Saturday, February 27, 2016

25 years ago today: "Kuwait is liberated."

On February 27, 1991, President George H.W. Bush announced the end of the Gulf War.

Thursday, February 25, 2016

Live-blogging the last 2016 Republican debate before Super Tuesday

I'll be live-blogging the debate here. Keep reloading this post for more updates. This will be the first Republican debate since Jeb Bush dropped out.

For more live-blogging, check out National Review, TPM, and the New Republic.

The candidates walk out one by one, standing in front of the lecterns. Trump shakes hands with Cruz and Rubio. Former President George H.W. Bush is in the audience.

8:43 — Ben Carson uses his opening statement to address all the other candidates by name and say we won't solve America's problems by "trying to destroy each other."

8:44 — John Kasich gives us a pep talk: "Shoot for the stars! America's great, and you can do it!"

8:45 — Marco Rubio says this is the time for the Republican party to decide whether it's going to be a party that appeals to America's "hopes and fears" (Rubio) or its "angers and fears" (Trump).

8:45 — Ted Cruz starts out: "Welcome to Texas!" (The debate is in Houston.)

8:46 — Donald Trump begins his opening statement predictably: "My whole theme is: Make America great again." Our borders are "like Swiss cheese."

8:47 — Wolf Blitzer asks Trump about Cruz's claim that Trump is for "amnesty," since Trump would deport all illegal immigrants but then let "the good ones" come back to the US. Trump says: "He was in charge of amnesty! He was the leader!" Cruz responds by simply defending his own policy on illegal immigration, without taking the bait to attack Trump.

8:50 — Rubio on Trump's immigration stance: "A lot of these positions that he's taking are new to him." Rubio says Trump criticized Mitt Romney for talking about "self-deportation" in 2012. Trump says: "I criticized Mitt Romney for losing the election. . . . He ran one terrible campaign!"  Rubio says Trump is the only person on the stage who's hired people from other countries — for "jobs that Americans could have filled." Trump has a biting comeback that Rubio should've predicted: "I'm the only one on the stage who's hired people! . . . You haven't hired one person in your life!" [VIDEO.]

8:55 — Cruz does his usual attack on Rubio for being part of the "Gang of 8," which fought for "amnesty." But he adds a new attack against Trump for "funding the Gang of 8" — 3 Democratic Senators and 2 Republican Senators. Trump's retort to Cruz: "I get along with everybody; you get along with nobody."

8:57 — Both Rubio and Cruz gang up on Trump over a $1 million court judgment against him for hiring people illegally.

8:58 — When Trump attacks Cruz for improprieties in financial disclosures, Cruz tries to respond, but Wolf Blitzer cuts him off to ask Kasich a question. Blitzer should have let Cruz respond — he's entitled to respond to a direct attack. Yet Cruz doesn't complain (possibly because he doesn't have much of an answer — I believe he's admitted to those improprieties).

9:02 — Blitzer asks Trump how he'll make Mexico pay for the wall, when the current Mexican administration and former Mexican presidents has said that will never happen. "I will — and the wall just got 10 feet taller! . . . Mexico will pay for it, because they're not doing us any favors. . . . It's a small portion of the kind of money we lose and the deficits we have with Mexico." Blitzer asks if he'd start a trade war with Mexico over it, and Trump admits: "I don't mind a trade war!"

9:06 — Rubio says if Trump builds a wall, he'll use "illegal immigrant labor" to do it. Rubio asks Trump: "Why don't you make it in America?" Trump: "You don't know anything about business!" Rubio: "I don't know anything about bankrupting four companies!" Rubio says if Trump hadn't inherited $200 million, right now, he'd be "selling watches in Manhattan." Rubio also lets us know that Trump took $36,000 in tuition for "a fake university" called Trump University.

9:14 — Rubio points out that there are two Hispanic candidates and one black candidate on the stage, and declares: "We are the party of diversity, not the Democratic party!" Of course, the two Democratic candidates would be the first female president or the first Jewish president.

9:19 — Trump is asked about a Telemundo poll that says 3 in 4 Hispanic voters have an unfavorable view of him. "First of all, I don't trust anything Telemundo says. . . ." He points out that he won among Hispanics in Nevada. The moderator points out that he once said he loves Telemundo. Trump agrees: "I love Telemundo."

9:22 — Cruz is asked if we can trust Trump to nominate conservative Supreme Court Justices. Cruz already said in the last debate that Trump would nominate liberal Justices, but he doesn't repeat that tonight. Trump reminds us that Cruz supported President Bush's nomination of Chief Justice John Roberts, who was twice in the majority upholding Obamacare. Cruz says Trump would "cut a deal" on "religious liberty."

9:30 — Trump doesn't back down from his defense of Planned Parenthood in the previous debate: "Millions and millions of women are helped by Planned Parenthood . . . but I would defund it because I'm pro-life."

9:33 — Carson says Congress should "correct what the Supreme Court has done" on same-sex marriage (it's not clear how).

9:34 — Rubio attacks Trump for his recent (odd) statement that he likes the individual mandate in Obamacare. Trump says the "pre-existing condition" rule of Obamacare is the one part he'd keep. Of course, that doesn't explain Trump's previous statement, since the pre-existing condition rule is different from the individual mandate.

9:37 — Trump on health care: "I know the insurance companies! They're friends of mine! One of them's in the audience — he was laughing at me! He's not laughing so much anymore! Hi!"

9:37 — Rubio starts out his response on health care by saying: "Donald probably doesn't know about this, because he doesn't follow this issue very closely . . ."

