So it’s the week before Christmas, and CNN threw a Republican presidential debate at the Venetian in Las Vegas. And in a particularly giving holiday spirit, they included no less than nine GOP hopefuls on the main stage, relegating just four to the “kids’ table” affair in the pre-prime hours.
And with those nine candidates fighting for airtime, CNN’s event turned into the TV news version of the Bataan death march.
We’re midway through December and there are still 13 Republicans running for president. This fact was more than a little unexpected and it’s just not a good thing.
Until there can be a debate with no more than five or six major candidates with a chance to win, these affairs will be just like the one just completed — inconclusive and desperate food fights.
Nothing illustrated that fact more than when Carly Fiorina, who has performed admirably in the debates thus far but whose campaign has run its course for lack of organization and momentum, kept trying to interrupt Ted Cruz as the latter was answering a question about his immigration policy. Fiorina’s attempt at interruption was grating, but it was hard to blame her — she had virtually no time to make her case, and her only option was to butt in.
Fiorina is one of several candidates in the race — all you need to do to find out who they are is look at the Real Clear Politics polling average — who simply don’t have much justification left for continuing.
Let’s be honest here. If your name isn’t Ted Cruz, Donald Trump, Marco Rubio, or Ben Carson, and we’re being charitable in including Carson, whose campaign is phlebotomizing and might be a carcass by mid-January, then you’re in the race mostly to keep your political consultants in steak dinners until the donors’ money runs out.
And that includes Jeb Bush, who did manage to score a few points on Trump by calling him a “chaos candidate” and suggesting that he gets his policy ideas from “the shows,” without opining whether the ones on Saturday mornings are more influential to the real estate magnate than the ones on Sunday mornings. Bush didn’t likely pull any votes away from Trump, and it’s unlikely that he attracted any to himself, with those exchanges, and it’s notable that he barely had any with the other candidates. Jeb! is in the race at this point solely to bite at Trump’s ankles, which is little more than an excuse to pay his consultants.
Ditto for John Kasich, who inherited both Jon Huntsman’s political guru and the latter’s irritating demeanor from 2012. To hear Kasich tell it, the Republican Party can’t win Ohio, and therefore can’t win the presidency, without him leading it. Nobody actually believes this, which makes his constant refrain in the style of an extortion demand along these lines less than convincing. If Kasich is such a lynchpin to success in 2016, then he ought to get out of the race and endorse someone who can win.
Chris Christie is showing signs of life in New Hampshire, but that shouldn’t be confused with viability as a national candidate. Anyone who can listen to him put forth his experience as a U.S. Attorney as a qualification for president one more time without having the desire to stick forks in his own eyes deserves a badge for self-control. Christie can’t unseat Rubio for the “establishment” vote, and he doesn’t have access to anything else.
And Rand Paul certainly factored into the debate when he backed Cruz against Rubio in the battle over the USA Freedom Act, which Rubio is seeking to use as a cudgel against Cruz. But let’s face it, Paul needs to go back to Kentucky and defend that seat in the Senate, because the GOP has too many vulnerable seats to defend as it is. He isn’t going to get the nomination and it’s time to play defense for the rest of the cycle.
The Rubio-Cruz debates over immigration, military funding. and the NSA’s phone records collections were substantive and both gave a good account of themselves, though Cruz certainly won on the question of amnesty. Both are excellent candidates and outstanding orators, and either would be a nightmare for Hillary Clinton — or whoever else the (literally) bankrupt Democrat Party nominates.
What we need is more Cruz vs. Rubio, and, when the candidates get around to it after they’re done with their current stalking dance, Cruz vs. Trump. And, for that matter, Rubio vs. Trump.
When Jeb!, Kasich, Fiorina, Christie, Carson, and Paul are eating up more than half the airtime, we’re not getting that debate. In a different cycle any of them might have been president. But it’s not going to happen for them at this point and that’s obvious.
Let’s winnow this field and get to the main event. Let’s have the three-way fight everyone has been talking about, and pick a nominee from the winner.