BEDLAM: a madhouse by any other name is still CNBC




Sorry, Reince. We tried to tell you.

Following last night’s debate, Reince Priebus immediately went into defense mode. I honestly view his statement here as sincere and ticked off, as irritated as a Midwesterner can be, when it comes to CNBC’s performance.  The fact is that they just made him look bad – very bad. Reince had promised a different process this time around, a different debate experience – no more Wild Wild West, more questioners from conservative media, an orderly and responsible series of debates covering foreign policy, the economy, and other issues in a thorough manner. The first two debates were a bit too gotcha, a bit less serious than we would like. But they were nothing like the total unmitigated disaster we saw last night.

This was worse than any debate I’ve seen in my lifetime. A primary reason for that was John Harwood, whose combative but vacuous style led to unserious questions and putting the debaters in a position of opposition to the moderators as opposed to opposition among themselves.   Sonny Bunch ranks the moderators here, and unlike most Bunch rankings, I think he’s pretty accurate.  At the end of the day we had an economic debate in which there were no questions about Wall Street regulation, no questions about Too Big to Fail, no questions about Trade, and instead a series of attacks from moderators who failed factchecks in real time and ultimately were booed by the entire room for their pathetic gotcha attempts. Why did CNBC have no conservative media partner? Why was the presence of a “conservative” voice limited to Rick Santelli asking questions about Gold and the Fed (who is not, actually, a conservative)? The economy is the biggest problem the next president faces, we have people like Ben Carson with a serious lack of depth on the issue, and you’re asking them questions about Costco’s policies toward gay couples and herbal supplements? What is wrong with you?

The headline from this debate is: it’s going to result in a change of process. The complaints are too loud and too broad. It’s one thing when yours truly, Hugh Hewitt, and Erick Erickson are complaining – when Larry Sabato, Stu Rothenberg, Anderson Cooper, Politico, and ThinkProgress are agreeing?  Something will have to change. Reince will have to make a change. The demands are just too high to allow another Harwoodesque debate experience, no matter how much the wagons are circled. Byron York:  “After a performance by CNBC moderators that Republicans characterized as both biased and inept, a manager for a top GOP campaign says he will try to organize other campaigns to force the Republican National Committee to make “wholesale change” in the debate process.” And they will, at least, attempt to do this.

One more point about this: it’s not the ideology that’s a problem, it’s faction. You could have an absolutely fair and interesting debate moderated by Chris Hayes, Ezra Klein, Melissa Harris-Perry, and Stephen Colbert, even if all are personally to the left of the moderators last night when it comes to policy. Why? Because none of them are in the faction of being giant hacks. The problem with last night’s moderators was not an ideological problem, it was a hack problem. Hacks ask questions like “are you a comic book version of a campaign” or “how was liquidating your retirement account indicative of your irresponsibility”, serious liberals ask questions like “tell me about how your Obamacare replacement has a possibility of working, no, really, tell me.” There is a difference, and it is not about bias. It is about a modicum of seriousness and respect and intelligence. Want to know how dumb John Harwood is?  He’s tweeting this morning that he accurately cited Tax Foundation analysis of Marco Rubio’s tax plan after the head of the Tax Foundation said he didn’t. That’s how dumb.

So here are the candidate performances ranked, as I see it, in rough order:

TED CRUZ: He didn’t talk the most. But when he did, he dominated. He had the best moment of the night by far, not just in terms of the dials in Frank Luntz’s group but in the Facebook shares, in the reaction, and in the general agreement that this was a giant craptacular mess of a debate.

MARCO RUBIO: A very close second. His reaction to Jeb Bush’s (unwise, in my view) attack on his work ethic in the Senate was perfect. Rubio seems too rehearsed sometimes but the lines are very good. He is so dangerous as a candidate because he is fundamentally able to be a chameleon. He is a Huckabee-endorsing neoconservative who has learned to speak the language of movement conservatism, and he speaks it fluently.

BEN CARSON: Carson is leading in many polls in Iowa and he did nothing to squelch that lead. He handled the challengers deftly and made no real mistakes. If you are the leader, that is a standard of victory – and in a situation where it could have gone much worse in defending policy plans that are not really all that deep, he held on.

