Thursday, October 29, 2015

Your GOP Primary Power Rankings: Debate Number 3

By Joe Parello (@HerewegoJoe)

The first GOP Debate was great television, the second was a marathon, and the third one left us all pondering one question: Why are ALL of these people still running?

Since we last left our heroes, Wisconsin governor Scott Walker has left the fray, but there are still 10 Republican hopefuls fighting it out on the big stage for the party's nomination (plus a few more polling at under 1 percent who were not invited to the big kid debate).

At the top of the polls sit a megalomaniacal billionaire who may actually be Lex Luthor, and our new leader, a brain surgeon who speaks like he has just been put under general anesthesia.

Basically, 48% of likely Republican voters are currently throwing in with two guys that have zero political experience, and have said some zany things these past few months, and that's in a poll where 13% of respondents said "nobody" or that they were undecided.

Maybe that's why every candidate is thinking, "if I can just hang around long enough until a few more people drop out, I'll have the chance to be heard, and then they'll realize I'm a better choice."

Unfortunately, everyone thinks that, and we still have an overly crowded field, where many candidates are parroting each other on most issues, then spending the rest of the debates engaging in sophomoric personal attacks. That's a problem.

Did I say problem? Sorry, I actually meant to say "amazing TV that simultaneously cracks me up and terrifies me."

Needless to say, there was some good television to be made in this third debate, but also political points to be scored. With seven candidates polling between four and seven percent, there was clearly some room for a move to be made, and for a more "traditional" candidate to make a push into the Donald Trump/Ben Carson sphere.

Someone may just have done it.

Ed. Note- Our poll numbers come from a CBS News/New York Times poll released Tuesday.

10. Mike Huckabee

Pre-Debate Poll Numbers: 4%

At one point in the debate Huckabee got to speak… Then we remembered why nobody was asking him anything. This guy's Evangelical act has gone stale in a party full of social uber-conservatives, and he really doesn't have much else to offer. Chances are, there aren't going to be many more Kim Davises to keep him in the spotlight, and even if there are, it won't be enough to give him more than a momentary bump.

9. Chris Christie

Pre-Debate Poll Numbers: 1%

Christie's campaign is on life support, and he hypothetically debated Hillary Clinton so much Wednesday night that someone should probably tell him how this process works. Either way, there were several occasions where Christie let us know why he's not going to win, but the most glaring to me was during the discussion of Daily Fantasy Sports.

Christie dismissed this as "we're talking about fantasy football?!?!" in an attempt to be the "rational" one in the room but, as usual, he missed the point. The question was a larger one about whether the Federal Government should regulate a multi-billion dollar industry that has the smoke of insider trading rising from it.

To simply dismiss it as a game people should be allowed to play clearly shows that Christie either doesn't understand what Daily Fantasy is, or he doesn't think there should be any debate about gambling regulation or insider trading. Should the Federal Government regulate gaming, or should we continue to leave it up to the states? Should we regulate it at all, or let the "invisible hand of the market" guide gambling? Or, should we take the gun control approach of "people are going to gamble either way, so why regulate it?"

Considering he's the governor of a state that saw Atlantic City fall apart after the closing of several casinos, you would think he would have more to say about this subject, but maybe he was just trying to have the "I'm a common sense guy" moment of the debate.

In the end, all it did was show he isn't ready for prime time.

8. Jeb Bush

Pre-Debate Poll Numbers: 7%

It's pretty amazing how poorly Jeb Bush is doing considering A. He's a freaking Bush. Like, his daddy and bro-ski were both Presidents. B. He leads the field in campaign funds raised, and C. He's the former governor of a swing state.

Truly, nobody is doing less with more than Jeb, but it's not all his fault. Donald Trump, the campaign's resident bully and "so bad he's good" comedian, has made it his mission to destroy poor Jeb. Whether he's calling him low energy or bringing up Jeb's brother's failures, Trump is always putting Bush on the defensive.