9:39 — Rubio calls out Trump for repeatedly saying he's going to get rid of the barriers preventing health insurance for being sold across state lines: "Now he's repeating himself!" Trump: "I don't repeat myself! I don't repeat myself! . . . Here's the guy who repeats himself! I watched him repeat himself five times four weeks ago!" Rubio: "I saw you repeat yourself five times five seconds ago! . . . I see him repeat himself every night! . . . Everyone's dumb; he's going to make America great again; we're going to win, win, win; he's winning in the polls . . ." [VIDEO.]

9:43 — Kasich says he'll "damp down the cost of health care." Shouldn't that be "tamp down"?

9:45 — I'm not paying attention to Carson's spiel on health care. He's no longer relevant.

9:47 — Cruz paints Trump as a liberal: "He says Planned Parenthood is wonderful. . . . For decades, Donald has been advocating socialized medicine." Cruz says he's a contrast because he'd repeal Obamacare. Of course, Trump says he's against "socialized medicine" and Obamacare. Trump says he'll "make great deals" on health care, and he won't "let people die in the streets." Rubio is aghast at Trump's statement about not letting people die in the streets: "That's what Democrats say!"

9:51 — Trump is asked how he'll cut down on the debt. "Waste, fraud, and abuse." (Of course, every politician claims to be against government waste — that's easier said than done.) And he'll abolish the Department of Education and the EPA. Wolf Blitzer points out that abolishing those agencies would save less than $100 billion, which won't go very far.

9:55 — Trump is asked about Romney's recent statement that Trump should disclose his tax returns. "You don't learn anything about someone's wealth from tax returns. You learn it from a statement," which he filed on time. Also: "I'm being audited now, so I can't give [my return] until that's finished."

9:57 — Trump shoots down Hugh Hewitt while he's just starting to ask Trump a question: "Are you going to ask anyone else a question?! Every single question goes to me?! I know I'm good for ratings, but this is ridiculous!" Then Trump gratuitously says no one listens to Hewitt's radio show.

9:59 — Rubio goes back to the debt issue, saying Trump didn't give a "serious answer" on the debt.

10:01 — Cruz says Trump won't be able to attack Hillary Clinton over the Clinton Foundation, since Clinton would come back that Trump donated to her. Then Cruz brings up Rubio's earlier point about Trump University — and adds that a trial in a "fraud case" over the university has been scheduled for July, and the mainstream media will have a field day covering Trump's testimony. Trump says it's a frivolous lawsuit that he'll easily win; he could've settled it, but wanted to go to trial "on principle."

10:11 — Trump is asked about his previous statement that he'd be "neutral" as between the Israelis and Palestinians. Trump stands by his statement, saying it would undermine his negotiating position if he made it clear from the outset he was taking a side. "It doesn't do any good to start demeaning [Israel's] neighbors."

10:15 — Rubio condescends to Trump, which has been his strategy all night: "He might not realize it, but saying he'd be neutral is an anti-Israel answer. You cannot be an honest broker in a dispute where one said has been acting in bad faith." Trump comes back that he has negotiating experience and Rubio doesn't. Rubio objects: "The Palestinians are not a real estate deal, Donald!" Trump: "A deal is a deal." Rubio: "A deal is not a deal when you're negotiating with terrorists!" [VIDEO.]

10:18 — Kasich is asked if his previous statements in support of "regime change" in North Korea means he'd go to war with the country. Kasich resists the question: "I don't have to say exactly what that means. I have been doing foreign policy a long time. You don't have to spell everything out. . . . I have put it on the table that I would love to see regime change in North Korea."

10:22 — Carson lists all the issues he hasn't been asked about, so the moderator says, "This is your moment!" So he goes through his answer to all those issues. On taxes, he talks about being audited by the IRS. "They didn't find anything, because I'm honest. The IRS is not honest, and we need to get rid of them."

10:29 — Cruz accuses Trump of "writ[ing] checks to politicians that are undermining Israel" for 4 decades. Trump doesn't deny that, but says he's very pro-Israel, and Cruz is "a politician — all talk, no action." Trump points to Rubio and says, "He can't win for the obvious reason," then points to Cruz and says, "He can't win because he's a liar." Carson chimes in: "Can somebody attack me, please?" Cruz retorts: "Falsely accusing somebody of lying is itself a lie, and it's something Donald does daily!" Trump uses that as an opportunity to bring up the Cruz campaign's false statement on the day of the Iowa caucus that Carson seemed to have dropped out.

10:34 — The debate completely breaks down as Trump, Cruz, and Rubio all talk over each other for minutes on end. Cruz says Trump has been funding "liberal Democratic politicans" for 4 decades. Trump points out that he funded Cruz. Rubio: "He never funded me!" Trump agrees — he didn't want to fund Rubio — but points out that Rubio sent his book to Trump with a signed note saying Trump was "doing great." Rubio: "Yeah, on your reality TV show!" [VIDEO.]

10:38 — Rubio is asked about the Justice Department's request to Apple to unlock the iPhone of one of the San Bernardino killers. "Apple doesn't want to do it because they think it hurts their 'brand.' Well, let me tell you, their brand is not superior to the national security of the United States of America." Cruz says Rubio has come around to Cruz's position on that issue, but was wishy-washy at a recent town hall.

10:40 — Kasich says Obama should have brought Apple and the government into a room and "locked the door" till they reached an agreement on the iPhone.

10:41 — Trump is asked why we don't need a wall on the Canadian border in addition to the Mexican border. Trump says we don't have as many problems with Canada — and it would be physically harder to build that wall.

10:49 — In his closing statement, Carson tells us to "think about": "What kind of person do you want your children to emulate?" He turns his palms to us, with his arms outstretched, and alludes to his career as a neurosurgeon: "These hands, by the grace of God, have saved many lives." I wonder if he knows this will be his last debate — and that was his swan song.

10:51 — Rubio uses his closing statement to urge us to "get rid of this silliness — this looniness!"

10:53 — Trump lists his goals (e.g. "getting rid of Obamacare and replacing it with something so much better") and closes by saying: "I will get it done. Politicians will never get it done."

