That Kid Who Always Takes His Ball and Goes Home

Ball

We all had that insufferable friend growing up who by virtue of having better off parents always had the latest sports gear. His ability to bring the shiniest new toy paid for his admission into the after school games. In my home state of Texas, tackle football was pretty much all that was played on such occasions, and this kid would always bring the brand new “official” ball of the NCAA. It was an amazing ball, with dimples that made it easy to grip for an imagined leaping catch in the endzone and laces that made it easy to throw. The rest of the gang couldn’t resist the temptation to let him play and thus get access to the highly coveted ball. Of course, bringing the highly desired game ball meant the kid would call dibs on playing quarterback. Inevitably, his slick and fancy ball was not matched by athletic prowess or toughness, and after a few minutes of a lopsided score and a few hard hits followed by writhing and crying on the ground, the kid would storm off in a tempest with the ball, leaving the rest of us bereft of a game to play and irritated that we let ourselves be duped again.

I am sure that a story painted in such light brings to mind a vivid picture to everyone reading this of that particular kid in their lives. Looking back, we may chuckle at the thought of the many different forms of immaturity that we encountered and that we unfortunately also possessed and displayed on some occasions throughout our childhood. Unfortunately, this type of behavior also manifests itself into our adulthood, it is just revealed in a different manner. The great tragicomedy is that such behavior is rampant in the person of Donald Trump, who recently dropped out of the Fox News debate due to the fact that anchor Megyn Kelly will be a moderator and, paraphrasing his words, she treats him unfairly. The boorish and childish behavior does not end there. Fox News trolled Trump a bit by indicating that Putin and the Ayatollah of Iran would likely fail to treat Trump fairly either. Obviously peeved, Trump’s response his been a childish taunt that the Fox News debate rating will plummet without him on the stage. The rant about ratings are the proverbial ball to take home of this buffoonish narcissist.

One great challenge for the Republican Party is that Trump is more deftly politically calculating than many of us initially gave him credit for. In his real life version of the Presidential Celebrity Apprentice, the followers he has cornered eat this type of thumb in the eye action up. His calculation is to always stay in the media limelight with rash statements and actions. The more rash, the better, and the more entrenched his followers, the forgotten white working class, becomes.  It is only too bad that many Americans are eating this populist schtick up. It is also too bad that other candidates have failed to paint a more optimistic vision of how principled limited government that adheres to free market frameworks is far better than electing an unpredictable billionaire unmoored to any specific ideology. How long, Americans, will you continue to willingly engage in this dangerous reality show? Time is running out.

The cynicism and contortions of Ted Cruz

Gun Legislation
UNITED STATES – APRIL 17: Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, speaks during the news conference on alternative gun legislation on Wednesday, April 17, 2013. (Photo By Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call)

One of the more memorable exchanges of the recent Republican debate occurred between Rubio and Cruz over paths to legalization for the 11 million illegal immigrants currently thought to be residing in the U.S. The setup of the debate was this: Rubio and Cruz were sparring over intelligence and the use of telephone metadata in the fight against terrorism. Cruz pivoted the debate to one of border security and immigration where he believes he is on firmer ground and can attack Rubio. During the scuffle, Rubio pointed out that Cruz did in fact support a path to legislation. Ever the lawyer that is extremely careful with words and terms, Cruz at one point indicated that, “I have never supported legalization, and I do not intend to support legalization.” The emphasis on “intend” was mine, and I find there to be a carefully constructed amount of future wiggle room for a lawyer in that statement.

Where this gets interesting is that while Cruz is now cynically pouncing on the “Gang of 8” bill that seems to hang like an albatross around Rubio’s neck with the nativist wing of the party, it is clear that Cruz did in fact propose an amendment in 2013 that called for an increase to the H1B visa for skilled workers by 500%, a doubling of legal immigration (including for the low-skilled he now claims are taking everyone else’s jobs), and creating a path to legalization status (but not full citizenship) for the 11 million illegal immigrants already in the country.

“I have never supported legalization, and I do not intend to support legalization.” – Senator Ted Cruz, Las Vegas Republican Primary Debates

Senator Cruz’s full remarks on the amendment he filed is out for all of the world to see and judge. Note his vociferous support of high-skilled immigration in the first video I have linked, and his support for legalized status for the existing 11 million illegal immigrants in the second video. Some of the key language Cruz employs makes him sound more like a reasonable and compassionate defender of immigration as a centerpiece of the American experience – using terms such as “coming out of the shadows” and “I want immigration reform to pass.” Cruz’s lawyerly threading of the needle in the amendment is to not support citizenship but supporting legalization and work status. While this amendment stance may not be near generous enough for a pro-immigration, free-market oriented person like myself, it is hardly the militant stance Cruz now employs and it also proves his debate statements the other night to be blatantly false and cynical. Since Cruz is so fond of leveling the charge of amnesty at his opponents these days, perhaps we could all benefit if the debate champion could define precisely what amnesty actually means to him.

