17 September 2015

CapX reading list: Has Carly Fiorina stopped Trump in his tracks?


Last night’s Republican Presidential debate was swept by a breeze of change. Not a proper wind – Trump was the usual Trump, theatrical, irreverent and not quite well briefed, Bush couldn’t come up with a decent reply to the oh-so-old question about his family legacy, and Carson played his ‘not-professional-politician’ card yet again. But certain new arguments, dynamics and faces revealed in the debate revealed could reshape the future of the GOP leadership race.

Fiorina emerged as competitive, determined and well-rehearsed, and the media were quick to crown her as the undiscussed winner of the debate. What won the heart of commentators – and presumably, many among the audience – were her heartfelt appeals against Planned Parenthood and recreational drugs. Nonetheless, she is still much behind Trump and the other front-runners in the polls.

For the first time the pack seemed to have ganged up against Trump, who was left puffing, red-faced and very frustrated.

Whoever scheduled the debate to last for three-plus hours made a resounding mistake. No one could endure a Republican debate that lasts as long as The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King. Even Bernie Sanders got tired of live-tweeting after a couple of hours. Some members of the press weren’t that lucky, and watched the debate from beginning to end: here are five must-reads to catch up with it.

The winners and losers from the CNN debate by Chris Cillizza, Washington Post

Where was Jeb Bush during the first two hours (a.k.a. when people were watching)?  He was terrific on Iran, drew huge applause for defending his brother from Trump and had a great line about his mom still being angry at him for smoking pot in high school. He was great. But probably too late.

This is a humorous piece that highlights the ups and downs of the various debaters. Besides the unsurprising adulation of Fiorina, Cillizza praises Rubio’s knowledge of foreign policy and Cruz’s strategic alliances. Jeb Bush and Rand Paul get low marks for being a little too discreet. Cillizza also comments on the second-tier debate.

The GOP Debate: 6 Takeaways by Glenn Thrush, Politico

The Republican base wants fight from its warriors, but Carson – who breathes right-wing fire on the lecture circuit – has proven to be as stubbornly civil as any top-tier contender in either party. To some, his low-key approach reads somnambulant (During the debate, former Obama White House aide Tommy Vietor tweeted “Ben Carson is like verbal Xanax.”).

Good summary of the debate’s must-knows. Trump is low energy, Fiorina crashes the boys’ club, Bush smacks Trump, Carson manages not to be overpowered, Graham wins the second-tier debate, Rubio is alive and Walker not quite.

Carly Fiorina won the debate, but fact checkers will have a field day by Ezra Klain, Vox

Fiorina did something unusual for a candidate on a debate stage. She went silent. She let her seconds tick away. And the cheers rocked the auditorium. Trump was left to stammer out a peace offering. “I think she’s got a beautiful face and I think she’s a beautiful woman,” he said, smiling hopefully. But Fiorina didn’t give an inch. She stood there stone-faced. On the split screen, Trump’s pleading grin looked weak and desperate.

This piece, differing from the mainstream media approach, does point out some of the mistake Fiorina incurred. Although the former HP CEO has proved she knows what she’s talking about – see comparison between her and Trump’s responses to foreign policy questions – she may have got a few major points wrong. She advocates more military exercises in the Baltic despite the Obama administration having already increased them, and seemed to ignore that the current government has made immigration policy its priority since re-election.

Carly Fiorina tells CNN debate: I buried a child to drug addiction  by Gideon Resnick, The Daily Beast

“You have a lot of young people who are getting access to drugs and then they are getting arrested frequently—it’s just a bad, bad cycle,” Fiorina said during discussions of the death of 25-year-old Freddie Gray in Baltimore. ‘We need to create a circumstance in which people have a stake in their community—and they have a stake in their community because they believe their community offers them possibilities for a future.”

Resnick focuses on Fiorina’s earnest intervention on drugs control. In response to Bush’s joking comments on smoking pot as a kid, Fiorina shared the moving experience of losing her 35-year-old stepchild to drug addiction. Fiorina’s account certainly left a deep mark in the general public, and proved her coherence in advocating a change in the treatment of drug addiction.

Substance made a comeback in second GOP debate  by Gerald F. Seib, The Wall Street Journal

For two months, the Republican presidential race has been dominated by Donald Trump, whose approach has been to boast about his leadership style—“I’m a winner, I’ll negotiate great deals”—while skirting past detailed policy discussions. That changed in the debate at the Reagan presidential library in California. While many of the questions posed by the CNN moderators began with a recitation of comments Mr. Trump has made, which left him still at the center of the conversation, his competitors managed to launch a conversation that, for the first time in weeks, got beyond the Trump orbit.

Good analysis of what has changed from the previous GOP debate. Donald Trump’s signature ad-hominem attacks and boastful claims don’t seem to be working quite so well anymore. Fiorina surprises the audience and dominates the debate; Rubio, Bush and Cruz all get good marks for several decent points on foreign policy, healthcare and immigration plans.

A final note is needed on possibly the most embarrassing moment of the debate. The 11 candidates were asked what historically important American women they would put on the $10 bill. Here are the answers:

Paul: Susan B. Anthony
Huckabee: his wife Janet
Rubio: Rosa Parks
Cruz: Rosa Parks (on the $20 bill)
Carson: his mother Sonya
Trump: Rosa Parks or his daughter Ivanka
Bush: Margaret Thatcher
Fiorina: wouldn’t change $10 bill, as women shouldn’t be treated as special interest group
Walker: Clara Barton
Christy: Abigail Adams
Kasich: Mother Theresa

Only six candidates nominated historical American women, and three of them picked the same one.

Beatrice Faleri is Associate Editor of Perspectives at King’s College London.