The disquieting Donald J Trump

O Uncivil One (cyanotype), © 2016 Susan Barsy

1.  I get embarrassed after expressing an opinion about Donald Trump, because I always feel that I don’t know what I am talking about.  I am so burned out thinking about Donald Trump that sometimes I find myself having an anxiety attack at bedtime instead of drifting off to sleep, which just isn’t like me.

2.  Sometimes I try to argue that Donald Trump can’t be such a terrible, dangerous person, because if he were, as a businessman, he would have already run into many, many problems with the law.   Running a large company entails complying with innumerable laws.  Workplace-safety laws.  Food-safety laws.  Laws governing equal employment.  Building codes.  Tax laws.  Donald Trump must be a person of considerable ability and judgment, I reason, because he successfully built up such a big business.  And because he likes to build things, I reason that he must be a constructive person by nature, who is not fundamentally interested in blowing up buildings and people in other countries.  He must have had to deal with many different kinds of people successfully, at least well enough to get to ‘the handshake.’  Ultimately, keeping a massive corporation going depends on consistency and conformity; paradoxically it also depends on freshness and flexibility.  Has Trump been a decent ‘river to his people’?  Or has he been every bit as bad as Walmart, but just covered up his company’s misdeeds more adroitly?  I reason to myself that if he had had major problems with the law and been a really bad ‘corporate citizen,’ his rivals would have outed him already, and the laundry list of his villainies would have made him a social pariah.  (To me, the much-talked-about problems with Trump University just don’t count, for reasons made clear in item 6 below.)

3.  I also feel embarrassed listening to Donald Trump because it weirdly resembles being privy to a private conversation.  Sometimes, at press conferences or when addressing late-night crowds after a victory, Trump’s tone is oddly personal and conversational, as though nothing in particular were happening, and as though he were shooting the breeze with me over milk and cookies at the kitchen table.  He gets a dreamy tone in his voice, talking about his employees, his hotels, his ‘operations,’ or the beautiful people of some state that’s just fallen to him.  When he talks about Florida, for example, he relates it to his own history and enterprises, not the other way around.  Sometimes it’s as though we are all going to be sucked up into the aura of Donald J Trump’s beautiful empire of luxury, leaving behind the angst and grunge of these second-rate United States.  Will the golden touch of Donald Trump brush off on the likes of you and me?  This is one fantastic effect of Donald Trump speaking.

4.  But I also feel uncomfortable when Donald Trump is being ‘tough,’ when he is being ‘scandalous,’ because I’m never certain whether he’s being scandalous mainly because scandal sells.  I know I should conclude that Donald Trump is ‘dangerous’ when friends say he is, but the way Donald Trump says many things, I find it difficult to nail his tone, to conclude that he is authentically mean and hateful.  Is Donald Trump a very genial and glitzy version of a Nazi, or is he someone who uses shocking utterances to get people thinking about how the American reluctance to draw bounds around itself might have trade-offs when it comes to internal order and economic well-being?  He is nearly alone in declaring loudly and in many registers that globalism has a big downside for the US, a downside that millions of citizens keenly feel.  If Donald Trump were anything like Hitler, could the Clintons ever have been induced to attend his wedding?  And what, then, to make of his rather noble tribute to Planned Parenthood, a compassionate tribute the likes of which have not been uttered by a leading Republican for decades?

5.  What I know is that Donald Trump cares nothing about civility, a traditional standard governing political intercourse and acceptable public-sphere behavior.  What does it matter if a person running for president has never held a public office?  It means he or she has never had to practice being civil.  Civility is the quality that keeps antagonistic parties on speaking terms, and what does effective government depend on more?  Trump at a campaign rally, however, speaks as though in the privacy of a corporate sanctum.  “Get them out” is a public-sphere translation of the message, “You’re fired!”, but firing a citizen is something not even the Donald can do.  To me, the violence and hostility Trump’s speech, and his deliberate decision not to practice civility, indicate why, if elected, he might be a failure at governing.

