What Buckley Left Undone

Black and Red

William F. Buckley Jr. stares down at me from a giant poster I made to add a little conservative life to the bone white walls of my office. Beside him, in the poster, reads a quote from “The Conscience of a Conservative,” the book that he ghostwrote with L. Brent Bozell Jr. in 1960. When co-workers and visitors confront the 3 by 5 foot image; they crane their necks back, read the quote, look at Buckley’s wrinkled face and ask, “Who is that?”

“That’s Bill Buckley,” I say. “My hero.”

Intrigued that I profess to having a hero in a time when deconstruction insists that everyone is “complicated” at best and monsters generally, I’m often asked one of my favorite questions: why I so revere Mr. Buckley. With ease, I rattle off the short list of Buckley’s impressive works:

In 1955, when conservative media did not exist, Buckley started…

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Trump Proves Me Wrong, Yet Again

Rarely am I happier that I lack a larger audience than when I’m dead wrong about politics. My most recent piece wrongly predicted an easy victory for Hillary Clinton. I did so here, as well. With certainty, I declared Donald Trump “a loser.” In fact, so depressed was I about our nominee, that I rarely wrote articles beyond mid-summer. Personally, I abstained voting for president, as promised. The day after the election, though, America witnessed a political upheaval like no other–Donald Trump overcame the prognostications and won the 2016 election–“bigly.”

Trump needed to outperform Mitt Romney’s 2012 efforts in order to win, and it appears that he did so by calling the Democrats’ bluff on the numbers of Black and Latino voters they expected to rally around Clinton. In battleground states like North Carolina, Pennsylvania, Ohio, and Michigan, fewer Blacks voted this year than in the last presidential election. In 2012, Romney won 59% of the white vote nationally, leading me to argue that Trump needed to do significantly better among whites–an unlikely scenario–or make inroads among Blacks and Latinos in order to offset whatever whites he lost to Clinton. Surprisingly, he did the latter–outpacing Romney among Blacks; winning 8% to Romney’s 7%, and Latinos; winning 29% to Romney’s 27%. Unfortunately, Trump’s victory may further postpone minority outreach efforts.

But now that he’s proven me wrong in the primaries, and general election, what lies ahead?

Republicans control the House, Senate and the White House starting in January 2017. Now in control of the federal government, the GOP must seriously shift from being naysaying spectators to being active problem solvers. Within the first two years of a Trump term, the Republicans could end federal funding of Planned Parenthood; a minor, but symbolic feat. They could nominate and confirm a conservative jurist to replace the late, great, Antonin Scalia. They could repeal Dodd-Frank.

But what could they do to positively connect their leadership with the lives of the average American? How will they prioritize larger, more complicated goals, like repealing and replacing Obamacare, or rewriting the tax code? Americans will be looking for meaningful results, and the Republicans have promised (or perhaps, over-promised) to accomplish a great deal. Can they pursue these items without risking political capital needed to survive the midterm elections in 2018?

Also, what will come of the Trumpian initiatives: renegotiating NAFTA, sinking NATO, mass deportations of illegal immigrants, the Wall? All of these items were staples of the Trump campaign. Given the pressure Trump has placed upon himself to immediately pursue these goals, he’ll be expected to deliver–and fast. By my estimation, pursuing these idiosyncratic ends threaten to cost Republicans congressional majorities in 2018, dooming his presidency early on.

Or maybe I’m wrong, again.

Maybe the country cares less about a simpler tax code, and more about a symbolic gesture along the Southern border. Maybe we don’t really care about a nuclear Japan as much as we care about ripping up NAFTA.

In light of the 2016 election, Americans everywhere struggle to predict what comes next. Perhaps Mr. Trump will serve as a simple conduit through which thoughtful Republicans can filter policy. Maybe Republicans will continue their nasty infighting in the most public of venues. At this point, only two certainties exist: First, the Trump victory shines a spotlight on the disconnect between the public at large and the political elites. Second, nobody knows what the hell is going to happen next.

