By Doug Porter
Television entertainment doesn’t get any better than it was Thursday, August 7th; not bad for a day when entertainment stocks cratered over uncertainty about the future of the medium.
Fox news ran with two shows starring Those Republicans Who Would Be President. I watched the later Big Kids showdown. It was well crafted by Fox, packaged as American Idol for (mostly Republican) voters.
Also, the Daily Show’s Jon Stewart left the room, departing to the sounds of Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band and a homily about the perils of bovine excrement.
The View from the Children’s Table
With seventeen candidates seeking the GOP nomination, Fox news broke the program into two segments.
First up was a Happy Hour (5pm EDT) debate featuring seven candidates judged to be second tier via polling (and probable entertainment value).
Donald Trump–who wasn’t in the room–dominated that debate.
From USA Today:
Excluded from the main event, GOP candidates participating in the undercard debate Thursday came out swinging against current front-runner Republican Donald Trump and Democrat Hillary Clinton, while generally holding their fire against one another.
Former Texas governor Rick Perry contrasted Trump’s tough talk on immigration control to his own record, where he deployed the National Guard to stem the tide of illegal immigrants.
“We need a president that doesn’t just talk a game, but a president that’s got real results,” he said when asked about the billionaire real estate developer.
Former Hewlett-Packard CEO Carly Fiorina took a shot at Trump as well. While she conceded he “had tapped into an anger that people feel,” she suggested his shifting positions on key issues made him untrustworthy.
Carly Fiorina concluded a strong performance at the debate by taking aim at Jeb Bush, the GOP’s champion by virtue of fundraising and bloodlines.
Still, the consensus was that she delivered a strong performance on Thursday night, with Karl Rove saying “Carly Fiorina walked in tonight, owned the stage, owned it big” on the Fox post-game show. It seems Rover has his finger on the pulse — a Fox Twitter poll found 83 percent of respondents thought she’d won the debate, while her competitors during the “happy hour” debate all polled in the single digits.
As the debate drew to a close Fiorina used much of her 30-second closing statement to question Bush’s abilities as a campaigner after another unforced error by him earlier this week.
“2016 is going to be a fight. A fight between conservatism and a Democrat Party that is undermining the very character of our nation,” she said. “We need a nominee who is going to throw every punch, not pull punches, someone who cannot stumble before he even gets in the ring.”
The Prime Time Competition
I really thought I could watch the Round of Ten competition and somehow maintain contact with reality. That idea was out the window in no time.
While I was capable of divorcing my ideologically-based urge to scream, keeping track of all the fantasy based facts was simply not possible. So I settled back and watched it as American Idol, with the Fox panel playing the role of judges and the extended (including social media) audience also critiquing the performances.
The “Idol” strategy worked. From Blue Nation Review:
The Nielsen ratings said 10 million people watched the debate, or more than three times what the most-viewed GOP debate drew in 2012. Estimates also put viewership at around double what the Clinton-Obama debates were in 2008.
(A word of caution here: this was a Republican debate broadcast on Fox News. I did manage to adjust my expectations accordingly. Nothing got thrown at the screen.)
The winner, hands down, was The Donald, who started off by saying he wouldn’t promise to support the eventual nominee (unless it was himself).
From the Washington Post via the Union-Tribune:
Businessman Donald Trump lived up to his sharp-edged reputation during the first Republican debate of the 2016 presidential campaign, sparring with moderators and other candidates as everyone else on a 10-person stage struggled to stand out.
Trump became the center of the debate’s attention from the beginning, when he was the only candidate who refused to forswear the idea of running a third-party campaign against the Republican Party, if he could not be its nominee.
“I cannot say, ‘I have to respect the person who is not me,’” Trump said, as the crowd booed him. “We want to win, and we will win. But I want to win as the Republican. I want to run as the Republican nominee.”
Non-Trump Highlights from the Debate
** Personal Lie of the Night – went to Chris Christie, who repeatedly said he’s started as a US Attorney the day before 9/11 as a way of boosting his anti-terrorism cred. He was, according to this White House document, nominated for the position on December 7, 2001.
** Christie also managed to make the most condescending remarks (Non Trump category), with his sneers at Rand Paul over National Security and Mike Huckabee over Social Security.
**Mike Huckabee made the cleverest rhetorical move of the evening in his allotted 30 second conclusion:
From The Hill:
“It seems like this election has been a whole lot on a person who has been very high in the polls, who doesn’t have a clue about how to govern, a person who has been filled with scandals and could not lead,” Huckabee said. [Pause] “And of course, I’m talking about Hillary Clinton.”
