- - Thursday, October 29, 2015


The Republican debate this week may have been the actual beginning of the 2016 Republican campaign for the presidency. All that has gone before was mere entertainment. The “real” candidates began to emerge and the CNBC-TV moderators, as bad as they were, helped with separating the wheat from the tares. The sifting and winnowing is finally under way.

Jeb Bush had to turn in a crisp, brisk and stellar performance, and he didn’t. His frustrated manager was backstage screaming at the debate managers that his candidate wasn’t getting enough attention, while on stage Jeb was wasting the time he had, talking about his quarterback on fantasy football. This was his third consecutive subpar performance — enough to get a quarterback in real football ordered from the field — and he may find out soon that a pot of money and a familiar name aren’t enough to make him a serious contender.

Donald Trump was Donald Trump, full as ever of boast and bombast, and neither as good as his fans think or as bad as the fans of calm and polite are afraid he is. After the first debate, now eons in the past, a poll of past Iowa caucus-goers revealed that he was twice as popular among those who didn’t see him on stage as with those who did. As more and more people have had an opportunity to see him, his once daunting poll numbers have steadily if not dramatically eroded. He wasn’t bad in Boulder, and that may be enough to stabilize his numbers, at least for the short term.

Carly Fiorina did well, but her doing well is no longer the surprise it was when no one expected her to perform well, in part because her ability to handle a microphone is expected now. She seems to be in the midst of an extended speaking tour rather than making a serious pursuit of the nomination.

That leaves the man who was originally the “other man from Florida,” the conservative contender who looked Wednesday night to be the man to emerge as the latest great establishment hope to keep the Grand Old Party in the hands of the elites. Ben Carson remains popular because he is so different, an island of calm in a sea of chaos. Mr. Trump can’t understand him and neither can his media critics. He may fade unless he gets a firm grasp of the details of the issues a president must confront, but he remains polite and civil, and that’s something.

There’s time left for window shopping, and coming out of Boulder the party is still looking for a candidate who is smart, visionary, articulate and genuine, with experience nice but not necessary. That’s exactly what the nation got seven years ago, and nobody seems to be paying that much mind. Do Marco Rubio, Ted Cruz or Ben Carson have that right stuff? Will that satisfy the party, or will voters in frustration if not desperation give someone else a long, last look? The clock is ticking, and the alarm will ring soon.

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