DONALD TRUMP: Reluctant as I am to give Trump credit, this was a very solid performance. He punched down again – this time at John Kasich instead of Rand Paul – but he handled nearly all of the questions well. His one down moment was when the CNBC moderator who looks like that girl from House figured out that her prior question was indeed based on a statement on his website about visas, but he of course just played the flim-flam game with it. Trump did well and more importantly did nothing to damage himself in the polls.

CARLY FIORINA: Really quite good and capable on stage. She interrupts in the most polite manner and can take over the conversation quickly. If debates were happening more regularly she would probably be in third behind Trump and Carson in every poll. Every gotcha that came at her, she was prepared for, and she had the best closing. Also: nice dark nails there, which people mocked me on Twitter for noticing.

CHRIS CHRISTIE: A very solid if repetitive and sometimes bullying performance. Christie’s act wears thin the more that you hear it, but he got in some solid hits against the moderators and echoed a law and order message which Republicans tend to like in a time of rioting and crime, which concerns suburban voters. Christie could save his status for the debate two weeks from now considering he barely made this one.

MIKE HUCKABEE: He did well when he had zingers and less well when asked about policy. The Social Security/Medicare discussion went in odd directions and did not leave viewers with a clear idea of what was being debated. Huckabee’s presence on the debate stage as a throwback is cute and all, but the party would be better served by having virtually anyone else there. Could we trade for Jim Webb?

JEB BUSH: Whatever you think of his politics, Jeb Bush is inherently a good and decent man, and attacking others does not come easily to him. He had a bad moment in that interaction with Rubio – I do not think it was wise to attack on those grounds, nor do I think it was necessary. But I also think he rebounded after that attack, and had some better moments in the later part of the debate. His problem is that he is in the position now compared to Rubio that Hillary Clinton was compared to Barack Obama – when the younger more inspirational candidate became conceivable as an alternative, the money and energy flowed to them. Jeb will have to work hard to avoid that happening.

JOHN KASICH: Ahead of the final candidate because he got so much time to talk. Kasich talked an absurd amount, in the top three or four, and kept getting questioned tailored to him and designed to get him to criticize everyone else on stage. As the least conservative person there and the person likeliest to agree with the moderators’ critiques of the Republican Party, it’s obvious why. But he didn’t help himself that much with the time and Donald Trump stomped him like a bug. I doubt he sees any benefit.

RAND PAUL: I like Rand Paul. He is the closest of any of the candidates to my ideological views. But he seems so low key, so disengaged from this process, and so Senatorial in mindset that it’s just a question now of how long he stays in before it becomes obvious that he needs to head back. He has the mindset of a Senator, unlike Rubio, and it comes across that way. No shame in it – but as opposed to what it looked like a year ago when he and Chris Christie were going to duke it out over the future of the GOP, this is not his time.

Undercard debate: thought Graham and Jindal did well, Santorum and Pataki didn’t, no one cares, all is meaningless, BURMA-SHAVE.

Have you subscribed to the feed for our daily radio show in iTunes? It’s already in the Top 50 politics shows.  Listen live at 4 PM here.


House approves budget deal in big 266-167 vote.  “House lawmakers in both parties joined forces Wednesday to pass a sweeping budget deal that marks both a parting victory for outgoing Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) and a valedictory gift for his likely replacement, Rep. Paul Ryan (R-Wis.). The final vote was 266 to 167, with 79 Republicans joining every Democrat in sealing passage. Ryan was among the supporters. The legislation, which raises federal spending levels and expands the government’s borrowing authority, would push two of Congress’s fiercest fiscal fights well beyond next year’s elections, avoiding potential standoffs with President Obama and easing Ryan’s transition into the Speaker’s chair.” Obama wins on budget deal as Boehner cleans out the barn.

Economic growth hurt in third quarter.  “U.S. economic growth cooled in the third quarter as firms let inventories dwindle and the pace of spending on the part of consumers, businesses and governments all decelerated. Gross domestic product, the broadest measure of goods and services produced across the economy, advanced at a 1.5% seasonally and inflation adjusted annual rate in the third quarter, the Commerce Department said Thursday. That matched the forecast of economists surveyed by The Wall Street Journal. The July through September reading marks a sharp deceleration from the second quarter when the economy expanded at a 3.9% rate.”