In response to the fact-checking that many news outlets are doing and no doubt the increasing spike of people watching these videos, the Cruz campaign has indicated that his amendment was actually a poison pill plot to kill off the entire immigration reform bill that the Gang of 8 brought forward in order to get what Cruz wanted all along – zero immigration reform. That leaves Cruz supporters with two equally problematic conundrums from tough-talking “anti-establishment” Ted Cruz: either he did in fact fully support a rapid increase in high-skilled immigration and a path to legalization for the 11 million resident illegal immigrants and he is therefore not the principled ideologue waging war consistently on the border that he passes himself off to be, or he is a schemer and plotter that plays games in Washington. On the latter challenge, to echo the Wall Street Editorial Board in a recent podcast, this is hardly the stuff of anti-establishment dreams.

 

 

Milwaukee Republican Debate Observations

fbn_GOP_debate_group

On the whole, what I enjoy about this group of candidates is that there are some perceptible differences between them and each has some valid points that make one think about where they stand on some tough issues of the day. One thing that continues to be clear is that there are some serious tax, health, higher education, and regulatory reformers and reform proposals in this race. The contrast between the eventual winner and Clinton and the Obama years should be marked and vastly different than past races with McCain and Romney in the mix and it will be interesting to watch these reformist proposals unfold before the broader American public. My only regret is continuing to have Trump waste precious airtime preventing the optimal fleshing out of the policy debates we should be having.

I have to admit that I was pleasantly surprised primarily with the performance of the Fox Business Channel moderators. I tend to associate Fox with sensationalized and blaring reporting with loud noises and garish graphics. The moderators Neil Cavuto, Gerard Baker, and Maria Bartiromo were precise, crisp, professional, and deliberately in the background throughout the night. Kudos to them for managing the most useful debate and debate topics to date.

The most significant surprise to me is how well Carson performed. This was a moment for him to be potentially tripped up and consumed by the media reports that his biography is full of lies and also I would have anticipated continued waffling and lack of clarity on policy details. On the topic of inconsistencies in the biography, upon exploration the charges seem hollow and a blatant attempt to discredit and cause doubt amongst the most gullible and cynical of political observers. The fact that someone used the term “scholarship” for admission into West Point is a potential debate on semantics as all admits to West Point don’t pay tuition and effectively pay for college with five years of Army service. It seems entirely plausible that a military officer would easily slip into lingo that would resonate with a young kid in Detroit about getting a “free ride and scholarship” at West Point. The other trite news reported by CNN on the Carson biography includes reference to people they interviewed who did not recall his violent past as Carson discusses in his biography. The point of this in his biography is to highlight Carson’s redemption and turnaround story – the day he nearly stabbed and killed someone and finally saw the light that he needed to change and restrain his temper. Kim Strassel of the Wall Street Journal made the remarkable quip that, “this is the first time in a Presidential race we are debating whether someone lied about actually stabbing someone.” Carson was questioned on this during the debate, and he observed that while he is getting chased around about stories from when he was a 10th grader, that only conservative media outlets like the WSJ seem to point out the incontrovertible evidence that Clinton was busy texting her daughter and placing phone calls and sending emails to foreign leaders that the attacks in Benghazi were confirmed terrorist attacks while she was busy telling the public and her state department that the attacks were a result of an anti-Islamist YouTube video. Figure out that dissonance if you can, and if truthfulness is a virtue that we require of a Presidential candidate (and I believe it should be) then Carson would hardly be our biggest target to pillory. While I still don’t find him to be the most clear on policy, I was pleasantly surprised at his changed beliefs in the minimum wage. It is clear that he is getting good economic advice, and I think a physician can be given the benefit of the doubt initially on their views on something that feels good at first glance, but beneath the surface is in fact a disaster for those it purports to help, as Carson pointed out. While I am not a Carson supporter, I think his biography-based campaign and his demeanor will keep him in this race for some time to come. His swimlane is effectively the most plausible anti-politician in the race, and this will come ultimately at Trump’s and Fiorina’s expense.

