CNN’s Anderson Cooper is still in Greenville, South Carolina, ahead of Saturday’s Republican primary, and tonight (Thursday US time, Friday afternoon NZ time) is hosting John Kasich, Jeb Bush and Donald Trump.
Kasich has been doing slightly better in the polls recently. He has kept out of the nastiness and focused positively on his own message. Of all the candidates remaining, he’s the one most likely to attract Democratic voters, which is a useful quality. If Clinton wins their nomination, many will find her difficult to vote for because of her name and the questions of privilege and honesty hanging over her head. If it’s Sanders, the label “Socialist” is one that turns off many USians.
Right from the start, Kasich was able to connect with the voters on a genuine level in a way that a Trump, a Cruz, or a Rubio, can only dream of. He has a way of making people feel like he really cares about them, which is something that only comes from the experience of being a successful governor.
When asked about the Pope/Trump incident (see below for more) Kasich, a former altar boy, just basically said, quite simply, “I’m pro-pope.” That’s not entirely true of the more conservative Catholics in the race – they want the Pope the keep out of politics, especially when it means he’s dissing the more extreme Republican messages. However, Kasich is centrist and, unlike most of his colleagues, he accepts that climate change is man-made and a problem that must be dealt with.
Kasich’s first question from the audience was about the working poor who are struggling to get by. His answer was one I never thought I’d hear from a Republican – he recognized the need for greater childcare subsidies for working women, the need for them to have healthcare, and the availability of ongoing training and education opportunities. He also, inevitably for a Republican, said tax cuts for businesses were needed so they’d employ more people. (I need to write a post about why that’s the wrong approach in this economic climate, but I digress.) However, he did at least recognize that the focus needs to be on small business, as they’re the ones who actually employ the most people.
The second audience question was about national security. Kasich stated that his policy was to only deploy overseas when the national security was at risk, and that the situation should be that the military goes to perform a specific task, them comes back, and doesn’t stay for years. That sounds good on the surface, but there are further questions I would ask here: firstly, how does he decide whether national security is at risk; and secondly, what about roles like peacekeeping and overseas aid (such as helping out in the Ebola crisis, or the Tibet earthquake)? On top of that, does he think the US has a responsibility to help rebuild a country after they’ve been a party to trashing it, such as they did for Germany after WWII? I also wonder from his answers whether he fully understands the situation in the Middle East, although he seems to have the right mentality to learn. He was on the Defence Committee for eighteen years as a Congressman, so he’s certainly not ignorant. He continued the Republican myth about the need to rebuild the US military and spoke of his plan – he wants to spend another US$100 billion doing just that.
Next Kasich was asked about what he would do to reduce violence against women. He waffled a bit. It was clear that though he thought the issue was important, he hadn’t really thought about it and didn’t have a plan. As he went on he managed to remember a few isolated things. He went off on a tangent about human trafficking, and talked well about that, but that was not relevant to the question. Basically his response was, “We have to have a war against this.” His answer was weak, but amongst Republicans, one of the better ones.
The Supreme Court came up next – the questioner wanted to know whether Kasich would appoint someone who would rule based on his personal beliefs, or someone who would rule according to the law despite his personal beliefs. He said he would appoint a conservative who wouldn’t make law, but would interpret the law. However, he also said that he didn’t automatically turn to Scripture to help him make tough decisions, although your faith could obviously influence you. He went on:
When you’re in public office, you’re not really there to be a preacher, you’re there to be a public official, and that’s the way it oughta be when you’re on the Supreme Court.
What a refreshing answer!
A disabled person who said Obamacare had been a “Godsend” to him came next. He was extremely concerned about the fact that all the Republican candidates are promising to repeal it. Kasich’s answer was the best I’ve heard from a Republican in that pre-existing conditions will not be able to be used to refuse insurance, and in his state he has been making an effort to put a fence at the top of the cliff via treatment for the drug addicted, those with mental health issues, and other similar programmes. His focus was on the “working” poor though, which made me assume, perhaps wrongly, that people out of work will not be looked after properly. The idea we in New Zealand and most of the Western world have that comprehensive healthcare is a right, not a privilege, clearly hasn’t made it to the US yet.
