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What I Learned From CNN’s Town Hall

I thank CNN and its excellent master of ceremonies, Anderson Cooper, for the two Republican presidential town halls in South Carolina. Wednesday night we had Dr. Ben Carson, Marco Rubio, and Ted Cruz. Thursday night it was John Kasich, Jeb Bush, and Donald Trump. Each of them had more than a half hour to expound their views, individually, to the audience, and to take questions from the audience.

For the first time, we got to see the GOP candidates, as a whole, not delivering sound bites and talking points in a screaming match, but spending the time to explain their positions in some detail to the audience. They actually came across as more serious and human, less as marionettes being yanked by unseen forces behind the curtain. If you need proof that the Republican Party is a Stupid Party, look at how its presidential debates have harmed the GOP brand.

Bear in mind that I am not talking here about candidates I could actually vote for. To me, war is the paramount issue in a presidential campaign and with presidential candidates. The Republican Party today is a War Party, and its candidates differ only in the degree and consistency with which they support perpetual war in defense of the American Empire. So my observations are those of, say, a visitor from Timbuktu who is intrigued by this American custom of elections every four years, or a sociologist/anthropologist examining his specimens.

The big surprise for me was how this town hall format gave me new respect for two candidates I had completely dismissed beforehand.

Dr. Ben Carson actually came across as a discerning and sensible candidate. It turns out he was not really asleep in the preceding debates, he was just cowed by the debate format. He is obviously disciplined given his abilities as a surgeon, he just is not socially aggressive in the least. If America ever decides that a candidate’s inner character is more important than his political experience, it will consider Dr. Carson. I’m not holding my breath for that day.

John Kasich previously came across to me as too namby-pamby in his demeanor, sort of a Mr. Rogers (who I never could stand even though my young daughter and her friends loved him) in a political neighborhood. Not my taste. But in this expanded format he came across as a thoughtful and compassionate person who somehow happens to be a politician. I liked him. We could do a lot worse. But he, too, has no chance of being nominated.

Marco Rubio and Ted Cruz both came across as convincing possible suspects in a police lineup. Shoot their commercials in black and white—this is film noir for the 21st century. Both are slick debaters and political operatives, too slick for their own good. Marco is the nice guy with the infectious smile, Ted is the heavy, but you don’t trust either one. They both could have committed the crime, and both probably did, but they’re so damn good at throwing suspicion to someone else.

(Even though I was painfully shy in high school, I was a pretty good debater. I learned that almost any position can be defended whether you believe in it or not. That’s why I don’t trust skilled debaters. I know they could just as easily take the opposite position persuasively.)


Jeb Bush. I’ve never voted for a Bush, and never will, but he’s an enigma to me. Back in the heady days of toppling statues of Saddam, I heard a number of conservatives say, “Jeb is the conservative one. Jeb is the smart one. Too bad Karl Rove was W’s brain rather than Jeb’s brain.” After this election cycle, I just don’t know. He’s probably likeable enough in a person-to-person setting, he’s thoughtful, he appeals to the policy wonk in me, but I end up feeling embarrassed for him in a contentious political setting. He remained awkward in the more relaxed town hall format. And I keep wondering: How did he ever become governor of Florida?

Donald Trump. He tried his best to be couth, likeable, somebody you might actually buy a used car from, but it just didn’t work. The problem is that there’s no there there. He deals in bluster and hyperbole, and even in a more leisurely town hall setting he comes across saying nothing of substance. I know, intellectuals don’t make good politicians, but couldn’t he at least have some semblance of coherent thought? Instead all we get is a litany of emotional outbursts and meaningless generalities. He was the only candidate who couldn’t give substantial answers to questions from the audience. And it doesn’t help when the Pope—the Pope!—has dissed you hours beforehand. For the record, I would have been harder on His Holiness than The Donald was.

Two Ways to Decide Who to Vote For

“Who would you most like to have a beer with?”

Maybe Kasich, if he’s not a complete phony about being a regular guy. But none of them, really. Heck, I voted for Obama but his beer guzzling session was as phony as his birth certificate. (That’s a joke, Donald!)

I prefer vodka martinis, Moscow mules, or wine to beer at this stage of my life. I can see comparing wine vintages with Jeb—he’s a Bush, after all—but I wouldn’t trust any of them offering me the harder stuff before they handed me a blank check with their name as beneficiary. Especially Donald. One of the nice things about the two town halls was how Anderson Cooper would end the interviews with some personal questions of the candidates, all in the effort to make them seem like human beings. It turns out Trump insists he does not drink liquor, smoke, or do drugs. I can understand the last two, but I was surprised at the first (though it turns out he has known too many people who have become alcoholics). Somehow I suspect he doesn’t mind closing a deal, however, with someone who has been imbibing during the negotiations.

Which voice do you want coming into your living room, on the tele, for the next four or eight years?

This actually is the deal-breaker for me. One reason I haven’t been able to succumb to virulent anti-Obamaism is that I’ve found his voice to be relatively pleasant—for a President. And especially considering what I had to put up with in the previous eight years.