6.  Why do none of our objections matter?  Nothing is gonna stick to Trump because he’s a charismatic leader.  More than a century ago, the German sociologist Max Weber came up with the idea of ‘charismatic authority’ to explain why, seemingly in defiance of reason, some individuals inspire a large and faithful following.  Weber noticed that the charismatic rise simply because their followers see exceptional qualities in them.  Followers repose trust in such individuals on the basis of personality, not reason.  A charismatic leader’s claims to power rest on the possession of “exceptional personal qualities or the demonstration of extraordinary insight and accomplishment,” which inspire loyalty and obedience.  This relationship of trust helps explain why many Trump supporters have not wavered since deciding to back Trump at the beginning of his campaign.  Whether his charismatic spell over voters will wane, or whether it can be converted into an effective mode of governance, remains to be seen.

7.  Repeat the phrase, ‘Checks and balances,’ whenever the thought of President Trump induces panic.  If he’s really awful, Congress will rebel and impeach his ass.

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The Feminist Gap

There was something poignant (and grotesque) about the ‘scolding’ that Madeleine Albright and Gloria Steinem gave younger American women this week.  The subject was Hillary and the support that female voters—as women—supposedly owe her.  The tone was dire yet dismissive.  Madeleine Albright, revered for her achievements as a diplomat, essentially threatened wayward women with punishment, warning that if they didn’t ‘help’ Hillary they would go to hell.  Gloria Steinem, now a shocking 81, relied on sexual stereotyping to explain why some young women have chosen to vote for Bernie.  These women, she claimed, care only about ‘where the boys are’—lemming-like, they have gravitated to Sanders because ‘the boys are with Bernie.’  In other words, young women in Sanders’ camp suffer from an out-of-control sex drive!  Both Albright and Steinem asserted in different ways that young women had forgotten their rightful duty, which, in the eyes of older feminists, is to practice sex solidarity.  This tenet, so central to first-generation feminism, is outmoded and deeply unpalatable.

The desperate awkwardness of these protests points up a problem that Hillary is having.  How does her sex, how does the women’s movement, figure in her campaign?  Hillary never was much of a bra-burner; she never wasted much time railing against society’s constraints or male tyranny.  Instead, she crossed over early, believing that doors were open and assuming that full equality and freedom were hers.  She carved out a remarkable path, relying more on her own grit and talents than on the dictates of feminist ideology.

In some profound sense, Hillary is not free to tell her story, which is that of a woman who has been more in the public eye for more of her life than any other woman in American history.  Contrary to Steinem’s assumption about the fate of women, Hillary has not ‘lost power’ as she’s aged.  Instead, Clinton is one of the most well-known and powerful women on the face of the globe.

As Clinton has grown more unusual, more distinguished, and more famous, her capacity to pass as a representative woman has inevitably waned.  The fact is one to reckon with in the remaining campaign.

Why Hillary Should Declare, “I’m Worth It”

Who can stand the sexist attacks on Hillary’s speaking fees?

The questions aim to make voters aware that, while not in office, Hillary accepted huge fees for speaking to audiences that included big banks.  Like many effective campaign tactics, however, questioning the legitimacy of her fees also serves other, less-than-creditable ends.  The questions implicitly cast aspersions on Hillary Clinton’s essential worth, on her value as a veteran stateswoman, and on the integrity of the speaking engagements themselves.  The issue is a classic ‘dog-whistle’ tuned to the frequency of the envious and chauvinistic.

The underlying assumption?  Something must be wrong because Hillary couldn’t possibly be worth that kind of money.  Thank god Hillary is running for office!  She’s giving us an opportunity to express our resentment toward women who defy social norms and out-perform men.  How dare she make that kind of money in one day?

What’s clear from Secretary Clinton’s responses is that she doesn’t feel guilty.  She doesn’t feel implicated in the banks’ decision to pay up to hear what’s in her heart and brain.  Thank goodness she isn’t apologizing for the very legitimate demand within the business community to learn from one of the nation’s most experienced leaders.