Kasich also answered questions on who he’d have in his executive (Chris Christie is apparently a great mate), enabling business growth in small towns, gun rights, and executive orders. Nothing to see here. Move along.
Like Kasich, Bush has also been doing slightly better in the polls as other candidates have dropped out. He’s still struggling though, and must be wondering what he has to do to improve his numbers. In South Carolina, where there is a strong military presence and the Bush family is very popular, he’s had both his brother and mother campaigning for him. They have proved a hit, but it doesn’t seem to be moving his numbers. Further a Fox News poll released today states 21% of likely GOP primary voters in South Carolina would never vote for Bush.
Anderson Cooper asked Bush about the Pope suggesting Donald Trump wasn’t a Christian because of his constant rhetoric about wall-building. Bush gave the same answer he’s been giving all day – that Trump’s faith is between him and his Creator. It clearly wasn’t something he wanted to talk about, and I don’t blame him. It must get really annoying for the candidates when they’re having time such as a Town Hall to have to comment on the Trump sideshow.
Those of you who read Why Evolution is True will have seen the Bush tweet on the left from earlier this week. It caused a fair bit of controversy on Twitter, and some very funny push back. Many posted the national dishes for their country, including tea in a Royal Dalton bone china cup from England. One Aussie posted a Nerf gun, another jandals on a beach, and an Irishman a potato gun. We learned today that the gun was a gift from a factory he’d visited the day of the tweet. He used that as a segue to the Supreme Court vacancy, saying that with Scalia gone, the Second Amendment is now at risk if the Republicans lose the election. Blatant fear-mongering of course, though I personally believe the US would be a lot better off without the Second Amendment.
Bush’s first question was from an evangelical pastor and was about his faith. Bush talked openly and honestly about the subject, and connected well with the audience. His answer was one that I think religious people would have liked a lot. Further, I usually find such declarations both offensive and exclusionary (it was certainly how I felt when the question was asked), but Bush couched his language in such a way that I didn’t feel that way. To me, this means he would be able to work well with others, and get people to work together, which is valuable in any leader.
The second question from the floor was whether Bush would nominate a Supreme Court justice if he was in Obama’s position i.e. eleven months to run, and who would it be. Bush said he would but didn’t know who he would pick but it would be someone who didn’t “legislate from the bench.” There were other qualities he mentioned, but they are the same ones any responsible candidate would give. He mentioned his father’s appointment, David Souter, who was a disappointment to Republicans because he didn’t vote the way they expected him to. He would, he said, choose someone whose record was clear.
He tried to make the case for leaving the nomination until after the election, but whichever side does that, they’re never going to be convincing. Like every other GOP candidate, he wants to maintain the power and control of the conservatives on the Supreme Court. I’ve no doubt the Democrats would like to change it to a liberal court. I’d prefer that to a conservative court, but how about a court that rules according to the law instead of politics?
Questioner three wanted to know if Bush would send ground troops “to defeat and destroy ISIS.” It was clear this police officer and former soldier thought the answer should be “yes.” This one made me angry.
- Bush blamed the situation in Iraq on the fact that Obama didn’t renew the SoFA with the Iraq government. (No, he didn’t mention that former president al-Maliki expected the US to stay without a SoFA, or mention any of the other things that the Bush administration did in Iraq that caused the country to be so unstable.)
- Then Bush said the troops that are already over there should be embedded with the Iraqi military to train them. (Ah – that’s what they’re already doing dude.)
- He wants to re-establish the partnerships with the Sunni tribal leaders. (They’re doing that too, but most of them are trapped in the caliphate. Besides, there’s not a lot of trust because of the anti-Ba’ath Party rule instituted by the Bush Administration, so it’s much harder to do than before.)
