Without question, that’s what last night’s debate was. It was a bread-and-circuses act straight out of the Late Roman Empire, if not perhaps the early Thunderdome period of post-nuclear holocaust Australia.
Which is not to say there weren’t some highlights, but Good Lord. This thing started with a presidential candidate regarded as a frontrunner for his party’s nomination who actually boasted about the size of his penis in the first 10 minutes of the affair.
A presidential candidate, mind you. Some of you support this man.
And no, you are not allowed to excuse that departure from basic decency by saying that Marco Rubio started it by making fun of the size of his hands. Rubio did do that, of course, but he didn’t do it last night in Detroit. It wasn’t necessary for Donald Trump to bring up the subject of body parts and their size; it was forgettable when Rubio went there and it was worse when Trump took the insult over a cliff and the entire debate with it.
Which leaves us with this, courtesy of Oscar.
For his part, Rubio generally managed to elevate the discussion a bit from where it was in the previous debate. He stayed off the references to spray-tans and virility, but rather did a credible job of drawing out the Trump University story and equating it to Trump’s presidential campaign – accusing Trump of fleecing the students at his real estate investment seminars and suggesting that his voters will fare no better.
And frankly, it’s perplexing how the campaign could have gone this far without Trump University playing a major role in it. Trump claims the school had a 98 percent approval rating from its students, but that claim doesn’t sound particularly convincing when the court has certified a class of FIVE THOUSAND people as plaintiffs in a class action suit. If those plaintiffs are the two percent of the students unsatisfied with Trump’s offerings, are we to believe there were 250,000 in total?
And in the debate Trump claimed he’d given other unsatisfied students their money back. How many of those were there, and do those students count as part of the 98 percent, or the two?
If the Washington Post is to be believed, Trump’s math associated with the case comes right from fantasyland. It places the total number of Trump University students at 80,000, and rates Trump’s claims about the case as false.
Trump also claimed the Better Business Bureau had given Trump University an “A” rating, and at one point that was true. But the final published rating for Trump University before it was disbanded was a D-minus.
And Trump University was disbanded. A-rated businesses with satisfied customers typically do not disband. Trump rebranded the school and relaunched it under another name, but that hardly disproves the allegations made in the lawsuit and repeated by Rubio.
It got so bad for Trump during the exchange about the upcoming fraud trial that The Donald was reduced to saying “Let’s wait a few years” for the courts to play the class action suit out to see whether he’d actually defrauded those five thousand people, and Ted Cruz jumped in with a devastating note: “Megyn, let me ask the voters at home, is this the debate you want playing out in the general election?”
Cruz had mentioned in the previous debate that Trump spending the summer, as the Republican presidential nominee, testifying in a court case where he’s accused of defrauding five thousand people is a spectacle the party simply cannot afford. He reiterated that imagery last night to good effect, and didn’t particularly need to elaborate on it – you don’t need much imagination to recognize the abject lack of wisdom involved in staking the next four years on an uplifting resolution of the Trump University case.
Trump, for his part, called a class action suit involving five thousand plaintiffs “a minor thing,” which was perhaps the singular Whiskey Tango Foxtrot political moment of our time. One suspects the Democrats and the media, but I repeat myself, will be less than forgiving on that score when the time comes. Megyn Kelly mentioned last night that the appeals court handling one aspect of the Trump U. suit referred to him as a con artist and compared the plaintiffs to victims of Bernie Madoff. Safe to say that isn’t the last time those words will surface this election cycle.
The arrogance which holds that you shouldn’t settle such a class action lawsuit, and pay extra for non-disclosure agreements from the plaintiffs, in advance of a presidential run, is staggering. Trump defends the decision by claiming he doesn’t like to settle lawsuits because to do so only invites more. Funny how less than a month ago he settled his suit with Univision, though in that case he was a plaintiff.
And he didn’t have to settle this case, though he settled the companion one to it. In fact, it looks like Trump settles lawsuits about as often as everybody else settles them. He’s not telling the truth about that question, which makes the Trump University controversy all the more perplexing – settling the case and getting it out of the way before running for president is a no-brainer. Once you’re president you’re essentially lawsuit-proof, so the idea that settling a case means you’re inviting more suits doesn’t wash.
One wonders whether Trump can’t actually settle the Trump University case because he doesn’t have the cash on hand to do it. If he’s nowhere near as rich as he claims to be, that might be what’s actually going on.
But while the Trump University segment of the debate was perhaps the most instructive, it was hardly the only time Trump got eviscerated in the debate.
The Fox News moderators had their way with him, debunking his claim that he could fill the budget hole his tax plan would create by eliminating the Department of Education and the EPA by showing the actual budget numbers (the two agencies combine for only $88 billion or so per year in funding) and further laying waste to his claim that he could save $300 billion a year on prescription drugs through negotiation, when Medicare’s total spending on prescription drugs is only $78 billion per year. Fox also took apart a number of Trump flip-flops on foreign policy by showing clips of opposite positions he took, making him look like a fool in particular on his reversal on Syrian refugees and on his opposition-turned-support for the Afghanistan war.