But Hillary, for the sake of all women struggling against their own glass ceilings, you must go a step further.  You must assert that your experience and perspective on American politics are unique, and that, in the eyes of the market, you deserve your fees.

You might lose the anti-capitalist vote, but you’d win the gratitude of millions of American women who are tired of being treated as though they can’t possibly be worth as much as a man.

Campaign Notes (The GOP)

The GOP-Heap after Iowa 2016, © Susan Barsy
In the wake of the Iowa caucuses, GOP candidates are dropping like flies. In a more insensitive time, they would be likened to the ten little Indians, who dwindled, through various mishaps, to the point of annihilation.

In truth, it’s fair to wonder whether at this point, with nine GOP presidential candidates remaining, they are not already annihilated.  Is any of them a nationally electable candidate?  Would the nation really elevate a Bible-thumping Ted Cruz to the presidency?  Would it tolerate having as its symbolic representative someone as indelicate and bellicose as Donald Trump? As priggish as Marco Rubio?  One senses it is already over for the Republicans—that, despite all the hubbub and incessant media attention, the party is in the throes of something ugly, something momentous, even life-threatening.

The ‘establishment’ of the Republican Party appears weak indeed.  It is being weakened cannibalistically, as hostile forces (the ‘anti-establishment’) eat away at it from inside.  Ted Cruz’s campaign manager, Rick Tyler, described the situation brilliantly in a post-Iowa interview with the Newshour‘s Gwen Ifill.  Usually, he said, ‘the establishment has one well-funded candidate, and the conservative [wing] has a lot with no money.  This time, we’re the well-funded candidate, and the establishment, there’s a lot of them, and they don’t have the money.’

The situation points up the party’s growing incapacity to influence who will become its nominee.  The national party structure is more or less irrelevant to the primary process, where individual choice and extraneous forces (ranging from mega-donors to cable networks) increasingly shape the candidate field.  The pruning of candidates is being accomplished by entities like Fox and CNN rather than by the Republican National Committee.

The fallout from Iowa, where the three top candidates garnered 75% of the vote and nine ‘trailing’ candidates split the remainder, shows the prescience of former candidate Scott Walker’s warning to his rivals back in September, when weak early poll numbers based on his debate performances prompted him to drop out.  Others should follow his lead, Walker argued, so that the party could coalesce quickly around an alternative to Trump.  Three candidates–Paul, Santorum, and Huckabee–finally quit the race this week.  By now, however, the opportunity to create an impression of unity is gone.

Be careful what you wish for.  The Republican party’s disarray and fragmentation is accelerating under the impact of  Citizens United, the ironically titled Supreme Court decision widely regarded as conferring an advantage on Republicans and the wealthy cliques selectively backing them.  Now it appears that, with outside money flowing into the campaign process unimpeded, the power of the Party to govern itself and its nominating process has been fatally weakened.  As Mr Tyler notes, candidates like Cruz, whom the establishment hates, now have the money and staying power.  There’s little to keep such creatures from claiming the party’s mantle–whether the GOP likes it or not.

Hello, 2016

Color drawing of a female ice-skater being pushed out onto the ice, her skirt and scarf flying..

A new year begins, bumpy with the legacy of all the months and years preceding.  On the brink of the presidential primary season, we see patches and hazards ahead that bear the marks of the candidates, their penchants, and those of previous presidential administrations.  We advance in a world filled with drones, guns, bombs, hotheads, and uncompromising minorities, some of these made more fearsome by government missteps or inactivity.

The deeds and failures of our political leaders and America’s most powerful citizens shape the society we must make our way in.  As we careen into January, it befits us to acknowledge the best and worst of 2015:

Biggest winner
Barack Obama, who achieved most of his agenda for 2015.
Biggest loser
Every state that has refused to expand Medicaid.

Worst politician
Rahm Emanuel, narrowly beating out Benjamin Netanyahu.
Best politician
It’s still Bill Clinton.

Most overrated
Scott Walker, once touted as the ideal GOP candidate.
Most underrated
John Kerry, America’s best statesman since Kissinger.