In an attempt to flip the script, Jeb came out on the offensive at the beginning of last night's debate, launching a clearly rehearsed attack at Marco Rubio for missing votes while running his campaign.

But the punch didn't land, and Jeb's facial expression almost screamed "I really thought that was going to go better for me." The rest of his night didn't go much better.

Now, there's no chance in hell Bush drops out. He has too much money and support, but he's going to need to do something drastic, because he's losing ground to Rubio in the race for "highest polling guy with experience," and the rest of the field out-performed him tonight.

He was the saddest guy on the stage.

7. Carly Fiorina

Pre-Debate Poll Numbers: 7%

Carly debuted with a bang in the first JV debate, and performed pretty well in her varsity debut in the second GOP debate. Wednesday she was… There? I don't know, she didn't really say anything memorable we hadn't heard before, but she didn't screw up either. She has the outsider thing going for her, and she made some claims about women in the job market that were based on numbers used horrendously out of context and with zero statistical scrutiny.

That being said, pretty much everyone was talking out of their ass when it came to numbers (we'll get to Ben Carson's tax plan later), so I'll say she's treading water and hoping to outlast the field.

6. Rand Paul

Pre-Debate Poll Numbers: 4%

Rand Paul had the one true bipartisan moment of the night when he said the problem with Medicare wasn't Republicans or Democrats, it was demographics. The program just doesn't work with a population getting older and older, thanks to a massive baby boomer generation and advancements in modern medicine. To be fair, Christie made a similar point, but Paul did it through the lens of Libertarianism, which I think actually gives him a chance to transcend parties among young voters.

That said, he's running out of time to make a splash, and his "offensive" game plan was a mixed bag Wednesday. Still, he's in the mix, which is about all he could have hoped for a month ago.

5. John Kasich

Pre-Debate Poll Numbers: 4%

Kasich began the debate criticizing what he believed to be "crazy" ideas from the race's front runners, slamming Trump for his plan to deport 10 to 11 million undocumented immigrants and Carson's plan to replace Medicare with a government assisted yearly savings account.

His opening statement sounded like a man that knew he had no chance of winning the race, but was pleading to the electorate to just be reasonable. He then drew the ire of Trump who said Ohio was only profitable because of fracking (did he forget about LeBron?), and that Kasich was on the board of Lehman Brothers just before the financial collapse of 2008 (he wasn't, oops).

His night started hot as he came out aggressive and pulling no punches, but somewhere along the way he got lost in the crowd and never really made a novel point after the 20-minute mark.

He remains a viable general election candidate: A well-spoken moderate from a swing state with both government and private sector experience. Not to mention an "American dream" backstory, complete with growing up in an industrial town outside of Pittsburgh (Pennsylvania is, like, a swing state too).

But with the current political climate, Kasich is buried beneath a horde of candidates screaming about Planned Parenthood and gay wedding cakes. The sad thing is: Kasich knows he'd have a puncher's chance, even against a political beast like Hillary Clinton, but he also knows he'll never get that chance.

His opening statement was his airing of that frustration, and perhaps, his first wave of the white flag.

4. Ted Cruz

Pre-Debate Poll Numbers: 4%

You've gotta give Ted Cruz credit, he finds ways to make a splash. This time it was "calling out" the debate moderators for asking leading questions, and questions that would cause the candidates to clash. They were, of course, doing that. This is a debate, after all, and one taking place in a race that has been defined by personal attacks and tough talk.

Regardless, Cruz took the CNBC crew to task for not discussing the issues of the day, and actually defended his fellow candidates, drawing a thunderous applause from the audience. It all sort of reeked of political showmanship, but the man knows how to appeal to his base, and he should get a nice bump following this performance.

Things may not seem peachy yet, but if/when "outsider" candidates like Trump, Carson (who shares an ideological base with Cruz) and Fiorina fade, Cruz has positioned himself well to snag all the "hard right" votes and truly contend for the nomination.

