The Moustache of Wisdom says “Voters, You Can Have Everything!” and that there’s no end to the promises of the presidential candidates. Mr. Bruni watched “A Troubled G.O.P. Debate for Donald Trump and Jeb Bush” and tells us that the billionaire is wearing thin, the scion is fading away and the youngsters have the thunder. Here’s TMOW:
I confess, as much as I am troubled by Donald Trump’s anti-immigrant, anti-free-trade tirades, I do find The Donald’s campaign strategy truly interesting. He’s not, as people say, an “anti-politician.” He’s actually caricaturing politicians. And like any great caricaturist, Trump identifies his subject’s most salient features and then exaggerates them.
In Trump’s case the feature he’s identifying is the ease with which career politicians look right into a camera and lie or embellish. Since so many politicians had come to Trump’s office seeking his money or endorsement when he was just a businessman, and told him whatever they thought he wanted to hear, he’s obviously an expert in their shtick. And so Trump has just taken the joke to the next level.
Indeed, if I were writing a book about this campaign, it would open with Trump’s Sept. 27 CBS “60 Minutes” interview. Trump touts his plan for universal health care, telling Scott Pelley, “I am going to take care of everybody.” And when Pelley asks how, Trump gives the greatest quote so far of the 2015 campaign:
“The government’s gonna pay for it. But we’re going to save so much money on the other side. But for the most [part] it’s going to be a private plan and people are going to be able to go out and negotiate great plans with lots of different competition with lots of competitors, with great companies — and they can have their doctors, they can have plans, they can have everything.”
I just love that last line: “They can have their doctors, they can have plans, they can have everything!”
And the best part is that it was not said on “Saturday Night Live.” It was on “60 Minutes.” Poor Jeb Bush, he just can’t go that far. He’s just a standard-issue political exaggerator. (See his economic plan.) Trump is the caricature, the industrial version. That’s why you can’t tell the difference when he’s on “S.N.L.” or on “60 Minutes.”
Mario Cuomo famously said: “‘You campaign in poetry. You govern in prose.’” Trump says, in effect: That’s for normal hack politicians. I will campaign in fantasy and govern in prose. Why not?”
Given how ludicrous some of the G.O.P. presidential tax plans are, Trump seems to have started a you-can-have-everything arms race. Even Bernie Sanders is promising free tuition at public colleges, more Social Security benefits and free child care to be paid mostly by taxing the top 1 percent — no trade-offs necessary for the middle class.
And the new House speaker, Paul Ryan, who isn’t even running, has joined in. Ryan described Obama’s decision to kill the Keystone XL pipeline project as “sickening,” adding: “If the president wants to spend the rest of his time in office catering to special interests, that’s his choice to make. But it’s just wrong.”
That is truly Orwellian: At a time when the G.O.P. has become a wholly owned subsidiary of the oil and gas industry, Ryan accuses Obama of catering to special interests; he calls the president’s decision to block a pipeline to transport tar sands oil, one of the dirtiest fuels in the world, “sickening” and labels combating climate change a “special interest.” This guy belongs in the Republican debates.
Alas, though, the next president will not be governing in fantasy — but with some cruel math. So the gap between this campaign and the morning after is likely to make for one really cold shower.
Start with geopolitics. The size of the governance hole that would have to be filled to simultaneously destroy the Islamic State, or ISIS, defeat Syria’s dictator, Bashar al-Assad, and rebuild Syria, Iraq, Yemen and Libya into self-sustaining governments is staggering. And yet the cost of doing too little — endlessly bleeding refugees into our allies Turkey, Jordan, Lebanon and the European Union — is also astronomical. When the cost of action and the cost of inaction both feel unaffordable, you have a wicked problem.
Not only do the tax-cutting plans offered by the leading Republican candidates create eye-popping deficits, but some Democratic tax hike proposals don’t quite add up, either. As the Washington Post economics columnist Robert Samuelson reported last week, a Brookings Institution study found that even if the top income tax rate were increased to 50 percent from 39.6 percent, it would cover less than a quarter of the deficit for the 2015 fiscal year, let alone generate funds for increased investment.
If we want to invest now in more infrastructure — as we should do — and make sure we don’t overburden the next generation to pay for all the retiring baby boomers, something will have to give, or as Samuelson put it: “If middle-class Americans need or want bigger government, they will have to pay for it. Sooner or later, a tax increase is coming their way. There is no tooth fairy.”