Rubio continues to dazzle in the debate setting. He is no doubt a tremendously gifted orator and a dynamo as it comes to ideas and policy finesse. To counter any barbs that I am a Rubio homer (full disclosure I have made a couple of small donations to his campaign) I will say that I think his child tax entitlement is precisely the wrong thing to do with our tax codes. Either we are in support of liberty and level playing fields and the rule of law that applies equally to all or we aren’t. It is a slippery slope to favor certain interest groups and to create social policy through tax policy, such favors are the reason we are in the 20,000 page tax code mess we are in. Rand Paul was right to call him out on this, although I think Rubio wound up having the upper hand by deftly shifting the debate to an overall argument about foreign policy. Paul has a nice principled stand rooted in fiscal conservatism, but Rubio’s stance on a more muscular foreign policy as a form of leadership and pre-emptive protection and protecting our global interests simply resonates better with the Republican base. I expect to eventually hear Rubio’s reason for supporting sugar subsidies and how this differs from any other cynical government handout. I hope he comes around particularly on this issue and changes course.

Cruz is clearly enhancing his debate performances. His strongest line of attack came in the form of immigration in which he quipped that we would all be hearing a lot more about the economic impact if Mexico was sending a lot of journalists across the border, effectively reducing journalists’ wages. While I completely disagree with the consequent stance that as a result we should be restrictive on immigration and while I also believe that this is tremendously weak economic policy (immigration is hardly a zero-sum game and it can hardly be easily characterized as a game of winners and losers), but his appeal will cater to a significant portion of the electorate. As a result, I see this race eventually being one between Rubio and Cruz for the heart of the party in the end.

Bush clearly has some good policy ideas, but for the life of me I can’t figure out why he has such a hard time effectively communicating them and not delivering them in a sound and meaningful way. It always seems like he is embarrassed to promote and discuss them in a forceful way. This is hardly the time for modesty.

Fiorina delivers a strong and consistent message, but seems to be treading water. I am also deeply skeptical of a tax code boiled into three pages, but will have to wait to see it to believe it.

Paul continues to have principled stands that in many ways I agree with. He had some great points when sparring with Rubio about tax policy. Still, I can’t align with his hands-off approach to foreign policy. I do think it is dangerously isolationist. His message may have resonated really well these days if it were not for the advent of aggression and chaos sowed by ISIS and Russia, which points to a continued need for U.S. leadership and global military engagement. As it stands, his policies seem nice philosophically and for debating purposes in the Senate, but seem hardly suited for the office of the Executive.

A successful governor of swing state Ohio should be more successful than Kasich currently is. Whether it is the primary electorate that trends right when his appeal is more to the center or whether it is his style I have difficulty figuring out. I do think he is harmed a bit by his hectoring, whiny, and moralizing style. If he could make the case for the expansion of Medicaid, support for an increase to the minimum wage, or less ambitious tax reform goals without making everyone else seem like knaves and heartless curmudgeons, I get the sense that his appeal would be wider.  As it stands, whiny is the one word I would use if I had to describe his performance. I still think he has some appeal and place as a seemingly sensible and get things done moderate (I do think he would make a fine VP or high level cabinet member) but as it stands, I think his race is about finished.

My wife humorously observed that Trump is everybody’s drunk uncle on stage. This is a perfect metaphor. Every once in a while, he says something that sounds plausible and sensible. Then he ruins it by going on rants about a beautiful wall he will build between the U.S. and Mexico, how he will send 11 million people back and not cost any money, how we are losing to China and Mexico, how he would befriend Putin, some unbelievable tripe about we should have taken the oil in our invasion of Mexico, dragging China into the reason he does not support the TPP trade deal (which Paul humorously pointed out, after minutes of Trump diatribe, that China was not actually a deal signatory). I have long been on the Trump-bashing wagon so I continue to be amazed by his staying power, but I used to at least be entertained by his act, even if it has been marked by outrageous and ignorance. Now, it seems to me to be getting rather stale and boring. I wonder if his supporters will start to feel the same way and start moving on.

