Tuesday Reads: The State of the Debate

Debate showdown

Good Day!!

I’m getting a slow start today, and I think it’s because anticipating the upcoming Republican debate is giving me the willies. It could be good for a laugh, but I think the pain of watching and listening 10 freaky a-holes responding to questions from Fox News personalities will probably be much greater than any pleasure I get from watching Republicans make fools of themselves.

Like the other Republican candidates, I’m particularly not looking forward to watching and listening to Donald Trump throw his weight around onstage. I can’t figure out why Trump is still increasing his lead in the polls. The latest Fox News poll, which will determine who gets into the debate and who is left out, has Trump at 26% –16 points ahead of Jeb Bush at 15%.

New Fox News polls out today just a few days before the first GOP debate. Donald Trump finds his highest support yet getting 26% support. Those are the highest numbers for any Republican candidate since Fox began polling for the 2016 race. Jeb Bush gets a solid #2 with 15%. His numbers haven’t dropped even as Trump’s have risen. Dana Blanton writes on FoxNews.com,

“Behind Trump and Bush, it’s Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker at 9 percent, retired neurosurgeon Ben Carson at 7 percent, Texas Sen. Ted Cruz and former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee at 6 percent each, Florida Sen. Marco Rubio and Kentucky Sen. Rand Paul at 5 percent a piece, and New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie and Ohio Gov. John Kasich get 3 percent each. That group is followed by businesswoman Carly Fiorina and former Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum tied at 2 percent, former Texas Gov. Rick Perry and Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal tied at 1 percent and former New York Gov. George Pataki, South Carolina Sen. Lindsey Graham and former Virginia Gov. Jim Gilmore receive less than 1 percent support.”

So it looks like the debaters will be Trump, Bush, Walker, Carson, Cruz, Huckabee, Rubio, Paul, Christie, and Kasich. There’s going to a whole lot of crazy on that stage.


A local New Hampshire poll also showed Trump with a significant lead.

WMUR poll: Donald Trump surges to top of GOP primary field in NH.

The latest WMUR Granite State Poll, released Monday, says Trump is the top choice of 24 percent of likely GOP primary voters, doubling the support of former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush, who is backed by 12 percent. Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker, at 11 percent, is the only other candidate in double digits.

Not only has Trump surged to the head of the pack in New Hampshire, but also for the first time, he is now viewed favorably by more likely GOP primary voters than unfavorably. And, he is named as the candidate best able to handle key issues facing the nation, from the economy to terrorism, and from immigration to health care policy.

Yet likely voters are unsure if Trump will actually win the primary in February….

The poll sets up Trump, Bush and Walker as New Hampshire’s top tier with six months remaining until the voting, which is likely to be held on Feb. 9, 2016.

According to CNN, Fox will give the lower level candidates some token airtime on Thursday before the official debate:

Fox News will host a 5 p.m. debate for the bottom seven candidates, giving them a chance to debate the big issues despite failing to crack into the top ranks of national polling. That debate, given its airtime and the crop of lesser-known candidates, is expected to tout significantly lower viewership.

But voters will be able to see nearly all candidates on one stage this week before the Thursday debates.

The elephant in the room

The elephant in the room

Last night there was a candidate’s forum in New Hampshire that Trump didn’t bother to attend. Politico reports that Trump’s name was never mentioned at this event.

Politico: New Hampshire Voters First Forum: 5 takeaways.

Thursday night, however, will be much different. Trump will be positioned in the middle of the stage, and chances are the candidates flanking him on both sides won’t make it through a two-hour debate playing patty-cake as they did tonight. The candidate most eager to tangle with him, Rick Perry, now appears unlikely to make the prime-time debate at all due to his anemic showing in the polls. That’ll leave an array of more nervous rivals, hoping to make their case to voters but on guard against any potential Trump broadsides. And that alone will offer political observers and debate watchers more drama than they got Monday night.

Hillary Clinton was a prominent topic though:

Hillary Clinton, the clear front-runner for the Democratic nomination, is a target for all the Republicans seeking the nomination. But on Monday night, the candidates who went after Clinton hammer and tongs were those at the bottom of the polls.

“Give Bernie Sanders credit, at least he is honest enough to call himself a socialist,” Bobby Jindal said. “Obama, Hillary Clinton are no better, they are just not honest enough to call themselves socialist..”

