This is how we get a pres­i­dent

The Washington Times Weekly - - Commentary - BY WES­LEY PRUDEN

The Repub­li­cans are still look­ing for the right some­one to carry their ban­ner into the elec­tion next Novem­ber, and they’re get­ting a pretty good idea now of who they don’t want. That’s the first step, af­ter all, in mak­ing a choice, as any town belle could tell you.

We’re still deep in the sea­son of the out­siders, and Don­ald Trump and Ben Car­son con­tinue as the most suc­cess­ful of the tor­men­tors of the elites. But soon, with the Iowa cau­cuses ap­proach­ing, ev­ery­one will have to go in­side. On the road even­tu­ally has to give way to open­ing night.

The Don­ald is still the king of blather and blus­ter, as en­ter­tain­ing and sat­is­fy­ing as ever to the mil­lions who have had it up to here with the back­ing, fill­ing, evad­ing, dodg­ing and danc­ing of politi­cians try­ing to avoid crunch time. Ben Car­son, the fam­ily doc­tor ev­ery­one would like to have, has “the vi­sion thing” but he doesn’t say very much about how he can get from here to there with only the vi­sion.

Nei­ther of these two out­siders per­formed like the kings of the moun­tain the cur­rent polls make them out to be. No­body can re­mem­ber much of what the doc said in the sec­ond de­bate. The most mem­o­rable line from the Don­ald was the clos­est he has ever come to of­fer­ing an apol­ogy to any­one for any­thing. Carly Fio­r­ina fixed him with her school­marm’s icy stare when the mod­er­a­tor de­scribed his ear­lier at­tempt to say that he didn’t re­ally say her face was “ugly,” only that her per­sona is ugly. If that was an apol­ogy, de­liv­ered sec­ond­hand, she was hav­ing none of it: “I think the women all over this coun­try heard what Mr. Trump said.” This got the loud­est and long­est ap­plause of the night.

When Mr. Trump tried to make fresh amends, telling the au­di­ence that “she’s got a beau­ti­ful face, and I think she’s a beau­ti­ful woman,” the ex­pres­sion on the beau­ti­ful woman’s face did not change. The ice in­stantly froze the Don­ald, who was left to look and sound like a creep ac­cus­tomed to court­ing women with cash, not the ten­der com­pli­ments the fem­i­nists in­sist they hate but real women covet.

His other bad-man­ners mo­ment was when Jeb Bush, an­gered by the Don­ald’s sug­ges­tion that he’s soft on immigration be­cause his wife was born in Mexico, said it was not fair bring­ing his wife into it and he would mea­sure his wife against any­body’s wife. He stopped short of say­ing his dad could lick the Don­ald’s dad, but you could tell he was think­ing it. And his brother Ge­orge licked Sad­dam Hus­sein.

But Jeb was stronger, more alive, less con­cerned with ci­vil­ity and de­port­ment than in the first de­bate in Cleve­land. Slug­ging it out is what pol­i­tics, es­pe­cially pres­i­den­tial pol­i­tics, is all about, and Jeb fi­nally got the memo.

So did Marco Ru­bio and Chris Christie. Mr. Ru­bio con­tin­ues to be the most pol­ished of them all, set­ting out what he thinks in sen­tences and para­graphs with­out rais­ing his voice or any­one’s ire.

The gover­nor of New Jersey seemed to be more the Jersey guy he used to be, and re­mem­bered well for it. Ted Cruz, who as­pires to be the dark aveng­ing an­gel, looked darker and more ea­ger to avenge.

Scott Walker, who looked through the spring and sum­mer as if he might be the man the Repub­li­cans were look­ing for, con­tin­ues to be the man on a cruise. Some of his friends say he’s bid­ing his time, doz­ing with one eye open, keep­ing his pow­der dry — choose your metaphor — and wait­ing to fire when ready.

The con­tenders the poll­sters put in the low dig­its, the 1, 2 and 3 per-cen­ters didn’t seem to move the nee­dle.

Rand Paul made the cut af­ter CNN, ma­nip­u­lat­ing the poll num­bers to ac­com­mo­date the in­clu­sion of Carly Fio­r­ina, fig­ured it was bet­ter to add than to sub­tract. He’s an out­sider, too, the only au­then­tic iso­la­tion­ist who doesn’t try hard to keep the sen­ti­ment dis­guised.

Mike Huck­abee, his per­for­mance skills pol­ished in a Bap­tist pulpit and in a tele­vi­sion stu­dio, con­tin­ues to be the man most com­fort­able be­fore the cam­eras. He writes funny, cut­ting lines and de­liv­ers them with a preacher’s con­vic­tions, but his day as a se­ri­ous con­tender is done.

This Amer­i­can way of choos­ing a pres­i­dent puzzles and of­fends the rest of the world; even our English cousins don’t al­ways quite get it. Pol­i­tics as en­ter­tain­ment is an hon­or­able relic of the early days of the re­pub­lic when preachin’ and pol­i­tickin’ was all there was. These “de­bates” are both un­der­card match-ups and im­por­tant au­di­tions for the donors ea­ger to place their bets. The beat goes on. Wes­ley Pruden is editor emer­i­tus of The Washington Times.

Carly Fio­r­ina

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