The 2016 presidential campaign, at least the Republican one,
has now begun in earnest with the first presidential debate
held in Cleveland, Ohio.
The natural inclination is to pick winners and losers from this
debate, but I think the real impact of Cleveland was to enhance
significantly the Republican prospects to win the presidency.
That is because the ten debaters in Cleveland gave both
personality and stature to the Republican argument and cause
for 2016. (Lest it be said I am being partisan on this, I will state
now that if and when the Democrats hold their presidential
debates, and their candidates do as well as the GOP contestants
just did, I will give full and equal credit to the Democrats.)
There was one person who did not appear in that debate,
however, who should have been there. That was Carly Fiorina
who did appear in the “consolation” debate held by Fox News
earlier in the day. Fox News did have the good sense to run a
clip of Mrs. Fiorina during the main debate, and there was
widespread agreement that she outshone all others in the
“consolation” debate. There is already plenty of ethnic
“diversity” in the GOP field of candidates, including one black
and two and one-half Latinos, but the GOP does have a serious
woman candidate, and they should put her front and center
as soon as possible.
Governor John Kasich of Ohio announced his candidacy late,
but he quickly emerged as a potentially first-tier figure in the
debate. Governor Chris Christie of New Jersey, once the
frontrunner, re-emerged in the debate as a formidable
contender. Senators Marco Rubio and Ted Cruz also did well.
Jeb Bush was thoughtful and articulate, but as yet has not
been able to project his personality in a field of contestants
which exudes personality. Ben Carson enhanced his campaign
with articulate answers, as did Governor Scott Walker of
Wisconsin (although Walker, like Jeb Bush, has not yet
fully solidified his public personality). If there was one
candidate who stood most in contrast to his rivals, it was
Rand Paul, who ardently defended a somewhat different
foreign policy view than the others in the debate. Always
charming, but seemingly not quite in step with the times,
Mike Huckabee was the only veteran of a previous
presidential campaign in the debate.
Finally, there was Donald Trump. As he has much of the
campaign so far, Mr. Trump dominated the stage of
candidates in Cleveland, even though he received the
toughest questions. Most of these he parried with his
self-confident style, but one he flubbed fundamentally.
That was the question asked of all the candidates at the
outset of the debate, to wit, “Do you commit to supporting
the eventual winner of the GOP nomination for president in
2016.” Nine of the candidates said they would. Trump said
he would not.
Trump’s answer is the wrong political answer. It is
considered by most Americans that when there is a
contest, fairly and openly competed, the winner is to be
congratulated and supported. This is true for sports as well
as politics. It is a fundamental element of the American
principle of fair play. Americans regard it as childish and
selfish for competitors not to honor the winner in a
contest they participate in.
First polls, of course, show Mr. Trump the winner of the
first debate, and his outspoken personality will likely
continue to draw positive attention in the media. It remains
to be seen, however, that if he loses the nomination and
then decides to run as a third party candidate, he would
draw more votes from the Republicans than the Democrats
in November, 2016. “Spoilers” with vague political images
don’t historically alter election outcomes in the U.S.
Democrats might now, more than ever, hope that Vice
President Biden enters the Democratic nomination contest.
He, more than any of the announced candidates (including
Hillary Clinton) has the political personality to shine in a
presidential debate. As the Democratic field now stands, it is
understandable why the Democratic Party leaders are putting
off debates of their own.
Copyright (c) 2015 by Barry Casselman. All rights reserved.