Thoughts on a GOP debate field that is shrinking, but not fast enough

This group is shrinking again. (AP Photo / Andrew Harnik)

This group is shrinking again. (AP Photo / Andrew Harnik)

There’s not a lot shaking down at the Gold Dome yet, with one legislative day out of 40 marked off the calendar. In the meantime, there’s plenty on the national political scene to talk about, starting with the news that the GOP debate stage Thursday night will be missing a couple of occupants.

Carly Fiorina and Rand Paul have been dropped from the primetime event to a “kids’ table” debate that really need not take place at this point. Paul is boycotting the undercard, trying to fire up his supporters with the snub; I saw at least two tweets from his campaign account yesterday encouraging followers to give money to show those meanies in the media he’s still a viable candidate. But the fact is, he isn’t a viable candidate. What some of us thought* would be a step forward for the Paul family brand — building on his father’s modest success with a broader appeal — instead seems to have backfired for the Kentucky senator. He just doesn’t have any traction among any portion of the electorate. Paul hasn’t been above 5 percent in a single national poll (among those in the Real Clear Politics average) since an August poll by CNN; he hasn’t been in sole position of even fifth place but twice in the past few months. There’s really no argument that he’s been particularly harmed, compared to other candidates, by the disproportionate media attention paid to Donald Trump. He has taken more shots than other candidates at Trump in the debates, to no effect (or no good effect, anyway). He’d do well to turn his attention to winning re-election to the Senate, where he can play a more influential role than presidential also-ran, and hope the much-discussed “libertarian moment” returns before Halley’s Comet does.

Whether up or down, Fiorina has been a constant surprise in this campaign. She showed strong debate chops early on, earning her way into the main debate stage and blowing away the other candidates when she finally got there. Then … nothing. She was completely unable to build on that momentum and attention, and has slid steadily down in the polls and in terms of her presence in the subsequent debates. I attended a town hall she held at Georgia Tech last month, where she received polite applause from a decent crowd but showed no signs of going back on an upswing. People talk about catching lightning in a bottle in politics as well as sports, but it doesn’t do any good if the bolt blows right through the bottom of it. At this juncture, I would say Fiorina has even played her way out of serious consideration as a running mate for the eventual nominee.

The remaining group on stage Thursday night — Trump, Ted Cruz, Marco Rubio, Ben Carson, Chris Christie, Jeb Bush and John Kasich — is still too large in my view. Carson’s star has burned out, and there is no reason to think he can reignite the fire at this point. Kasich is on the stage despite registering less than 2 percent in national polls, simply by virtue of his current third-place standing in New Hampshire. But in the debate as in that primary, the most likely effect of Kasich’s continued presence is to detract from someone who can still emerge from the pack with the support of “the establishment.” To the extent that’s true, Kasich is helping Trump and Cruz.

Finally, the most surprising contribution to the hopes of Trump and Cruz this week comes from none other than Jeb Bush. His super PAC has launched an advertising assault on Rubio based on — wait for it — the latter’s immigration stance. This is political malpractice in more than one way, not least because Bush in the past praised Rubio’s work in the Gang of Eight and because the attack on Rubio comes not from the center but from the right. I understand everyone is revising their past positions on immigration at this point, but it simply isn’t believable that Bush is on Rubio’s right on the issue. What’s more, like Kasich’s campaign, the main thing the Bush campaign can accomplish at this point is to drag down Rubio (and maybe Christie) to the benefit of Trump and Cruz. I have a hard time believing Bush’s financial backers are comfortable with that. Certainly, “the establishment” that once was expected to consolidate behind Bush can’t be happy about it.

* Boy, is that piece depressing to read in retrospect …

Reader Comments 0

20 comments
RafeHollister
RafeHollister

I'm am as against any "establishment" GOP candidate as I am Hillary.  If future results are anything like past performance, we would be only slightly better with one of those, than if we elected Hillary.  Of course the GOP track record of a Dem Platform-light, moderate is not good anyway, so they would probably lose as the folks wouldn't bother to vote.


Kasich, Christie, and Bush splitting the "establishment" vote is refreshing, as usually it is one moderate that emerges as the leader and 2-4 conservatives splitting the vote and the moderate wins.