As the audience laughed at Huckabee’s joke, Trump gave Huckabee a sarcastic “thank you,” obviously noting the joke was a shot at him too.
** Ohio Gov. John Kasich got some hometown love from the Cleveland audience, especially with the most humane response of the evening in response to a question about same sex marriage. It may have been awkward, but his was the only remark of the evening about LGBT people not dripping with loathing. This likely–regardless of the audience response– means Kasich is finished as a primary candidate.
** Ben Carson also got some love, despite a lackluster command of the issues, for letting the audience off the hook for their racism. He is positively trending upwards in terms of social media mentions today.
**Ted Cruz and Jeb Bush were caricatures of themselves. I honestly can’t remember anything either of them said.
**Scott Walker wasn’t much to look at, either. Except when he was talking about Evil Unions. From his closing argument: “I’m a guy with a wife and two kids and a Harley.”
**Rand Paul closed by telling the audience that he was “different kind of Republican.” Maybe so, but his attack mode style garnered him the least amount of camera time.
** Finally, there’s Marco Rubio. Much of the political pundit class seems to think he “won” the debate. I have no doubt Tea Party operatives are ordering up piñatas with his face emblazoned on them this morning.
Here’s a quick summary from Vox:
At National Review Online, Jim Geraghty wrote, “Marco Rubio was really, really good tonight. Shining.” Matt Continetti, the editor-in-chief of the Washington Free Beacon, said Rubio was “confident, energetic, eloquent, knowledgeable, and figured out the way to handle Donald Trump.” Jonathan Last of the Weekly Standard wrote, “If we were doing a sabermetric ranking of the candidates, [Rubio would] lead the field. Easily.” Three of the seven Republican strategists in the Hill‘s debate roundtable picked Rubio as the debate’s winner; only one named a different candidate in the primetime debate. Et cetera, et cetera, et cetera.
And it wasn’t just Republican pundits who thought Rubio took home the prize. The Washington Post’s Chris Cillizza named him the winner of the debate, writing, “He looked the part of a president. Hurdle cleared.” Vox’s Ezra Klein tweeted “Rubio is better at delivering his story than any other GOPer and better at selling Republican policies than any other GOPer.”
Stay Tuned for the Audience Vote
By looking at the Fox debate as an outgrowth of American Idol, I was able to overlook the questions that didn’t get asked. (Hence the lack of broken screens in my home) And there’s no way I could ever crank out a story with all the mis-statements, lies and just plain wrong-headed stuff that was uttered from the stage. There just isn’t time.
Looking back on it this morning, topics avoided include: climate change, the voting rights act and minimum wage.
It’s over. Not one word about economic inequality, climate change, Citizens United or student debt. That’s why the Rs are so out of touch.
— Bernie Sanders (@BernieSanders) August 7, 2015
According to PBS, here’s the amount of air time each candidate received:
Trump 7:32 Bush 5:42 Huck 4:50 Christie 4:33 Rubio 4:01 Carson 3:35 Crz 3:27 Kasich 3:25 Walker 3:16 Paul 2:52
Time’s Ryan Teague Beckwith tracked each candidate’s growth in twitter followers since the debate:
Carson +24K Rubio +11K Bush +6K Walker +6K Cruz +6K Kasich +5.9K Trump +5K Paul +5K Huckabee +4K Christie +2K
Guess Who Didn’t Watch the Debate?
Hillary Clinton spent the evening….
— The Hill (@thehill) August 7, 2015
The Other Big Show Last Night
Jon Stewart’s tenure at the Daily Show came to an end last night. This makes me sad.
Life will go on. It just won’t be as funny.
It’s a sign of real change at the Union-Tribune that Stewart’s finale made today’s front page.
“Whenever something’s been titled Freedom Family Fairness Health America, take a good long sniff,” he said.
The only way to combat the relentless intrusions of dishonest people, Stewart said, was through vigilance.
“Their work is easily detected, and looking for it is kind of a pleasant way to pass the time,” he said.
“So if you smell something, say something,” Stewart added.
And then, for good measure, there was a performance by Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band.
On This Day: 1919 – Actors Equity was recognized by producers after stagehands honored their picket lines, shutting down almost every professional stage production in the country. Before unionizing, it was common practice for actors to pay for their own costumes, rehearse long hours without pay, and be fired without notice. 1964 – The Congress passed the Gulf of Tonkin resolution, which gave President Johnson broad powers in dealing with reported North Vietnamese attacks on U.S. forces. 1999 – Tony Gwynn (San Diego Padres) got the 3,000th hit of his major league career.
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