GOP Debate Recap

Carly Fiorina won the second Republican debate. 

It wasn’t just a matter of low expectations for a non-politician. Fiorina showed a knowledge of foreign policy that would put many senators to shame.

Speaking well doesn’t qualify the politically inexperienced to be president, but Fiorina could be a good addition to a ticket with an establishment candidate like Jeb Bush or Marco Rubio. David Brooks wrote on Friday that the party will probably pursue a hybrid establishment/anti-establishment option, and suggested that a Rubio and Fiorina ticket would be the best bet. Rubio’s strength is also foreign policy, which is a salient point for voters who see President Obama’s international leadership as weak.

If there’s one theme of the Republican race so far, it’s that voters want an anti-establishment candidate. They want someone who will “shake things up,” because politics doesn’t resemble Monday Night Raw enough to hold their interest.

Carly Fiorina is in the anti-establishment movement, but she’s not of it. That is, in contrast to the other anti-establishment candidates, she can actually talk policy instead of just yelling things about Wall Street and Mexicans.

CNN wanted to make the debate a time for candidates to attack each other, because CNN is basically an entertainment channel. Unfortunately for American politics, Donald Trump has supplanted the network’s plane crash fetish.

Candidates finally took the opportunity to attack Trump. Fiorina also did the best in that regard. When asked about Trump’s sexist comments about her appearance, Fiorina replied that “women all over this country heard very clearly what Mr. Trump said.” It was a mature but biting response that allowed her not to get bogged down in name-calling.

Jeb Bush told Trump to apologize for suggesting that Jeb’s Mexican-born wife would affect his ability to deal with immigration. Trump of course refused, but it was another instance where he was forced to backtrack on something dumb he said.

Commentators continue to criticize Jeb for being boring, because apparently he didn’t punch Trump in the face when he was supposed to. What some call boring others might call sensible. You have to wonder how the media can bash Trump for being a populist entertainer, and then practically in the next sentence say that Jeb isn’t entertaining enough.

Speaking of entertaining, Donald Trump thinks vaccines cause autism. The ride never ends. Perhaps this will bolster his support among the coastal elites, who share his medical views. He’ll have to talk about GMOs and astrology next for maximum impact.

Rand Paul is a meme candidate, and I mean that in the most disparaging way possible. The other day he printed out the IRS tax code and shot it with a gun, because that’s how you get Facebook likes. Welcome to the intersection of democracy and the internet. Rand’s internet persona doesn’t translate to real life, though, and he disappeared from the screen for long periods.

This was a debate where candidates had to elbow their way into the conversation. The format didn’t play to Ben Carson’s main strength, which is to say as little as possible. It’s no great loss, because Carson is not a serious candidate. He’s just some guy who writes books and thinks being gay is a choice.

The takeaways from the debate are as follows. First, the anti-establishment crowd won’t go away any time soon. Trump seemingly can’t say anything that will lower his poll numbers, but Fiorina’s success provides an opening to lure voters who want a political outsider away from Trump.

Second, foreign policy and social issues are big. The two most popular topics respectively are Iran and Planned Parenthood. Iran provides an opportunity to talk sensibly to voters about President Obama’s poor foreign policy skills. Planned Parenthood presents a difficulty because candidates must address it in a nuanced way, the odds of which are close to zero.

 Second-and-a-half, candidates are perhaps hesitant to talk about the economy because of the uncertainty over when the economy will begin to contract again and when, if ever, the Fed will raise interest rates.

Third, Jeb and Rubio are still the most serious candidates. They may be low in the polls now, but they’re the only candidates who could beat Hillary Clinton or Joe Biden.