January 29, 2016


ARE RUMORS OF JEB!'S DEATH GREATLY EXAGGERATED? (Matthew Dickinson, 1/28/16, Presidential Power)

 In a reminder that Jeb! has the backing of much of the Republican Party establishment (he still leads all Republican candidates in endorsements), he was introduced by former New Hampshire Governor, and later Senator, Judd Gregg. Gregg noted that he supported Jeb! for three reasons: he can win the general election, he knows the issues, and he will be able to govern by working with the opposition.

Jeb! then took the floor and, after thanking New Hampshire voters for taking this process so seriously he introduced his wife Columba. Although spouses and family often figure in candidates' campaign speeches, this was the first event we attended in which the candidate spouse was there in person. Jeb! recounted how he felt like he had been struck by "a lightning bolt" when he first met Columba (presumably in a good way) and that he thereafter divided his life into BC (Before Columba) and AC (After). "I recommend love at first sight," he gushed. (Note: all quotes are based on contemporaneous tweets and notes taken during the talk and may be slightly paraphrased.)

He then launched into his campaign spiel. "I admit it. I'm a policy wonk," he began, before referencing his website.  Like many Republican candidates, but in contrast to the Democrats, the first policy issue he addressed was the war on terror. After noting that the country was on the wrong track, he referenced a recent speech he gave at the Citadel (the South Carolina military academy) in which he promised the cadets that, as President, he "would have their backs." That meant rebuilding the military by increasing troops levels to 400,000, improving force readiness ("one half don't reach that level now", modernizing the air force ("many of our planes are older than the pilots"), reforming military procurement, but also caring for our returning veterans (a theme he returned to later in the talk). The world, he argued, needs the U.S. to take a leadership role, but "our current president is leading from behind." Jeb! noted that disagreeing with the President's military policy did not make him a "war monger" or an advocate for "occupation" in the Mideast. Instead, he was following the Reagan-Bush principle of "peace through strength" which he contrasted with the "Obama-Clinton" foreign policy. He also took a shot at Clinton for her lack of transparency regarding Benghazi and her "What difference does it make?" comment designed to push back against congressional inquiries into what happened there.

Jeb then moved to domestic politics, arguing that the country needed someone who could "change the culture" in Washington, DC and "build consensus." "I've stopped watching cable television," he noted, to applause, "except for football." (Here he made the obligatory positive reference to Tom Brady and the Patriots.) To change that culture, he advocated for term limits ("It works in Florida"), and the line-item veto ("In Florida, they called me 'Veto Corleone'"). He cited his record as governor, noting a 30% increase in general revenues even though Florida "has no income tax", and an increase in the state's bond rating to AAA under his leadership. "We made government live within its mean," he boasted. He went on to advocate fixing the federal tax code, pushing for regulatory reform and encouraging energy development. "We need to make government smaller and more accountable."

Bush then finished by describing his leadership ethos, and indirectly contrasting it with Trump's. He has "a servant's heart" which he said signified strength, not weakness. In contrast, he noted, it is not a position of strength to disparage "women, Hispanics" and a "war hero" like John McCain. Nor is "insulting the disabled." He finished on an uplifting theme, arguing that "life is a gift from God...divinely inspired" and that we need to work together to create more prosperity, love and concern for others, and the freedom to pursue one's dream. "Don't believe the cable shows," he urged his audience, noting that New Hampshire voters, who take their role seriously, can make a difference in this election. He concluded by "humbly asking for your support."

In all, his opening remarks took maybe 15 minutes. The remaining 50 minute or so was spent answering questions, which covered issues ranging from early child care (Bush noted that in Florida pre-K attendance is the highest in the country, and he advocated shifting educational revenues from federal control to block grants to states); the role of nuclear weapons (Here Bush noted Trump's evident ignorance regarding what the nuclear triad referred to and, while acknowledging that a nuclear-free world is a laudable aspiration, argued that "we can't unilaterally disarm" in the face of nuclear dangers from North Korea, Pakistan and Iran); and income inequality.  To this last question Bush argued that, "It's not income inequality that is the concern ...the challenge is to encourage economic mobility" which can be done through policies designed to encourage marriage - "encouraging marriage is not politically incorrect" - increasing the reward for work - "median income is down $2,300 since Obama became president" - and improving opportunity by reforming education. To improve the economy, Bush would repeal Obamacare and replace it with a system that focuses on catastrophic coverage and empowers consumers to make cost-conscious health decisions, rather than imposing costs on employers as is now the case. He would also double the middle-income tax exemption as part of his simplification of the tax code.

The Seventh Republican Debate (DANIEL LARISON, January 29, 2016, American Conservative)

The frontrunner might have been wise to skip the debate after all. While he held a dueling event across town, Ted Cruz and Marco Rubio were confronted with video montages of their past statements on immigration, putting them each on the defensive about a contentious issue that has been elevated to new heights in the Trump era.

Both Cruz and Rubio were forced to answer for their past slipperiness and opportunism on immigration, and neither of them handled it especially well. Rubio's performance was jittery and agitated, and he spoke even more quickly than he usually does. Cruz seemed to disappear for long stretches of the debate, though he and Rubio had the most speaking time by far. Bush had a surprisingly good night, and even scored a few hits on Rubio for abandoning the Gang of Eight bill. He echoed Lindsey Graham in saying that Rubio had "cut and run" during the debate over the bill, which had the virtue of being both true and embarrassing for Rubio. The change from his previous debate performances suggests that Bush is able to do fine among conventional politicians, but he has no idea how to handle or respond to Trump.

Posted by at January 29, 2016 10:55 AM