Wednesday, September 16, 2015

Winners and losers in tonight's CNN Republican debate

The Republican primary election has turned into a chest-hair counting contest, thanks to Donald Trump. He has set out to prove himself the dominant male in the race and so far is succeeding--and doing it without trying real hard, which people like.

I still can't figure out what accounts for this outbreak of masculinity in a generally anti-testosterone culture, but this is what is happening. Trump does all the things a dog does to bring the rest of the pack into line: He growls, bites, badgers, acts petulantly, and demands to be petted (an action he will administer to himself if necessary).

The other candidates don't seem to understand this yet (largely because they don't read this blog, which, of course, is inexcusable).

So what does this mean for tonight? How do you displace the alpha dog?

The first thing is to do no harm. For Bush, that means his handlers (where have these people been anyway?) need to tell their candidate to stop cocking his head to the side in this sort of awe, shucks way that, I'm sorry, just makes him look like a wimp. This has the same effect as when a submissive member of the pack turns over on his back and lifts up its paw. It means, "Sure, buddy, anything you want." Bush's handers needed to have him practice his debate performance with highly charged electrodes just inches from each side of his head to give him a strong shock when commits submissive behavior.

The strategy for some candidates is going to be to demonstrate some more grit. Unfortunately, wearing jeans, and cowboy hat along with a large belt buckle probably won't do the trick. Bush's only hope is to pad his arms and shoulders and look like he has been working out. But he isn't going to do that. And going toe to toe with Trump is his only option, but he just can't do it very well, and for that reason, Bush is going to lose ground tonight.

Same for Rand Paul. This is where Trump's physique comes in. I'm surprised no one has taken notice of Trump's physical build. I don't know how tall he is, but he is clearly a tall, well-built man. The dude's got to work out or something. Has anyone noticed that the guy is large, well into his sixties, and has no noticeable stomach?

I'm being serious here. Your physique and your posture are things that give you automatic confidence when you speak to people or appear on television. My diminutive and somewhat shy daughter shocked me in high school by winning a debate competition (with no prior experience). The one thing that struck me was her posture. She rode horses, which requires you to sit up perfectly straight. If her excellent posture didn't actually give her confidence (I think it did), it made her look like she did, which had to have helped bring it about.

Trump's very physical presence communicates his dominance.. Did anyone know notice how small Paul looked in the first debate? He looked like he had just arrived in the land of giants. He needs to negotiate for a smaller podium to make himself look bigger. But it won't happen. So he loses too. So does Marco Rubio. He looks too young--too young to take on the top dog.

The only other strategy against Trump is coexistence. Cruz has mastered this. He has followed the Klingon strategy of keeping your friends close and your enemies closer. So far, this isn't working too badly for him. Same for Rubio, who is following this same strategy. But Cruz is plagued by these irritating effeminacies. Look at his manner, particularly the way he uses his hands, and compare these with Trump's manner, and you'll see what I mean. As far as Rubio goes, he would be doing better if he didn't look so much like he was still waiting for his permanent teeth to come in.

Then there are the other candidates who, almost to a man (but not a woman, hold on for that thought), are just boring, especially compared to Trump. There is a yawning excitement gap in this campaign, and all the candidates who just roll out policy proposals and tout their very boring technocratic expertise and experience just simply stand no chance in this race, partly because this race is about being authentic and none these things help to establish that.

Huckabee seems to me to be in a unique position. He is well spoken, logical, and is trying to outmaneuver his opponents with evangelicals. I think he is always impressive in these kind of situations. He is the only one, it seems to me, who is able to criticize Trump and get away with it because of his smooth and disarming manner. At the same time, he somehow (I don't know how), doesn't seem to suffer from the 2016 establishment curse, despite the fact that he was a governor.

Ben Carson won't be hurt too badly, but I think people are going to find him less compelling in this debate. He got a big bump in the last debate because he looked real and respectable and he exceeded expectations. But now expectations are higher this time and I think that his lack of specifics (something that doesn't hurt the alpha dog) won't impress anybody. I think he communicates his authenticity well, which is one of his big advantages. He has also captured much of the religious right because he's one of them. He also has a great story. But I think his languid manner is going to start to wear. It will either be a wash for Carson or a slight comedown.

Walker is boring because he's too establishment and just keeps digging himself in by his litany of establishment accomplishments and his lists of policy prescriptions. He loses. Kasich should have the same problems as Walker, but he is trying to go for moderates which no one else is going for, plus he spunk, which doesn't hurt.

