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“The Republican Reality Show Rat Race”: Embracing Magic Hairball Economics And Quack Cures

The current Republican presidential race is less a political contest than a reality TV series: a stage-managed melodrama with a cast of characters selected to titillate and provoke. By that standard, last week’s CNBC debate succeeded far beyond expectations — all but guaranteeing a larger audience for the next exciting installment.

Viewers who tuned in to see Donald Trump boasting and hurling insults at the Sleepwalking Surgeon, the Sweaty Senator, and the Amazing Spineless Governor, found themselves invited to boo an entirely different set of villains — CNBC’s frustrated and argumentative moderators.

In professional wrestling, of course, the referees are always part of the show.

Senator Ted Cruz got the party started with a cleverly contrived bit of bombast camouflaging evasiveness as high principle. Asked if his opposition to the recently negotiated congressional budget compromise showed he wasn’t “the kind of problem solver American voters want,” Cruz attacked moderator John Harwood instead.

“The questions that have been asked so far in this debate illustrate why the American people don’t trust the media,” Cruz said. “You look at the questions: ‘Donald Trump, are you a comic-book villain?’ ‘Ben Carson, can you do math?’ ‘John Kasich, will you insult two people over here?’ ‘Marco Rubio, why don’t you resign?’ ‘Jeb Bush, why have your numbers fallen?’ How about talking about the substantive issues the people care about?”

In fact, none of those characterizations was accurate. Nobody called Trump a villain, although Harwood did ask about his “comic book campaign” promises to deport 11 million immigrants, build a giant wall, make Mexico pay for it, and slash taxes by $10 trillion while balancing the budget.

Nobody had to urge Ohio’s governor Kasich to insult Trump and Ben Carson. He’d opened the debate by lamenting that his party’s two leading candidates were people “who cannot do the job.” He’d specifically cited their fantastical budget promises along with Trump’s immigration vows. Elsewhere, Kasich suggested that many Republicans had lost touch with reality.

CSNBC’s Becky Quick never challenged Dr. Carson’s mathematical ability. But she did get visibly frustrated at his serene unwillingness to acknowledge basic arithmetic, and fell into bickering.

No matter. Sen. Cruz, who has carefully avoided antagonizing Trump, had identified the villains. The studio audience of GOP loyalists went ape — hooting, beating their chests, and all but flinging dung at the hapless CNBC moderators. Nothing so animates the GOP base as the perception that they’re being sneered at by effete intellectuals. Pollster Frank Luntz reported thunderous approval among his all-Republican focus group. Poor babies.

I’d argue that something historic is going on. As Kasich suggests, beleaguered Republicans are currently engaged in a retreat from reality as profound as communist apparatchiks during the last days of the USSR. Hence the predominance of hucksters, sharpers and mountebanks among the candidates onstage.

In deference to the astonishing avarice of billionaire donors, instead of Five Year Plans they’re embracing magic hairball economics and quack cures. It’s no accident that the renowned brain surgeon Dr. Ben Carson lent his prestige to Mannatech, an outfit peddling “nutritional supplements” that supposedly cure autism and cancer.

The company recently paid $7 million to settle a deceptive practices lawsuit brought by the Texas Attorney General. Texas! Asked by CNBC’s Carl Quintanilla about this unseemly connection, Carson dismissed it as “propaganda.”

Anybody can watch Carson’s video endorsements online.

Similarly, Mike Huckabee promised to cut health care costs by curing Alzheimer’s, diabetes, heart disease, and cancer. Of course, the former Arkansas governor has no more chance of becoming president than I do. He’s in it for the book sales, going so far as to hint during the debate that his predecessor Bill Clinton had political opponents murdered.

Hay for the cattle, except that my cows are more skeptical than the average Huckabee reader.

Alas, much of the GOP electorate has reached that sublime point of self-deception where they refuse to acknowledge any reality they don’t wish to believe. In consequence, the saner sorts of conservatives are bailing out. CNBC’s Harwood brought up former Bush-appointed Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke’s statement that “the know-nothingism of the far right” had driven him out of the Republican Party.

That merely showed his “arrogance,” said Sen. Rand Paul of the man who arguably saved the nation’s financial system post-2008.

Bruce Bartlett, the one-time Reagan Treasury official who thinks the GOP has gone badly astray, mocked Cruz’s crybaby rhetoric. “We’ve just seen Hillary Clinton go through 11 hours of questioning, and these guys can’t go a couple minutes of questioning,” he said.

Pressed about his own save-the-billionaires tax scheme, Sen Marco Rubio went off on CNBC’s Harwood.