Most stagnant thinker
The US Congress.
Most original thinker
The creative team behind NASA’s Mars Rover.

Best political theater
Pope Francis addressing Congress.
Worst political theater
Paul Ryan’s beard.

Worst lie
That Carly Fiorina is qualified to be president.

Best photo-op
September’s blood moon.

Capitalist of the year
Amazon’s Jeff Bezos, now owner and invigorator of the Washington Post.
Turncoat of the year
Ted Cruz, now excoriating a justice he once admired.

Worst political scandal
Chicago’s cover-up of police misconduct.

Worst idea
That the US should wage war against ISIS in the Middle East.
Best idea
That everyone living in the US should have a legal status.

Boldest political tactics
Donald Trump’s.

Best government dollars spent
Investments in NASA that brought us closer than ever to Mars and Pluto.
Biggest government waste
Most of our military involvement in the Middle East.

Honorable mention
The swansongs of John Boehner and Joe Biden.

Enough already!
Obamacare repeals.

Sorry to see you go
Good-bye to the open out-cry trading pits of Chicago!

Destined for political oblivion in 2016
Marco Rubio, who has foolishly burned his bridges to the Senate.
Destined for political stardom in 2016
South Carolina governor Nikki Haley.  She is a prime pick for VP.

Image: Ethel Rundquist’s cover illustration
for the January 1916 issue of
Vanity Fair, from this source.

Could Donald Trump Become President?

Trump being interviewed after the 5th GOP debate.

Could Donald Trump become president?   The most recent GOP debate left me wondering.  Until then, I trusted that Trump’s status as Republican front-runner would evaporate when the earliest primary votes came in.  Now, I have my doubts.  Trump, who has been a candidate for just six months, gave proof in the debate that he’s learning what he must do to keep his lead and garner real votes.

Moreover, even as Trump’s field of rivals narrows, his potential as a political leader is becoming more obvious.  For better or worse, he is the lightning rod around which the energies and ideology of the party are reorganizing.  Trump may be destroying the old GOP, but, without him, the GOP would be dead.

Trump’s zenophobic views have drawn condemnation from his opponents, his party, and the media. Most continue to believe that Trump’s star will fade, leaving the nomination a battle between Ted Cruz and Marco Rubio.  But what if that isn’t true?  What if, confounding these expectations, a re-calibrated Trump continues to lead?  Not only are Trump’s tactics shifting perceptibly, but some of his ideas are beginning to seem more plausible.  Last week’s debate, which 18 million people watched, gave Trump a chance to qualify and explain the logic of his most controversial pronouncements, which collectively stand as a rebuke to the sort of political moderation that has characterized all our presidents, Democrat and Republican, since Ronald Reagan.

In the debate, Jeb Bush warned that Trump would not get to the presidency by insulting people.  In fact, Trump pointedly refrained from belittling his opponents that night: he didn’t even attack Ted Cruz (who had it coming) given the opportunity.  Likewise, most of those onstage refrained from challenging Trump directly.  As Trump pointed out, though, moderators repeatedly asked Trump’s challengers to comment on his ideas, a pattern that only confirmed his centrality.

Trump’s doggedness paid off in the skill with which he defended and refined some of his positions. Beneath his intolerable soundbites are more focused convictions, such as that the government should be tapping the nation’s best people to thwart the internet being used to promote violence and terror.  Trump believes that neighbors and families who wink at subversive terrorist behavior in the US should expect to be severely punished.

Overall, Trump (who is not a social conservative) is tapping into a frustration that the US is failing to use all the tools and resources that it has to maintain internal order and safeguard its global economic supremacy.  A natural ideologue, Trump is carving out stands on illegal immigration and domestic security that are compatible with his interest in ending economic policies and practices benefiting rival nations at the US’s expense.  Trump’s intentions jibe with the people’s desire to see the value of their citizenship restored.

