, as all he had were canned stump-speeches. Rubio responded, most unfortunately, with a canned stump speech.

Now, usually it is smart politics to repeat yourself, to hammer your message home. Think Trump’s “build a wall” and “make America great again.” Your message needs repetition to stick with voters. You also don’t want to be seen as retreating from your points. However, this was the one moment when Rubio desperately needed to speak off the cuff. He needed to appear authentic, not automatic. This was his moment to shine the spotlight on his ideas, his record, and his potential, not rehash Obama’s failures. Instead he repeated, almost word for word, his previous answer. Then he followed with a pretty weak attack on Chris Christie, that the New Jersey governor didn’t want to go back to his home state to deal with the recent snow storm.

Chris Christie may be feeling pleased with himself for drawing blood, but he did himself no favors. If anyone benefits from a Rubio slide, it will be Kasich and Bush in New Hampshire, and possibly Cruz in the long-term. Chris Christie is a bully with baggage who will not be the nominee. His “I’m a tough guy, I don’t care what people think about me” persona is much better-suited to his former job as a prosecutor than it would be to President of the United States.

Still, the ten-minute exchange did hurt Rubio, and that’s unfortunate. Rubio is the brightest young star in the GOP. He has stood up to pressure in a way that Bobby Jindal and Scott Walker have not. Ben Carson would love to be able to deliver a stump speech with Rubio’s ease. His answers may be more impromptu, more “from the heart,” but they are often too stilted to really follow, and he always looks on the verge of falling asleep. Rick Perry would be happy to just remember all three points to his three-point plan. He may have been an effective governor, and he can pull off the “average guy” demeanor, but voters also want a good communicator. This is an asset for Rubio, not a liability.

Rubio might emerge from last night’s debate bruised, but he is not broken. If anything, he will be hurt more by overblown reports that he “lost the debate” than what he actually said or didn’t say. Remember, Cruz also had his worst debate of the campaign before going on to his greatest victory in Iowa. Once again, we will have to wait until the results come in from New Hampshire to know for sure.

Still, I doubt we are about to witness a major resurgence for Kasich, Bush, or Christie. The biggest criticism against Rubio is that he is “too perfect,” not real enough, a GOP version of Barack Obama. But that is far less troubling than Cruz’s personality (and equally inauthentic tone), Jeb’s legacy issues, Kasich’s moderate mushiness, and Christie’s Bridge-gate scandal.

If this were an NBA game, I’d say Rubio turned the ball over early, but then recovered to score a solid 20 points on 10/18 shooting. Unfortunately, politics is not sports. What matters isn’t the score at the end of the debate, but the moments that will survive beyond it, and the impressions they leave. Still, if this is a Rubio “bad night,” then that just goes to show what an All-Star he is. 20 points from Kobe Bryant or Lebron James is a “bad night,” but for other players it would be a career-best. In sports as in politics, it is easy to play the Monday-morning quarterback. It is something else entirely to actually go out and perform.

Maybe GOP voters should remember that, despite his youth and inexperience, Barack Obama beat Hillary Clinton in 2008. Don’t Republicans want to beat her in 2016?

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.