But in the end it was Cruz who tore Trump apart. He sliced into him on the question of hiring immigrants for his club at Mar-A-Lago, getting a large portion of the audience to raise their hands in answer to the question how many had waited tables at some point in their lives to debunk the assertion that the temporary jobs during the busy season in Palm Beach are jobs Americans won’t do. He gave a devastating response to Trump’s bragging about an outlier CNN poll showing him at 49 percent of the Republican vote nationally by noting that poll also shows Trump losing to Hillary Clinton by eight points while Cruz beats her. He challenged Trump to allow the release of the tapes of the off-the-record New York Times interview in which he reportedly assured the paper’s left-leaning editors that his campaign bluster on immigration is a ruse designed to get votes but hardly an immovable opening negotiating position.
Trump’s performance on immigration in the debate had to be a disappointment for those of his supporters who come about their decision based on something other than emotion. He called Rubio’s Gang of Eight bill “fine,” he said his position on H-1B visas had “changed,” and that you have to be “flexible” in dealing with the issue. That isn’t the firebrand rhetoric he built his campaign on, so one has to wonder exactly what it is about Trump that his supporters actually support?
Cruz hammered away at Trump for having funded Democrats over and over again, including bankrolling many of them in the runup to the 2006 midterms which put Harry Reid and Nancy Pelosi in charge of Congress and countered Trump’s claim that he did so for business reasons by noting that at the time Republicans had majorities in Congress so he would not have been furthering business interests with those donations. And then he made a direct appeal to Trump voters with a compelling argument…
I understand the folks who are supporting Donald right now. You’re angry. You’re angry at Washington, and he uses angry rhetoric. But for 40 years, Donald has been part of the corruption in Washington that you’re angry about. And you’re not going to stop the corruption in Washington by supporting someone who has supported liberal Democrats for four decades, from Jimmy Carter to John Kerry to Hillary Clinton. You’re not going to stop the corruption and the cronyism by supporting someone who has used government power for private gain.
The punches Cruz and Rubio landed generally didn’t result in the full damage they should have, largely because Trump would respond to them with schoolyard insults – Little Marco! Lyin’ Ted! – and then hooting and screaming from the crowd would result, which set the moderators to trying to regain control of the proceedings – with the substance of the discussion being lost. The result was that Trump was able to go through two hours without giving any specifics on any policy at all.
Ace of Spades had a perfect description of just how bad Trump was…
He then added some substance to his foreign policy platform by declaring that he would force American soldiers to break the law and murder children.
On other issues, he was less reassuring.
His answers to questions about Trump University and the budget were somewhat uncomfortable to watch, in much the same way that it is uncomfortable to watch a bus full of circus clowns crash into a school for blind children and even worse the clowns were doing their “Gasoline Comedy” act that day and now all the blind children are on fire and the clowns are trying to squirt water on them with their stupid lapel-flowers but the flowers are just squirting out more gas and the children are crying tears of fire out of their Unseeing Dead Eyes and holy shit a couple of the clowns look like they have boners and they’re chasing around the fiery blind children trying to rub up on them with these bobbling clown-boners with big red bulbs on their tips.
In other words, as Trump would say: Not the best. Really not terrific. A real mess!
Grade: I don’t even know how to even start grading this. As far as a letter grade, I give a red X carved crudely through the face of a rotting pig with a bunch of stripper-glitter tossed on it.
And then there was John Kasich, who refused to engage in the debate and instead posed as the “adult” in the room. National Review’s David French summed up that performance with dead-on accuracy…
Regarding Kasich, his performance was cheap and cowardly. Anyone can look statesmanlike when they opt out of a necessary fight. By choosing to cast himself as above the fray, he created a false moral equivalence between Trump, Rubio, and Cruz, and he transparently curried favor with viewers weary of conflict. With every passing moment, he is staining his legacy and his reputation. At a crucial moment, Kasich chose to be — first and foremost – for Kasich. Shame on him.
Kasich continues to offer the fantasy that he’s going to win a brokered convention in Cleveland by staying above the fray, when it’s clear that if Trump isn’t stopped he’ll have the delegates to win in advance of that. Were anyone taking him seriously they would be outraged at the idea of this man refusing to actually compete in the primary process and essentially expecting to have the nomination given to him despite the votes of the people. He refuses to engage Trump at all, even when as the “adult” in the room he’s asked to offer opinions about discussions that are taking place.
That’s not adulthood. As French says, it’s cowardice.
– Speaking of National Review, you really should read Andrew McCarthy’s column on Hillary Clinton’s e-mail scandal and the latest developments – specifically the news that Brian Pagliano, the IT specialist who set up her private e-mail server, was granted immunity by the Department of Justice.
