Friday, January 29, 2016

The Fox News Debate

Donald Trump won Thursday night's Republican debate by not participating, and Texas Senator Ted Cruz failed to capitalize on Trump's absence. Meanwhile, it is unlikely that the debate, hosted by Fox News, will have an impact on Monday's Iowa Caucus. 

If you missed the first couple minutes of the debate you missed Cruz's best moment. Fox News anchor Megyn Kelly asked Cruz about "the elephant not in the room," referring to Trump's absence. "Let me say I'm a maniac and everyone on stage is stupid, fat and ugly. And Ben (Carson), you're a terrible surgeon," Cruz responded. "Now that we've gotten the Donald Trump portion out of the way," he said as the audience laughed. 

The bad news for Cruz was that because Trump wasn't present to take incoming from all the challengers, Cruz became the target of attacks from most of the other candidates. Cruz found himself in a defensive posture, which is a position he clearly hates to be in. That may explain his Trump-like whining answer directed at Fox News anchor Chris Wallace. "Chris, I would note that that the last four questions have been, 'Rand, please attack Ted. Marco, please attack Ted. Chris, please attack Ted. Jeb, please attack Ted,'" he complained. "Gosh, if you guys ask one more mean question I may have to leave the stage." Cruz's feeble attempt at humor seemed more like an unforced error.

Florida Senator Marco Rubio, whose answers mostly seemed pre-planned, and whose tone was mostly self-righteous, seized on the Cruz bobble in a subsequent response. "Don't worry, I'm not leaving the stage no matter what you ask me," he said to Wallace, who then said, "Good." Rubio, who trails in recent polls of likely Iowa Caucus goers, clearly targeted Cruz's strong support among evangelical Christian conservatives. "When I'm president, I can tell you this, my faith will not just influence the way I'll govern as president, it will influence the way I live my life," Rubio said. "Because in the end, my goal is not simply to live on this earth for 80 years, but to live an eternity with my creator. And I will always allow my faith to influence everything I do."

But Rubio, who put on a strong performance, found himself extremely vulnerable on the issue of immigration. Moderator Kelly asked Rubio, "Within two years of getting elected you were co-sponsoring legislation to create a path to citizenship, in your words, amnesty. Haven't you already proven that you cannot be trusted on this issue?" Rubio protested, "No, I said I do not support blanket amnesty!" But former Florida Governor Jeb Bush piled on. "I'm kind of confused because he was the sponsor of the Gang of Eight bill that did require a bunch of thresholds but ultimately allowed for citizenship over an extended period of time. I mean, that's a fact. And he asked me to support that. And I -- I supported him because I think people, when you're elected, you need to do things," Bush observed.

Cruz also found himself vulnerable on the immigration issue. Kelly asked him, "When Senator Rubio proposed that bill creating a path to citizenship, you proposed an amendment. It would have allowed for legalization but not citizenship.... Pressed last month on why you supported legalization, you claimed that you didn't. Right?" Cruz strained for an answer, "You know, the amendment you're talking about is one sentence -- it's 38 said anyone here illegally is permanently ineligible for citizenship. It didn't say a word about legalization." But then Kelly noted, "But the bill allowed both. The bill you were amending allowed citizenship and legalization." 

Senator Rand Paul, who had a pretty good night, jumped in on the immigration discussion. "I was there and I saw the debate. I saw Ted Cruz say, 'we'll take citizenship off the table, and then the bill will pass, and I'm for the bill.'" he asserted. "The bill would involve legalization. He can't have it both ways. But what is particularly insulting, though, is that he is the king of saying, 'you're for amnesty.' Everybody's for amnesty except for Ted Cruz." This set up Rubio's best line of the night. "This is the lie that Ted's campaign is built on, and Rand touched upon it -- that he's the most conservative guy, and everyone else is a -- you know, everyone else is a rhino." Rubio said. "The truth is, Ted, throughout this campaign, you've been willing to say or do anything in order to get votes."

Meanwhile, a few miles away Donald Trump hosted a fundraiser for the military veterans. Trump told the enthusiastic audience of 1,500 he would rather have been at the debate but he had to stand up for principle. In a surprise, Republican candidates Mike Huckabee and Rick Santorum, who had just finished the "undercard" GOP debate, dropped in on the Trump gathering in support the veterans. Trump claims to have raised about $6 million through the event.

There is no question that by ducking the debate Trump avoided being the target of strong attacks from his opponents, all of whom would have wanted to take down the frontrunner. Instead, Cruz became the target for many attacks and he did not have a very good night. Ironically, Bush had his best debate performance in large part because Trump wasn't there to make him anxious.

This debate, coming just three days before the Iowa Caucus, could have been a pivotal moment for each candidate. Cruz needs to win in Iowa to stop Trump's momentum. Success in the caucus depends on his ability to mobilize his supporters. But Cruz did not help himself with his uneven debate performance, and Trump did not hurt himself by not attending. In fact, Marco Rubio may have helped himself to some of Cruz's supporters. Stay tuned!