The New Republic's Alex Shephard has a sharp analysis:

Everyone is going to say Marco Rubio won this debate. He took the fight to Trump. And he sidelined Ted Cruz, making this look like a two man race, not a three (or five, I guess) man race. This was a big narrative win for Rubio. . . .

It’s possible that his performance will check Trump’s momentum, but Trump’s support, as many polls have shown, has largely calcified: Many of Trump’s many, many supporters decided to vote for him long ago. And in terms of policy, Rubio and Cruz both spent most of their energy attacking Trump from the right, which doesn’t touch his greatest strength as a candidate.

[quoting a tweet by Jamelle Bouie:] Trump is strong with moderate and liberal Republicans, and working-class Reps. "We're not going to let them die in the streets" is for them.

While it’s true that Trump didn’t have a great debate performance, it’s also true that he rarely does. He doesn’t have to: His rallies are treated as national events, and he’s miles ahead of his opponents as a campaigner.

Tuesday, February 23, 2016

What's Donald Trump like in private?

Jenna Johnson, a Washington Post reporter who's been following Trump on the campaign trail for months, tells what she's observed of him, in an interview with WaPo's "The Fix":

FIX: Does Trump treat the press corps any differently off camera than he does on camera? Or does he still not interact with you at all — or very little?

Johnson: We have very little interaction with him on a daily basis, but we occasionally get close. The Donald Trump you see in a small setting -- a visit to a campaign office, a quick interview backstage, a lunch stop -- is a different person than the bellowing, insult-throwing candidate you see on the rally stage. In one-on-one settings, he's charming, softer spoken and rather relatable. While his nasty, mean comments get the most attention, he's also capable of being overwhelmingly kind, almost to the point of being uncomfortably kind. I've interviewed a number of people who have spent a little bit of time with Trump -- big-name endorsers, dedicated volunteers, police officers assigned to protect him -- and all remark on how he somehow made them feel like the most important person in the world.

FIX: You’ve been covering Trump since the beginning. What’s the biggest change in him — if any — you’ve noticed?

Johnson: We've seen proof that he's human. For years, Trump has branded himself as this indefatigable super hero. While many men his age have lost their hair and retired, Trump is married to a former super model with whom he has a son who is in grade school. Trump, 69, boasts about only sleeping a few hours a night and promises to never take vacation if he's elected. Despite eating a diet of mostly fast food and soda, Trump claims to be exceptionally healthy. He has mocked former Florida governor Jeb Bush, 63, for being "low energy" and said that Democratic frontrunner Hillary Clinton, 68, is exhausted and lacking the strength and stamina needed for the job.

In December, Trump seemed to lose his voice after a marathon of campaign stops. Leading up to the Iowa caucuses, Trump at times seemed lethargic and tired. The day of the New Hampshire primary, Trump pledged to do as many as half-a-dozen campaign stops but then just briefly stopped by a couple polling locations in between television interviews. The night before the South Carolina primary, his voice was hoarse and he only spoke at his big primary-eve rally for about 30 minutes....

FIX: Finish this sentence: The single most important thing about Donald Trump that you wouldn’t pick up from just watching him on TV is ________________. Now, explain.

Johnson: He is very calculated and purposeful in what he says. Trump can seem all over the place, especially when he doesn't seem to be answering the question he was just asked in a television interview. He's purposely not answering that question, pivoting to another topic and talking over any follow-up questions from the host until he or she gives up trying to get an answer and moves on to the next question.

Saturday, February 20, 2016

Jeb Bush: What went wrong?

I remember when I first saw a minute of one of Jeb Bush's speeches last year, before any of the debates, I instantly sensed that he didn't have what it takes. He stumbled over practically every sentence as if he were reading the text for the first time. I instinctively turned off the speech — it isn't fun to watch someone who seems uncomfortable and forced.

There's a reason Obama, as a candidate in 2008, got so much acclaim for his soaring speeches. No matter what you think of Obama, you can't deny the political reality that his oratorical talents mattered.

While live-blogging the last Republican debate, I wrote: "Bush says America has to get more aggressive against terrorism — but he sounds lackluster when he says this. That's Bush's problem: his style doesn't match his substance. For instance, he's called himself a 'disrupter' — but he seems as conventional as anyone."

I always found it hard to imagine anyone was supporting Bush out of genuine enthusiasm rather than grudging duty. Bush may have earned the respect of many while generating excitement among no one.

Saturday, February 13, 2016

The first Republican debate after New Hampshire

I'm not going to live-blog tonight's Republican debate.

But you might be able to find some live-blogging at National Review, TPM, the New Republic, and the New American Perspective (a new website co-founded by Alex Knepper).

It will be interesting to see how they address today's news that Justice Antonin Scalia of the Supreme Court has died.

I might update this post later with my non-live observations.

Thursday, February 11, 2016

Live-blogging the first Democratic debate after Bernie Sanders won New Hampshire

I'll be live-blogging tonight's Democratic debate here. This could be a particularly important one. It's coming just 2 days after Bernie Sanders had a historic win of more than 20 points in New Hampshire, so now's the time for Sanders to try to build his momentum — and for Hillary Clinton to try to shift the narrative that her campaign is faltering, isn't appealing to young people, etc.

Keep reloading this post for updates throughout the debate. As always, I'll be writing quotes on the fly, so they might not be word-for-word, but I'll try to keep them reasonably accurate.

Check out more live-blogging at TPM and the New Republic.

9:06 — Bernie Sanders, in his opening statement, says we have "a broken criminal justice system." In the last Democratic debate, I pointed out that Hillary Clinton seemed to seize on Sanders's failure to bring up any race-related issues in his opening statement (see my update in the last live-blog at 9:06).