- He thinks the Kurds need to be armed directly, especially with more advanced weaponry. (That’s good vote-getting rhetoric. But there’s a complex political reason that’s not being done, which I’m sure he knows, and would take too long to explain here.)
- “We need to get the lawyers off the backs of the war-fighters.” (In other words, we need to murder civilians.)
- He wants forward troops to identify targets for bombing. (That would require spies working in the caliphate who had a way to contact the US military directly. The danger of that is unbelievable – look what they did to the Jordanian pilot.)
He said, “All of that together will bring about the defeat of ISIS.” Unbelievable. Then he said the US had “allowed” the Russians to “establish a military presence in Syria for the first time in forty years.” What exactly could the US have done to stop them? Russia has been arming Assad from the start. It wasn’t enough, so they had to bring in the big guns. Short of dropping a nuclear bomb on Kremlin while Putin was inside it, there’s nothing anyone could have done. Next he drags Iran into the argument, saying negotiating with them legitimated their regime. Whether the rest of us like it or not, the Iranian government is legitimate, and we’re much better off with them inside the tent than outside it, or would he rather have a second North Korea on the planet?
He finally said something good at this point – he suggested creating safe zones inside Syria. That lasted about three seconds – his next idea was a no-fly zone. (Clinton thinks that’s a good idea too. Sigh.) It all sounds good, and it all makes people feel like he knows what he’s doing, but it’s all just a load of vote-getting rhetoric. “The Russians,” he said, “should be more worried about the United States Air Force capability than us being worried about them.” (Applause, applause, applause, of course. God Bless America.)
He went on a bit more – he hadn’t attacked Obama directly yet after all – but you can imagine the sort of thing he said. Lead from behind blah blah blah Red Line blah blah blah apologize for America blah blah blah weakness blah blah blah etc.
Big shift with the next question – a clearly anti-drugs student wanted to know Bush’s stance on marijuana use and what he planned to do about drug addiction. Bush is not in favour of legalizing marijuana and talked at some length about both the medical damage that and alcohol can do. As far as drug addiction goes, he talked of a bottom up policy. What he really means is it’s up to charities and NGOs, and whether you get the care you need is the luck of the draw. He did say though that more treatment should be available for those who are incarcerated who have addiction issues. He advocated the use of drug courts too so people could get treatment rather than go to prison.
Bush was asked about his relationship with his wife next – the woman behind the president. He gave a great answer. I would have loved it if he was my husband. Most times I hear these answers from a candidate, especially a GOP one, there’s a hint of patronage and inequality that I don’t like. I didn’t get that from Jeb and it’s clear his love is the real deal.
The next question, from a local financial advisor, was about the level of national debt. (This guy might be a good personal financial advisor, but I’m not sure he understands economics.) Bush started off well, saying the people did need to develop more of a savings culture (if they can – he didn’t mention that bit), but thinks the country should do the same. He suggested incentives for savings. Apparently in the US it costs $1000 for a business to start a retirement savings plan for its staff, which costs most small businesses out of the market. (Thank goodness for KiwiSaver!) Bush proposed that groups of small businesses could band together, or there could be a tax incentive for businesses to contribute to their employees’ personal plans. (Thank goodness for KiwiSaver.) He also suggested that retired people shouldn’t have to continue to pay into Social Security once they retire. (Again, thank goodness for KiwiSaver.) Anyway, they all sound like good initiatives.
As far as reducing the national debt, he’s only the second Republican candidate I’ve heard mention the fact that the way to do that is to grow the economy. (The first was Kasich. Trump might have said it too.) He had several other strategies, but they’re the same ones any sensible candidate would mention – streamlining regulations, diversifying the energy portfolio etc. He brought in repealing Obamacare here, which he would replace with what he called a “consumer-directed” model. He would keep a lot of the benefits of Obamacare that people like, such as not being refused for pre-existing conditions and staying on your parents’ plan. He’s offering a $3,100 tax credit for those without employer insurance to buy their own coverage. Coming from a single-payer model, I don’t quite get everything he’s talking about, but one thing he said that worried me was that catastrophic coverage would become the norm.