Wednesday, January 20, 2016

Trump's Going Rogue

Donald Trump is pulling out all the stops to secure a victory in Iowa's Caucuses, which take place February 1.  A victory in Iowa will give him a commanding lead and real momentum in the race for the Republican presidential nomination going into the New Hampshire Primary February 9.

Polls show that Trump and Texas Senator Ted Cruz are neck and neck in Iowa; so securing just a few additional votes may mean victory.  That is where former Alaska Governor Sarah Palin comes in.   Her enthusiastic and rambling endorsement of Trump on Tuesday can make the difference for the real estate mogul and former television host.  

"Are you ready for a commander-in-chief, you ready for a commander-in-chief who will let our warriors do their job and go kick ISIS ass?" Palin raved as Trump looked on.  "Ready for someone who will secure our borders, to secure our jobs, and to secure our homes? Ready to make America great again, are you ready to stump for Trump? I’m here to support the next president of the United States, Donald Trump."  Palin peppered her endorsement with phrases like, "No more pussy footin’ around," and "they won't be able to be slurping off the gravy train."

Praising Trump, the man who wrote The Art of the Deal, she added, "quit footin’ the bill for these nations who are oil-rich, we’re paying for some of their squirmishes (sic) that have been going on for centuries. Where they’re fightin’ each other and yellin’ 'Allah Akbar' calling Jihad on each other’s heads forever and ever. Like I’ve said before, let them duke it out and let Allah sort it out." 

Trump and Cruz have been skirmishing with increasing intensity for a victory in Iowa.  Cruz is popular among Iowa's evangelicals, who make up a large portion of caucus goers.  A recent poll shows that he has the support of a third of the likely evangelical Republican caucus voters, while Trump has about 20%.   “Palin’s brand among evangelicals is as gold as the faucets in Trump Tower,” Ralph Reed, the chairman of the Faith and Freedom Coalition, told the New York Times.  Palin's endorsement just may close the deal for Trump.

The Cruz campaign suffered another blow Tuesday when Iowa Governor Terry Branstad, a Republican, said he wants to see Cruz defeated.  "It would be a big mistake for Iowa to support him," Branstad said at the Iowa Renewable Fuels Summit.  "And I know he's ahead in the polls but the only poll that counts is the one they take on caucus night and I think that could change between now and then."  Labeling Cruz a "big oil" candidate, he predicted, "As Iowans learn about his anti-renewable fuel stand, and that it will cost us jobs, and will further reduce farm income, I think people will realize that it's not in our interest."

A victory in Iowa for Trump would put him in the driver's seat.  Recent polls show that he has a sizable lead in New Hampshire among likely Republican voters.   He also enjoys a large lead in the South Carolina GOP Primary according to polls, which takes place February 20, and he has opened up a huge lead in Florida's March 15 Republican Primary, a winner-take-all state, according to a newly released poll.  

A win in Iowa depends on voter turnout.  But a Trump victory there could trigger a tsunami of primary victories that will secure him the Republican nomination.  Even his detractors within the GOP are beginning to accept that he may be their standard bearer next November.   "He’s going rogue left and right," Palin said in her speech.  Soon he may be taking the entire Republican Party along for the ride.  

Tuesday, January 12, 2016

Cruz Unsettled

Texas Senator Ted Cruz's presidential bid has been gaining momentum in the all-important Iowa Caucus scheduled to take place February 1.   But now Donald Trump has focused his attention on Cruz's Canadian birth in an effort to undercut the senator's campaign.  "Ted Cruz has a problem," Trump told a rally Monday in Windham, New Hampshire.  "I mean, he's got a problem."

Trump, in an effort to win in Iowa, is now hammering away at whether Cruz qualifies to be U.S. President under the Constitution.  Article II of the Constitution specifies,  "No Person except a natural born Citizen, or a Citizen of the United States, at the time of the Adoption of this Constitution, shall be eligible to the Office of President."  Central to the question of Cruz's eligibility is the definition of a "natural born citizen." 

Up to now Cruz has dismissed the issue as "settled law."  The senator admits he was born in Canada to his father, Rafael Cruz, who was a Canadian citizen at the time of his son's birth in 1970, and to his mother, who was born in Delaware.  Cruz, a lawyer, says he qualifies because his mother was an American and that he is therefore a natural born citizen.  

But Harvard's Laurence Tribe, a leading Constitutional scholar, says the matter is not settled.  "There’s a huge irony about the way Cruz interprets the Constitution," Tribe said in an email to the Huffington Post. "When it wouldn’t hurt him or things he cares deeply about, he insists on interpreting it the way he believes the Founding Generation intended it -- as what people call an 'originalist.' But to a true originalist, as the best scholarship on this topic has shown, a 'natural born citizen' would exclude someone like Ted Cruz because of his Canadian birth."

In an opinion piece in Monday's Boston Globe Tribe wrote,  "When Cruz was my constitutional law student at Harvard, he aced the course after making a big point of opposing my views in class — arguing stridently for sticking with the 'original meaning' against the idea of a more elastic 'living Constitution' whenever such ideas came up."  Tribe pointed out, "In truth, the constitutional definition of a “natural born citizen” is completely unsettled, as the most careful scholarship on the question has concluded.   Needless to say, Cruz would never take Donald Trump’s advice to ask a court whether the Cruz definition is correct, because that would in effect confess doubt where Cruz claims there is certainty."