Carly Fiorina, the only woman in the GOP field, argued that she would be uniquely able to take the fight to Clinton in a general election. On Monday night, she attacked Hillary for lying about Benghazi and about her email server. “These go to the core of her character,” Fiorina said. “In order to beat Hillary Clinton, we have to have a nominee on our side who is willing to throw every punch.”

Fox debate

Lindsey Graham demonstrated his desperation for attention by bringing up Monica Lewinsky, as if that somehow reflects on Hillary. Ted Cruz, Rand Paul, and Marco Rubio appeared by satellite, because they were busy in DC voting to defend Planned Parenthood. Of the three, Cruz apparently made the best on-screen impression.

The former Princeton debate champion fired away in a hohum, folksy twang. “I believe this Obama-Iran nuclear deal is the gravest threat facing America,” he said. And he defended his rhetoric, which some have panned for being “overheated” in just as a calm a tone. “Let me tell you something,” he said quietly. “Speaking the truth is not rhetoric.”

At the outset of the official debate season, it’s clear that Cruz is head and shoulders above his rivals as a communicator, promising the audience, “We’ll win by painting in bold colors and we’ll reignite the promise of America” and blasting “the Washington cartel.” He promises “to make 2016 a referendum on Obamacare.”

This election season promises to be one of the scariest in history for anyone who wants to live in a civilized country.

At FiveThirtyEight Politics, Harry Enten has a piece about Fox’s use of national vs. local polls in determining the make-up of the first debate.

There’s No Perfect Way To Sort The Candidates For A Primary Debate. But some methods are better than others.

Does the use of national polls in an important debate make sense? That’s just one of several big questions about understanding each candidate’s actual chance of winning the nomination. Gov. Scott Walker, for example, currently leads Iowa surveys — how much does that matter? Does Walker’s lead in Iowa mean more than Donald Trump’s short tenure atop nationaland New Hampshire polls? How about former Gov. Jeb Bush’s barrels of money and Gov. Chris Christie’s early endorsements?

None of these measurements is a perfect predictor, and we don’t have a very large sample size when it comes to open primary elections in the modern era. But that doesn’t mean there’s no signal in these early metrics, and some have been more predictive than others.

Chart by Harry Enten at FiveThirtyEight Politics

Chart by Harry Enten at FiveThirtyEight Politics

It’s a fairly long read (and quite interesting), but here’s what Enten has to say about the New Hampshire situation specifically:

Like Iowa voters, New Hampshire voters tune into the contest much earlier than most voters nationally. Unlike Iowa, New Hampshire holds a primary vote, not a caucus. That means the primary and the polling for the primary is open to a wider array of voters. Most of the later contests that determine nominees are primaries, not caucuses.

This year, the early New Hampshire polling basically shows what all the indicators do on the Republican side. Yes, Trump is ahead in the New Hampshire surveys right now, but over the last six months the leader is Jeb Bush with 15.1 percent of the vote. Scott Walker is in second with 13.7 percent, Rand Paul is in third with 9.9 percent, Trump is in fourth with 9.7 percent, and Marco Rubio is in fifth with 7.4 percent. Only 1992 featured a race in which the leader in the New Hampshire surveys8 polled weaker than this year.

On the Democratic side, Hillary Clinton leads in the six-month average 51 percent to 19 percent over Sen. Bernie Sanders. As in the Republican race, the short-term average probably gives too much credit to the surging candidate (Sanders). The longer-term average fits with most other pieces of data: Clinton is far and away the front-runner.

This year the endorsements and the New Hampshire polling generally are showing the same thing. The potential exceptions on the Republican side include Chris Christie, who barely leads the endorsement primary, but has gone nowhere in the New Hampshire polling. Also, Trump has shown no sign of any support from the party actors, even though he is polling fairly decently in New Hampshire over the past six months.

The upshot is that, while national polling tends to be less accurate for predicting primary winners, for now,

Overall, I can’t find too much fault with Fox News (or any other network) using national polling to determine who will eventually be competitive in a primary. There is a good argument to be made that the networks should take a longer-term average. There’s also a good argument to be made that using any of these metrics this early to sort the field by competitiveness is inexact and risky. But if a network is trying to determine a cut-off point so that the debate stage isn’t overfilled, then a national polling average is as good as looking at endorsements or fundraising at this point in the campaign. Adding New Hampshire polls, though, may be even better.

