Laslo Boyd: The Alternative Universe of Republican Presidential Candidates

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The only way to have a chance of understanding the strange dynamics of the Republican process for selecting a presidential nominee is to remember who votes in the early primaries.  Candidates are pitching their appeals to a group that isn’t close to the mainstream of American politics.  The crazy positions they take today are likely to make the eventual winner unelectable in the November 2016 General Election.

Consider also that the two current frontrunners, Donald Trump and Ben Carson, must be astonished that they are still being taken seriously.  Neither really believes he can win the nomination, so each of them lacks the normal constraints of someone trying to establish a broad based coalition of supporters.  Neither Trump nor Carson is a serious candidate in that neither has put in the hard work needed to understand the issues facing the country and develop coherent responses to those issues.

Trump is a loud and often obnoxious bundle of ego who has not offered a single specific idea relevant to governing the country.  His best-known talking point, building a wall between the United States and Mexico, makes no sense as public policy even if he had a way to build it.  His other refrain is that he’s a great negotiator, which misses the point that the job of a president involves much more that negotiating.  The extent to which he is the lazy man’s candidate was demonstrated again at the last debate where he denied saying something that was in fact on his campaign web site.

Carson’s understated persona, the exact opposite of Trump, apparently appeals to some conservatives despite the fact that he, too, has offered little of substance.  His campaign has consisted largely of hateful and ignorant statements which show no evidence that he has the slightest clue as to what is involved in governing this country.  Carson, again like Trump, got caught at the last debate falsely denying his involvement with a nutrition supplement company for which he has been a well-paid pitchman. 

We would never allow an amateur with no experience to perform surgery.  Does anyone really believe that the presidency is an easy job or one that can be learned once in office? 

Having such a large number of candidates on the stage at the same time is itself a problem.  At least three of them—Mike Huckabee, Rand Paul and John Kasich—are fading before our eyes, even though Kasich provided the only honest moment last week when he questioned the lack of qualifications of much of the field.  Kasich, the Ohio Governor, and Jeb Bush are the closest to mainstream public officials in that field, which probably means neither of them has a chance to win the nomination.

The conventional wisdom emerging from the latest debate is that the last two standing are likely to be Ted Cruz and Marco Rubio.  Carly Fiorna’s 15 minutes is just about up as is her role of being the Hillary Clinton attack dog for the other candidates.  Rubio looks and sounds like a plausible candidate until you examine his record, or what little there is of it.  He won’t be able to reboot from his sharp rightward veer in these debates and at the end of the day doesn’t seem to stand for anything.  Cruz is way too angry for American voters and would provide the opportunity for a Democratic landslide if he ended up getting the nomination.

Much of this was on display at the most recent Republican debate even though the post-mortems focused primarily on the role of the CNBC moderators.  Were some of the questions worded in a snarky way?  Absolutely, but it made no difference.  The candidates all responded with their own well-rehearsed talking points regardless of what question was asked.  Some of them had clearly planned attacks on the media as part of their script and delivered those lines with great approval from their enthusiastic supporters in the audience.

Think a bit more about the frailty of these candidates in the face of less than fawning questions.  Donald Trump thought one of John Harwood’s questions was “not nice.”  Will he be able to use that line if Vladimir Putin says something he doesn’t like? 

None of them can explain how their proposed tax cuts would avoid greatly increasing the deficit.  Their patron saint, Ronald Reagan, presided over an enormous increase in the country’s deficit during his presidency.  Chris Christie had one of his fake outrage moments attacking the moderators for picking on Carson’s inability to explain his tax proposal, but in fact it was a legitimate and important question to ask.   Carson, meanwhile, comes across on issues of substance as either totally clueless or feeling that he has no obligation as a candidate to respond.

How phony were the attacks on CNBC?  In both the previous Republican debates, one on Fox and the other on CNN, the moderators were constantly quoting one candidate’s criticism of another and asking for a response.  This last round consisted much more of asking the candidates to explain their positions, a task none of them were particularly interested in tackling.

The level of whining from most of the Republican field has been extraordinary.  Rather than looking like leaders, they come across like a bunch of spoiled children who are only willing to play if they get to make up the rules.  Do they really believe that American voters in a General Election will tolerate that kind of behavior? 

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Laslo Boyd's professional experience includes serving as education advisor to the Governor of Maryland, Acting Secretary of Higher Education, senior administrator in several higher education institutions and university professor.  His work in political campaigns has involved strategic communications, public opinion polling, and development of position papers.  Dr. Boyd has consulted for a wide range of clients in higher education, government, and business.  He has provided political commentary and analysis in both print and electronic media.