Post Republican debate thoughts – Team Cuba dominates, Christie emerges, Bush flat, and more…

https://gymnasiumsite.wordpress.com/2015/10/28/republican-presidential-debate-analysis/

Before I grade the candidates, I need to grade my predictions. I give myself, perhaps generously, a D. It was perhaps hubristic to make predictions of this unpredictable race in the first place. I was clearly wrong on Fiorina attacking Trump and Trump attacking Carson. In fact, the only attacks were a Bush big swing and miss against Rubio’s Senate record (even if it is a valid point, Bush wound up looking petty, uncomfortable, and almost sheepish and embarrassed that he brought it up while Rubio deflected it in am impressive and statesmanlike fashion) and a seemingly coordinated fusillade of most of the candidates against the hapless CNBC crew.  I was reasonably close to how Fiorina would start to fade, Rubio would acquit himself well, and Bush continuing to fail to love up to initial expectations. More specific observations on the night are as follows, ranked in order of who I thought performed well:

  • If I had to declare a debate champion, it would be Chris Christie, who was impressive in his straight talk on the status of the funds for Social Security and Medicare, with strong language on how the government has robbed us of these funds and that the vault is full of IOUs, evoking imagery of Jim Carrey in Dumb and Dumber telling “Mr. Samsonite” that all the IOUs in his briefcase that him and Jeff Daniels wasted are as good as money. Christie and Huckabee sparred on how best to save entitlements and represented a range of views of whether the money is owed back to those that put the money in. I think this is an important debate to have, and I am glad it occurred last night. the discussion is worth the watch for those that missed the debate. http://www.huffingtonpost.com/entry/chris-christie-and-mike-huckabee-exchange-blows-on-social-security_55c418e8e4b0923c12bc65d0
  • Ted Cruz had a strong performance, finally elevating himself to the performance worthy of the Ivy League debate champion and former Texas Attorney General. His performance was led by his ability to turn the evening into as much about the state of the media and journalism as much as about the policies. Of course, it never hurts to have a home field advantage cheering you on to accentuate the point. I can’t say that I am a fan of Cruz and his typical brusque way of delivering a message and his campaign that is as much about tearing apart his own team as much as debating policies, but I will admit that his performance was rather strong, including an ability to show a less serious side of himself (which I think was sorely needed) by making non-serious references to Colorado weed brownies (the debate was held in Boulder). http://www.realclearpolitics.com/video/2015/10/28/cruz_rips_press_at_cnbc_debate_this_debate_illustrates_why_we_can_not_trust_the_media.html
  • Marco Rubio continues to appear Presidential and polished, which counts for a lot in the Presidential race these days. His defense of his Senate record made him look like a bigger person than Bush, who had a misfire trying to capitalize on this question. Rubio sounder sensible discussing tax reform as well. I would have ranked Rubio higher, and I will admit that he is my current preferred candidate, but I can’t help but feel that the revelation that he had to sell a house quickly at a loss in face of foreclosure and his inability to discuss this earnestly may harm him in the long run. More likely though, I am betting he will be able to weave this into a narrative of how he has faced hardships just like all other Americans and parlay that into a sense of trust that he is like a lot of Americans. I don’t know how this one will play out. My other more personal complaint about his debate performance was seeming pandering on the H1B visa program and indicating that companies must play by the rules and that they should wait 180 days to see if an American will take the job. The H1B visa is already severely restricted and it is aimed at the higher end of the skill scale. Trump had excellent points on this specific topic in that we should not be sending educated professionals out of the country that receive masters and PhDs at our best educational institutions. This is no doubt economically harmful, as these types of professionals tend to start companies and hire people. Rubio did have a great point on immigration reform needing to be oriented towards skills rather than familial ties. In addition, Rubio was the first to be able to call out Clinton’s blatant disregard for the truth while covering up the terrorist attack in Libya that killed four Americans. http://www.cnbc.com/2015/10/28/rubio-media-should-be-harder-on-hillary.html http://news.yahoo.com/video/bush-rubio-spar-over-rubios-010015582.html
  • Donald Trump must be getting good advice that if he wants his base to grow, he has to fight off the urge to go overboard with bombastic tirades and childish attacks. Of course, this debate being focused more on economics and business rather than say, foreign policy, one might have expected him to do relatively well. In this event, Trump managed to appear cordial with those on stage while making a few sensible points. He still had some cringeworthy moments such as a ridiculous idea that Mexico will pay for a 1,000 mile wall and his typical nonsense about the U.S. losing to China and Mexico, but still, he seemed to have risen to the occasion of growing and maturing on stage.
  • John Kasich is carving out a space as the sensible one on stage, and I think given the crowded field this as good of a strategy as he can take. He effectively staked out some middle ground on tax policy and entitlements that I think appeals to a good portion of the electorate. I think he wound up sounding a bit too moralizing and hectoring, which is only going to get one so far in a Primary race, however.
  • Mike Huckabee always manages to seem at the very least likable, if not well past his time. His points on entitlements, while I don’t agree with them and take more of the Christie stance to the issue, I think are important ones to be made.
  • I am not quite sure what to make of Dr. Carson’s performance. I don’t think he will harm himself much with his typical calm and thoughtful demeanor, but he did not exactly launch it into high gear either. A physician getting trapped into a seemingly fraudulent supplement company just seems rather odd, and with a debate focused on tax policy for much of the night I think this should have been his opportunity to come with a mastery of policy facts and how he would pull off his flat tax, what the rates would be, and how he would trim the spending specifically (targeting the old bogeyman of government waste is the easy way out. We all know it is there, but those of us who have worked in government also know how difficult it is to pull off without specific departments being targeted)
  • Carly Fiorina has peaked I am afraid. She is sharp and impressive on stage, but I don’t believe she did much to move the ball forward. Without playing foil to Donald Trump and with the ongoing debate on whether her tenure at HP was an effective one, I am afraid she is topped out
  •  This should have been Jeb Bush’s night. This debate was focused on economics and finance. If anything, I do believe that Bush has probably more thought into sensible policies and actually delivered as Governor more than anyone else on the stage. Unfortunately, he just can’t seem to find a way to deliver on that message on a stage. He just comes across as perfunctory, aloof, and uncomfortable, almost as if he is so scripted he can’t find a way to connect. Still, I imagine he will soldier on and at the very least, I hope some of his valuable contributions to tax and entitlement reform shape the debate.
  • Rand Paul is Rand Paul. He makes a couple of decent points that I tend to align with philosophically on the need for liberty and small government, but can’t seem to find the powerful lines that need to be delivered without getting too much into the weeds of arcane congressional policy. I wonder how long he will keep at this.