Republican presidential hopeful Donald Trump greets supporters at a South Carolina campaign rally in Bluffton, S.C., Tuesday, July 21, 2015. (AP Photo/Stephen B. Morton)

Republican presidential hopeful Donald Trump greets supporters at a South Carolina campaign rally in Bluffton, S.C., Tuesday, July 21, 2015. (AP Photo/Stephen B. Morton)

Finally, for those of us who shudder at the thought of Trump actually getting the GOP nomination, here’s Josh Marshall’s frightening assessment:

Forget Everything Else. Look at Trump’s Net Favorables.

But check out this number from the latest Monmoth poll. Monmouth has polled the evolving GOP primary in April, June and July. And over that period Donald Trump’s favorable ratings have gone from 28% to 52%, while his unfavorables have gone from 56% to 35%. To put that a different way he’s gone from a -28% net approval to a +17% net approval . In other words, that’s a 45 point shift in three months….

…this is a massive, massive shift, especially for someone who is extremely well-known to the public and must have very high name recognition numbers. One might also add that it is a remarkable move over the course of a period in which Trump has marching around like a clown leveling racial slurs at whole nationalities. But that’s a more subjective judgment.

At least according to these Monmouth numbers, Republican voters’ perceptions of Trump are roughly on par with one time frontrunner Jeb Bush.


Yikes!! Could it actually happen? Marshall thinks Trump is going to in it for the long term.

Don’t get me wrong. I still think it is exceedingly unlikely that Trump will win the nomination. But these numbers really upend any idea that Trump is already maxed out – that he’s leading at 20% or more but can never go higher. And it’s hard to come up with a scenario where he leaves the race any time soon or really at any time before someone clearly beats him with actual delegates. He can easily self-fund. He has a massive ego which much be firing on insane amounts of dopamine with all this attention and adulation.

It’s a long time until the first primary, but I’m getting worried about Trump. So is Chris Cillizza at the WaPo: Boy, was I wrong about Donald Trump. Here’s why.

Donald Trump is now doubling the rest of the Republican field in the average of the last five national polls. And polling out of early states like New Hampshire puts him in the pole position in those places too.

All of which makes having written a piece on June 17 headlined, “Why no one should take Donald Trump seriously, in one very simple chart” that argued why, well, no one should take Donald Trump seriously, pretty embarrassing. Not to mention wrong….

Why did I miss Trump’s appeal so badly? Simply put: I had NEVER EVER seen a reversal in how people perceive a candidate who is as well known as Trump — much less a reversal in such a short period of time. I based my conclusion that Trump would never be a relevant player in the Republican primary fight on the ideas that once people 1) know you and 2) don’t like you, you can’t change those twin realities much.

That was 100 percent true. Until Donald Trump proved it (and me) wrong.

What else is happening? Please post your thoughts and links on any topic in the comment thread and enjoy your Tuesday.


32 Comments on “Tuesday Reads: The State of the Debate”

  1. bostonboomer says:

    The Republican crazy just keeps getting worse. I was stunned when Reagan got the nomination and won the presidency. I thought he was a joke. Frankly, I thought Jimmy Carter was a joke too.

    Now we have Trump–a much bigger joke even than Ronnie Ray-Gun–with a chance to be the GOP candidate! Unreal.

    • dakinikat says:

      This country as a wild streak of populism that can really turn in on itself. You can see it in the right and on the left. A little is fine but it can turn to demagoguery really quickly.

  2. bostonboomer says:

    LA Times:

    Sandra Bland’s family files lawsuit over her death in Texas jail


  3. ANonOMouse says:

    Really good post BB. I don’t find Trump as worrisome as you. I think of Trump the way I think of hoola-hoops, a short lived phenomena, that everyone wanted to take part in, but soon found had no real value other than cheap entertainment.

    And Trump is much more cavalier in his approach to seeking the nomination than Reagan ever was. Reagan really worked at understanding the issues (even if he was wrong about most everything) so that he could talk about them intelligently in interviews and debates. Reagan was a patient speaker, whose spoke in a confident, modulated tone of voice. His emotions always seemed in control. Trump, on the other hand, is a loud mouthed, blow hard, gun-slinger, that already thinks his wealth proves that he knows everything about everything. His unbridled arrogance will be his downfall. If he goes into these debates unprepared, and he will, his demise will soon follow.

    I think Jeb Bush or Scott Walker will be the nominee, but right now I’m leaning toward Jeb. Scott Walker really isn’t a very smart person and I think that will begin to become apparent over time. Of course George W. wasn’t a very smart person either. So what do I know?