Least of all, me.

Our Vain Toils

Julian Castro dropped his copy of “Paso a Paso” and staggered, like a punch-drunk boxer, catching himself with one arm against a wall. It was as if he felt Hillary Clinton cross his name from her list of potential vice presidential candidates to flank her this summer. She doesn’t need him anymore: Republican voters turned their back on the Democrats’ greatest threat by choosing Donald Trump over the young, Spanish-speaking, Marco Rubio–a man bludgeoned with a one-word caricature of his reasonable approach to immigration reform– “amnesty.” With John Kasich facing practically no chance at winning the nomination, the GOP advances two candidates whose immigration proposals will drive Hispanics into the warm, welcoming arms of the Democrat Party. They were ours to lose, and we gave them away.

 

Corey Booker, too, stamped his foot. Clinton need not contact him to consolidate the black vote. Ted Cruz demonstrates no interest in courting black voters, and the remaining alternatives are two, old white men–the most popular of whom encourages violence against Black Lives Matter protesters, while perfunctorily denouncing his white supremacist support. The Democrats can relax a bit now. The Christian conservative blacks who voted for Barack Obama in 2008 and 2012 can tap the screen one more time, and make history again. Our efforts to attract these voters, in light of the GOP postmortem–vanity.

 

Barack Obama scoffs smugly as he looks at the election results. He shakes his head and puffs out his chest as he prepares to publicly shame Senate Republicans for refusing to hold any confirmation hearings on Antonin Scalia’s replacement.Mitch McConnell’s brave declaration of defiance presupposed much better odds of a Republican winning the White House in November. That presupposition vaporized with Rubio’s exit from the nomination race. Obama gleefully spent much of his presidency winding up the impotent Republican mob, only to see them embarrass themselves, cannibalize themselves, and show themselves for what they really are–disorganized reactionaries draped in the thin, tattered, wisps of an intellectualism long past. From Edmund Burke to Russell Kirk, from Brent Bozell to Bill Buckley; all roads lead to “The Donald” now, or to his minion, Ted Cruz. Now, Obama may nominate a Supreme Court justice as liberal as he pleases. Senate recalcitrance only  postpones the inevitable: a liberal will replace Nino whether chosen by Obama or Clinton. Even better, Mitch McConnell suffers another crushing  public humiliation. His bravery–vanity.

 

Ruth Bader Ginsburg chases her nighttime cocktail of colorful pills with a rich, blood-red table wine. She lies on her back, staring at the ceiling waiting to be overcome by sleep, either of the temporary or metaphorical variety. Warmed by the wine, she smiles as she watches the Republican vultures leave their perch above her bed. They will starve after all. “Go find carrion elsewhere! Feast upon the rotting elephant flesh, from the bodies senselessly trampled in the stampede.”

 

“I hated all my toil in which I toil under the sun…”

 

Consider the sacrifice of millions of patriots who formed this conservative movement which has; together with its political vehicle, the Republican Party; freed millions of unfortunate black slaves from bondage, lead the fight for women’s suffrage, reduced the number of babies murdered in the womb, created the Americans with Disabilities Act, saved countless lives by supporting strong and just law enforcement tactics.

 

“…seeing that I must leave it to the man who will come after me, and who knows whether he will be wise or a fool?”

We leave our toil to a man who sided with the Democrats while we weathered attacks in the name of conservative principles. We leave our toil to a man who does not know what conservatism actually means.

 

“…Yet he will be master of all for which I toiled and used my wisdom under the sun. This also is vanity. So I turned about and gave my heart up to despair…”

The Krazy Konservative Kleavage

Seventy-two percent of the voters in 2012 identified as white. Thirty-five percent of the electorate self-identified as conservative. Mitt Romney won these groups 59% and 82% respectively. Still, though, Romney lost. He lost because President Barack Obama won three quarters of the non-white vote, including a staggering 71% of Latinos. This led to the Republican “post mortem” report, an exhaustive examination of the many challenges that face the party, especially in Presidential Elections. The report named many areas of improvement, but the most controversial prescription called on the Party to increase its minority outreach.

