The undercard to the first Republican presidential primary debate featured a motley crew of long-retired politicians (Jim Gilmore, George Pataki, Rick Santorum); fallen stars (Rick Perry, Bobby Jindal); former Hewlett-Packard CEO Carly Fiorina; and South Carolina Sen. Lindsey Graham. Participants qualified for the B-team debate by default; all candidates were in the low-single digits in national polls.
But if the Fox News moderators ever considered taking it easy on the Republican also-rans, they didn't show it. Instead, Bill Hemmer and Martha MacCallum appeared focused on whittling down the weak links in the 17-person field by asking them—over and over and over again—why no one seemed to like them.
Here were the first seven questions of the debate:
Perry: "Welcome, governor. You were in charge of the fourth-largest economy in the world. And you recently said that four years ago you weren't ready for this job. Why should someone vote for you now?"
Fiorina: "You were CEO of Hewlett Packard. You ran for Senate and lost in California in 2010. This week you said, 'Margaret Thatcher was not content to manage a great nation in decline, and neither am I.' Given your current standings in the polls, was the Iron Lady comparison incorrect?"
Santorum: "Sen. Santorum, you won the Iowa caucus four years ago and 10 other states, but you failed to beat Mitt Romney for the nomination. And no one here tonight is going to question your conviction or love for country, but has your moment passed, senator?"
Jindal: "Gov. Jindal, you're one of two sitting governors on the stage tonight. But your approval numbers at home are in the mid-30s. In a recent poll in which you were head-to-head with Hillary Clinton in Louisiana, she beat you by seven points. So if the people of Louisiana are not satisfied, what makes you think the people of this nation would be?"
Graham: "Sen. Lindsey Graham. You worked with Democrats and President Obama when it came to climate change, something that you know is extremely unpopular with conservative Republicans. How can they trust you based on that record?"
Pataki: "Gov. Pataki. Four years ago this month, you called it quits in a race for the presidency in 2012; but now you're back. Mitt Romney declined to run this time because he believed that the party needed new blood. Does he have a point?"
Gilmore: "You were the last person on stage to declare your candidacy. You ran for the White House once and lost. You ran for the Senate once and lost. You haven't held public office in 13 years. Is it time for new blood?"
The hits kept coming after the opening round. When the subject turned to Donald Trump, the Fox News moderators took a few more opportunities to twist the knife. "So Carly Fiorina, is he getting the better of you?" the former California Senate candidate was asked. Perry came in for the same Trump treatment—"Given the large disparity in your poll numbers, he seems to be getting the better of you."
One of the most underrated storylines of the 2016 election has been Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal's ongoing effort to re-brand himself as a bodybuilder.
Last October, "a source close to Louisiana's Bobby Jindal" leaked to National Review that the governor had gained 13 pounds over just a few months, an indication that he considered "being skinny" to be a weakness in the early Republican primary. In March, an MSNBC reporter tagged along with Jindal during a workout at a Manhattan gym. "Today's legs, but every day I try to rotate it," the governor explained before, presumably, flexing in front of the mirror and downing some brotein. And on Wednesday, BuzzFeedpublished a video it shot with Jindal in which he does push-ups for two minutes. It's some real Rocky IV stuff:
But there's something else going on here. On Tuesday, Texas Sen. Ted Cruz cooked and consumed "machine gun bacon" in a video produced by the website IJ Review. (Technically, it was more like semi-automatic-rifle bacon, and you shouldn't try it at home.) Two weeks earlier, the same publication got Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) to destroy his cell phone for its cameras, in response to Donald Trump publicly revealing his cell phone number. Jindal's workout tape is part of a new genre of campaign journalism, in which media organizations are producing viral videos that the campaigns might otherwise have filmed themselves.
IJ Review, although only three years old, has forced itself to be taken seriously in Washington media. It will co-host a Republican primary debate with ABC News next year. BuzzFeed, an investigative reporting powerhouse in its own right, has delivered strong reporting on Jindal's candidacy. But these videos are something different—a weird new form of native advertising.
What's that Clickhole mantra? "Because all content deserves to go viral"? In 2016, the same can apparently be said of candidates. Even Bobby Jindal.
With the first Republican presidential debate two days away, Donald Trump is leading his nearest competitor in the national polls by as much as 12 points. In Iowa, the Real Clear Politics poll average puts him in second behind Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker, but in the most recent poll of the race, Trump took a commanding 30.9 percent of the vote in a 16-candidate field. As GQ's Drew Magary notes, Trump's comments about Mexicans, China, and many of his opponents have fueled his rise in the state.
So what kind of crack campaign operation does Trump have in the first-in-the-nation caucus state? Who is the dark-arts practitioner responsible for helping a New York City billionaire win the hearts and minds of America's heartland?
Actually, the linchpin of Trump's Iowa strategy isn't a politico at all—she's a former reality TV star who not so long ago starred in infomercials for Bedazzler. Meet Tana Goertz, Iowa co-chair of Trump for President:
On her website, Goertz also hawks a children's book based on her own "inspirational tale" called I'm Bigger Than This; a gray t-shirt, with "ENTREPRENEUR 24/7 365" inscribed on it; an audio CD of business advice she recorded called "Fake it til you make it!"; and information about an Apprentice-like program she runs for kids called "Kids Apprentice Program." The program is "designed to serve children who are self-motivated future leaders" by offering them boardroom experience and forcing them to do "Apprentice-like tasks." For $50, you too could raise the next Donald Trump.