A quick excerpt…
To be more specific, in order to obtain an order from the court granting statutory immunity, federal law requires the prosecutor to represent to the court that the witness has been or may be called to testify or provide other information to the grand jury (or some related court proceeding, usually the trial that follows the grand jury’s indictment). Statutory immunity is not granted in circumstances where the FBI just wants to have an informal chat with a potential witness; it arises in the context of a grand jury investigation or a criminal trial.
There is no requirement that there be a grand-jury investigation underway in order for the prosecutor to give a witness (and the witness’s lawyer) a “queen for a day” letter. Nevertheless, the whole point of this letter is to set up an interview of the witness by the FBI and the prosecutor. In that interview, the government hopes to find out (a) what the witness knows, (b) what other conspirators the witness is in a position to provide testimony about, and (c) whether it is worth signing a formal cooperation agreement with the witness. If a cooperation agreement is signed, the witness is permitted to plead guilty to one or more offenses he has committed in exchange for his cooperation and testimony in cases involving other participants in the criminal transaction. Obviously, the idea is to cut a deal with the less culpable player in order to make the case against the more culpable player(s).
Long and short of it, though, again, you really should read the whole thing: all along we’ve been waiting for Loretta Lynch to launch a grand jury investigation into the e-mail scandal and the FBI’s probe of it, and debating whether the politics in Washington will permit her to do so, but the news about Pagliano getting some form of immunity, either via a proffer or the full-on statutory kind, is a strong indication that the grand jury investigation may well already be underway. That’s a major, major development in the case and it ought to change the thinking of a lot of people about Hillary’s future.
More on that in a post here next week sometime.
– We panned Mitt Romney’s assault on Donald Trump in advance of his speech yesterday, and our sentiments turned out to be accurate. Romney actually gave a pretty good speech, but as we figured he was an entirely wrong messenger and was rightly slammed for it.
A big part of Trump’s shtick is that he was a good soldier for the Republican establishment when Romney and John McCain were the party’s nominees. They failed and now he is taking matters into his own hands. (It’s worth recalling Romney did more than any other establishment Republican to help elevate Trump by appearing with the billionaire to accept his endorsement four years ago.)
For Trump, this serves two purposes. It helps him bond with Republicans who are angry about their party’s failure to beat Obama in legislative battles or elections. And it is a conversion story of sorts to explain why he went from being a fairly conventional moderate Northeastern Republican businessman — albeit one who has long been consumed by themes of national decline and foreigners disrespecting America — to a Tea Party populist.
The type of Republican who is drawn to Trump believes the party leadership is more interested in fighting the rank and file, or fighting people who are perceived as being too conservative, than fighting the Democrats.
Romney going after Trump with much more relish and cleverness than he ever displayed in his rote attacks on Obama doesn’t really do anything to allay those concerns. In fact, it basically makes Trump’s case for him.
While anti-Trump Republicans are hungry for leadership and will welcome it from almost any source, Romney subtly undermines the conservative case against Trump in other ways. That case revolves around the fact that Trump isn’t especially conservative by mainstream movement standards.
A Republican leader whose conservatism was also suspect by mainstream movement standards, even if to a much lesser extent, isn’t the best person to press that argument against Trump. If anything, it reminds the Trump-inclined that conservatives who have denounced their guy once accepted or even endorsed Romney while other more conservative alternatives were still available.
And Andrew McCarthy, who was surely busy yesterday…
This performance is going to rub a lot of people the wrong way. I know it rubbed me the wrong way. Not because I found much with which to disagree; because my first reaction on hearing Romney today (i.e., before I was reminded of the gushing tribute to Trump) was: Where was this Mitt in the third debate against Obama? That night, Romney bent over so far backwards to agree with the foreign policy of Obama (whose foreign policy is probably the worst in American history) that dismayed Republican supporters feared he might just go ahead and endorse the president.
My main takeaway from Romney’s speech today is that Republican leaders simply do not grasp the dynamic of the schism within the party. It is obviously important to make the case that Trump is a con-man and a cretin. No, it will not change the minds of Trump’s most ardent supporters, but they are not the target audience. The target is the majority of voters who could either rationalize swinging to Trump or be persuaded that he’d be a disaster. We should all get why it is crucial to make the anti-Trump case to them.
But there is a second element that cannot be ignored, no matter how much leading Republicans seem determined to ignore it: The anger at Republican leaders that has ignited insurgent candidacies – candidacies whose combined level of support dwarfs that of leadership’s preferred candidates. That anger is fueled by the perception that (a) nothing GOP leaders say can be trusted, and (b) GOP leadership is meek when dealing with Obama but vicious when attacking conservative or outsider candidates.
Today, Romney played to type. Yes, he made a strong case against Trump, but for many of Trump’s current and potential supporters, what matters is not Trump’s personal downsides but his utility as the vessel to convey their rage against a bipartisan system that ignores them when it’s not screwing them, and that is doing great damage to the country. The cataloguing of Trump’s failings is irrelevant to many of them – in fact, in a perverse way, the more of a rogue he is, the more he becomes just the middle-finger they want to flip at Washington.