 

“If we want ethnic minority voters to support Republicans, we have to engage them and show our sincerity.” Furthermore, “we must embrace and champion comprehensive immigration reform. If we do not, our Party’s appeal will continue to shrink to its core constituencies only.”

 

Many Republicans–Big Tent Republicans–agree with these findings. Romney’s vow to make life for illegal immigrants so difficult that they would “self-deport;” failed to comfort the millions of immigrants and their families, and sent the message to Latinos that Republicans don’t “care about people like me.”  Moreover, Romney’s approach failed to address the complexity of the illegal immigration problem.

 

On the other hand, many other Republicans reviled this conclusion. They argue, instead, that Romney lost the 2012 election because he wasn’t–like them–a “true conservative,” ignoring that he represented the “true conservative” choice in 2008, when he ran against John McCain. “True conservatives” say that they believe in absolute ideological purity, but that does not appear to be so. Instead, “true conservatives” are singly concerned about Mexican immigration. These Republicans believe that across the nation, white conservatives simply refuse to come to the polls to vote for Republican candidates who are not conservative enough, and until a “true conservative” becomes the nominee, Republicans will continue to lose elections.

 

The numbers, however, belie this conclusion.

 

By “true conservative’s” estimates, for example, George W. Bush is more conservative than both McCain and Romney. In 2000, 29% of voters self-identified as conservative, 34% in 2008, and 35% in 2012. Bush earned 82% of the conservative vote in 2000, McCain earned 78% in 2008, and Romney won 82% in 2012. In other words, Romney won more conservative votes than each of these recent predecessors, McCain earned more conservative votes than Bush, and fewer self-identified conservatives came out for Bush than did for both McCain and Romney.

 

Was George W. Bush not conservative enough to attract these phantom “true conservatives?” Why did so many more conservatives come out to support a “less conservative” Mitt Romney? Impervious to evidence, “true conservatives” dig in their heels.

 

As candidates entered the 2016 Presidential Race, the dichotomy couldn’t be clearer: Among others; senators Marco Rubio, Rand Paul, and Governors Jeb Bush, Scott Walker and John Kasich; conspicuously represented the Big Tent Republicans–the Republicans who got the memo in 2012. Senator Ted Cruz, and hotelier Donald Trump represented the “true conservative” wing of the Party.

 

In an appeal to his Republican constituents, Trump attacked Jeb Bush for speaking Spanish. Cruz did the same to Marco Rubio. This line of attack meant to elicit visceral concerns about Mexican immigration, also suggested that the Big Tent candidates shared a secret agenda to serve the interests of Hispanics over American (white) interests, and implied that neither Bush nor Rubio can be trusted. In fact, Cruz openly accused Rubio of saying one thing on Univision–in Spanish–and another to the American public–most of whom do not speak Spanish and cannot fact check Cruz’ claim with certainty or ease. Interestingly, in 2012, Newt Gingrich argued that he was the “real conservative,” as opposed to Romney, and he employed this very same kind of attack, arguing that Romney’s bilingualism (French, in his case) raised questions about his fealty to America.

 

Big Tent Republicans, on the other hand, make the case, as did Rubio, that speaking Spanish helps deliver the conservative message to more people. In keeping with the Big Tent goal of expanding the Party, Bush and Rubio argued that bilingualism was a tool to welcome new people into the GOP.

 

“True conservatives’” favorite attack against Big Tent Republicans regards immigration policy. Rubio faced intense castigation for working with a bipartisan team of Senators to pass a comprehensive immigration reform bill. The bill would have penalized, with a fine and repayment of back taxes, any of the 12 million illegal immigrants living in the United States who chose to accept this punishment. Then, this group could earn legal status–even citizenship. The bill strengthened the E-verify program, and mandated businesses to participate. It passed the Senate with 68 votes, but died in the House.