Goertz, who bills herself as the candidate's "hype girl" who "fires up the crowd and educates Iowans on how great he is," was hired by Trump in July. But their relationship wasn't always so strong. After Trump fired her from TheApprentice in 2005, Goertz condemned the show's process. "It was all bullshit," she told a local news station.
Evidently they made amends. Goertz's site boasts multiple testimonials from Trump ("Tana is truly a star!"), and you can even watch her audition tape, in which she tries to sell Mary Kay cosmetics products to middle-aged men:
So this is what it looks like when Donald Trump stays home. The businessman and board game magnate, who is currently leading the Republican presidential field by a mile, skipped the first full candidate forum of the 2016 presidential race on Monday in New Hampshire. His official reason: the host newspaper, New Hampshire's Union-Leader, had already signaled that it wasn't interested in endorsing his campaign. But maybe he had an inkling of what we know for certain now—14 candidates racing against the clock to recite canned talking points makes for a total snoozefest.
The moderator, Jack Heath, deliberately steered clear of any Trump-related questions, which is a shame, because Trump, even in absentia, might have have at least forced the candidates to talk about something besides themselves. As it was, Monday's forum, the first of three such Q&A sessions in early primary states and a dress rehearsal of sorts for the first GOP debate on Thursday, was like freshman orientation in a class of introverts. The candidates were provided the most generic of icebreaker questions (Carly Fiorina was asked for an example of a time she showed leadership), which they promptly segued away from, and pivoted to the boilerplate speeches they've already been delivering in Iowa and New Hampshire for months. Because it was a forum, not a debate, the candidates weren't allowed to interact with each other. Save for Scott Walker noting that no one in his family had been president before, none of them even tried. In a rare moment of drama, the C-SPAN cameras caught Chris Christie with a finger (his) wiggling in his ear.
But there were still a handful of highlights:
Four years after famously forgetting the third federal agency he intended to eliminate, former Texas governor Rick Perry was offered a shot at a do-over. "I've heard this question before!" he said eagerly. Then he pivoted to another topic and never answered it.
Jeb Bush said the president needs to do more to combat the "barbarians" of ISIS, but perhaps wary of unpleasant comparisons to that other Bush (or both of them, really), stopped short of saying "boots on the ground" were needed in the Middle East beyond special forces troops.
Fortunately, South Carolina Sen. Lindsey Graham was happy to do just that, calling on an America-Turkish-Egyptian force to bring Syria back under control. He'd tell those allies, "You're gonna pay for this war, we paid for the last two. We are gonna pull the caliphate up by its roots."
Graham, who could surely use the boost, also got a laugh from the audience when he suggested that the solution to Washington's gridlock was to "drink more."
Ben Carson announced that he would reform the tax code by consulting with "the fairest individual in the universe—that would be God." The result, he explained, would be a base tax rate of around 10 to 15 percent, similar to a church tithe. But an hour later, he informed the audience that taking more than 10 percent of a billionaire's income is "called socialism."
Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal said President Obama has "declared war on trans-fats and a ceasefire with the world's largest state sponsor of terrorism." (That would be Iran.) His first act as president: hold a huge meeting with the Joint Chiefs to announce that America "is back."
Much has been made of the Republican party's recent shift toward criminal justice reform, which includes lighter sentencing for many drug crimes. But Florida Sen. Marco Rubio offered a snapshot on how elements of the party might push back. Seizing on northern New England's heroin epidemic, he reprised an argument that any legalization of marijuana except for strictly medicinal uses would only contribute to drug abuse. Expect this to come up again at a later date, when candidates are allowed to talk to each other.
How will the next president's policies on climate change be affected by the White House's big new plan to fight global warming? We still have no idea, because only one candidate was asked about the proposal, and then only in passing. For the record, Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker says it will be a "buzzsaw to the nation's economy."
Republican presidential candidate Mike Huckabee told supporters in Iowa on Thursday that if he were elected president he would consider using the FBI or National Guard to end abortion by force. Per the Topeka Capital-Journal:
"I will not pretend there is nothing we can do to stop this," Huckabee said at the event, where a Topeka Capital-Journal correspondent was present.
At his next stop, in Rockwell City, Huckabee answered follow-up questions from the correspondent, saying: "All American citizens should be protected."
Asked by another reporter how he would stop abortion, and whether this would mean using the FBI or federal forces to accomplish this, Huckabee replied: "We'll see if I get to be president."
That's crazy. The right to an abortion has been upheld by the Supreme Court. Huckabee is saying he might simply disregard the judicial branch and stop the practice unilaterally—that is, he'd remove the checks from "checks and balances." It's not the first time he's proposed a constitutional crisis as an antidote to things he doesn't like. Huckabee has also said states should practice civil disobedience by ignoring the Supreme Court's decision on same-sex marriage.