The CNBC team was chaotic, managed the ebb and flow poorly, opened themselves up to charges of lack of professionalism, and seemed to get many of their questions from TMZ.

Republican Presidential Pre Debate Analysis

It is rather unfortunate that the World Series coincides with tonight’s Republican Presidential debate, as I am inclined to want to enjoy both, and I am sure that most will opt for the Series, but here is my attempt to fill my Kansas City friends in (and whoever else is inclined to read). My first post is a pre-debate analysis, and then I will follow-up with a post-debate summary from my vantage point.

Going into the debate, the large storyline and questions are whether the new frontrunner Ben Carson will withstand the likely withering attack that he will receive from Trump and potentially others. Will he be prepared with more specific policy proposals and thus ensure that he does not have the Hermann Cain outsider’s temporary moment in the limelight? Will CNBC ask more aggressive questions than we have seen before, forcing candidates to outline their positions and past statements and policies? Will Trump be more rehearsed with actual policy proposals to back his aggressive tone? Will his only current policy proposal (albeit a vaguely sketched out one) on tax reform withstand criticism? Will he have any other proposals outlined and will he know more about foreign affairs? Will Jeb Bush come across as more than the dull professor? Will Fiorina continue to dazzle the audience and will she stump Trump? Will Rubio continue his slow but steady ascent? Will anyone else rise to the challenge and separate themselves from being also-rans? Here are my predictions for the evening:

  • Trump will attack Carson mercilessly. He will have something to talk about with his tax proposal, but the specifics will be vague. He will reiterate the belief that he can befriend Putin and solve the world’s challenges with the negotiating skills that he possesses. He will have done no significant research or updates to his positions since the last debate. His poll numbers will begin a moderate descent
  • Bush will look finished and calls will grow for him to throw in the towel. His treasure chest will keep him in it for some time yet, however.
  • Fiorina will be in Trump and Clinton attack mode. She will fluster Trump. Something about her presence and style, as much as it aided in the first round, will start to seem hectoring and grate this time around.
  • Carson will wind up being out of his league and exposed as not knowing a lot. He has peaked and the debate will show it with newfound attacks and focus from the rest of the field and the moderators.
  • Rubio will be polished and on point with limited talking time. He will be declared one of the night’s winners, and his numbers will continue to rise. He will benefit in the inevitable dropout of candidates that will occur in the next two months.
  • Cruz will stare into the camera and bore us all with the minutiae of legal language that only a lawyer will love. Since Cruz is really running a race against the Republican Congress, Paul Ryan as Speaker of House imposing some since of order and effectiveness is his biggest threat to his race and success.
  • Nobody else will break out of the pack, and it is likely that in the coming month that we see the dropping out of at least two of the likes of Paul, Christie, and/or  Kasich. That is not to mention the second-tier candidates like Jindal and Graham, who I suspect will shortly throw in the towel as well.

My final prediction for the night is the Royals break a 3-3 tie in the bottom of the 7th and hold on for a 5-3 win.