 

“True conservatives” cheer the bill’s failure, calling it “amnesty,” as if the word has no definition. Rubio bears the scars for participating in The Gang of 8 (not to be confused with the Gang of 14 that “true conservatives” hung around John McCain’s neck in 2008). “True conservatives” believe that law enforcement officers should hunt illegal immigrants, take them from their houses and places of employment, send them to immigration courts, detain and deport them. Both Trump and Cruz say that they will do all of this and build a 50 foot wall along the Southern border.

 

At this point in the 2016 election, half of the 4 remaining candidates are “true conservatives,” while the other half are Big Tent Republicans. Unfortunately, the “true conservatives” are winning.

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This schism suggests that Republicans have learned nothing from their 2012 defeat. “True conservatives’” appeals to xenophobia have unsurprisingly attracted support from the Ku Klux Klan, David Duke, and other white supremacist groups. Trump’s reticence to denounce this wing of his supporters further validates the fears minorities have about the GOP. If ever one would wonder whether or not Republicans “care about people like me,” one only need remember that rather than trying to appeal to minorities, the Republican Party prefers to court nonexistent white people.

 

Most of the candidates who worked to expand the Party have dropped from the race for lack of support. While some conservative commentators may argue that a majority of Republican voters do not agree with Donald Trump, the fact remains that Ted Cruz represents the same wing of the divided Republican Party. Neither candidate works to welcome new members to the GOP rolls. In fact, they both push minorities away. As a result, millions of potential Republican voters will vote Democrat, and the Democrats will win another Presidential election.

 

Voting for Marco Rubio, on the other hand, presents the Democrats with a true challenge: no longer can they take minority votes for granted, because Rubio actively courts them. For every Democrat surrogate sent to speak in Spanish on behalf of their white candidate, Rubio, himself, can answer on his own behalf. The image of Rubio sharing a stage with Governor Nikki Haley, Senator Tim Scott and Congressman Trey Gowdy will be a galvanizing image for the Republican Party.

 
As it happens, though, “true conservatives” continue to win more Republican votes. So when Republicans lose in November, prepare for another hand wringing report about the lack of minority outreach. Prepare for the accusations that the GOP nominee was ideologically tainted. For had he been a “true conservative,” millions upon millions of whites would have shown up to vote Republican.

A Conservative’s Guide to a Trump Nomination

Every time Donald Trump wins a caucus or a primary, a Hell-bat gets its wings, and responsible Republicans lose their hair. At the beginning of the 2016 nomination race, I joined with many Republicans who rejoiced at our crowded field of diverse and substantive candidates. When Donald Trump descended the escalator to a puny gaggle of paid supporters, cropped by cameras to hide their pitiful numbers, I didn’t worry. His candidacy reassured me that the race was ours to lose–the road to the White House ran through the GOP. Moreover, I didn’t think Trump was serious. He notoriously trolls for profit. He trolled people about running for president many times before. He trolled people about Barack Obama’s birth certificate. Trump speaks in large, empty gesticulations–it’s his native language.

 

Then, he filed FEC paperwork.

 

Then, he started appearing (mostly via telephone) on mainstream news and politic shows.

 

Then, coworkers, who I had considered reasonably sane, openly voiced support for Trump, and not ironically.

 

Boasting strong showings in multiple polls, and having won primaries and caucuses, Trump has proven that he really can do anything without losing one iota of support.

 

While I do not believe that Trump will ultimately win the Republican nomination, I can’t ignore the fact that I’ve been wrong about him throughout this entire campaign.

 

What if I’m wrong now? What if Donald Trump wins the Republican nomination? How should a responsible Republican vote, if at all?

 

Alas! I offer the following solution should we have to break the glass and grab the fire extinguisher: we vote. We don’t vote for Trump–he’s not a conservative or a Republican. For the same reason, we don’t vote for the Democrat candidate either. We don’t vote third party.