9:08 — In Hillary Clinton's opening statement, she also brings up "African-Americans, who face discrimination." This fits with her plan to focus on race after New Hampshire. She also brings up the canard that women are underpaid.

9:13 — Sanders says the federal government has "a vital role in making sure that all people have a decent standard of living."

9:14 — Clinton says Sanders's health-care plan includes "a promise that cannot be kept," according to "progressive economists." "The numbers just don't add up, and many people will be worse off than they are now." [VIDEO.]

9:14 — Sanders calls out Clinton for "going around the country" saying he's going to "dismantle" Medicare, Medicaid, etc. "We're not going to dismantle anything."

9:16 — Clinton says that before "universal-coverage health care" was called "Obamacare," it was called "Hillarycare." This might be the first time I've heard her proudly associate herself with the word "Hillarycare."

9:18 — Clinton strikes a relatively conservative note on health care: "The last thing we need is to throw the country into a contentious debate about health care again. We are not England. We are not France."

9:19 — Gwen Ifill, one of the moderators, tells Clinton she "may remember a State of the Union address" that said "The era of big government is over." Ifill doesn't specify which president said that. I wish the media would remember that not everyone who's following this presidential race has been following politics for decades. Some of the people who'll be voting were born in 1998 — before President Clinton said that line.

9:21 — After Clinton begins a sentence with, "When I am in the White House . . . ," Sanders shoots back: "Secretary Clinton, you're not in the White House yet!" [VIDEO.]

9:23 — Clinton ridicules Sanders's education plan by saying it assumes all governors, including the Republican Governor Scott Walker of Wisconsin, the former presidential candidate, will sign onto the plan. [VIDEO.]

9:24 — Sanders doesn't really address Clinton's point about his education plan. He just says he believes everyone has a right to a college education.

9:25 — In response to a question about why more women aren't supporting her, Clinton says she believes women have "a right to make choices — even if that choice is not to vote for me! . . . We need to empower everyone — women and men — to make the best decisions, in their mind, that they can make."

9:27 – Sanders falsely refers to "the absurdity of women today making 79 cents on the dollar compared to men." (See my link at 9:08.)

9:29 — Sanders says: "A Sanders victory would be some historical accomplishment as well." My mom, Ann Althouse, likes that statement and dislikes what Clinton said:

That was a bald-faced lie when she said she wasn't asking us to vote for her because she's a woman. I was walking away from the TV and the computer, but I had to come back to take note of that. Now that I'm here, I'll add that I liked what Bernie Sanders said when he was asked how he felt about standing in the way of a first woman President. He said that if he won, considering who he is, it would also be historic. He didn't specify why. He didn't say "first Jewish President" or "socialist!" It's up to us to fill in why.
9:36 — In a discussion about the high levels of blacks in prison, Clinton talks about how "young people — particularly young men — are pushed out of school early." As a Washington Post article has put it in response to one of Clinton's speeches:
She did not mention that the racial disparities are partly the result of policies embraced by her husband.
9:39 — Moderator Judy Woodruff says "hardly anyone" thinks race relations have improved during the Obama administration, and asks Clinton how she'd do better. Clinton rejects the premise, pointing out that Obamacare has particularly benefited blacks. She refers to "the dark side of the remaining systemic racism that we need to root out in our society." In a discussion of race, perhaps it's best to avoid using the word "dark" as a synonym for "evil."

9:41 — Sanders is asked if "race relations would be better under a Sanders administration than they've been" under the Obama administration. "Absolutely!" This is unsurprising: he thinks his policies would help the poor, and the poor are disproportionately black. [VIDEO.]

9:44 — Clinton says "it would be a terrible oversight not to address the terrible problems that white Americans" have had.

9:48 — Sanders: "I disagree with [Obama's] recent deportation policies." Clinton sides with Obama.

9:50 — Clinton: "Hopefully after the 2016 election, some of the Republicans will come to their sense and realize we are not going to deport 11 million people."

9:52 — Sanders on immigration: "We have got to stand up to the Trumps of the world, who are trying to divide us up."

9:54 — The candidates are exploring their disagreements over immigration legislation, but I'm not following all their distinctions, and I doubt this discussion will have much of an effect on most Democratic voters.

10:00 — Woodruff says about half (?) of Clinton's donations come from "just two wealthy financiers."

10:01 — Clinton says she's "proud" that she, Sanders, and Obama have had more donors than any other Democratic candidate. She's making a show of complimenting Sanders, but she's really trying to undercut his advantage by depicting the two of them as similar.

10:04 — Clinton points out that Obama got more Wall Street donations "than anybody on the Democratic side, ever," and it didn't affect his support for financial regulations. Sanders has a scathing response: "Let's not insult the intelligence of the American people! They're not dumb! Why does the financial industry spend huge amounts of money on campaign contributions? I guess, just for the fun of it! They just want to throw money around!" Sanders also rejects Clinton's suggestion that our current financial regulations have been effective — the big banks are even bigger today than in 2008. [VIDEO.]

10:16 Sanders is asked if there are "any areas of government [he'd] like to reduce." Sanders says yes. "Anybody who doesn't think there is an enormous amount of waste and bureaucracy and inefficiency in government would be very mistaken." He says the Department of Defense in particular should be "audited." Clinton agrees that some government programs should be "streamlined."

10:20 — The foreign policy part of the debate is off to a dull start, with Clinton describing how she'd fight ISIL, and how she'd be better at working with our Muslim allies than Donald Trump would be.

10:22 — Sanders points out that Obama's invasion of Libya, which Clinton was part of, led to a terrible dictator being overthrown but also led to ISIL taking over large parts of the country.

10:24 — Clinton says Sanders voted for regime change in Iraq and Libya, while Sanders vigorously shakes his head. Sanders denies it.