Cruz's strongest supporter in Iowa, conservative Congressman Steve King, has been a leading voice in the birther movement that claims President Barack Obama is not a citizen, even though the president's mother was an American.  In 2012, Cruz's father was quoted as saying on a video, “We need to send Barack Obama back to Chicago. I’d like to send him back to Kenya, back to Indonesia.”  

Senator John McCain was born in Panama.  To avoid any questions about his citizenship when he ran for president in 2008, the senate passed "A resolution recognizing that John Sydney McCain, III, is a natural born citizen."  Members of the Senate were clearly was concerned questions could arise about McCain's qualifications even though he was born on a U.S. military base to an American father and mother.  And, given how  his colleagues view Cruz, it is not likely the Senate will do the same favor for him.  In fact, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, the man Cruz called a liar on the floor of the Senate, has said he does not want to talk about the issue. 

Trump told the New Hampshire rally, "Whether you like it or not, Ted has to figure it out. Because we can't be having a nominee — if he got the nod, I think I'm going to win very solidly, if you want to know the truth — but, if you get the nomination, you can't have the person who gets the nomination be sued."  Sure enough, Florida Representative Alan Grayson told the Huffington Post last week he would sue if officials certified Cruz's eligibility.  "All that Cruz has done is wave his hands in the air and claimed that it's settled law when it's not," Grayson said.  

Despite his best efforts to brush this issue off, all of this has to be unsettling for Ted Cruz.  Perhaps he can reach out to President Obama for some advice.  Or perhaps he can simply jump the shark.

Monday, January 4, 2016

The Angry Republican Campaign

Republican presidential candidates are beginning 2016 with a full head of steam in what could be the most critical period for the party in decades.  While Donald Trump and Texas Senator Ted Cruz currently are leading in the national polls of likely Republican voters, it is hard to predict the final outcome of next month's primaries and caucuses. 

For political junkies, the Republican race has so far been surprising and unpredictable.  Real estate mogul Donald Trump has dominated media coverage and the polls since he announced his candidacy last June.  From the very beginning he has exploited voter anger with caustic and abrasive rhetoric.  Over the weekend he told a cheering Biloxi, Mississippi, audience, “People are so tired of the incompetence. They’re so tired of stupidity.”  Trump has pledged to deport those who are in this country illegally, to build a wall along the Mexican border, and to temporarily stop Muslims from entering this country.

Meanwhile, Senator Cruz has played on voter anger to appeal to populist right voters with wild rhetoric like, "We will utterly destroy ISIS. We will carpet bomb them into oblivion. I don't know if sand can glow in the dark, but we're going to find out."  In Iowa, where he appears to be leading, he has targeted conservative Christians with lines like, "If the body of Christ rises up as one and votes our values, we can turn this country around." 

Voter anger is especially pronounced among Republicans.  A NBC News/Survey Monkey/Esquire on line poll shows that 61% of Republicans "say that current events say that current events irk them more than a year ago." Only 41% of Democrats feel the same way.  

As the Iowa Caucus and New Hampshire Primary approaches the large field of Republican candidates has begun attacking each other.  New Jersey Governor Chris Christie, campaigning in New Hampshire, railed against his opponents in remarks his staff released in advance Monday. “Bluster is not the leadership we crave.  Talking a big game and either not showing up or not knowing how isn’t what we desperately need today.”  Christie's speech was directed at Trump.   “Anger alone is not a solution...America needs leaders who not only identify our problems, but who have the ability to repair our broken system. That’s what this election is all about."  

Florida Senator Marco Rubio, whose disappointing campaign has so far failed to gain traction, attacked Trump in New Hampshire Monday.  "The job is not described in the Constitution as 'entertainer in chief,' or 'commentator in chief,' or even, frankly, 'economist in chief.' It is described as Commander in Chief," he said.  The self-righteous Rubio also observed, "We have Republican candidates who propose that rulers like Assad and Putin should be partners of the United States, and who have voted with Barack Obama and Harry Reid rather than with our men and women in uniform."

Former Florida Governor Jeb Bush, once thought to be the front-runner, has struggled for support despite being well financed.  He has proven to be a weak candidate, and he is burdened by his brother's legacy, former President George W. Bush.  Even his attack lines sound desperate and feeble. "Just one other thing -- I gotta get this off my chest -- Donald Trump is a jerk," he said at a town hall meeting last month in New Hampshire.  In a Florida town hall meeting in late December he said Trump gets his foreign policy advice from television, "He wakes up in his pajamas and watches the TV shows on Saturday and Sunday."

The Republican campaign has deteriorated into a schoolhouse brawl.  Candidates resort to personal attacks rather than to offering specific and detailed solutions to America's underlying problems.  This is not a campaign of new and exciting ideas; rather it is a misguided crusade that offers voters little hope for those tired of politics as usual.

No wonder so many Republicans are angry.