 

We vote in every other race but the presidency. We vote for Republican congressmen, senators, comptrollers, and governors. We support every Republican who, like us, care about the party and about advancing conservative ideas and conservative principles.

 

Among other things, a Trump nomination threatens every Republican running for office. If we stay home because Trump sits atop the ticket, we may undo the very important gains we won in 2010 and 2014. The country would again suffer under a Democrat president with a complicit legislature–and, again, a Hell-bat gets its wings.

 

A Donald Trump nomination frightens me, but not as much as the nightmare scenario that would occur if we shirk our responsibility.
Remember, in 2016 the Democrats host a coronation–not us. Trump hasn’t won the nomination yet, and I truly do not believe that he will. If he does, however, remember the many innocent Republicans further down the ballot before dusting off your passport.

Democrats Expose an Authoritarian Impulse

Democrats’ current apoplexy stems from Senate Majority Leader, Mitch McConnell, refusing to confirm any of President Barack Obama’s Supreme Court nominees to replace the late Associate Justice, Antonin Scalia. Ruth Marcus, at The Washington Post, calls the Senate (in)action a “sit-down strike,” in a piece titled “The GOP’s dangerously dogmatic Supreme Court Obstructionism [emphasis added].” Kathleen Parker, of the same paper, fancied that Scalia would regard the Senate’s move as “childish.” Governor Andrew Cuomo weighed in on the controversy calling the Senate’s recalcitrance a “disservice.” Truthfully, however, none of the Democrats’ lachrymose complaints or apocalyptic warnings can obscure their nakedly political origins. Moreover, their feeble appeals to principle and institutional respect attempt to mask a more powerful critique of modern liberalism–namely, its authoritarian impulse.

 

Finding evidence that Democrats care less about institutional integrity than they do about their own political ends proves a simple task. Consider the absence of liberal outrage when Senator Chuck Schumer (D-NY) said in 2007 (under a Republican president), “I will recommend to my colleagues that we should not confirm any [George W.] Bush nominee to the Supreme Court except in extraordinary circumstances.” He went on to say that Senate Democrats should “reverse the presumption of confirmation.” Nine years later, Schumer argues that his words are no longer relevant.

 

In 1992, Vice President Joe Biden (then a U.S. Senator) advised the same course of action against George H.W. Bush.

 

“It is my view,” Biden said, “that if a Supreme Court Justice retires…President Bush should consider following the practice of a majority of his predecessors, and not–and not–name a nominee until after the November election is completed.” He goes on, “It is my view that if the President…presses an election year nomination, the Senate Judiciary Committee should seriously consider not scheduling confirmation hearings on the nomination.”

 

Despite the evidence that McConnell’s move simply constitutes run-of-the-mill obstruction, Ruth Marcus argues that “[shutting] down the confirmation process would be bad for the court, [and] bad for the country.” After all, she says, in regards to important cases, an 8-person Court cannot offer a majority opinion. Furthermore, “Citizens deserve conclusive answers on issues important enough to reach the high court…”

 

Of course, the Republic will not disintegrate because Obama doesn’t get his judge. Our legal system addresses her concerns, remanding 4-4 split decisions to the lower court. Citizens, therefore, will receive the conclusive answers to the pressing political issues that they deserve. Crisis averted.

 

So if McConnell’s move does not threaten the nation, the Court, or Senate integrity, why are liberals so enraged? Because liberals are by nature authoritarian, and the balance of powers threatens that disposition.

 

Wail as they will about elections having consequences, and how that means that the twice elected President holds a mandate to appoint Supreme Court justices unimpeded. If elections really are mandates, the will of the people to staunch the Democrats’ agenda occurred more recently and definitively. Contesting that low voter turnout for midterm Congressional elections favors Republicans, Democrats unwittingly acknowledge that their voters prefer to enact their will through the Executive Branch, which explains why they stay home for midterm elections.