I fear that these days of relative peace are about to end. Of the current Republican contenders, the two pleasant voices belong to Dr. Carson and John Kasich, and unfortunately America does not select Presidents by their voices or speech patterns. And it gets worse when I look across the aisle—a strident, haranguing windmill versus an old Marxist with diarrhea of the mouth, the kind of guy I used to debate on Union Square. (If you want some real fun, see the Coen brothers movie “Hail, Caesar!” All the Marxist Hollywood screenwriters are clones of Bernie Sanders.)

Final Irony

This is the weirdest election cycle I’ve witnessed in my 60-plus years of observing and commenting on American politics. And one of the most delicious aspects is that the Democratic Party is now represented by two old white people, two boring old white people, while the Republicans are offering a black man, two Latinos, and an Anglo who thinks he’s Latino. Only in America.

David Franke was one of the founders of the conservative movement in the late 1950s and early 1960s. Along the way he has voted for good guys like Barry Goldwater, Ronald Reagan, and (above all) Ron Paul. But he has also voted for Richard Nixon, Ralph Nader, John Kerry, and Hussein Obama. Only in America.

15 Comments (Open | Close)

15 Comments To "What I Learned From CNN’s Town Hall"

#1 Comment By WAB On February 19, 2016 @ 1:41 pm

I’m reminded the of the recent essay by David Brooks, “I Miss Obama.”, i.e., “Obama radiates an ethos of integrity, humanity, good manners and elegance that I’m beginning to miss, and that I suspect we will all miss a bit.”. Perhaps, we will see the Obama version of the Bush “Do You Miss Me Yet” bumper stickers that followed Obama’s election.

I am mortified at the prospect of having to listen to any of the current crop of candidates on both sides for more than an hour much less four years. Kasich I can at least doze off on when needed.

#2 Comment By Joerg Wiesner On February 19, 2016 @ 1:41 pm

Trump made a strong performance, you might see it again. He’s not the best speecher but calling a real-estate-mogul(5-10 billions large, 25.000 employees) “nothing of substance” is as primitive and absurd as it can get.

Oh wait… a former Obama supporter. Writing for the American Conservative.

Kasich is weak and was a executive of the failed investment bank Lehman Brothers. When asked about this time he was “proud of beeing a banker”.

Nice evening(I’m from Germany).

#3 Comment By Fran Macadam On February 19, 2016 @ 1:49 pm

To concur in calling mass media events “Town Halls” is an indication that one has succumbed in some sense to the very high level of deception now intrinsic to public discourse.

How trivial have distractions from reality become, when the decision for whom to vote is made on the basis of how pleasant the voice sounds that they will lie to us in is?

We’re hurting out here. We’re not being sold a car, on the easy payment plan. We have been sold down the river by the duopoly establishment.

Who will stand against that Establishment is far more important than the tenor of their speech.

Unfortunately, our neighbors who’ve been beggared, can’t afford to be such effete choosers. The question is not which beauty contestant has the more pleasing form, but who will stand up for our interests, those of the hundreds of millions of us the Establishment has disenfranchised.

#4 Comment By Fran Macadam On February 19, 2016 @ 1:53 pm

I don’t believe Ralph Nader belongs in the “bad guy” short list.

#5 Comment By Junior On February 19, 2016 @ 3:27 pm

What I learned from reading “What I Learned From CNN’s Town Hall”:

That David Franke doesn’t want a President. He wants a buddy that will rub him on his tummy and tell him that everything is going JUST fine for this country with the status quo so go back to sleep. Well, everything is NOT going just fine, Mr. Franke.

All of those Lunatics on that stage are talking about getting us into World War 3 EXCEPT for Trump, and you’re worried about who you would want to have a beer with?!

We are in an incredibly SERIOUS debt crisis, facing an imminent crash, all our jobs are being hemorrhaged overseas so that international corporations can pay slave wages and what few jobs that ARE left in America are being taken by non-citizens who are willing to take slave wages. Meanwhile, you’re worried about who sounds more pleasant over the radio?!

None of these candidates are discussing these enormously important issues to Americans, EXCEPT for Trump. And you seek to further trivialize just how important this election is to the future of this country and just how dire a situation this country is in?!

“They actually came across as more serious and human, less as marionettes being yanked by unseen forces behind the curtain.”

Are you saying that it’s a good thing that they were able to hide their puppet strings?! “Marionettes being yanked by unseen forces behind the curtain” is EXACTLY what they are. You seem to be pleased that they are able to fool you.

If this piece is meant as a joke, I don’t get it. I truly hope that this is a tongue-in-cheek analysis that just went over my head, otherwise… please wake up, Mr. Franke. We don’t have much time. If we’re to have any hope of saving this country from these Globalist War-Mongering Lunatics in the Establishment, it has got to be now.

We need a President, not a Buddy.