3. Ben Carson

Pre-Debate Poll Numbers: 26%

As I wrote on Twitter last night, I just don't get the appeal of Ben Carson.

For Trump, I get it. He's a billionaire that speaks his mind, doesn't take crap from anybody, talks tough and is a whole lot of fun on top of it.

Carson is… Uh, a nice guy, a Christian and a good surgeon.

That's about it, and if you thought there was some brilliance hiding in there that we had yet to hear, he sure didn't bring it out Wednesday.

When discussing his 10% flat tax, which Kasich called "fantasy" and the moderators pointed out would require a 40% cut in government spending, Carson changed his story and claimed it would be closer to a 15% flat tax, and said some stuff about "stimulating the economy," which is always the go-to buzz term when you really don't have an answer for how America can afford to not tax people or tax them much less.

He later was questioned about his relationship with Mannatech, a Texas-based medical supplement company that had made controversial claims to "cure" cancer, autism and Down Syndrome with a pill made of larch tree bark and aloe.

Of course, Carson said this relationship was "total propaganda," and cautioned us to not believe everything we hear from the media, reiterating that "it is absolutely absurd to say that I had any kind of relationship with them."

He then he admitted to being paid for speeches by Mannatech (uh, he may not have been an employee, but that's a relationship), and gave a quick plug for the company, saying he uses the supplement and that it's a great product.


But wait, it gets worse. It's also pretty clear from this video from 2011 that Carson has been more than just a hired speaker for Mannatech. The company also at least partially financed an endowed chair for the renowned neurosurgeon at Johns Hopkins Medical School.

His campaign has since said that statement was an honest mistake, but it should be noted that Carson made the statement as a keynote speaker at the 2011 Mannatech convention, and that Mannatech pulled the video from its website recently, at the request of Carson's campaign, as Carson was taking heat for associating with the company.

So, to recap, Carson can't do the basic math to make his tax plan work, even in the broad and theoretical sense. He also has no political experience, walks the tightrope of being one of the world's finest surgeons, while denying basic science (evolution and climate change) at every turn, makes listeners take occasional cat naps when he's speaking, and may be a hired shill for a snake oil selling supplement producer…

But hey, he's a nice guy, a Christian and a good surgeon. That should make up for the rest of it.

2. Marco Rubio

Pre-Debate Poll Numbers: 8%

So, are you getting the feeling this is Rubio's race to lose? I sure am.

The guy seems to check off all the boxes. He's a young, energetic, somewhat moderate (in this race, that isn't saying much, but still) minority from a swing state.

On top of that, Rubio may have been the most impressive debater in all three debates, including Wednesday's, where he shook off an early Bush attack, snidely responding "... the only reason you're attacking me is someone has convinced you that attacking me will help you," and actually put his absentee Senate numbers into historical context.

I mean, a Republican candidate putting numbers into context, or discussing them in a statistically relevant way should be cause for celebration in itself, but Rubio is also coming off as likable, yet unafraid of a fight. He's hitting the political sweet spot, and when things shake out, we could see him challenging for the White House next year. 

1. Donald Trump

Pre-Debate Poll Numbers: 22%

But come on, this thing is gonna be about Trump until he inevitably drops out and tells us the whole race was an elaborate practical joke.

Also, who says the Donald can't play from behind? In his first debate not leading the polls, Trump was as aggressive as ever (though in limited time), but also played nice with new leader Ben Carson. He also took his shots at the mainstream media and the moderators from CNBC.

Now, he never actually discussed ANYTHING about how he was going to make good on all his ridiculous claims, but he did mock CNBC for caving to his demands for a shorter debate right in front of their faces.

I tell ya, the Donald is doing so much winning, he may be getting bored of winning.

Oh, and he said he was going to begin allowing guns at Trump resorts, or something like that. Looks like my round of golf in Palm Beach just got a lot more interesting!

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