 

Consider, for example, that President Obama’s greatest critics express vexation on account of his unilateral disregard for the other branches of government: We regret that Obama circumvented governmental checks and balances to implement a non-treaty treaty with Iran. We abhor Obama’s executive order granting amnesty to millions of illegal immigrant children. We criticized his public reproach of the Court in his 2010 State of the Union address–signalling contempt for a Court because it delivered a decision with which he disagrees. Even the President’s signature achievement–The Affordable Care Act (ACA)–passed undemocratically: The bill skated through the Democrat-controlled Senate which had changed the legislative procedural rules ad hoc after Scott Brown, a Republican who promised to be the deciding vote against the ACA, won Ted Kennedy’s Massachusetts Senate seat. Democrats, have always cheered the imposition of their agenda–especially when they can use authoritative means to enact it.  
Mitch McConnell has a perfectly legitimate right not to confirm any Obama nominees–and the Democrats know it. Falling for the Left’s newfound respect for august federal institutions means falling for deceit. Their expressed concerns about the Court and the Senate as institutions provide scant cover for their open lust for unaccountable liberal power. In the meantime, both parties stare down a fateful 2016 election with an eye on Scalia’s seat, and on a few others as well.

Democrats Need a Tea Party

Republicans concluded another presidential nomination debate before tens of millions of American viewers. Pundits routinely, and rightly, note that the wide field of candidates represent the best the party has ever presented. Amidst the conversations about tactics, temperaments, and policy, lies another debate about insiders and outsiders–The Establishment and the grassroots–populists and elitists. While elements of this latter debate exist in nearly every primary election, the Tea Party movement intensified the rift. The beneficial aspect of the populist focus is an engaged and empowered electorate: conservatives pay closer attention to their elected officials, and those officials pay attention to their constituents. The worst aspect of this focus has been an irrational disdain for powerless politicians, and a ravenous appetite for the immediate gratification gained from futile grandstanding gestures. While liberals enjoy lampooning our process, the Republican nomination race will serve to strike the right balance between these two passions.

Compare the reality on the right, with that on the left.

Governor Martin O’Malley leads an angry throng of liberals against DNC chair Debbie Wasserman Schultz to encourage the party to add more debates. The current schedule, in his view, rigs the nomination so that it favors Hillary Clinton–The Queen of the Democrat Establishment.

“This sort of rigged process has never been attempted before,” O’Malley said in a fiery speech to the DNC. “Whose decree is it exactly? Where did it come from? To what end? For what purpose?”

Most Americans have no idea that Martin O’Malley is a Democrat candidate for president, and know even less about Jim Webb’s campaign.

Looming in the background is Bernie Sanders, one of the most populist Democrats to run for the nomination in decades. Drawing record crowds, attention, and donations, the 74 year old’s unapologetic liberalism emboldens supporters frustrated that conservatism precluded Barack Obama’s presidency from ushering in the liberal reawakening pundits promised in 2008 and 2009. Sanders is honest, consistent and is a true man of the people (in their view). But, the Democrat establishment detests him.

“The politicians, plutocrats and pundits of the Democratic Party establishment have no answer to Bernie Sanders’ blistering critique of their failure to defend the interests of the voters who have kept them in power,” writes Jeff Faux. “Neither have they a substantive case against his policy agenda…They have one argument: he can’t win.”

Writing in The Upshot, Nate Cohn echoes the argument about Sanders’ electability and assures Democrats that Clinton will easily secure the nomination. This assurance spawns anxiety.

Dogged by scandal and secrecy, Hillary Clinton’s poll numbers frighten supporters. A group of party activists and Obama campaign bundlers (major donors) penned a letter urging a different establishment candidate to enter the race–Vice President Joe Biden. Though Biden appeals better to populist Democrats than Hillary Clinton, his establishment ties prove strong enough to allay fears among party leaders about his electability. Still, though, this leaves the Democrat grassroots on the sidelines.