I mentioned months ago that I thought Trump had pretty much reached his vote ceiling, and I still think that. He has a core of supporters for whom he can do no wrong – about 35% of GOP primary voters, but beyond that my judgment is he has little enthusiastic support. In a new Fox News poll out today, 39% of South Carolinian likely GOP voters say they would never vote for Trump, which is up fifteen points from December. However, because of the way the primary process works, he could walk away with the nomination. Except for Carson, I expect all the other candidates to remain in the race for a while yet, and they are all competing for the non-Trump vote. At this stage, delegates are being allocated proportionately, and Trump is “only” getting a majority. Soon, it will be winner takes all, and Trump’s third of the votes could be enough to get him all the delegates of enough states to get the GOP nomination.
The first question from Anderson Cooper was the inevitable one on Trump’s battle today with the Pope over The Wall. From CNN:
The Pope, who was traveling back to Rome from Mexico, where he urged the United States to address the “humanitarian crisis” on its southern border, did not tell American Catholics not to vote for Trump.
But Francis left little doubt where he stood on the polarizing issue of immigration reform.
“A person who thinks only about building walls, wherever they may be, and not building bridges, is not Christian. This is not the gospel,” the Pope told journalists who asked his opinion on Trump’s proposals to halt illegal immigration.
From Politico (see full statement via link) this is what Trump said in response to the Pope’s statement:
For a religious leader to question a person’s faith is disgraceful. I am proud to be a Christian and as President I will not allow Christianity to be consistently attacked and weakened, unlike what is happening now, with our current President. No leader, especially a religious leader, should have the right to question another man’s religion or faith. They are using the Pope as a pawn and they should be ashamed of themselves for doing so, especially when so many lives are involved and when illegal immigration is so rampant.
This morning, I saw Bill Donohue, president of the conservative Catholic League interviewed by Bret Baier on Fox New’s Special Report. Donohue proved to be another lying Trump-splainer. He correctly stated that the Pope had put caveats in his response when questioned about Trump’s vow to build a wall (e.g. “if” he said that etc.). However, when talking about what Trump said, he stated that Trump had clearly said that he “didn’t want to split up families.” Well, yes, he did say that. However, he then said the kids would have to leave the US with their parents. That was his way of keeping families together. He did not say, as Donohue implied, that the parents would be able to stay with their kids in the US.
As Trump has questioned the faith of several of his competitors on the campaign trail, the word “hypocrite” comes to mind. Exactly how Obama is allowing “hristianity to be consistently attacked and weakened” I have no idea either.
Anyway, back to the Town Hall, and Trump’s response to Cooper.
Trump said there’s no border (yes, border) there now, and so we need a wall, and Mexico is going to pay for it because there’s a huge trade imbalance. Well, of course there is. The US can afford to buy stuff from Mexico, and Mexico desperately needs the dosh. In 2013, the GDP per capita of Mexico was US$10,307.28; the GDP per capita of the US is US$53,041.98. As my Mum always says, you can’t get blood out of a stone. Trump accused the government of Mexico of priming the Pope to make the statement about Trump, and also of giving the Pope false information.
Cooper also asked Trump about the cease and desist letter that his campaign sent to the Cruz campaign. (Cruz is running an ad which shows old footage of Trump saying he is pro-choice. However, Trump has made it clear since the beginning of his campaign that he is now anti-choice and has been for some time. There is no reason to doubt this position.) Trump said it wasn’t just that, it’s because Cruz has such a problem with the truth, and this was just one more thing. (I agree with Trump completely on that one – I’ve been commenting on it ever since I started writing about Cruz.) He brought up multiple other times Cruz has lied, including about Rubio and Carson, and he did a much better job of it than Rubio has. Rubio always gets into complicated details that make the eyes glaze over, and give Cruz the opportunity to wriggle so no-one can tell what the truth really is. Trump uses the least words possible, and the simplest words possible, and his meaning is clear. I don’t like to admit this, but Trump had me laughing out loud several times during this conversation, though sometimes it was at him rather than with him.