“Democrats have the ultimate super PAC,” he whined. “It’s called the mainstream media.”

Boo-hoo hoo.

So would you like to hear Anderson Cooper’s first softball question to perennial press favorite Hillary Clinton during the recent CNN Democratic debate?

It was this: “Will you say anything to get elected?”

 

By: Gene Lyons, The National Memo, November 4, 2015

November 6, 2015 Posted by | CNBC Debate, Debate Moderators, GOP Presidential Candidates | , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

“Retreating Entirely Into Their Own Little World”: GOP Debate Flat-Earthers Would Rather Just Talk Among Themselves

The defining essence of today’s Republican Party is that it lives in its own reality with its own set of “facts.”

You know this well enough. On the planet most of us inhabit, huge tax cuts for the rich hurt the economy and compound the deficit. The Earth is warming, and man-made carbon emissions have a lot to do with it. Evolution is a fact that happened and is still happening. On GOPEarth, tax cuts for the rich help the economy and reduce the deficit. The Earth isn’t warming, and even if it were just a little, it’s nothing to do with us. Evolution is just a theory.

It’s all fantasy, and all promulgated partly out of deluded belief but mainly for the benefit of Republican politicians’ benefactors and shock troops—in the three cases above, for the über-rich, for energy and oil companies, and for religious-right voters. And because of the way discourse in a democratic society works, if one party decides that it believes and wants to peddle empirically untrue things, well, provided it gets enough people to believe and repeat those things, the rest of us have no choice but to take those arguments seriously and engage them and quarrel with them. So we waste a lot of time in this country “debating” things that in every other advanced democracy in the world are settled matters of fact.

But now Reince Priebus may be doing those of us on mother Earth a favor. With his astonishing admission Monday that anyone allowed to ask a question of a Republican presidential candidate at a debate ought to “care or give a rip about the Republican Party,” the GOP chairman is unwittingly hastening the arrival of the day when the flat-earthers can just talk among themselves and the rest of us don’t really have to pay attention.

It’s an incredible statement in the way it imposes a precondition of support for the party before a person is even allowed to ask a question. Now, there may be a reasonable role for ideological journalists to be on a debate stage. I’d love to participate in a Democratic debate. But not so I can lob them softballs. Rather, I’d ask them tough questions that it would never occur to Anderson Cooper to ask, because I’m immersed in liberal thought and policy debates in a way he isn’t, and I have a pretty strong sense of what kinds of questions might get them off their talking points. So there’s a role for that. But that of course is not what Priebus meant. He meant lickspittles.

On the surface, the Republican anger over the debates is about a series of somewhat picayune questions about format, like these, which were set forth in a letter from GOP lawyer Ben Ginsberg to the networks (Will you commit that you won’t “show an empty podium after a break/describe how far away the bathrooms are”?)

While Donald Trump, Chris Christie, Carly Fiorina, and John Kasich all said Monday that they would not sign the letter, even I would agree that Republicans have a couple of legitimate gripes on some of these format questions.

The format of having the top 10 (or 11) candidates debate and leaving the others to the kids’ table has been ridiculous from jump street. Lindsey Graham and Rick Santorum, both of whom have actual policy knowledge, aren’t any less serious than Chris Christie and John Kasich just because they’re a point or two behind them but within the margin of error. From the start, it should have been two groups of eight or nine, randomly drawn from a hat (although, interestingly, the campaigns did not agree Sunday that this should be the practice going forward).

They’re right that the CNBC debate was chaotic. And they’re right that questions aren’t fairly distributed. Underlying these two problems, especially the latter one, is a hard economic fact that the networks won’t acknowledge and which Republican free-marketeers are unlikely to condemn. These debates, especially with Donald Trump in the picture, are far less about civic edification than they are about ratings and the ad rates that can be charged when Trump-scale audiences tune in who naturally enough want to see more of Trump than they do of Mike Huckabee. Did CNN expand that GOP debate to three tedious hours so the public would learn more, or so that the network could rake in one extra hour’s worth of ad revenue? Let’s not kid ourselves.

But at bottom, the Republican complaints about the debate process aren’t really about these format issues. They’re about GOP resentment that the questioners don’t share the candidates’ ideological presumptions and don’t see the debate as a PR opportunity for the party; which is to say that they’re about this insular reality that Republicans and conservatives have created for themselves in which everyone who doesn’t reflexively agree with a long list of litmus-test assumptions about the world, many of them provably untrue, is a liberal and an enemy of freedom and all the rest.