Chris Christie does okay, but, unfortunately for him, Trump has out Chris Christied Chris Christie.

Then there is Carly Fiorina, who I think is the candidate who has the ability to gain the most in this debate. Ironically, she may be the toughest personality in the contest. While she's smooth, she still rates high on the authenticity scale, and her manner is more masculine than Cruz. Like Carson, she has a great story (secretary to CEO). And, most importantly, she is the only candidate who can follow the first anti-Trump strategy--to go after him--and gain ground. She did a great job of going after Hillary, and, being a woman, she will exceed expectations if she is able to draw a little blood from the dominant male. She's in an underdog position--because of her sex and her up-until-now low stature in the polls. She'll also have "Aha!" factor: Many will see her for the first time and be impressed.

Fiorina gains the most 
Trump maintains his advantage or adds to it; ditto for Huckabee and maybe Kasich 
Cruz and maybe Carson and Christie maintain 
Rand Paul and Rubio maintain or lose a little 
Bush loses, as does Walker


Art said...

Maybe they invite the kiddie debaters and Rick Perry to try and set a new cave cramming record.

I'm willing to wait a few millenia before sorting through the bones to see who won the debate.

Anonymous said...


Out of general curiosity, and no attempt to trap you anything, who would you vote for in a Trump v Hillary general election. Let's grant the outrageous premise that there is not a single third party candidate, and you can't write anyone in. I think Trump in generally indifferent about abortion, and Hillary is militantly pro-choice, so I suppose Trump may be marginally preferable on that issue. Honestly, I don't think Trump actually wants the nomination. I think he's just having fun rattling the cage of the establishment.

Martin Cothran said...


I'm still hoping I won't have to make that choice. I'm hoping Trump's hubris will get the best of him. But I think it will come down to Trump, Carson, and Fiorina, and one of a clatch of other candidates that can afford to stay in a while and who might catch fire with the people who lose interest in Trump and Carson: Maybe Huckabee, maybe Rubio, maybe Jindal, but only one or two of them. Bush will do better in the actual vote than he is polling, but I think he exits early, which is just fine with me.

Singring said...

I wonder what it says about the substance of the Republican field and Republican politics in general that someone who fashions themselves a 'senior policy analyst' reduces every single candidate to their personality, posture, looks, demeanor. Not a single serious issue mentioned. Not one policy.

Instead it's all about dogs and barks and posture and "a-ha" factors...zzzzzzzzz

Martin Cothran said...


And yet you still read my post. Interesting ...

The post was purely political analysis: It was about what is, not what ought to be. I would love it if people were more interested in actual policy, but their not--and Republicans no less than Democrats. If you want to live in your little fantasy world that's fashioned just the way you like it, go ahead. But don't pretend it reflects the world as it is.

If you want to see the world as you would like it to be, then go watch BBC News. If you want to see the world as it is, then go watch "The View." I'll be watching the BBC along with you, but I won't be under any illusion that a whole lot of other people are watching it along with me.

Singring said...

Rest assured that I am under no such illusions. I was simply pointing out that those who actually care about politics and especially those whoa re trying to affect politics in some way should aspire to more than just focusing on aspects that might appeal to the lowest common denominator.

From what I see, hear and read, much of the American media is obsessed with reporting on superficialities, 'gaffes' and personal attacks - much too little time is spent on the issues.

Obviously, I am partisan in how I view the issues, but even I can say that most of the Republicans candidates stand for some set of actual issues - and that should be the focus of attention. People like you who comment on politics are in a position to help make sure that's where the focus is - I admit that a personal blog is not exactly a pulpit that necessarily demands it - but still, I would be much more interested in what you think of the issues each candidate stands for rather than whether they should be more 'alpha male' or not.

A really good example of this was the last debate, when Ben Carson suggested his idea of a 10% flat tax based on tithing. That would have been a really nice opportunity to explore the consequences of such a taxation system (which in my view would obviously be disastrous), where each candidate could have explained their position on tax policy etc. Instead the moderators (and media at large) focus on his quiet demeanor, that he seemed a bit 'lost' at the beginning of the debate and so on. Who cares? What about this sweeping and arguably radical tax reform he proposed - let's talk about that!

Those who drive the debate have the greatest responsibility for driving it in that direction.

Alex said...

You write about Trump: "The dude's got to work out or something. Has anyone noticed that the guy is large, well into his sixties, and has no noticeable stomach?"

That's not true at all - he just buys very well-tailored suits, most of them black, which cleverly camouflage his actual figure. Look at him golfing in a white shirt, and you can definitely see his stomach: