From Hanover, N.H., five things we learned from Tuesday's Republican debate on the economy
HANOVER, N.H. -- Five takeaways from the GOP debate:
1. So much for the big Perry comeback. Coming off a streak of debate performances so notably shaky that they threatened to torpedo his high-flying campaign, the Texas governor needed to rally in a big way. His advisers promised he was getting more practice -- and more sleep -- in order to turn things around.
It didn't work.
Perry stammered through his answers, missed obvious gimmes and seemed strangely absent from much of the discussion.
Late in the debate, Perry got perhaps the biggest fat pitch of the night: a question about Solyndra, the bankrupt solar-energy firm that has become conservatives' touchstone for Obama administration incompetence. Instead of teeing off on the president, environmentalists and pork-barrel spending, Perry replied, "Well, I don't think the federal government should be involved in that type of investment, period. If states want to choose to do that, I think that's fine." It was the perfect cue for the moderator's follow-up on similar projects funded by a controversial Texas investment office -- and though Perry has been defending that for years in debates back home, he had trouble clearly explaining it.
Early on, Perry noted his short time in the race compared to two-time candidate Mitt Romney: "Mitt has had six years to be working on a plan. I have been in this for about eight weeks." It seemed like he was making excuses -- and not very convincing ones considering his nearly three decades in public life.
With all the training he's supposedly done, Perry's campaign now faces a proposition that, if true, would be insurmountable: It's not the preparation that's the problem. It's the candidate.
2. Romney is in command. The former Massachusetts governor has an assurance, deftness and poise that have eluded him at the beginning of his presidential-candidate career more than four years ago. Maybe it's practice. Maybe it's the delicious feeling of his solidifying front-runner status. Maybe it's the lingering glow, and instructive aggressiveness, of his big endorsement from New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie earlier Tuesday.
The Mitt Romney of 2007 tended to get impatient and flustered when confronted. This Romney stays cool and doesn't take slights personally. Most important, he seems to be in his comfort zone: He's not afraid to be the smart guy, the geek, the Harvard Business School guy. That's what he's running on now. The voters who prefer heart to head have been written off as unwinnable.
Romney was willing to venture into very dangerous territory -- defending the Bush administration's much-reviled financial-system rescue. He name-dropped academic economists both alive (Greg Mankiw) and dead (Milton Friedman). He spoke in favor of progressive taxation. He mounted a nerdily stirring justification of complexity against Herman Cain's 9-9-9 tax plan, which he deemed overly simplistic: "Herman, I have had the experience in my life of taking on some tough problems, and I must admit that simple answers are always helpful, but oftentimes inadequate."
Romney even went on offense on health care, his biggest conservative heresy, touting himself as the only candidate to propose a reform plan for once Obamacare is repealed, as they all have sworn to do.
3. They're gunning for Herman Cain next. Cain has floated to a healthy second place in numerous national polls, picking up steam based on his personal charisma, his business background and Perry's crash to earth. His "9-9-9" plan was mentioned so often in the debate you'd think it was American voters' No. 1 concern rather than an obscure -- and, it turns out, intermediate -- plot to dynamite the tax code.
Cain showed how he got this far: He's quick on his feet and likable. To a moderator's assertion that his plan wouldn't raise enough tax revenue to fund the government, he replied -- without snapping or growling -- "The problem with that analysis is that it is inaccurate," drawing a big laugh. He patiently endured the other candidates' condescension, such as when Jon Huntsman said he "thought [9-9-9] was the price of a pizza when I first heard about it." After the debate, Cain appeared in person in the spin room, drawing a huge media throng and showing he's able, and unafraid, to face questions.
But Cain also showed signs he'll have trouble as the probing deepens now that he's in a competitive position. He named as his chief economic adviser an Ohio wealth manager who is not a trained economist. He said he had two candidates in mind to head the Federal Reserve, but refused to name them. And his praise for Alan Greenspan, coupled with his onetime service on the Federal Reserve Board of Kansas City, are likely to alienate some of his tea-party supporters as they come to light.
4. It's crowded in the second tier. With Romney seeming to pull away from the pack and hope fading for Perry, the would-be giant-killer, a vacuum has been created, and we know how nature feels about those.
Even as the media were rushing to anoint Cain as the new No. 2, there was a sense he wouldn't own the spot for long based on the boom-and-bust cycles of Perry and Michele Bachmann before him. Bachmann also had a good debate, showcasing her command of policy with answers that drew on her experience in Congress. So did Newt Gingrich, whose campaign is staffing up in key states and hoping for a rebirth. So did Rick Santorum, who's proven over and over that he's the field's most adept verbal combatant, skilled at spotting the logical flaw in an opponent's argument -- and fierce in calling him on it. So did Ron Paul, who got served softballs on Fed policy without getting drawn into his less orthodox views on foreign policy. Even Huntsman, who's been gaining in New Hampshire, had a decent debate.