The Fed has hurt business investment.  “During the past five years earnings of the S&P 500 have grown about 6.9% annually. As the table nearby shows the current profit picture pales in comparison to prior economic expansions, in which earnings grew significantly faster. Moreover, only about half of the profit improvement in the current period is from business operations; the balance of earnings-per-share gains arose from record levels of share buybacks. So the quality of earnings is as deficient as its quantity. The current economic expansion is also unusual because the stock market and other financial assets have boomed in spite of relatively muted profit gains. What explains the apparent divergence between earnings and asset prices? The unusual conduct of monetary policy.” Fed considers December rate rise, sees ‘moderate’ expansion.

We’re Already A Cradle-To-Grave Welfare State.  “While the federal government has not launched a program to buy low-income women Prada and Gucci, it does subsidize plenty of other “luxury” goods. For instance, those electric and plug-in car tax credits mentioned above predominantly go to the more affluent, since Priuses and Teslas are not cheap. Also, the “Obamaphone” program provides cell phones to millions of people who surely would survive without this luxury. What about the luxury of starting your own business? The Small Business Administration exists to help you get a loan, hire and train employees, and apply to be a government contractor. Not sure that’s what Madison, et al., had in mind at the Constitutional Convention.”

RELATED: The poverty cure: Get married. Real prices and price-to-rent ratio in August. National Review: No to the budget deal.  This budget deal is what GOP surrender looks like.  This Boehner-Obama deal is getting worse all the time.  Senate approves three-week highway bill. There’s actually a big economic fight happening in the Democratic Party.


Biggest loser in the CNBC debate? The media

by Jeff Jacoby
The Boston Globe
October 29, 2015

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[Note: This comment was written immediately following the third televised Republican presidential debate in Boulder, Colo., on Wednesday night.]

IT WAS, hands down, the most arresting moment of the Republican debate in Colorado.

One of the CNBC moderators, Carl Quintanilla, asked Senator Ted Cruz whether his opposition to the just-announced congressional deal raising the federal debt limit demonstrates that he’s “not the kind of problem-solver American voters want.”

Cruz’s response was to turn the tables on the moderators, blasting them for the hostility toward the candidates that oozed from virtually every question they had asked so far.

Then, with devastating accuracy, he recited back the offensive questions:

“Donald Trump, are you a comic-book villain? Ben Carson, can you do math? John Kasich, will you insult two people over here? Marco Rubio, why don’t you resign? Jeb Bush, why have your numbers fallen?”

By this point, the audience was going wild with cheers.

But Cruz wasn’t finished. He contrasted the animus of the media panel toward the GOP field with the recent Democratic debate, “where every fawning question was: Which of you is more handsome and wise?” And then he underlined the message: “Nobody watching at home believes that any of the moderators has any intention of voting in a Republican primary.”

CNBC’s moderators made little attempt to hide their contempt for the Republican presidential contenders — and deserved the beatdown administered to them by Texas Sen. Ted Cruz.

It was brutal takedown, and CNBC’s smarmy moderators had it coming. Cruz is far from the first conservative to rail against liberal media bias, but he did it about as effectively as it can be done in 30 seconds. The clip of that moment will go viral. It may or may not give a boost to Cruz’s presidential hopes, but it will certainly reinforce the public’s sense that the mainstream media isn’t trustworthy.

Rubio played the media-bias card, too. When he was asked about a home-state newspaper calling on him to resign from the Senate because of all the votes he has missed while on the campaign trail, he pointed out that he has missed fewer votes than John Kerry and Barack Obama — two former senators who ran for president, and were endorsed by the very same paper.

Bush then made the mistake of trying to pile on: “Marco, when you signed up for this, this was a six-year term, and you should be showing up to work.” Rubio’s deft response was to note that Bush claims to be modeling his campaign after John McCain’s — “yet I don’t remember you ever complaining about John McCain’s voting record. The only reason why you’re doing it now is because . . . someone has convinced you that attacking me is going to help you.” Ouch.

It was a good night for Cruz and Rubio; a bad night for Bush. But the biggest loser in Boulder wasn’t a candidate: It was the media.

(Jeff Jacoby is a columnist for The Boston Globe).

About abyssum

I am a retired Roman Catholic Bishop, Bishop Emeritus of Corpus Christi, Texas
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