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Michael A. Cohen

Stray observations from the Republican debate

Top moments from the Republican presidential debate
Republicans will remember the media’s role in Wednesday’s CNBC presidential debate more than anything that might change the direction of the Republican contest.

For those of you who missed Wednesday night’s latest ride in the GOP presidential clown car, here are a few scattered thoughts on the third presidential debate.

Stick a fork in Jeb Bush

It’s been obvious for some time that Bush is simply in the wrong place at the wrong time. He’s an establishment candidate in a year when the GOP rank-and-file prefers outsiders. His insistence in running on his record in Florida completely misunderstands what party loyalists want in a presidential candidate — and he lacks the skills to compete effectively in the slash-and-burn world of modern Republican politics. He’s running a 2000-style campaign, 16 years too late.


But Bush’s biggest problem is that he stinks at politics. Loaded for bear at the outset, he attacked Marco Rubio for missing so many votes in the Senate and in the process of delivering that shot, he punched himself in the face. Rubio quickly pointed out that Bush has compared his own trek to the nomination to that of Senator John McCain in 2008 and then asked, “Do you know how many votes John McCain missed when he was carrying out that furious comeback that you’re now modeling after?” Bush had no response. Rubio squashed him like a bug, in a manner eerily reminiscent of the way Donald Trump squashed him like a bug at the last debate.

Bush is done; the only question now is when he decides to end his humiliation. (Same goes for Senator Rand Paul).

Ben Carson is not qualified to be president

This is not a breaking news story, but every time Ben Carson tries to engage in a policy conversation, it’s like watching a high-speed car crash in slow motion. Go back and read some of his answers on Medicare and tax reform. They are largely incoherent word salads that end up with some generalized claim that government is destroying innovation and freedom. Marinate over the fact that he thinks every single government subsidy should be repealed. Even Ayn Rand thinks that’s crazy.


Carson simply doesn’t know what he’s talking about, doesn’t understand policy issues, and has no business running for president.

That he’s currently the GOP front-runner is even more an indictment of the Republican Party than when Donald Trump was the front-runner.

Donald Trump lies with reckless abandon

At one point Trump vociferously denied that he had called Rubio the personal senator for Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg, even though said insult appears on his campaign website. The odd thing, however, is that Trump was fairly restrained in the debate. He sounded vaguely coherent, except for a bizarre turn at the end when he bragged about changing the rules of the evening’s debate, as if anyone actually cared. It’s hard to imagine Trump benefiting in a debate where he’s not the center of attention, but he didn’t do anything Wednesday night to hurt himself. When the dust clears, he will probably still be near the top of the GOP polls.

Mike Huckabee says really dumb things

One gets the sense that former Arkansas Governor Mike Huckabee is less running for president and more preparing for his inevitable return to Fox News.

But when a presidential candidate, heck a sentient human, tells you that the best way to deal with the long-term funding issues around Medicaid is to cure cancer, heart disease, Alzheimer’s, and diabetes . . . well it doesn’t get much dumber than that.

Chris Christie says dumb, irresponsible things

Trailing badly in the polls, New Jersey Governor Christie is so desperate for attention that you just knew he’d throw out a few doozies. And he didn’t disappoint. Christie has made a big point of presenting himself as the only truth-teller in the campaign because he talks about the need to cut Social Security and Medicare. But he showed he doesn’t know much about these programs.


He claimed, for example, that Social Security is “not there anymore.” The government “stole” your Social Security contributions “and spent it” and “all that’s in that [Social Security] trust fund is a pile of IOUs for money on they spent on something else a long time ago.”

None of this is even remotely true. There’s $3 trillion in the Social Security trust fund. Neither is Christie’s claim that Social Security will be insolvent in seven or eight years. This is pure demagoguery intended to scare seniors, undermine confidence in Social Security, and push for cuts to benefits.

Carly Fiorina doesn’t care much about people

Carly Fiorina’s lowest moment came when she was asked whether the government should establish retirement programs for workers at small businesses. She expressed opposition . . . because government is bad (yes, that is fair representation of what she said) and government has no role to play in ensuring retirement benefits (Social Security recipients might quibble). But more telling is that Fiorina went into a long answer about how regulation is killing small business — the implication being that protecting small business owners is more important to her than helping workers. It was almost refreshing to hear a Republican politician so explicitly express the party’s usually implicit preference for management over workers.


Republicans hate government

If there was one recurring refrain from all the GOP candidates, it is: “I hate the government. Government is awful. Everything government touches it destroys. Government shouldn’t regulate anything. Government is the destroyer of worlds. Vote for me to run the government.”

Insofar as anyone could be called a winner, Ted Cruz and Marco Rubio get the nod

Cruz and Rubio probably did the most to help themselves. Rubio nicely shot down Jeb Bush and always seems to effectively talk about esoteric policy issues in a personalized way, like when he said that he wouldn’t want to cut Social Security because he’s against anything that’s bad for his mother. Cruz attacked the media hard and in particular the moderators — a sure-fire winning strategy in any GOP gathering, where contempt for the mainstream media is matched only by contempt for President Obama. Whether those performances were strong enough to help either man take over Trump and Carson remains to be seen.

Michael A. Cohen’s column appears regularly in the Globe. Follow him on Twitter @speechboy71.

Related coverage:

Plenty of sparring in 3d GOP debate

Jeff Jacoby: The biggest loser? The media

Five truths about the GOP field after the CNBC debate

Winners, losers from the GOP debate

Correction: An earlier version of this column misquoted Ben Carson. He said during Wednesday’s debate that he wants to get rid of all government subsidies.