"There is a sort of intramural going on between all the non-Romney [candidates]," observed Perry strategist Dave Carney. "Very few Cain people are going to be for Romney when it comes down to it. ... All voters are shopping around right now. They'll light on a name, but most of them are not going to lie down in front of a bus for anybody."
5. Broad agreement on economics. After the last few intensely acrimonious debates, Tuesday's was marked by broad comity -- probably because it was exclusively focused on economic issues.
Sure, there was sniping. But the social and cultural issues that cause so much intensely personal friction, like immigration and religion, weren't in the mix. And foreign policy, where the candidates have real disagreements, didn't much enter in either, though Romney's plan to confront China on trade drew a substantive rebuke from Huntsman, the former ambassador to Beijing.
For the most part, though, they endorsed each other's points, extended each other's arguments and echoed each other's ideas. At one point at the end of the debate, while Gingrich was talking, Bachmann chimed in to feed him lines that would help his argument, smiling and nodding, "I agree, I agree."
This is, after all, the field of candidates who all agreed that they would not raise taxes even if offered a bargain whereby 10 times as much would be cut from government as the amount of new revenue raised. When it comes to economics, they may disagree about the means, but they agree on the ends -- reduce the size of government, don't raise taxes.
And of course, they agree on the ultimate end: Get rid of a once-popular president made vulnerable by a staggering economy.
The Fox host’s insistence that black laborers building the White House were “well-fed and had decent lodgings” fits in a long history of insisting the “peculiar institution” wasn’t so bad.
In her widely lauded speech at the Democratic National Convention on Monday, Michelle Obama reflected on the remarkable fact of her African American family living in the executive mansion. “I wake up every morning in a house that was built by slaves. And I watch my daughters, two beautiful, intelligent, black young women, playing with their dogs on the White House lawn,” she said.
On Tuesday, Fox News host Bill O’Reilly discussed the moment in his Tip of the Day. In a moment first noticed by the liberal press-tracking group Media Matters, O’Reilly said this:
As we mentioned, Talking Points Memo, Michelle Obama referenced slaves building the White House in referring to the evolution of America in a positive way. It was a positive comment. The history behind her remark is fascinating. George Washington selected the site in 1791, and as president laid the cornerstone in 1792. Washington was then running the country out of Philadelphia.
Slaves did participate in the construction of the White House. Records show about 400 payments made to slave masters between 1795 and 1801. In addition, free blacks, whites, and immigrants also worked on the massive building. There were no illegal immigrants at that time. If you could make it here, you could stay here.
In 1800, President John Adams took up residence in what was then called the Executive Mansion. It was only later on they named it the White House. But Adams was in there with Abigail, and they were still hammering nails, the construction was still going on.
Slaves that worked there were well-fed and had decent lodgings provided by the government, which stopped hiring slave labor in 1802. However, the feds did not forbid subcontractors from using slave labor. So, Michelle Obama is essentially correct in citing slaves as builders of the White House, but there were others working as well. Got it all? There will be a quiz.
The billionaire former New York mayor denounced the Republican nominee as a “dangerous demagogue” and a “risky, reckless, and radical choice.”
Michael Bloomberg, a brand-name billionaire far wealthier than Donald Trump, a famously independent voter who derides both the Democratic and Republican parties, endorsed Hillary Clinton on Wednesday and called Trump a “risky, radical and reckless choice” for president.
“Let’s elect a sane, competent person,” he said.
The normally soft-spoken owner of Bloomberg financial-news service excoriated his fellow New Yorker, labeling him a “dangerous demagogue,” a hypocrite, a con, and—slashing at the core of Trump’s self-worth—a horrible businessman.
“Throughout his career,” Bloomberg said in his prime-time address. “Trump has left behind a well-documented record of bankruptcies and thousands of lawsuits and angry shareholders and contractors who feel cheated and disillusioned customers who feel ripped off. Trump says he wants to run the nation like he’s run his business. God help us!”
His call on a foreign government to hack Hillary Clinton’s email account is a complete subversion of GOP ideals.
The first excuse for Donald Trump’s amazing press conference on Wednesday, in which he called on the Russians to hack and publish the 30,000 emails wiped from Hillary Clinton’s home server, was: He was only joking.
That excuse almost immediately dissolved. When Trump was asked by CNN’s Jim Acosta whether he would call on Vladimir Putin to stay out of U.S. elections, the presidential nominee answered that he would not tell Putin what to do. After the conference ended, Trump tweeted out a slightly tidied up request to the Russians to find Clinton’s emails—but to hand them over to the FBI rather than publish them.
The second excuse, produced on Twitter minutes later by Newt Gingrich, is that Trump’s remark, while possibly unfortunate, mattered less than Clinton’s careless handling of classified material on her server. That defense seems likely to have more staying power than the first—about which, more in a minute.