So now, with Priebus’s words Monday, they’re edging close to retreating into that reality in a way that would have been unimaginable a few years ago but that we may yet see. Picture this: Hillary Clinton wins the presidency. In 2019, Republicans start contemplating running against her and start thinking about primary debates. First off, they may not even have them at all (a blessing in a way, though not really a triumph for democracy). But if they do have them, is it far-fetched to think that there will be only two, and that they’ll be limited to, oh, the Christian Broadcasting Network and the Tea Party Network? After all, remember, it’s C-effing-NBC they’re mad at—the network that helped create the Tea Party! Remember also that Fox made them furious back in the summer, when Fox moderators asked tougher-than-expected questions. Pretty soon their own mothers won’t even be allowed to ask them questions (especially Jeb Bush’s).

Priebus doesn’t seem to have thought through one basic fact: If the Republican Party really sues the political media for a debate divorce, then the political media will be under decreasing obligation to take the party’s barmy positions seriously, and they can talk on their networks about their world, and the rest of us can talk in every other outlet about the real world. It’s sad, but not as sad as having to take all their whining seriously.

 

By: Michael Tomasky, The Daily Beast, November 3, 2015

November 4, 2015 Posted by | CNBC Debate, GOP Primary Debates, Reince Priebus | , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

“The GOP’s Deranged List Of Debate Demands”: Somebody Save Us From Reporters Asking Rude Questions

The Republican debates have been a disaster for some candidates, a boon for others and an uninspiring spectacle for the nation to witness. But don’t blame it all on the moderators.

Not that the questioners are blameless, mind you. It’s true that some of the queries at last week’s CNBC encounter seemed designed to provoke rather than elucidate. Ted Cruz’s memorable characterization of the questions sounded like a parody: “ ‘Donald Trump, are you a comic-book villain?’ ‘Ben Carson, can you do math?’ ‘John Kasich, will you insult two people over here?’ ‘Marco Rubio, why don’t you resign?’ ‘Jeb Bush, why have your numbers fallen?’ ” But the moderators, using different words, really did ask those things.

They weren’t crazy questions, though, even if they should have been framed in a less confrontational way.

Trump was asked about the central argument of his candidacy, which is that his brains, energy and competence would allow him to accomplish improbable feats such as building a wall along the southern border and making Mexico pay for it, deporting 11 million illegal immigrants and cutting taxes without increasing the deficit. “Is this a comic-book version of a presidential campaign?” was not the best way to phrase it, but the question was certainly germane.

Carson was asked about math because his proposal for a flat income tax of about 15 percent doesn’t come close to adding up. Kasich was asked his opinion of front-runners Trump and Carson because he had begun the evening with an unprompted attack on the two outsiders as unqualified to be president.

Rubio was asked to respond to an editorial in Florida’s Sun Sentinel newspaper that cited his absenteeism from Senate floor votes and called on him to resign his seat. The paper’s stance was “evidence of the bias that exists in the American media today,” he said, omitting the fact that the Sun Sentinel endorsed him in his 2010 Senate race.

And as for Bush’s anemic poll numbers, the fact is that he was once considered a strong favorite to win the nomination. The plan was for a “shock and awe” campaign that would overwhelm the field. So far, it has fizzled.

An argument could be made that such horse-race questions are a waste of valuable airtime. But the other lines of inquiry that Cruz blasted in his soliloquy were substantive and legitimate — and apparently made the candidates uncomfortable. Time to put an end to that.

Representatives from all the leading campaigns except one — that of businesswoman Carly Fiorina — met at an Alexandria hotel Sunday night to try to wrest control of future debates from the television networks and the Republican National Committee. The meeting was the brainchild of neurosurgeon Carson, who is running a strong second to Trump in national polls and leading him in first-in-the-nation Iowa. After Trump’s campaign joined in calling for the summit, the others had no choice but to come along.

Carson’s original idea was apparently to have all candidates onstage, including those relegated to the undercard, and for each to give a five-minute opening statement. This would take well over an hour and turn a “debate” into a string of little stump speeches. The fact that television executives would never agree to such terms did not bother Carson’s advisers, who have suggested that the debates be streamed on the Internet instead.

Republican attorney and power broker Ben Ginsberg — who no longer has a horse in this race, following Scott Walker’s withdrawal — chaired the meeting. Ginsberg suggested the hosts be required to make a long list of promises, including not to “ask the candidates to raise their hands to answer a question” or “have reaction shots of members of the audience or moderators during debates.”

