As a Republican, the 2016 election season officially began for me with last night’s presidential debates. I set my DVR, got the kiddos off to bed and settled in with popcorn and a notepad, ready to wade through the three hours of scripted talking points the 17 major candidates had planned. By the end of the night there were two clear winners: The Donald and Carly Fiorina. My party is doomed.
I understand where the love for businessman Donald Trump comes from. He speaks in plain language, unafraid of reprisal for what he calls his lack of political correctness. He attacks what many on the right feel are real issues in our country: skyrocketing debt, porous borders and a diminished world role — none of which are being currently addressed in any successful manner. As another candidate, Ohio Gov. John Kasich, said, ”Donald Trump is hitting a nerve.”
But Trump’s showmanship and catchphrases are just that. He’s a celebrity used to working the media to his advantage, and although he may have disdain for political reporters (he specifically called them a “very dishonest lot”), he knows full well how to use them. He dominated the prime time debate — even the other candidates were asked questions about him — but had very little substance. Trump mostly called people stupid and said no one in Washington, D.C. “has a clue.” He was abrasive, divisive and not at all presidential. Typical Trump.
In contrast, former Hewlett-Packard CEO Carly Fiorina was extremely well-spoken and made smart choices. She wore pink, which immediately set her off visually on the stage from the six men she was surrounded by. She strongly articulated her opinions on national security issues to include the growing concern regarding cyberattacks from China and Russia. She condemned the Iran nuclear deal, saying she’d rescind it on “day one,” pledging to move America back to a leadership role on the world stage. She name-dropped. She hit her talking points. She called ISIS “ISIL” (because she’s smart like that).
I realize as a conservative woman I’m probably expected to be falling over myself to support Fiorina, but I’m not. She doesn’t have a consistent record of supporting Republican values and made dangerous deals while in the business world with the same countries she now claims are our biggest threat. She isn’t a champion for life and in fact called the abortion issue “decided,” saying it was a waste of time to discuss a “theoretical issue.” And in 2010, her California Senate campaign came up with the strange and unforgettable “Demon Sheep” ad, which is frankly the stuff children’s nightmares are made of.
There were 15 other candidates in those two debates last night, but the subsequent discussion of them (even this one) will likely barely mention them at all. Some even had substance to their speech, which will be largely ignored. Gov. Bobby Jindal, R-LA, gave a great answer as to why he refused Medicaid expansion into his state, saying it would have placed too many people on the roster and not enough paying in. Gov. Rick Perry, former, R-Texas, gave a specific plan for securing the borders, which he says is the first real step in immigration reform. Sen. Marco Rubio, R-FL, answered well on how to best help small businesses thrive: Rescind the Dodd-Frank Act. Dr. Ben Carson was likable. Gov. Jeb. Bush, former, R-FL, was articulate. Gov. Chris Christie, R-N.J., stayed awake.
The majority of the chatter today will be about Trump and Fiorina — how Trump told it like it is and how Fiorina blew the boys out of the water. But for me, watching these debates boils down to one thing (astutely pointed out by a good friend who prefers to remain anonymous): Who of these deserves to be a successor to George Washington? Between Carly and The Donald, my answer would be neither, and I hope the debates quickly move beyond them to allow other candidates time to shine.
Get more on the debate from the other side of the aisle: A Democrat’s reenactment of the Republican debate