Trump 2016

#6 Comment By Kurt Gayle On February 19, 2016 @ 4:48 pm

David Franke, with Human Events you go all the way back to the beginnings of the post-war conservative movement and I’m sure you remember the ’52 and ’56 presidential campaigns in which Republicans had a career soldier/war hero with no experience in elected public office or politics running against a career political animal, the Governor of Illinois. The soldier had firm opinions about important policy issues, but he often lacked substance when it came to debating the details of policy. The Republican establishment was quite content that televised presidential debates didn’t begin until 1960.

Trump is certainly no Eisenhower. He’s a totally different personality with a totally different background and temperament. But Trump, the lifelong businessman, is like Eisenhower, the lifelong soldier, in that he lacks experience as an elected politician and, like candidate Eisenhower, sometimes lacks substance when it comes to debating the details of policy. Trump has firm, well-thought-out positions about the most important issues of the campaign – avoiding further wars in the Middle East, ending illegal immigration, and bringing home the millions of American manufacturing jobs that were shipped overseas – but Trump is not an academically-trained debater and he has never presented himself as a policy intellectual. Rather the most important thing in Trump’s favor is that he is the ONLY Republican politician who holds the positions he holds on the issues that matter most to Middle America.

In stark contrast to Trump — as you point out, David Franke – are Trump’s two main opponents, “Marco Rubio and Ted Cruz [who] both came across as convincing possible suspects in a police lineup…Both are slick debaters and political operatives, too slick for their own good…you don’t trust either one.”

#7 Comment By Mike W On February 19, 2016 @ 5:23 pm

Thanks for the summary, but now I’m even more depressed than I was before about those running the for the Republican nomination. So I’ll be drinking vodka martinis tonight, if anyone cares to join me.

#8 Comment By Clint On February 19, 2016 @ 5:42 pm

I prefer vodka martinis, Moscow mules, or wine to beer at this stage of my life.
Got it. That’s what made ya vote for Nader, Kerry and Obama.
Hope ya get sober.

#9 Comment By EarlyBird On February 19, 2016 @ 6:05 pm

Thank you for stating “vodka martinis.” One day the beginning of the end of the Republic will be traced back to people using “gin” as a redundant adjective with “martini.”

#10 Comment By Andrew G Van Sant On February 20, 2016 @ 1:21 am

Why should we listen to anyone who voted for Obama? That shows a complete lack of discernment and judgement. Why should we listen to anyone involved in founding the conservative movement? Conservatives have conserved nothing.

Trump is lacking in many qualities but at this stage he is our best chance to bring down the establishment, professional politicians who work only to preserve their own careers at the expense of the rest of us. I am sure that if Trump manages to be elected he will do many things that will disappoint us, but if he ends the lock on government by the Democrats and Republican careerists he will have performed a valuable service. Whether he wins or loses, the movement to elect people who will serve the best interests of the American people will continue.

#11 Comment By Danny K. On February 21, 2016 @ 5:38 am


-Balanced the Federal Budget;
-Got 26% of the black vote in Ohio;
-Tougher union-busting bill than Walker’s (overturned by referendum);
-Known for cutting all kinds of military wasteful spending in Congress;
-Father of BRAC (Base Realignment and Closure) commission;
-Eliminated Ohio’s death tax;
-Cut Ohio’s income tax;

If it isn’t going to be Trump (I still think it is), you guys are crazy if you think Kasich isn’t good enough for you.

Who else can say they’ve done this much?

#12 Comment By EliteCommInc. On February 21, 2016 @ 11:05 am

I think lack of “substance” is the incorrect term. What Mr. Trump seems to bock at is getting vulnerable. Just because he won’t lay out his weaknesses, or personal aspects of his life he might want to improve doesn’t mean he lacks substance.

His momentum is always forward looking. He is not inclined to do anything that might make him appear weak or incapable. That is not an unusual posture for “highly successful people (depending on how one defines highly successful.)

In an age of the personal confession to groused daily and chewed ad infinitum, I am not sure discretion about one’s personal failings suggests a lack of substance.

Furthermore, Mr. trump may feel over exposed in that area. There are a multitude of books written by him and even more written bout him. I have several in an online cue that I have yet to purchase.

But overall, I didn’t find that much vulnerability with any of the other candidates, though they definitely attempted to squeeze “joe the street” material.

#13 Comment By EliteCommInc. On February 21, 2016 @ 8:43 pm

That my previous comments do dismiss that i found something interesting about each of the candidates that was personal in my mind, even if not making them vulnerable.

#14 Comment By Fran Macadam On February 22, 2016 @ 1:46 am

“you guys are crazy if you think Kasich isn’t good enough for you.”

Extolling yet another irresponsible Lehman bankster drives us crazy, for sure.

#15 Comment By Doug On February 22, 2016 @ 4:37 pm

I live in Ohio. Kasich lead the demise of our State Estate Tax, for which I am thankful. He went after public unions, came up short but, I appreciate his attempt. His record here is more conservative than his campaign- moderate alter ego would suggest. In addition, he is not known for being “nice”. In fact, I understand that he is quite vindictive.