10:27 — Sanders says Clinton talks in her book about seeking "the support or the mentoring of Henry Kissinger." "Count me in as somebody who will not be listening to Henry Kissinger!" [VIDEO.]

10:29 — Clinton retorts: "I know journalists have asked who you do listen to on foreign policy, and we have yet to know!" She also points out that Kissinger opened up our relations with China. Clinton says, somewhat patronizingly, "It's a big, complicated world out there!" [VIDEO.]

10:40 — They have the same quibble over Iran that they had in the last debate.

10:43 — They're asked to name one American leader and one foreign leader who'd influence their foreign policy. Sanders says FDR for the American leader, and Winston Churchill for the foreign leader. Clinton agrees with Sanders on FDR, and says Nelson Mandela for the foreign leader. (Not very original choices by either of them.) Then she transitions into a rousing tribute to Obama (the culmination of her name-checking of him throughout the debate), and says she does not "expect" a Democrat to criticize Obama as much as Sanders has. Sanders seems incensed: "Madam Secretary, that is a low blow. . . . Have you ever disagreed with the president? I suspect you may have! . . . One of us ran against Barack Obama; I was not that candidate."

Is Donald Trump unstoppable?

Alex Knepper, writing in the New American Perspective, thinks so:

A relatively strong Iowa finish by Rubio, a relatively strong New Hampshire finish by Kasich, and a relatively strong South Carolina finish by Bush all amount to this: Donald Trump steamrolling the competition. (As for Ted Cruz, he is likely to meet the same fate as the last two ‘winners’ of Iowa.) . . .

One week ago, I endorsed the conventional wisdom that we had a three-man race on our hands. The race is now effectively over. Let’s be blunt: Rubio had his shot to consolidate the center-right against Trump, and he blew it. Some will be tempted to blame Christie for spoiling a beautiful opportunity, but we should really be thanking him for doing us the favor of quickly exposing Rubio for the empty suit he’s always been. . . .

Given these dynamics, Trump is probably unstoppable. He is dominating the polls in every state that will vote over the next month, and he will only gain momentum from New Hampshire.

Sahil Kapur of Bloomberg observes:
Republican elites are 0-for-2 in presidential nominating contests this year, a rare and panic-inducing outcome for the party's leadership. Yet their preferred candidates continue to fight each other, and have begun the march to the next battlefield in South Carolina without a plan to stop Donald Trump. . . .

“Enormous pressure is on the establishment wing to consolidate around one candidate soon or else it will hand the Republican nomination over to Trump,” said Ron Bonjean, a Republican strategist and former senior congressional aide.

They're running out of time. With plenty of campaign cash to spare, Trump is pushing the kind of nationalistic message on immigration and foreign policy that resonates in South Carolina, a state that flew the Confederate flag on its capitol grounds until last year. The primaries beyond are just as southern and just as friendly to Trump's message.

Saturday, February 6, 2016

Live-blogging the last Republican debate before the first primary

I'm going to live-blog tonight's Republican debate, the only one in between the Iowa caucus and the New Hampshire primary. Keep reloading this post for more updates.

For more live-blogging, check out National Review, TPM, and the New American Perspective (a new website co-founded by Alex Knepper).

As always, I'll be writing down quotes on the fly without a transcript, so they might not be word-for-word, but I'll try to keep them reasonably accurate.

8:17 — As the candidates are announced and most of them walk to their podiums, Donald Trump and Ben Carson stay near the back! When Carson finally walks up to the stage but Trump stays back, the moderator announces Trump again, saying: "Lastly, we welcome . . . Donald Trump" — but there are two empty podiums! Chris Christie points out who's missing: "What about Kasich? Can I introduce Kasich?" [Added later: Carson explains it — he just couldn't hear his name being called.]

8:20 — Trump says he has "the best temperament" to be president. "I talked about Muslims. We have a problem. Nobody wanted to talk about the problem." He also reminds us that he was against the Iraq war — "others would be much faster" on the "trigger."

8:23 — Ted Cruz keeps tapping his lectern, making a loud, annoying noise in the mic.

8:24 — Trump is referring to himself in the third person more often than in the past: "We're going to win, with Trump. We're not going to back down, with Trump." Does he think he lost Iowa because he didn't have enough name recognition?

8:26 — Ben Carson eloquently addresses the false rumors spread by the Cruz campaign on the night of the Iowa caucus that Carson was dropping out. Carson points out how absurd it would be for him to drop out at the last minute after so many people had put so much effort into supporting him. "One of them even died." Cruz apologizes. Alex Knepper says:

“Easier to ask forgiveness than permission,” isn’t it, Sen. Cruz?
8:29 — Marco Rubio is asked about the fact that he's a first-term Senator, as Obama was when he was elected. After listing his legislative accomplishments, he argues that Obama's inexperience wasn't the problem — "he knew exactly what he was doing!" Christie responds sharply: "You have not been involved in a consequential decision where you had to be held accountable." Christie also points out that one of the things Rubio listed about his experience was a bill he didn't even vote on. "That's not leadership — that's truancy!" When Rubio tries to respond, Christie keeps ridiculing Rubio for his "25-second memorized speeches."

Most of the commentary seems to be that Christie is getting the better of his tussles with Rubio. Rubio does seem more weak and on the defensive than usual. But remember, Cruz had a weak debate shortly before the Iowa caucus, and that didn't stop him from winning.

Alex Knepper seems to think Rubio had a good response to the inexperience question:
The 'Republican Obama' attack might fall flat with Republican voters because a lot of them would love a Republican Obama: they think Obama has fundamentally transformed the country in the image of progressivism, and they would love someone who can fundamentally transform the country in the image of conservatism.
8:38 — Cruz blames "the first Clinton administration" (an odd phrase at this point) for North Korea's launch of a long-range missile earlier today.