The first question was very confused. Put simply, the questioner wanted to know whether Trump has the self-control and personal dignity to be president. As always he rambled. He says he needs to be tough because we have ISIS. Cooper tried to bring him back to the question after a bit, and Trump stated that he could be more politically correct than anyone he’d ever interviewed, but that would be boring. He said he could present whatever persona is needed for the occasion. That may be true, but it means that the electors have been being manipulated by him this whole time (surprise, surprise) and he has been managing his campaign like a reality show. And we got another classic Trumpism too: “I believe in compromise where I win.”
Question two was from a health insurance broker who didn’t like Obamacare, and wanted to know what Trump’s plan was. He added, “Please be specific.” Fat chance.
Trump managed to tell everyone he would repeal Obamacare and he had something wonderful to replace it, then before you know it he was talking about the weak Republican Congress giving Obama money for whatever he wanted, Syrian refugees and all sorts of other things. Cooper tried to bring him back, but although we got back to health, it was all about what’s wrong with the current system, not what Trump would do to fix it. Next thing it was all about how everyone else is getting money from drug companies, pharmaceutical companies (aren’t they the same thing?), insurance companies, but he is funding himself, and everyone wants to give him money, and he could have millions if he let them, he could have a billion! And so it went on. His solution seemed to be let the market sort it out. (Note to self: write a post on why the free market is not the right solution for healthcare.) The result, he says, will be better plans at a cheaper price. He also (which is good) says care will be provided for those that can’t afford it.
The third questioner asked what reader Paxton Marshall was hoping would come up. The leader of the local Family Council (read sexist, homophobic git) said he said such a bad word when Trump said this, he almost apologized to his children. (Of course, fathers of his ilk don’t apologize to their wives or children.) To wit: “Does he really think George Bush lied about WMDs in Iraq?
Trump started off by saying (among other things), “There are a lot of people who agree with me,” and “Bottom line, there were no WMDs,” and “The guys who flew into the World Trade Center didn’t come from Iraq.”
The questioner tried to give him another opportunity to withdraw the statement, “Bush lied,” but he wouldn’t, though he did say, “No-one knows for sure why we went into Iraq.”
The questioner tried again.
Trump said, “It may have been the worst decision … any president has made in the history of this country. That’s how bad it was, OK.” He then talked about all the current problems in the Middle East, and especially in Europe, and said they could all be traced back to Bush’s decision to go into Iraq.
Cooper brought him back again, and he said, “I don’t know. Whether he lied or not, it was a horrible decision.”
Ain’t that the truth?
He also said he thought Bush went in because of what happened when his father went in there, and he wanted to finish the job. However, as usual, Trump couldn’t help himself, and he had to take a bit of extra credit for himself. He said that he said not to go in because you’re going to destroy the balance in the Middle East. He also tried to back date his opposition to the war to before it started, and with a typical, “Everything I said turned out to be true,” stretched the truth even further.
Personally, I think he believes it, but that he said it at this stage to reach out to more liberal voters in the state. There is no Democratic primary there this weekend, and the primary is an open one, meaning anyone can vote in it, not just registered Republicans. Because South Carolina traditionally leans towards both evangelical and establishment candidates, he may have felt be needed some voter help from those outside the party. Also, at some point he’s going to have to try and attract Independent and Democratic voters if he’s the party nominee, and he’s doing extremely badly with those demographics. According to Gallup, 60% of USians view Trump unfavourably, and that figure is even higher amongst Democrats.
There were just two more questions for Trump after this, both pretty inconsequential. Trump spent the rest of his time chatting with Anderson Cooper, again about little of consequence. He didn’t seem to be very popular with the audience – certainly not as popular as his usual adoring crowds. He was personable though, and that always helps in a Town Hall situation.