Wednesday, March 30, 2016

Wisconsin town hall serves up smelly cheese

In going to the town hall format for the remaining three GOP presidential contenders, let's at least give a little credit to CNN and Anderson Cooper for their attempt to bring some civility to the discourse.  The two front-runners just aren't up to the task of elevating it.  Too heavy a lift.

It came well into the second hour of a Republican town hall event Tuesday night, in which CNN anchor Anderson Cooper and a cast of carefully curated ordinary Americans got a chance to ask each of the three remaining GOP presidential candidates questions, one by one, and those candidates each got the chance to completely ignore those questions and spray clouds of rhetoric like startled, flailing squids. It was a rerun, in other words, of the same episode that's played out over and over again during this interminable primary campaign.

First went Cruz...

The night in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, began with Cooper asking Texas Senator Ted Cruz about his suggestion that US law enforcement should patrol "Muslim neighborhoods" as a way to combat terrorism; a plan that has been roundly condemned by New York City law enforcement officials who tried monitoring local Muslims and realized it didn't help anything. Cruz shrugged off the criticism, calling New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio a "left-wing radical," and raising the specter of Europe's Muslim-dominated "no-go zones" where the police fear to tread, a fairly common myth floating around the far-right wing.

The exchange set a pattern: Someone would ask Cruz a question and he would either avoid answering, or find a way to bend it to his purpose. A job interview-style query about Cruz's biggest weakness prompted a monologue about how dang much he loves the Constitution. A father asked Cruz if he would support a bill aimed at stopping the Department of Veterans Affairs from overprescribing drugs—a measure named after his son, who died of an overdose while in VA care—and the Senator just repeated vague platitudes about VA reform and the War on Drugs.

A woman asked what Cruz would do specifically for women and he rambled about how great his mom and wife are (in other words, he isn't going to do anything in particular for women). When Cooper brought up the ugly campaign fight over a National Enquirer story accusing Cruz of infidelity—a story that Cruz has accused Trump's campaign of planting—and asked whether the Texan would support Trump as the party's nominee, Cruz hemmed and hawed for long minutes, then basically refused to answer the question.

Trump used up most of his fourth-grader-on-the-playground vocabulary early in his segment.

When it came to foreign policy, not day-to-day Twitter spats, however, Trump seemed less prepared. The most substantial exchange came when Cooper challenged the candidate to clarify some of his statements about nuclear proliferation, since Trump has said he's worried about more countries acquiring nuclear weapons, but also OK with Japan, South Korea, and maybe Saudi Arabia getting nukes. Trump's response was, basically, Whatever, if it means the US does less to police the world, fine. Later, he pulled the same light-on-details act when he said the US government should provide healthcare and education, and then said no, the states should, or the private sector should get involved, or something.

We've seen this all before—the avoidance of questions, the pandering, the almost pathological focus on talking points. The latter was most grossly displayed Tuesday when a police officer who'd been shot 15 times while fighting a white supremacist who was attacking a Sikh temple asked the Republican frontrunner what could be done to combat prejudice. Trump had a chance to soften his tone, to look presidential while interacting with a man universally regarded as a hero. Instead, he trotted out some stuff about Muslim terrorism, and once again, completely ignored the question.

That Kasich had to go last meant most everyone tuning out before he came on, another sad reality of the state of play for the GOP this cycle.

(Kasich), it must be said, actually did answer questions, including those about unpopular stances he's taken in the past. As the campaign's third wheel, he doesn't have the luxury of ignoring the queries of interested voters. He won't be president no matter how well he performs at events like these.

Kasich's hopelessness, like Trump's bluster and Cruz's smarm, was nothing new. When Wisconsin primary voters cast ballots next week, they'll be choosing from the same menu they faced before the town hall; the same spread of squabbling and half-truths will be laid out, growing increasingly stale for the next few months, until the Republican Party finally lands itself a nominee. In that sense, Trump's complaint about being tired of debates was the truest moment in a night that was short on them—he's as eager to see the end of this as voters are. 

Kasich's last luxury is that, as the winner of one primary -- his home state of Ohio -- and the possessor of 143 delegates, at least nobody (except Ted Cruz) is calling for him to drop out.  Contrast that with the hourly exit calls to Bernie Sanders, who owns 15 state wins to Clinton's 20 and trails her by only 200 delegates ... the human, mortal, democratically-chosen ones, not those of the super varietyAll numbers here.

Republicans thought that they would be safer holding town halls than presidential debates, and they were wrong. The top two Republican candidates made a great argument for supporting the Democratic nominee. The town hall was a total disaster. Neither of the top two Republican candidates is electable, and there is no sense in discussing John Kasich because he will never be the nominee.

I sourced PoliticsUSA -- a questionable opinion site, poorly edited being my main objection -- for the above excerpt because some people think it's a propaganda outlet equal to Blue Nation Review.  That's what is known as a false equivalency.  Click over and look at their stories and tell me if you agree or disagree.

Yes, we need to see some grown-ups do this debate thing, but we won't get that.  Because somebody is a little miffed about someone else's tone.

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