    • bostonboomer says:

      I hope you’re right. You’re right that Scott Walker is a dummy, but I don’t think Jeb Bush is very bright either. At least Dubya had some personality and political street smarts. Bush is boring and inept, IMO.

  4. Silent Kate says:

    I think Sen. Elizabeth Warren hit the nail on the head. She thinks the Repubs might have hit their heads and woke up thinking it was 1950 or 1890. They don’t want women to have control over they’d own bodies. They want to defund Panned Parenthood and end Obamacare. Why any woman votes Republican is beyond me!

    • bostonboomer says:

      Me too, but Hillary is supposedly doing poorly with white women. Crazy!

      Hillary Clinton Loses Ground With White Women — WSJ/NBC Poll

      • Beata says:

        It’s mind-boggling. Someone should write a “What’s the Matter with White Women?” book analyzing why so many vote against their own interests. Maybe there is already such a book, I don’t know.

        Thanks for the great post, BB. The Enten link about polls was especially interesting.

        I won’t be around for the Thursday live blog of the GOP debate. You all will have to carry on without me!

        • bostonboomer says:

          Thanks, Beata. I’m sorry you can’t participate in the live blog. Your commentary will be sorely missed.

      • ANonOMouse says:

        My concern about Hillary far outweighs my interest in who ends up with the GOP nomination. I sense a lack of enthusiasm for Hillary this time that wasn’t as apparent last time around. To my mind the campaign is moving far to slowly. As I’ve said, I understand that she doesn’t want to burn out before the primary season even begins, but Hillary is backsliding. It’s much easier to win converts than it is to win back those you had and lost.

        I know I could drown myself in a Hillary website that only reports on the good things, but looking at this campaign as a person who is a news hound, I simply don’t feel or see the same sense of enthusiasm that I saw in 2007. I don’t exactly know what’s different this time, it could be the Bernie effect, but I’m guessing it’s the effect of many of those Obama supporters from 2008 that just can’t embrace Hillary. I think listening to Elizabeth Warren’s embrace of the social causes, then listening to Hillary, there’s a distinct contrast there that is palpable. Warren, in my eyes, is much more passionate about the social justice issues. Hillary feels scripted, controlled. I hope her advisers aren’t tamping down her enthusiasm, because that’s what I think is missing. And please, don’t get me wrong about what I say about Warren. I’m not a Warren for POTUS advocate, never have been, but there is a significant difference in style that I wish Hillary would adopt. I know it’s easier for Warren because she isn’t pursuing the nomination, but that might be what women are seeing that is causing them to cool toward Hillary.

        I don’t know what it is I’m feeling exactly! Call it extinct, a premonition, maybe the burn from the last time around is still stinging, whatever, I’m just not feeling the same passion from the public or from Hillary that I felt in 2007.

        • Beata says:

          Mouse, I agree that Hillary has often appeared too scripted in the early days of this campaign. I believe that will change as the race becomes more heated.

          Listen to Hillary’s impassioned recent speech to the National Urban League when she starts going after Jeb!’s “right to rise” hypocrisy ( at around 13:40 on this video ) :

        • Beata says:

          There’s something more I want to say about this. I am saying it to myself as much as to Mouse and anyone else who is feeling the same way: This is 2015, not 2008. Life has changed, for each one of us, and for our country and planet. It will never feel like 2008 again, personally or politically. The feelings we had during Hillary’s 2008 campaign cannot be recaptured exactly as they were. We have grown older, hopefully wiser, but I think also less idealistic and naïve. In a way, that is sad, but it is also a sign of growth. Hillary has also changed, I think for the better. Let’s watch and listen to her as this campaign evolves, give her our support if we ( individually ) decide to, but not expect everything to be as it was nearly eight years ago. It can’t and won’t be.

          • Sweet Sue says:

            Very wise and it’s good to remember, too, that we are one year and three months away from the election.
            There will be many wild swings on this seesaw.

          • Boo Radly says:

            Well said Beata – as usual.

          • bostonboomer says:

            Wise words, Beata. I will support Hillary all the way. I may not agree with her on everything; but I trust her to work harder than anyone else would, and I know she’ll do a great job as President. I want to see a woman in the White House before I die, and Hillary is the only woman out there with the necessary qualifications, fund-raising ability, and ambition.