So, could a toned-down Trump garner enough popular support to be president?  Like it or not, the answer is yes.  Trump, Cruz, and, yes, Jeb Bush are shaping the parameters of this epoch-making campaign.  Could any one of them defeat Hillary Clinton in the general election?

For a transcript of the debate, click here.
For a fact-check of the debate, click here.

Good TV is the front-runner, for now

People are asking what I think of the GOP race. I think the GOP lacks a strong candidate and that any analysis failing to factor in the entertainment value of the debates is seriously flawed.

The candidates are in a phase of competition now being referred to as the ‘virtual primary.’  This is rather insulting to voters, because the virtual primary doesn’t involve any voting. Instead, the media scrutinizes other measures extraneous to the democratic process to report on how candidates are supposedly faring, consulting betting pools, Nielsen ratings, fund-raising tallies, and public-opinion polls.  By these measures, Donald Trump and Ben Carson are leading, and Marco Rubio and Ted Cruz are said to be gaining. Figures like Jeb Bush and John Kasich are said to be fading, to the point of being on ‘life support.’

Significantly, however, none of the fifteen remaining GOP candidates has dropped out since Scott Walker ended his bid on September 21.  Many commentators had predicted a rash of drop-outs from among the supposedly trailing candidates come November 1.  Yet, for now, all the candidates have chosen to stick around, possibly sensing that the supposed front-runners are unelectable and that the state-by-state primary votes will check the speculative nonsense of the virtual primary.

If, in fact, Republicans vote en masse to make a character like Donald Trump, Ben Carson, or Marco Rubio their nominee, it will spell another stage in the decline of the GOP.  Old-style Republicans who believe in collaboration and the preservation of tradition will begin drifting away, looking for a way to regain their rightful preeminence as a political force.  Go-it-alone candidates like Rubio and Cruz and fringe candidates like Trump and Carson do not enjoy the support of the party mainstream.  (See David Brooks’s op-ed in the New York Times on October 13, which elicited a deluge of assent from readers disappointed in the direction of the GOP.)

In the meantime, we are witnessing proof of the entertainment value of politics.  We can’t resist the cattle-call debates, because let’s face it, they’re damn good TV: ‘good’ in the sense of being unpredictable, juicy, and tangentially relating to matters of momentous seriousness.  These are the very elements that define great drama.  The debates have a circus-like atmosphere and are analyzed in the same performative terms that the commentators would apply to a boxing match or a new theater production.

The televised competition among the GOP candidates is entertaining, fantastical, and engrossing.  The possibility of an outlandish figure like Donald Trump becoming president presents a wild challenge to our collective political imagination.  Notwithstanding his red ferret-like face and ridiculous blond comb-over, Trump demands that we take him seriously.  He plays a wild card, rudely blustering and defying political convention.  His behavior, seen in purely dramatic terms, delivers a catharsis that many disaffected Americans find refreshing.  Trump also embodies attributes that citizens long to see in a political leader: certainty and a conviction of being competent to ‘reign.’  His style is the antithesis of candidates who are ruled by dweeby advisors and focus-group wisdom.

Trump’s intrusion into politics gives us something to ponder: for, were this particularly entertaining figure to become president, the effect on our political culture would be profound.  Yet my sense is that Americans don’t want cartharsis every day.  For now, Trump and the other candidates supply a unique form of entertainment–one that will dwindle in significance as audiences turn into voters and go to the polls.

Marco Rubio’s problem

The GOP heap (after Scott Walker), © 2015 Susan Barsy

Marco Rubio’s problem?  He’s hasn’t done anything. Yes, he is skilled at talking and at winning elections, but he has a weak record of accomplishing.

Rubio is scrambling to be the GOP presidential candidate who benefits the most from Scott Walker’s dropping out of the race.  As I wrote the other day, a big factor for Republican hopefuls is where money and support drift as weaker candidates leave.  As they drop out, liberating resources, the market shares of the remaining candidates shift, reshaping the campaign.

Marco Rubio turned in a good performance at the debate.  Figures like David Brooks are talking him up.  Rubio has raised a lot of money.  He talks loudly about his opposition to the Iran nuclear deal.  In the debate, he sought to impress by talking tough on foreign policy and trotting out his immigration plan.