Denied an Elizabeth Warren run, barred by the DNC from choosing a candidate after a vigorous debate cycle, and shamed for supporting Bernie Sanders, what is a liberal activist to do?

Of course, the Democrat party desperately needs a populist uprising–a Tea Party. Insofar as Ralph Nader took votes from Al Gore in the 2000 election, Nader did so by appealing to grassroots liberals. Groups like Code Pink only focused on a single issue–war. Occupy Wall Street lacked the focus to successfully transform into a political vehicle for liberal change. When the varied messages were pinned down long enough to be distilled into something intelligible, what occupiers wanted was what Bernie Sanders offers–a dream that will not be delivered (at least in 2016).

As it stands, liberals may always be politically frustrated because liberalism (and the Democrat Party) functions on a top-down model. Therefore, the establishment candidates will always be wealthy elites, even the populist ones, because liberalism believes in remanding political power to the elites.

As the left mocks conservatives for our crowded stages of candidates, our bickering over ideas and tactics, we should rest assured that our problem is a good one to have. Our process will produce the most polished candidate that the elites and the grassroots can accept.
The left will be stuck with Hillary Clinton.

GOP Nomination Debate 2: My Ranking from Best to Worst

The second Republican Presidential Nomination Debate featured 11 candidates instead of 10, a fair amount of policy discussion, and the usual dose of bickering and argumentation. In the end, though, each candidate needed to fare well in this debate by highlighting his or her strengths and addressing deficiencies. Each candidate faces different challenges, so with that in mind, I have scored the debate’s winners and losers in the following order:

Second Place: Senator Marco Rubio

Senator Marco Rubio, again, delivered a command debate performance. As usual, he dominated on foreign affairs, fleshing out the dangers of Russian intervention in the Middle East, for example. He also related the substance of his ideas to the people they will help. One of his most powerful moments tied his upbringing in a Spanish-speaking household to his defense of speaking Spanish when conveying conservative ideas to other Spanish-speaking Americans. Despite Rubio’s fluid delivery and routinely substantive remarks, he suffers in polling. Part of his problem is that he speaks so remarkably well that he can convey a robotic, over-rehearsed quality. To this end, Rubio released a charming ad meant to show off his more human side. As far as his debate performance, though, Rubio’s challenge was to highlight his humanity and remain as substantive as ever.

In an attempt at self-deprecation, Rubio opened with an awkward joke about staying hydrated in drought-plagued California. The reference to his reach for a bottle of water in the midst of his State of the Union response in 2013 fell flat on an audience that hardly remembers the referenced event at all. Worse, it came off as the kind of “scripted spontaneity” that dooms candidates like Hillary Clinton and Mitt Romney. When naturally making jokes–referring to himself as the first, not the third, senator; he comes across as more sincere.

As for remaining sharp on the issues, Rubio plays this role better than the rest.

The general consensus names Rubio the winner of the first debate and the near winner in the second. Whether this will translate to votes has yet to be seen. Still, Rubio continues to stand head and shoulders above his competitors on the debate stage.

GOP Nomination Debate 2: My Ranking from Best to Worst

The second Republican Presidential Nomination Debate featured 11 candidates instead of 10, a fair amount of policy discussion, and the usual dose of bickering and argumentation. In the end, though, each candidate needed to fare well in this debate by highlighting his or her strengths and addressing deficiencies. Each candidate faces different challenges, so with that in mind, I have scored the debate’s winners and losers in the following order:

First Place: CEO Carly Fiorina

Fiorina left the undercard debates to join her rivals on the main stage, and prove herself substantive enough for serious consideration. Her performance was simply stellar.