And finally, with carbon dioxide levels in the atmosphere having just reached heights not seen in millennium, if we want to “manage the unavoidable” effects of climate change and “avoid the unmanageable” ones, it will surely require a price on carbon — soon.
So enjoy the fun of this campaign while it lasts, because the next president will not be governing in poetry or prose or fantasy — but with excruciating trade-offs. The joke is on us.
And now here’s Mr. Bruni:
Going into the latest debate, the trending question about Jeb Bush on Google was whether he was “still running for president.”
The answer is yes, and on Tuesday night, he tried, yet again, to put an exclamation point on it.
After a week of fresh attention to the rococo psychology of the Bush dynasty, after huddles with new media advisers, after countless requiems for his campaign, Bush gave his troubled, increasingly quixotic quest one more shot, maybe his last.
But he couldn’t quite run. The best that Bush has in him, in the end, is a vigorous limp.
He started the night well, staring down Donald Trump on the question of illegal immigration and sarcastically thanking Trump for giving him some speaking time.
“What a generous man you are,” he told Trump before going on to attack his supposed plan to deport millions of immigrants as wrong and mean.
“It’s not embracing American values and it would tear communities apart,” Bush said emphatically.
But during a subsequent argument over federal spending, one in which the insertion of Bush’s voice would have made complete sense, he stood mute, unable to find a way into the discussion even as John Kasich successfully butted in and took up residence there.
And in the second half of the debate, when Bush said that Trump’s statements about Vladimir Putin, Syria and the Islamic State made the world sound like “a board game,” he had his thunder stolen by Carly Fiorina.
She went bolder, louder and snarkier, noting that when she met Putin it was “not in a green room.” She thus dismissed Trump as nothing more than a frivolous TV presence, a talking head with a tepee of hair.
And she really got under his skin.
“Why does she keep interrupting everybody?” Trump said, seemingly forgetting that he’d been trying to make nice with her ever since that sexist, ugly comment about her face. He was booed.
And it wasn’t the first time.
Earlier, when he spat out some nastiness at Kasich, there were also boos.
Trump’s bullying is getting as old as his bellicosity is wearing thin, and this debate, the fourth meeting of Republican candidates, made that abundantly clear.
Here’s what else came into focus:
Kasich and Bush have each made a firm, last-ditch decision to play the seasoned, reasonable veteran among interlopers spouting nonsense and hard-core conservatives who could never beat Hillary Clinton. Sadly for Bush, Kasich played the part with more passion.
“On-the-job training for president of the United States doesn’t work,” Kasich said, alluding to President Obama and taking a dig at Marco Rubio and Ted Cruz without mentioning their names.
Rubio is not just smooth but clever and disciplined. Eager to live up to the buzz that he’s really the front-runner, and even more eager to put to rest the chatter that he’s too young and callow, he stood tallest and spoke most forcefully when talking about issues of global leadership. It was as if he’d come dressed in a T-shirt that said “Commander in Chief.”
But he was scary, charting a course of unrestrained interventionism, and when he fielded a final question about how he’d stack up to Clinton, he reverted to talking points.
Cruz then grabbed the ball, skewering Clinton more sharply and showing that he could out-eloquent Rubio and out-nasty anyone. Has a young politician ever managed to be so impressive and so repulsive all at once?
That’s the fascination of Cruz, and the most fun Tuesday night was his stumble on the very ground that tripped up Rick Perry four years ago. During a debate back then, Perry said he wanted to eliminate three federal departments or agencies and could name only two. Cruz said he wanted to eliminate five and named the Commerce Department twice.
Neither Cruz nor Rubio did anything to destroy the momentum they carried out of the last debate. Fiorina may get another brief bounce. AndBen Carson? He was again so low-key he almost seemed sleepy. He sounded utterly out of his depth on foreign policy. But he wasn’t rattled at all by a question (too brief, with no follow-up) about his exaggerated autobiography. He meanders on.
The stage was strangely denuded, like a forest after overzealous logging. There were eight contenders where there had once been 11 — back in the glory days of Scott Walker.
Even so, Bush couldn’t and didn’t stand out the way he, more than anyone else, really needed to.
He can take some solace though, in the No. 1 questions about two rivals that were trending on Google.
“Who is Rand Paul?” was one.
And the other, my favorite: “Why do Republicans hate Ted Cruz?”