8:42 — When John Kasich is asked about the North Korean missile, he starts out weak and tone-deaf, changing the subject to saying his "town hall meetings" are more "fun" than this debate has been.

8:48 — Christie says Obama is "for paying ransom for hostages."

8:52 — On immigration, Cruz says: "We're going to build a wall . . ." Trump makes a face at this, which gets a laugh. Cruz says: "Since Donald enjoyed that, I've got somebody in mind to build it!"

8:56 — Rubio and Christie are tangling again, this time on immigration, with the same dynamics we've seen in this and other debates: Rubio justifies his Senate record, while Christie mocks the whole idea of Congress and says only someone who's held an executive office, like Christie, can lead.

9:01 — When Carson is asked about health care, he says: "I was hoping to get a chance to talk about North Korea. I was the only one who didn't get a chance to do that." He hasn't been saying much in this debate.

9:03 — Trump is asked about eminent domain. "Eminent domain is an absolute necessity . . . for our country. Without it, you wouldn't have roads, you wouldn't have schools, you wouldn't have bridges." He also points out that compensation is constitutionally required: "When eminent domain is used on someone's property, that person gets a fortune!" Jeb Bush says those kinds of things are fine because they're for a "public purpose," but Trump tried to take an "elderly woman's" property and use it for "a limousine parking lot for his casinos." Trump says he didn't do that, but Bush says: "You tried!"

9:16 — Trump is asked about the charges that he's not a real conservative. He says "conservative" is "a very important word," and it's rooted in the word "conserve." "We want to conserve our money. We want to conserve our wealth."

9:18 — The moderator tells Trump that Christie has encouraged people who go to Trump rallies to ask Trump a simple question: "How?" So the moderator asks Trump "how" he'll create jobs. That question is framed to sound tough, but it's actually a softball — all Trump has to do is pitch his tax plan and claim it'll create jobs.

9:20 — Kasich says: "We have grown government at the rate of inflation." I understand that this is supposed to mean he's kept a tight rein on government, but he could have phrased that more effectively for the Republican primaries. Republican voters are going to be turned off by hearing: "We have grown government . . ."

I missed some stuff here because the ABC News feed keeps cutting out and going to an ad.

9:26 — Cruz is asked about his plan to "carpet-bomb" ISIL. He says it would be "targeted," not "indiscriminate." Cruz says ISIL has something called "Jihadist University." "Why is that building still standing? It should be rubble. However, I would be willing to wait until freshman orientation before launching those bombings."

9:31 — While Rubio is giving a long answer about how to fight ISIL, I'm thinking Carson must feel like he's getting the O'Malley treatment. [Added later: Indeed, Carson spoke the least.]

9:33 — Trump talks about the need to cut off ISIL's "banking channels." "Nobody knows banking like I do. . . . It's going to dry up very quickly."

9:35 — Bush says America has to get more aggressive against terrorism — but he sounds lackluster when he says this. That's Bush's problem: his style doesn't match his substance. For instance, he's called himself a "disrupter" — but he seems as conventional as anyone.

9:36 — A few minutes after I commented about how Carson hasn't had much to say (9:33), Carson quips: "I'm not here just to add beauty to the stage!"

9:38 — Cruz says he's "joined with Senator McCain" by opposing waterboarding as a general matter, but he doesn't consider it torture and wouldn't rule it out in dire circumstances.

9:39 — Trump: "I'd bring back waterboarding — and I'd bring back a hell of a lot worse than waterboarding!"

9:48 — Kasich makes a contrived attempt at generating excitement: "If I'm president, go out and get a seatbelt, because there's going to be so much happening in the first hundred days, it'll make your head spin!"

9:51 — Cruz tells the wrenching story of his half-sister's heroin addiction, which ended with her death a few years ago.

9:53 — Christie on drug addiction: "This is a disease. It's not a moral failing. . . . I'm pro-life, not just for the nine months in the womb. It gets a lot harder after that."

9:54 — Trump is asked how he'll run against Hillary Clinton considering her potential to make history by being the first female president. Trump doesn't specifically address the gender angle; he simply declares that he's going to beat her by a lot.

9:57 — Carson is asked the same question. He doesn't talk about gender — or race. He says he'd turn the election into "a referendum about honesty vs. deceitfulness."

10:11 — Christie is asked whether he'd quarantine Americans to prevent the spread of the Zika virus. "You bet I would!"

10:13 — Rubio is asked whether women should be required to register with the military in the event there's a draft. Rubio says yes — including for combat. Bush agrees.

10:17 — Christie says: "There's no reason young women should be discriminated against in registering for the Selective Service." He talks as if it's just discrimination against women — but it's mainly discrimination against men, who are the only ones required to stand ready to be enslaved to fight in a war.

10:25 — Trump says if he's president, "waste, fraud, and abuse" in government will "disappear quickly." That's preposterous — every politician claims to be against government waste. If it were so easy to get rid of, that would have happened a long time ago.

10:31 — There's a "lightning round" of questions about the Super Bowl. Why does the media think it's a good idea to bring up sports on a political show?

10:44 — After Cruz gives his closing statement, Trump says: "He got Ben Carson's votes, but we won't say that . . ."

Alex Knepper's verdict:
Winners: Christie, Kasich, Bush; Wash: Trump, Cruz, Carson; Loser: Rubio. There’s just no question that Rubio among all the candidates suffered the greatest number of blows. Rubio simply was not prepared for the onslaught from the governors, who demonstrated a real hunger.
I agree that Rubio was weak and had the worst night. But I also thought Kasich was pretty awkward — I don't understand why people are saying he did well.

Thursday, February 4, 2016

Live-blogging the last Democratic debate before the first primary

I'll be live-blogging tonight's Democratic debate — the first debate since the Iowa caucuses revealed how close the race is between Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders, and the only Democratic debate between then and the New Hampshire primary.