In the weeks leading up to the debate, Fiorina argued persuasively that the metric CNN used to decide who would participate in the debate contained serious flaws–mainly, that the polls CNN relied upon to book candidates were so old that they did not take recent polling fluctuations into account. Therefore, Fiorina was originally barred from the debate because her poll numbers before the first debate were low. Fiorina won the undercard debate and earned serious consideration and support from Republicans looking to replace less impressive candidates who happened to poll better than their debate performances. In effect, Fiorina entered the debate as an underdog needing to prove herself worthy of leaving the stage with candidates like Senator Lindsey Graham and Governor George Pataki to compete with candidates more widely predicted to actually capture the nomination. She not only proved herself worthy of the debate, she launched herself into the small ring of candidates that Republicans could feel completely comfortable supporting in the General Election.

Fiorina spoke competently on foreign relations, bested only by Marco Rubio and only by a small margin. She spoke movingly on human life–her voice cracking as if she were holding back tears for the millions of unborn butchered and sold for scrap. She revealed a human aspect of her life that many Americans hadn’t known about her–that she and her husband lost a child to drug addiction. She effectively turned her painful story into a warning about liberalizing drug policy and the lies claiming that marijuana is a harmless drug. As usual, too, she effectively attacked the Democrat frontrunner, Hillary Clinton.

As if this weren’t enough, Fiorina masterfully dismantled Donald Trump, the bully who in days previous made scathing remarks about Fiorina’s physical appearance as a critique of her competency to be president. In one of her many electrifying debate moments, Fiorina answered Trump’s sexist remark simply and effectively:

“I think women all over this country heard very clearly what Mr. Trump said.”

Trump tried to smooth over the moment by complimenting Fiorina’s looks–a tone deaf move–and met Fiorina’s steely gaze. That steely gaze sent daggers through the screen. It would dice Hillary Clinton to shreds in a debate. It would sober world leaders unwilling to respect an American president because of her sex. It would haunt America’s enemies.
Carly Fiorina proved herself as “The Real Deal.” She may be America’s own “Iron Lady.” Her strong debate performance brings her closer to carrying the GOP banner.

GOP Nomination Debate 1: My Ranking from Best to Worst (Last Place)

For the first GOP presidential nomination debate, I tweeted my assessment of the candidates’ performance from strongest to weakest. I came to this conclusion by judging which candidates best helped themselves. Because each candidate faces different challenges, what each must do to raise his profile varies. My assessment of the best performers and my rationale follows:

Last Place: Senator Rand Paul

Offering the absolute worst performance in the first nomination debate was Kentucky Senator Rand Paul. From my vantage point, Paul’s challenge was to broaden his support among Republicans beyond the mythical throng of libertarians awaiting a fellow traveler to rise up for their support. Libertarianism does not play well with religion, so Evangelical Christians will not flock to a Paul campaign. Libertarianism has also shown itself weak in dealing with foreign threats, so foreign policy hawks are unlikely to consider Paul. Compound his views on domestic spying, and Paul comes across as a quirky candidate, needing to cobble most of his support from unlikely sources. Paul did nothing in the first debate to endear himself to any of these unlikely sources.

“You’re having a hard time tonight.”

These words, from Donald Trump summed up Paul’s experience perfectly.

From the outset, interrupting the proceedings to attack Donald Trump, Paul came across as a small, yipping, dog: eager to start fights he can’t win. When the general idea among the candidates was to avoid getting into scuffles with Trump, Paul went headlong into foolish territory and paid dearly by losing stature.

Then, came the infamous fight with Governor Chris Christie, in which Christie annihilated Paul as a grandstanding senator who doesn’t face the consequences of his votes and speeches as directly as Christie faces the results of his decisions. Paul resorted to a cheap shot about Christie hugging President Barack Obama weeks ahead of the 2012 election, but Christie turned that barb around by talking about hugging the 9-11 victims’ families who suffered because domestic spying resources weren’t employed before the attacks. Paul looked sullenly at the floor and shrank away until tepidly delivering his closing remarks.

“I am a different kind of Republican…”

Indeed he is. On the fringe. Finishing last in the first GOP Presidential nomination debate.