Something called the “Voters First Forum” was held Monday night at St. Anselm College in Manchester, New Hampshire, with 14, count ’em, 14 Republican candidates doing a kinda, sorta rehearsal for Fox’s big debate on Thursday night. For that one, only the top 10 (by polling) are invited, the others being remanded to an early show that afternoon, an electoral Siberia watched primarily by baby sitters.
For this one, three were MIA — Mike Huckabee (“scheduling conflict”), Jim Gilmore (“declared too late”) and Donald Trump. His Trumpesty was apparently miffed the New Hampshire Union Leader, one of the sponsors of the event with newspapers from Iowa and South Carolina, had mocked his treatment of John McCain in an editorial, so he demurred. Or perhaps the frontrunner is already “doing a Hillary,” making himself inaccessible. Someone should warn him that hasn’t worked out so well for Our Lady of Chappaqua.
Whatever the case, the amazing thing is that The Donald was not even mentioned by any of the candidates and only referred to once, in a veiled way, by moderator/host Jack Heath. The Republican candidates’ forum may have been the only place Trump wasn’t discussed Monday night. If Donald himself was watching, half way through he would have turned it off. How boring.
But it wasn’t that boring, even if it was a CSPAN event par excellence (video available here). I made it through the two hours with a minimum of multi-tasking. So here’s my review of how the candidates fared. CAVEAT: My views are biased and inconsistent, like almost everybody’s if they would admit it. Or as they say on the Internet, YMMV, especially if you drive a Tesla. Also worth noting is no one made a gaffe of any substance and there wasn’t much to choose ideologically between the candidates. They all wanted to secure the border, balance the budget and defeat ISIS. And they didn’t have much good to say about the Iran deal, which Ted Cruz deemed catastrophic. (I would agree.) All things considered, I would prefer any of them in a heartbeat to any Democratic candidate from Chappaqua to Chappaquiddick.
The candidates appeared in a random order by lot and that’s how I will discuss them. (Actually, they appeared twice.) Here goes, right after the page break.
1. RICK PERRY: He’s a sentimental favorite of mine, if only because he wasn’t healthy last go-round. The first one out of the box, he felt a little hesitant in his first session, relying on his stump material about Texas jobs (yes, we know) and recent border security improvement. He was better, quite good humored, in his second session on government cuts. He ended with an optimistic moment about America that I suspect the audience appreciated. “Well make it through Barack Obama — trust me.” Grade: B+.
2. RICK SANTORUM: Santorum 2.0 is all about manufacturing jobs. Maybe that plays well in his Pennsylvania back yard but it seems a tad old fashioned to me in the world of Google and Uber. Nevertheless, he’s knowledgeable with some good ideas in the tax area. In his second session, however, he reverted to Santorum 1.0, attacking the Supreme Court’s gay marriage decision. Okay, if you say so, but I could see Hillary Clinton licking her chops. Grade: C+.
3. JOHN KASICH: I have to admit I just don’t cotton to Kasich. There’s something too “political” about this guy. When asked about “sanctuary cities,” he replied they would go away now without saying where he stood. Everything seems parsed. Still, he’s got an outstanding record in Ohio and we know how important that is. Grade: B-.
4. LINDSEY GRAHAM: Sometimes I think nobody likes Lindsey but me – and judging by his poll numbers, that’s probably close to right. But he has a wonderful sense of humor and really gets it on foreign policy. (Okay, I’m a hawk…. See, I admit my biases.) Also, he was the first candidate to speak with real intensity and conviction and, not coincidentally, was the first to mention Hillary Clinton. When Republicans actually attack the Democrats, your ears perk up. It should happen more often. Grade: A- to B+.
5. CHRIS CHRISTIE: This was the good Chris Christie (not the one toadying to Obama) and you forget how good that can be. Perhaps because he followed Lindsey Graham, he was tough on terrorism (you don’t negotiate with them). He was also on point when asked about how to deal with runaway entitlements. Can Republicans really talk about that without risk of losing votes? Christie said we should. “The problem is us — we underestimate the American people.” I’m not sure I trust the governor, but as I said, he was good tonight and that’s how I’m grading. Grade: A- to B+.
6. BEN CARSON: Dr. Carson may be the most extraordinary human being ever to run for president and, neurosurgeon that he is, he is quickly learning politics. Whatever happens, if the Republicans win, this man will probably end up in the administration — and he deserves something more than just surgeon general. He pointed out Monday how Obamacare, as a restriction on our freedom, was antithetical to the intentions of the Founders, not just a bad healthcare plan. Carson, because he’s so genuine, has the ability to say things that might seem corny coming from others. If there’s someone Trump shouldn’t want to tussle with, it’s Carson. The doctor might quietly take Donald apart. Grade: A- to B+.
