Columnist: Examining the GOP candidates, debate

Published 12:00 am Friday, August 14, 2015

By Sydney M. Williams

Contributing columnist

For a party whose obituary has been written, Republican candidates showed themselves to be a lively, diverse and talented group.

Among the 17 on stage Thursday (Aug. 6) evening were a woman, an African-American, an Indian-American and two Hispanics. They ranged in age from 44 to 69. They included senators and governors, both current and past, business people and a brain surgeon.

They are more representative of today’s polyglot United States than the bland, old, white folk who comprise those running on the Democrat ticket. Like Mark Twain once wrote about himself, death notices for the GOP are premature.

The debate continued in editorials, columns, on talk shows and in the blogosphere. While a Gallup Poll of likely Republican voters determined Marco Rubio and Scott Walker the winners, Donald Trump became the most discussed participant.

While he enjoys belittling others, Mr. Trump has a thin skin. His responses to Megyn Kelly’s questions were incendiary and ungracious.

He is not a nice man. Nevertheless, he continues to feed off the discontent that seems pervasive — for some good reasons — in much of the country. Throughout the debate, Mr. Trump looked like he had bitten into a lemon that was especially sour. He is not my choice and I suspect his fame will fade, but I can understand why so many are fed up with Washington and the cronyism that has become worse over the past six and a half years.

The Left, of course, loves the possibility of “the Donald,” as a split among Republicans raises their prospects. In the same manner, Republicans cheer on Bernie Sanders because he might do the same to Democrats. Both are in the position to become spoilers or king-makers. Which will it be?

Having watched the prime-time debate, I thought the questions too long and the answers pre-fabricated. When the moderators delved into personal matters or asked about God — questions designed either to embarrass someone disliked or to showcase a favorite — he (or she) did the audience a disfavor.

It is important to get a sense of a candidate’s moral character, but that is best done indirectly. Keep in mind, the ability to lie is a characteristic common to politicians.

What we should learn is where the candidates stand on critical issues facing average Americans. What are their plans to grow the economy and create jobs? What about taxes and regulation? What will they do to improve education for poorer Americans?

Where do they stand on immigration? What policies will they pursue to shrink the income and wealth gaps that have widened under President Obama? How will they deal with entitlements that threaten to swamp us, yet allow the destitute, the aged and those incapable of taking care of themselves to lead dignified lives?

How will they strengthen the family and how do they believe happiness should be promoted? What will he or she do about Islamic terrorism, Iran, North Korea, Russia and China?

If time is a problem, then let each debate address only one or two issues.

The debate was spirited, with Sen. Paul Rand mixing it up with Donald Trump and Gov. Chris Christie. While those exchanges lightened the atmosphere, the purpose of debate is to inform, not entertain.

While some thought Bush looked stone-faced, I thought he seemed moderate and reasonable. Scott Walker, who can be lively, was subdued. Both seemed influenced by the man between them.

The most impressive of the evening was Sen. Rubio, whose youth and vibrancy were reminiscent of John Kennedy, but without the press’s imprimatur of royalty. Humor, which is underrated by politicians, was apparent in Dr. Ben Carson’s closing remarks.

He spoke of the “firsts” he had accomplished in brain surgery — separating Siamese twins, operating on the brain of a fetus still in the womb and removing half a brain. Though, as to the latter he generated smiles when he suggested that obviously someone in Washington had been at work removing half brains for a long time.

Marco Rubio and Ted Cruz (both 44) are criticized because of age and lack of experience. After all, critics note, look at what happened the last time we elected a first-term senator as president. But it wasn’t age or inexperience that became Mr. Obama’s burden; it has been his ideology.

He campaigned as a centrist and unifier; yet he has governed from the far left and has served to divide. He sees the United States as the last of the colonial empires, a country whose power and influence should be weakened. He is Delilah to a nation that is Samson.

Keep in mind, one of the Country’s greatest Presidents, Abraham Lincoln, came to office after serving one term in the House of Representatives. It is character, wisdom and judgment — not experience — that counts.

While it was obvious that the candidates were competing for primacy, they enjoyed the spotlight. Twenty-four million people tuned in to watch the prime-time debate — a record for a primary.

In 2012, 67.2 million people tuned in to watch President Obama debate Mitt Romney, but that debate was broadcast on cable and network TV. Even the 5 p.m. debate had an audience of 6 million, a respectable showing for a debate broadcast at 2 p.m. Pacific Coast time.

People like fun, so Trump may have been a reason for the turnout. But I suspect the explanation goes deeper.

It has to do with the alienation many feel toward a federal government that increasingly seems more intent on fattening itself (collectively and individually), rather than focusing on concerns of average Americans: a good education; a job that brings opportunity and respect; fair and equal treatment under laws that are color- and creed-blind; simplified tax and regulatory systems that are not designed to help the politically connected, and the freedom to live lives happily without being harassed unnecessarily by government.

What the debates will achieve (though there is no sign of it yet) is the winnowing of the field. This was the first of 11 scheduled. The next will take place on Sept. 16 at the Ronald Reagan Library and will be hosted by that organization, along with CNN and the Salem Media Group.

As the number of candidates becomes fewer, the more penetrating should be the questions and the more detailed should be the answers. Democrats look at this herd and see them as myopically focused. But that attitude either deliberately obfuscates Republican responses to real concerns, or it implies a misunderstanding of the candidates’ policy recommendations.

Washington has become a fraternal order of like-minded men and women who see public service as a necessary step to private wealth. Above all, it is this cronyism that has created dissatisfaction on both the left and the right.

It is the reason so many Republicans have committed to run for President. It explains the popularity of those like Donald Trump and Bernie Sanders.

The debates will be revealing and may help cleanse the Augean Stables that are Washington. Stay tuned.

Sydney Williams, a retired stock broker, writes about politics, the economy, global affairs, education and climate, among other topics. He describes his political leanings as being based in the rapidly disappearing ideology of common sense.