Look closely, and you’ll notice that Rubio is an Obama-type candidate.  His career path is remarkably similar to the president’s, whom he despises.  A brief stay in the state legislature, then Senate election, and then  . . . (before youth fades) the presidency?  Rubio’s ambition is propelling him upward before he is ready.

Meanwhile, his lack of patience and success as a senator tells us what his presidential shortcomings would be.  Rubio wishes to leave the Senate without having figured out how to score legislative victories.  He hasn’t bothered to develop the relationships or negotiating skills that our interdependent style of government makes so necessary.  Being president would minister to Rubio’s self-image, but, when it comes to serving the nation, how effective could he be?

On immigration, for instance, Rubio is cogent because he once helped sponsor an ambitious bipartisan immigration-reform bill.  This was the impressive measure the Senate passed back in 2013.  At the time, the Huffington Post heralded it as “the most significant effort in years toward overhauling the nation’s inefficient patchwork of immigration laws.”

Republican senators proved powerless, however, to bring their more uncooperative House brethren along, so the initiative that Rubio and others had worked on died.  Now Rubio is touting his own reform plan that he asserts he could make a reality.  Given a president’s dependence on Congress, it’s doubtful he could make his claim come true.  Another young president who’s a weak party leader is the last thing this nation needs.

Yet Rubio is proud of his determination to quit the Senate in hopes of snagging the presidency.  Last week, he justified his failure to attend Senate by lashing out at a wrong-headed Washington establishment.  Though he hasn’t been able to alter that establishment as a Senator, he claims he can–if only Americans give him a bigger job.

Meanwhile, in the telling area of political endorsements, his fellow Floridan, Jeb Bush, continues to lead.  FiveThirtyEight ranks Bush at the top of the list in gaining the support of other established Republicans.  Rubio is near the bottom, indicating that Republican leaders view him much more skeptically than the media does.


Transcript of Senator Rubio’s remarks on his absenteeism
(courtesy CNN):

RUBIO: . . .  I’m proud to serve in the United States Senate. You know, when I ran five years ago, the entire leadership of my party in Washington lined up against me.

But I’m glad I won. And I’m glad that I ran, because this country’s headed in the wrong direction.  And if we keep electing the same people, nothing is going to change.

And you’re right, I have missed some votes, and I’ll tell you why . . .  Because in my years in the Senate, I’ve figured out very quickly that the political establishment in Washington, D.C. in both political parties is completely out of touch with the lives of our people.

You have millions of people in this country living paycheck to paycheck, and nothing is being done about it. We are about to leave our children with $18 trillion in — in — in debt, and they’re about to raise the debt limit again.

We have a world that grows increasingly dangerous, and we are eviscerating our military spending and signing deals with Iran. And these — if this thing continues, we are going to be the first Americans to leave our children worse off than ourselves.

That’s why I’m missing votes. Because I am leaving the Senate, I’m not running for re-election, and I’m running for president because I know this: unless we have the right president, we cannot make America fulfill its potential, but with the right person in office, the 21st century can be the greatest era that our nation has ever known.

A death pool for GOP candidates

The GOP heap (September 17, 2015)
The main question lingering after the CNN debate is which of the GOP presidential candidates will drop out next.  The question seems idle, but dropouts redistribute support to those remaining in the field.  Only after 5 or 6 more candidates drop out will we have a meaningful sense of the prospects of the remaining candidates.

Those most likely to drop out are the people we tend to forget are even running, like Rick Santorum and George Pataki.  Along with them, Huckabee, Jindal, Graham, Cruz, and perhaps even Rand Paul are looking highly vulnerable.

A company called Pivit runs a Political Prediction Market that includes a crowd-sourced ‘death pool’ on the candidates.  Anyone can register and weigh in, thereby affecting the real-time odds.