          • ANonOMouse says:

            I agree, Beata. A lot has happened since 2008. None of us are the same, including Hillary. I hope this feeling I have concerning lack of passion for Hillary by her supporters changes. I know it’s early, and I’ve lived through enough of these that I know campaigns ebb & flow and that nothing stays the same. Still, I’m much less worried about who wins the GOP nomination than I am about the Democratic nomination. And, like BB, having a woman POTUS is something I want to live to see. I’m sure all of us who support Hillary feel that way. If someone would have asked me 10 years ago which will come first, Marriage Equality or a Woman POTUS, I would have said “a woman POTUS”. So that pretty much shoots down my intuitive skills, doesn’t it? 🙂

          • NW Luna says:

            I’m not as inspired nor as excited as I was during 2008. Yes, I’m older, more cynical in a way, but more realistic. Or more resigned to how devious and callous some people can get, whom I’d otherwise think would be liberal. Witness the misogyny and lack of critical thinking from the Obots in ’08! So my longing for a woman POTUS, and for the smart, compassionate, politically deft candidate who is Hillary to win, is tempered by knowing how hard it’s going to be. Not because of the voters — most of whom, given a halfway fair press (not that we have that), are going to vote for Hillary because of her record and her presence — but because of the media, the brogressives, the Repubs, and CDS.

          • janicen says:

            Everything won’t be exactly the same as it was, that’s true. However let’s not lose sight of the goal here, the first female President of the United States of America. Not only the first female President, but Hillary Clinton as the first female President. You know, the one that the patriarchy has pummeled and kicked and beaten and bruised but never broken.

            I’m not going to let the media and propagandists dictate my enthusiasm or level of commitment. I’m in it to win it and I will be giving it everything I have. Her campaign isn’t just evolving, it’s in full swing. She has been on the stump ever since she announced and thousands of campaign workers have been at her side in Iowa, South Carolina, and New Hampshire. She’s been doing small house parties and gatherings where there is no press, just a photog, Hillary, and some voters. That’s how she’s going to win this thing, by meeting people face to face so that when the NYT and the rest of the propagandists try to tell people lies about her people will say, “No, that’s not the woman I met. I like her.”

            Follow her on Twitter. Her campaign is underway.

    • Fannie says:

      I liked what she said, and loved it when Hillary said we are never going back!

  5. jane says:

    Re Donald Trump’s hair. I never can understand why some men can’t just cut their hair and let their bald spots show. I give you Prince William and Bruce Willis as prime examples of it looking really good on a guy. Bruce looks twice as good as a bald guy than he did with hair. And The Donald just looks like a dork with all that coloring, the comb over, and trying to look like an 80s model.

  6. Sweet Sue says:

    The Media takes a poll (Wall Street Journal, no less) and trumpets that Hillary is losing ground.
    She still beats every other candidate in a head to head poll.
    Every one.

  7. janicen says:

    I cannot wait until the Republican debates. It should be wildly entertaining. I’m also thrilled that Kasich is going to be there. People I know who tend to get it right seem to think he’s a threat. I hope he steps on his own…well, you know.

    Thanks for the list of participants and the post, bb. I agree with others here, it’s a long time until the election and the smart move is to keep your head in the game. Hillary has been doing that. She’s out there and she’s working. I’m encouraged by the reaction against the NYT for their treatment of her. I think there is a lot of enthusiasm out there, it’s just not apparent yet.

    I put my “H” magnet on my car today. It’s the first time I’ve ever put a political bumper sticker of any kind on my car. Well, I did have a “Dogs Against Romney” one but the H one is more direct.

    • bostonboomer says:

      I hope you’ll be here for Thursday’s live blog. The lower level candidates will debate before the main event, so the action will start around 5PM.

      • janicen says:

        I sure hope to be. This week has been insane and leading up to moving my daughter to Florida for her internship this weekend. Then hubby and I are hoping to take a few days to ourselves. I have a lot to get done before the debates but I’m going to do everything I can to be here.

      • NW Luna says:

        I will be a few hours late to the popcorn party, being on West Coast time.

        janicen, I had a “Dogs against Romney” sticker too!

      • Fannie says:

        I’ll be here. Let’s watch them all shoot themselves in their asses.

  8. carlakatch says:

    My god, is the republican playing field a hot mess or what?! I will be cringing through the debate with you all! I have a feeling this one’s about to get messy.