Keep reloading this post for more updates. For more live-blogging, check out TPM.

9:03 — This is the first debate with just the two of them. Unlike in previous debates, when each candidate would walk out one by one, this time we see them both walking toward the camera, side by side.

9:05 — Sanders gives an opening statement hitting his familiar notes: the economy is "rigged"; campaign finance is "corrupt."

9:06 — In her opening statement, Clinton says "yes, of course" those things Sanders said are true — but we also need to focus on racism, sexism, and discrimination against LGBT people (implying that Sanders is less concerned about those issues since he didn't mention them in his opening statement).

9:07 — Clinton says she and Sanders "share big progressive goals." But she doesn't "believe in free college." This is an implicit response to Sanders's recent comments that Clinton can't call herself both "progressive" and "moderate." She cleverly argues that "a progressive is someone who makes progress," and Sanders's agenda isn't "achievable."

9:11 — Clinton repeats her usual argument that she'd "improve" Obamacare, but Sanders would scrap the system. Sanders points out that he participated in writing Obamacare — "The idea that I would dismantle health care in America, while we're getting ready to have Medicare for all, is just not accurate."

9:14 — Clinton lists other Democrats who wouldn't be considered "progressive" under Sanders's definition — including Obama, Biden, and Senator Paul Wellstone (who died in 2002) — because Wellstone "voted for DOMA." The point about Wellstone and DOMA seems like an odd one for Clinton to make. The Defense of Marriage Act is now universally reviled among liberals, and Clinton has to worry that Democratic primary voters will be turned off by the fact that she used to be passionately opposed to same-sex marriage, and was pretty late in coming around to the right position.

9:22 — Rachel Maddow asks Sanders about the fact that he's not really a Democrat. Sanders proudly declares: "I am the longest-serving independent in the history of the United States Congress." Maddow says Sanders was a spoiler in a race in the '80s that was won by a Republican, but Sanders points out that he only lost that race by a few points — "the Democrat was the spoiler!"

9:25 — Sanders says "almost the entire establishment" is supporting Clinton, while millions of "people" have supported Sanders by giving him contributions averaging $27. Clinton says Sanders is the only person who'd describe Clinton as "exemplifying the establishment" when she's "a woman running to be the first woman president."

9:28 — Clinton says "it's time" to end Sanders's "artful smear" and "innuendo" about her donations and speaking fees from Wall Street. "If you've got something to say, say it, directly!" The audience gets riled up, going "Ooooh!" when Clinton says the word "smear." [VIDEO.]

9:31 — Clinton says Sanders voted for financial deregulation in 2000 which led to the collapse of Lehman Brothers in 2008. Apparently she realized that she's seemed too defensive on this issue and she needed to go on the offensive.

9:40 — Clinton is asked again about her Wall Street speaking fees. She says Wall Street clearly knows where she stands since Wall Street has been spending millions of dollars against her primary campaign, at which point Sanders rolls his eyes.

9:42 — Sanders goes on a diatribe against Wall Street. "Kid gets caught with marijuana — that kid gets sent to jail. A Wall Street executive destroys the entire economy — $5 billion settlement, no criminal record."

9:43 — Clinton tries to move to Sanders's left by saying she'd "take us further" in taking action against "corporate power."

9:46 — Chuck Todd asks Clinton if she's release all the transcripts of all her paid speeches. Clinton seems slightly little taken aback by that sweeping request, which she quickly brushes off — "I don't know, I'll look into it" — before using the rest of her time to get back to her talking points.

Bill Scher responds to the question about transcripts of Clinton's speeches:

Pro-tip: conspiracies don't have transcripts
9:49 — Sanders: "The business model of Wall Street is fraud."

9:57 — Clinton says it's "off the table" to deploy ground troops against ISIL. She agrees with President Obama's current strategy except that she'd give "more support for the people on the ground."

9:59 — Sanders "agree[s] with much" of what Clinton said about ISIL. In fact, he doesn't suggest that there's any difference between them on that. Instead, he switches to reminding us that he was against the Iraq war and Clinton voted for it.

10:00 — Todd asks Sanders how long he'd leave the 10,000 troops in Afghanistan which Obama will leave for him. He doesn't specifically answer the question. He goes back to talking about ISIL, saying we need "Muslim troops on the ground" to fight ISIL; American ground troops would be targets.

10:02 — Clinton gets into a lot more details of what's going on in Afghanistan. She also doesn't give a specific answer about how long she'd leave our troops there, but her answer on Afghanistan sounds much more impressive than Sanders's.

10:03 — Todd asks Sanders why foreign policy doesn't seem to be one of his big issues, and why he hasn't given a major foreign-policy speech. "I gave a speech about democratic socialism and foreign policy. Maybe I shouldn't have combined the two of them into the same speech!" Only the former part got any attention.

10:06 — Clinton brings up a couple of Sanders's past statements on foreign policy and says they're very questionable. Clinton says it's "not acceptable" for Sanders to say "I'll get to that when I can." Sanders: "I fully concede that Secretary Clinton, who was Secretary of State for 4 years, has more experience . . . on foreign affairs." But Sanders again reminds us . . . she voted for the Iraq war.

10:10 — Sanders bring up Clinton's dispute with Obama from 2008 about whether to "talk to our enemies." Clinton says she's going to "correct the record": the question in 2008 was about whether to meet with them "without conditions." It's unusual to see Clinton (implicitly) criticizing Obama like that now, 8 years later. Clinton points out that the Obama administration talked with Iran only after satisfying various conditions — effectively saying "Told ya!" to Obama.

10:14 — Clinton refers to the Iran deal with an incomprehensible string of jargon: "That's an enforcement consequence action-for-action follow-on."

10:18 — Sanders reels off his accomplishments on veterans' issues. This seems like an implicit comeback to Clinton's line that only she can get things done.