The question is, which candidates will benefit most as some of the lesser candidates drop out?  And would any of these candidates have fared better in a real primary than they have in mere opinion polls?  At this point, much of the public sentiment regarding the candidates derives from the sheer entertainment value of politics.

The strenuous character of Wednesday’s debate shows every sign of winnowing the field.  The odds of Donald Trump gaining the nomination have faded substantially overnight, as I noted in yesterday’s post.

Click here to view the real-time GOP odds.

The GOP candidates debate on CNN

I expect Donald Trump’s support to wane slightly after last night’s debate.  Of the eleven Republican presidential candidates to appear, several of his rivals are likely to gain.

Jeb Bush, Carly Fiorina, Rand Paul, and Marco Rubio pulled out strong performances; Chris Christie had some effective moments, too.

Scott Walker was allowed plenty of airtime but came off as bland; Mick Huckabee came across as pleading for our indulgence (he had least business being on the stage).  Ben Carson lost ground by relying too much on low-energy generalities.  Kasich had one or two strong moments but relied too much on his record of performance in Ohio and the Senate.  The demand was for vision, and a sharp take on policy.

The moderator, Jake Tapper, with occasional questions from Dana Bash and radio personality Hugh Hewitt, did a great job of keeping the three-hour debate focused.  It was a strenuous format.  Candidates were called on unpredictably.  Tapper shifted the topic of debate often and quickly, sometimes arbitrarily cutting off comfortable discussions.  By and large, candidates spoke spontaneously and avoided boring set speeches.  Ted Cruz and Scott Walker were the worst when it came to spontaneity.  Cruz, of all the major candidates, is the most personally unappealing.  And, although Fiorina came across as powerful and poised, she fell back on rehearsed remarks too much, both in her discussion of the military and in the closing.

It was fascinating to hear how the candidates varied.  Their discussions of the legalization of marijuana, of the consequences of US’s military involvement in Iraq, the Iran nuclear deal, immigration reform, and the role of the Supreme Court under John Roberts, were particularly revealing.  Only Rand Paul and Ben Carson resolutely refrained from saber-rattling.  The other candidates vied to out-do one another with violent promises.  Scott Walker promised that if elected President, he would undo the nuclear deal with Iran ‘on day one.’  Fiorina likewise asserted that we should have no dealings whatever with Vladimir Putin, a position that Bush, Trump, and Paul all used to draw a contrast.  Several of the candidates invoked Reagan, insisting that the US is strongest when engaged diplomatically with the world’s scariest players.

Trump claimed that he would restore respect for America and ‘get along with everybody,’ but, when asked about his limited knowledge of foreign affairs, said only that he would put together a first-rate team.  Bush pleaded, more effectively than did Kasich, for a foreign policy committed to multilateralism and steady global engagement.  When one of Bush’s rivals tried to attack his brother’s record after 9-11, Bush’s simple response, ‘he kept us safe,’ drew sustained applause.

Cruz’s worst moment came when he tried to disavow his one-time support for John Roberts, whom he now depicts as an arch-enemy.  Trump’s worst moment came when he tried to compliment Carly on her beauty.  He also failed to summon a convincing reply when Bush accused him of having tried to get concessions on casino gambling from Hillary after giving her campaign money.

Bush’s best moments came when he admitted having smoking pot forty years ago, when he argued for a nuanced approach to immigration, and when, in the debate’s closing moments, he threw out the goal of propelling the US toward a high-growth-rate economy.  Marco Rubio showed his command of a rational immigration reform plan, but looked callow when he proclaimed that he had missed votes in the Senate because (essentially) the entire direction of Congress is mistaken.  His announced determination to leave the Senate in order to seek the presidency shows how unprepared to be president he really is.

All in all, the debate was refreshing in its breadth and intensity.  In the press of competition, the candidates, desperate to differentiate themselves from one another, came across quite candidly.  The bracing back-and-forth of this, the second GOP debate, casts into relief the dangerously lackluster character of the Democratic field.   A Democratic contest between Hillary and Bernie is going to make for poor entertainment indeed.  For now, the energy is with GOP field.