7. JEB BUSH: Look, the worst thing about Jeb is, sadly, his name. Call him a RINO or whatever, but he jumped in tonight to say that our enemies were in a war against Western civilization. Can you imagine Obama, Hillary or any Democrat saying anything like that? He’s also got a fine record from Florida, which he mentioned of course, and is something of a policy wonk when it comes to details. Are these bad things? Regarding Common Core, he seems to have reformed and — I have to be honest — our educational system has such monumental problems that Common Core is the least of it. People who fixate on Common Core, bad as it is, are missing that the whole enchilada is rancid, with or without CC. As for the Jebster, he’s not my favorite candidate, but those who say they would stay home if he’s nominated are themselves at war with Western Civ. Grade: B+.
8. CARLY FIORINA: I don’t get it. Everyone thinks Carly is a terrific speaker who says all the right things on many issues (she did again on Monday), but she’s still going nowhere in the polls and is unlikely to appear in the Fox Top 10 debate. This is especially perplexing since she is the only one to seriously take on Hillary Clinton for the liar she is. (Carly did that again on Monday too.) Carly herself said we need a nominee who can throw a punch. Indeed. So what’s the matter? Is something wrong with us? A-.
9. BOBBY JINDAL: Bobby is a tremendously smart guy with a superb academic pedigree, maybe the smartest politician in either party. Not only that, he’s great on all the issues. So what’s the problem? Beats me, but I find my mind wandering when he speaks and did tonight. It could be that Jindal is a gifted man in the wrong profession. B-.
10. SCOTT WALKER: I wish I could be more excited about Scott, who seems to be the favorite of so many. Would I vote for him in the general? Of course. But I’m not convinced he’s our best choice. Example: Tonight when asked if climate change was real, he responded by saying that Obama’s regulations would “take a buzz saw to the economy.” True that, but it doesn’t answer the question and I had the sensation Walker was insecure about answering such a serious scientific question. Am I a snob? Probably. But I’m worried about the education thing. Grade: B.
11. GEORGE PATAKI: Maybe it’s the expectation game, but I found Pataki more interesting than I expected. He seems to have thought about things with plans to get rid of Obamacare, Common Core and to reduce the federal work force by 15%. He also was strong on Islamic terror, no mincing of words. Where this goes, I don’t know. Probably not far. Grade: B.
12. RAND PAUL: (NOTE: Senators Paul, Cruz and Rubio appeared by satellite from DC so they could participate in the vote to defund Planned Parenthood. Good on them.) I am schizophrenic about Paul. He’s a creative man with clever ideas, but I would not trust him with our national security. That was on display tonight. He had an interesting thought on lessening college costs making them tax deductible), but his signature ideas on data privacy seem more unworkable the more he talks about them. How exactly do we get more information on terrorists (which he calls for) while restricting the powers of the NSA, etc.? Seems like pie in a (dangerous) sky to me. One more ISIS bombing and he’s finished. Grade: C+.
13. TED CRUZ: Cruz was on his game Monday night, crisp, intelligent, to the point in his opposition to what he he calls the Washington Cartel. He also made clear his opposition to the Iran deal in strong terms, calling Obama the world’s biggest sponsor of terrorism for releasing over $100 billion to the Iranians to finance Hamas, Hezbollah, the Houthis and who knows who else. They say Cruz has lost the most from the Trump ascendancy. Maybe he’ll come back. Grade: A-.
14. MARCO RUBIO: These two guys back-to-back were the stars of the evening. Rubio’s strong positions on foreign policy are well known, but it was on a subject for which he is often criticized that he shined on Monday night. He had by far the most detailed and cogent position on solving the eternal immigration problem, which he broke down into three phases. 1. Complete border control that would have to be proven to the American public before anything else goes forward. That would include electronic verification for visas, a bigger problem in many ways than the border. 2. Modernize legal immigration by not basing it any longer on family relationship but on actual contributions to our society. 3. Once this is established, offer work permits (not citizenship) to those illegals who remain and are not criminals. Makes sense to me. Grade: A-.
I used to lean Rubio, then not so much. Now maybe I’m leaning his way again. Hey, they don’t call me THE MAD VOTER for nothing.
And finally, a few words on grading. You will note that no one received an A this time. Reason: Grade inflation is for liberals. We want to inspire our people. Onwards.