Biology textbooks tell us that lichens are alliances between two organisms—a fungus and an alga. They are wrong.
In 1995, if you had told Toby Spribille that he’d eventually overthrow a scientific idea that’s been the stuff of textbooks for 150 years, he would have laughed at you. Back then, his life seemed constrained to a very different path. He was raised in a Montana trailer park, and home-schooled by what he now describes as a “fundamentalist cult.” At a young age, he fell in love with science, but had no way of feeding that love. He longed to break away from his roots and get a proper education.
At 19, he got a job at a local forestry service. Within a few years, he had earned enough to leave home. His meager savings and non-existent grades meant that no American university would take him, so Spribille looked to Europe.
The Republican presidential nominee appeared to suggest he’d recognize Russia’s annexation of the Ukrainian territory in 2014.
Donald Trump’s call on Russia to hack Hillary Clinton’s emails Wednesday resulted in widespread criticism. But his comments on Crimea, coupled with ones he made last week on NATO, are likely to have greater significance if he is elected president in November.
The question came from Mareike Aden, a German reporter, who asked him whether a President Trump would recognize Crimea as Russian and lift sanctions on Moscow imposed after its 2014 annexation of the Ukrainian territory. The candidate’s reply: “Yes. We would be looking at that.”
That response is likely to spread much cheer through Russia—already buoyant about the prospect of a Trump victory in November. But it could spread at least an equal amount of dread in the former Soviet republics. In a matter of two weeks, the man who could become the next American president has not only questioned the utility of NATO, thereby repudiating the post-World War II security consensus, he also has seemingly removed whatever fig leaf of protection from Russia the U.S. offered the post-Soviet republics and Moscow’s former allies in the Eastern bloc.
A former NATO general imagines a frightening scenario.
In 2014, shortly after Russia forcefully intervened in Ukraine and admitted Crimea into the Russian Federation, Richard Shirreff stepped down as NATO’s deputy supreme allied commander Europe, one of the highest-ranking positions in the military alliance. The British general proceeded to do something highly unusual. He criticized the government he once served, arguing that Britain’s cuts to defense spending were “one hell of a risk” at a time of renewed Russian aggression. Next, he wrote a startling account of what might follow from the failure of the United Kingdom and many of its NATO allies to, in his view, sufficiently invest in countering the Kremlin militarily. He describes the account as a “work of fiction,” but also a “realistic” and “urgent” warning.
Narcissism, disagreeableness, grandiosity—a psychologist investigates how Trump’s extraordinary personality might shape his possible presidency.
In 2006, Donald Trump made plans to purchase the Menie Estate, near Aberdeen, Scotland, aiming to convert the dunes and grassland into a luxury golf resort. He and the estate’s owner, Tom Griffin, sat down to discuss the transaction at the Cock & Bull restaurant. Griffin recalls that Trump was a hard-nosed negotiator, reluctant to give in on even the tiniest details. But, as Michael D’Antonio writes in his recent biography of Trump, Never Enough, Griffin’s most vivid recollection of the evening pertains to the theatrics. It was as if the golden-haired guest sitting across the table were an actor playing a part on the London stage.
“It was Donald Trump playing Donald Trump,” Griffin observed. There was something unreal about it.
The Republican nominee publicly asked a foreign government to leak emails from a cabinet secretary, dismissed the Geneva Conventions, and seemed confused about where Tim Kaine came from.
Just when it starts to seem that Donald Trump can’t surprise the jaded American media anymore, the Republican nominee manages to go just a little bit further.
During a press conference Wednesday morning that was bizarre even by Trump’s standards, he praised torture, said the Geneva Conventions were obsolete, contradicted his earlier position on a federal minimum wage, and told a reporter to “be quiet.”
But the strangest comments, easily, came when Trump was asked about allegations that Russian hackers had broken into the email of the Democratic National Convention—as well as further suggestions that Vladimir Putin’s regime might be trying to aid Trump, who has praised him at length. Trump cast doubt on Russia’s culpability, then said he hoped they had hacked Hillary Clinton’s messages while she was secretary of state.
Since tough questioning has failed to hold the candidate accountable, broadcast outlets need to apply pressure where it counts—to Trump’s ego.
The media is nothing if it can’t hold a presidential candidates accountable—if newsrooms and editorialists can’t force a White House aspirant to keep a promise, uphold precedent, and address suspicions that he’s a tool of Moscow.
Journalism is a joke if we let Donald Trump slide.
And so I have an idea for CNN, MSNBC, FOX News and the three broadcast networks:
Stop interviewing Trump, and stop paying his surrogates, until he releases his tax records.
I don’t make this proposal lightly. I understand as well as anybody that interviewing presidential candidates is an important way to inform the public, especially when the questioning is objective, tough, and revealing of the candidate’s character and policies.