The RNC decided last week to “suspend” a planned February debate to be hosted by NBC News — CNBC’s parent network — and Telemundo. Bush’s representative reportedly argued that the party should not turn its back on the only Spanish-language network scheduled to participate in a debate. According to Post reporter David Weigel, quoting an attendee, Trump’s campaign manager shot back that if Telemundo were included, “Trump walks.” Sources later told The Post that Trump had decided to negotiate with the networks on his own.

In past cycles, the RNC was the final arbiter. But the party is in chaos and the candidates, led by Trump and Carson, are driving the bus. We’ll face down Vladimir Putin and the leaders of Iran, the contenders all say, but somebody save us from reporters asking rude questions.

 

By: Eugene Robinson, Opinion Writer, The Washington Post, November 2, 2015

November 4, 2015 Posted by | CNBC Debate, GOP Presidential Candidates, Republican National Committee | , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

“Failure To Fact Check”: The Real Problem With The CNBC Debate Was The Moderators’ Inability To Call Out The GOP’s Nonsense

Big applause lines: “lamestream media,” a la Sarah Palin, or “Democrats who have the ultimate super PAC, it’s called the mainstream media,” a la Rubio. When in doubt, bash the media.

And it didn’t take long before the Republican National Committee blasted out a press statement that because of the CNBC debate, it was ready to cancel the party’s upcoming NBC debate. Over the weekend, the various campaigns met to “set the rules” about future debates.

Now let me get this straight: the Republicans get 24 million viewers on Fox, 23 million viewers on CNN and 14 million viewers on CNBC – up against the second game of the World Series – and they are complaining? Trump bragged about how he and Ben Carson changed the rules of the CNBC debate by threatening to pull out. Maybe this group would like to determine not only who asks the questions but what the questions are?

But make no mistake, it plays to their base to bash journalists and it also serves to intimidate the media. Sad but true.

If there was a fault with CNBC it was that the moderators were not tough enough on this crowd of candidates. They raised questions that were answered falsely or not at all and did not hold the candidates’ feet to the fire. There simply weren’t enough follow up questions. Whether they were intimidated or did not have the full research in front of them is hard to say, but they should have pushed harder.

Some examples: Cruz would not answer the question about his opposition to the debt limit and instead used his time to attack moderator Carl Quintanilla. Finally, Cruz shot back: “You don’t want to hear the answer.” It reminded me of the great scene in “A Few Good Men” when Jack Nicholson loses it on the stand and shouts, “You can’t handle the truth!”

Cruz should be forced to compare his position on raising the debt limit to Ronald Reagan’s and to that of every other president who understood what it would do to the country if we were to default.

Becky Quick asked Donald Trump about his criticism of Mark Zuckerberg for urging an increase in visas and Trump shot back that it was false. She backed off, but in fact it was true. Trump’s claim got a “Pants on Fire” from Politifact.

Carly Fiorina made the outrageous statement that 92 percent of jobs lost during President Barack Obama’s first term were women’s jobs. Politifact rated that false, and noted that the number of women with jobs actually increased by 416,000.

Ben Carson said it was “total propaganda” to assert he was involved with the disgraced nutritional supplement company, Mannatech, and the anchors had the evidence but, again, did not push back. Politifact also rated Carson’s statements false.

Probably the most important debate should have been on the various tax plans from the candidates. The New York Times editorialized against them,citing the absurdity of the 10 percent and 15 percent flat tax proposals. The effect of the Republicans’ economic policy is the same old trickle down with the biggest tax benefits going to the wealthy who, lord knows, don’t need it. As the Times’ editorial made clear none of the Republicans “has a tax plan coherent enough to be the basis of a substantive discussion, let alone one that could meet the nation’s challenges.”

It is the job of the press and, let’s face it, the Democrats, to point out that this crew of emperors has no clothes.

With all their bashing of the media and the attempt to use it to mobilize their base, it became clear that the Republicans simply did not have the answers. Pollyanish predictions of astronomical economic growth was all they could offer.

The candidates complained afterwards that there wasn’t enough time to talk about substance. Baloney. They simply don’t want hard questions. The most destructive result of all the back and forth after the CNBC debate, complete with the Fox Business Channel attacking CNBC in paid ads, would be if the Republicans intimidate the press and control the format and the questions. After all, this isn’t Russia, the last time I looked.

 

By: Peter Fenn, U. S. News and World Report, November 2, 2015

November 3, 2015 Posted by | CNBC Debate, GOP Primary Debates, Media | , , , , , , , , , | 5 Comments

   

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