Seems we are going to either get Cruz, Trump or Rubio.  The establishment will bite their lip and support Rubio, but Cruz and Trump will probably be sabotaged in favor of Hillary, barring her federal indictment, that grows more certain by the day


It is just amazing how strong the GOP field looked at the outset, and how the harsh light of campaigning has exposed them terribly. 

Lil_Barry_Bailout
Lil_Barry_Bailout

@RafeHollister

The Democrats are smart to hide their candidates from the harsh light of campaigning!

And it's also nice for Hillary that her main opposition in the primary is a guy who isn't even really running.  Except in the way that a dog runs after a car, not knowing what it would do if it were to catch it.

Hedley_Lammar
Hedley_Lammar

@RafeHollister Trump is such a great businessman he bankrupted a casino. Let that sink in for a minute.


A casino


And he destroyed the USFL. Look it up



SGTGrit
SGTGrit

@RafeHollister 

The GOP field was indeed strong albeit too crowded. It could have remained that way with the emergence of an electable leader by this time. Trump, however, sucked the oxygen out this field with his personal attacks and trumpeting the concerns of the public head on that the others have been reluctant to do. How reliable these polls really are that show Trump so far out ahead remains to be accurately determined. Hillary, continues to lose support among Democrats and Sanders, could win Iowa and New Hampshire. Should Sanders win in hose states Hillary could be in real trouble not to mention the possibility of indictment hanging over her head. It would be a great time for the GOP given the woes of the Clinton campaign with any other Republican candidate but Trump but it may be that he will become the nominee.

xxxzzz
xxxzzz

@RafeHollister And yet Cruz and Rubio from DC lead people like Bush and Christie who have never been in DC.  We really need a good president this time.  And Rubio is just not ready for prime time.  He may talk a good talk, but so did Obama.  Neither was qualified.  The 3 who might be good presidents are sitting in 5th, 6th and 7th-Bush, Christie and Kasich.

Caius
Caius

" * Boy, is that piece depressing to read in retrospect"

Amen! And know how you feel.  In August 2007 I was prepared to bet the life's savings, so to speak, on a 2008 election between Clinton and Giuliani. In August 2008 I took a hammer and shattered my crystal ball.


An uncomfortable bit of history: Jimmy who?, Barack who? and now Donald who? Except Donald is really not a "who" to the TV viewing millions. He is a "who" to non TV people.


I guess bottom line is to rule no one out of the White House just yet. If a black guy from Chicago can win back to back national elections with over 51% of the popular vote, then the perceived impossible becomes possible.  Keep your "Stand with Rand" buttons a while longer.


Lil_Barry_Bailout
Lil_Barry_Bailout

Meanwhile, the Democrat candidates are so embarrassing that they have to hide their debate on the night of the national championship football game.  They will only speak to "brown and black" people (their words), and spend all night trying to out-bats**t-crazy each other.

Pathetic.

lvg
lvg

Donnie looking to do a hostile takeover of GOP due to inability of GOP to function as a party of ideas and not just party of negativity and spokesperson for the NRA , conservative action groups and the 1%. Having Rinse a Peanut as GOP leader makes it so much easier for Donnie.

DawgDadII
DawgDadII

Far preferable to the Democrat socialist/criminal perps circus. Notably there has not a vote or a convention yet. Once people start voting the pawns will fall off the board. Until then, tune out.

Eye wonder
Eye wonder

@DawgDadII

"Democrat socialist." 

That term does not mean what I think you think it means. PS.

RoadScholar
RoadScholar

Pretty soon the clown car could be reduced to a Yugo, if it wasn't for Trump's ego and head!


"..I understand everyone is revising their past positions on immigration at this point,.."

Cons wrong? Or instead of a wall or banishing them to the terror in their countries, did they decide to propose to use firing squads?

Eye wonder
Eye wonder

Face it, Kyle - to a large swath of the modern conservative electorate, crazy sells. You guys are reaping what you have sown for the last 45 years and I am enjoying the implosion.

jezel
jezel

@Eye wonder Kyle...do you even have a clue as to what  a conservative is ?

jezel
jezel

@Eye wonder Some times I read your articles...I listen to the GOP candidates....All of the GOP of today... seems LOST. And America does need an  informed option. You folks need to tighten up.