Bill Scher makes a good point:
Everyone who says Elizabeth Warren would be winning this primary, ask yourself how she'd be doing with these foreign policy questions
10:25 — Sanders is asked about the results in Iowa, and Sanders emphasizes that he got 20 delegates to Clinton's 22 — and they need about 2,500 to get the nomination. "This is not the biggest deal in the world." He does point out that some of the results were based on coin flips, but he hastens to add: "I love and respect the caucus process in Iowa. And I don't have to say it, because they've already voted! And I love the New Hampshire primary, because they haven't voted yet!"

10:27 — In response to a question for Sanders about how he'd do in the general election, he cites some general-election polls that have him doing much better than Clinton against Donald Trump.

10:29 — Clinton tells Sanders she's "thrilled by the numbers of people . . . who are coming to support your campaign," which is a little hard to believe. As for the general election, Clinton says: "I've been vetted. There's hardly anything you don't know about me."

10:33 — Todd asks Clinton if she's "100% confident that nothing is going to come" of the FBI investigation into her email practices. Clinton says yes, "I'm 100% confident! . . . This just beggars the imagination!"

10:34 — Todd asks Sanders if he still feels the same way about Clinton's emails as he did in the first debate, when he famously said: "The American people are sick and tired of hearing about your damn emails!" Sanders says: "I'm feeling exactly how I felt at the first debate. There's a process underway — I will not politicize it."

10:41 — Clinton is asked if she still supports the death penalty. She says she does, but she has much more confidence in it at the federal level than the state level. As an example, she says she's glad that Timothy McVeigh was executed for blowing up 168 people, "including 19 children in a day-care center."

10:43 — Sanders is firmly against the death penalty: "There is so much killing out there. I don't believe that government should be part of the killing. . . . We should lock them up and throw away the key."

10:47 — Todd points out that Clinton has taken stands against trade agreements (NAFTA and the TPP) while campaigning in 2016 and 2008, but has supported them at other times. And Todd points out that Sanders has "never supported a trade deal" in the decades he's been in Congress! Sanders says he believes in "trade" — but not "free trade."

10:56 — Todd asks Clinton which of three issues she'd prioritize — immigration, guns, or climate change. "History shows, whichever you pick first, you have the best shot of getting." Clinton simply rejects that premise. Sanders says Todd missed the most important issue: campaign finance reform.

11:00 — Maddow asks Clinton if she'd eliminate any government agencies — or create any new ones. Clinton says no, she'd just make the existing ones work better.

11:02 — Todd asks Clinton if she'd pick Sanders as her running mate — which is a dumb question, since she's obviously not going to answer it. But if she is the nominee, "the first person" she'll call "will be Senator Sanders."

11:04 — In her closing statement, Clinton urges voters to use their "head" and their "heart." "We have a lot of work that can only come because your heart is moved."

11:06 — Sanders, in his closing statement: "I'm running for president because I believe it is just too late for establishment politics and establishment economics. We need a revolution."

Tuesday, February 2, 2016

Flipping coins to decide the Democratic Iowa caucuses

My friend Ben Wikler, the Washington Director of (which is supporting Bernie Sanders), describes how one of the Iowa caucus precincts was decided:

[T]he first vote was roughly evenly split between Bernie and Hillary. (Nobody for O'Malley.) There are five delegates at stake, divided between the candidates in proportionate to their votes in the room. So it'll be two and two, with one delegate at stake.

The four undecideds go into a corner to hear pitches from supporters of either side. The rest of the crowd mills around; a few go to the bathroom; one or two don't come back.

Three people make up their mind for Bernie; one for Hillary. Back to seats.

Final vote. 61 for Bernie. For Hillary it's 59... 60... 61. Tie!

Recount. Slower this time. Still 61-61. Whoa.

So how do you break a tie? At this precinct, the answer is apparently: COIN FLIP.

Bernie's people call it: heads. Up goes the coin. Back down. Everyone clusters around to look.


Cheers go up on the Hillary side, frustration on Bernie side, and boom, that's it: three delegates for Hillary, two for Bernie, a bajillion fail points awarded to the people who left in the middle of the caucus, and we're off the Bernie victory party.

Ben caught it on video (if this video doesn't show up properly, click here):

Iowa Caucus precinct awards delegate to Clinton based on coin ...

Watch it happen: #IowaCaucus delegate awarded to Clinton based on coin flip in tied precinct. w/'s Benjamin O'Keefe

Posted by Ben Wikler on Monday, February 1, 2016

Here's another video of the same coin flip, shown on C-SPAN. You can hear Ben Wikler say, "What?!" at about 0:25, and a couple seconds later he shows up just to the right of the woman who's explaining the procedure.

This also happened five other times. Hillary Clinton won all six coin tosses.

Megan McArdle comments:
Hillary Clinton is a terrible candidate. . . . That doesn’t mean she won’t eventually end up being president, but if she does, it will be despite her lackluster political skills, rather than because of them. The woman has had almost incumbent levels of support from her party, which paved the way for an easy coronation . . . and saw her come to a statistical tie with a self-avowed socialist.

Think about this: she started up 30 percent over Bernie Sanders, and ended up winning six precincts by a coin toss. Clinton seems to have a stronger base of support among Iowa coins than she does among Iowa caucus voters.

Pocket Change We Can Believe In!

A Facebook friend pointed out that the real problem seems to be that Sanders supporters are terrible at calling coin flips. Why, I can see the attack ad now . . .
(Narrator, speaking slowly with a tone of voice expressive of deep concern, over grainy black-and-white footage of slow-motion coin flips in Iowa auditoriums:) "The Bernie Sanders campaign . . . has consistently called coin flips wrong. How can we expect Bernie Sanders . . . to do what's right for America?"