Studied apathy, a feeble Donald Trump, a drooping Jeb Bush: The third Republican TV debate was definitely lacking.
The moderators of the third Republican televised debate in Boulder could ask neurosurgeon Ben Carson whatever they wanted: His reaction never varied as he stood there with eyes squinted and a half-smile playing on his lips, looking like he had to think deeply before answering anything. When he finally got around to answering, his words came very slowly.
He spoke his words with an almost soporific voice, saying things he might say in the course of normal daily conversation, like “our Constitution protects everybody, regardless of their sexual orientation,” or “they shouldn’t automatically assume that because you believe that marriage is between one man and one woman that you are a homophobe.”
The 64-year old brings new meaning to the term “phlegmatic.” And he’s the new star in the Republican firmament. Conservative voters — especially those in the tea party movement and fundamentalist Christian groups — worship Carson, and this week, he has finally overtaken Donald Trump as the front runner for the Republican nomination.
Both best-positioned Republican candidates have one thing in common: In Washington, both are considered “outsiders,” but their auras could not differ more. Trump rants and rails, insults people, frowns a lot, and has a contemptuous air. Carson is always the gentleman, politely thanking his rivals and looking thankful to be included among them. Trump describes him as a “low-energy” candidate, which, in his view, makes him unfit to be president.
The Great Apathy
In the Boulder debates, where they stand with eight other Republicans to answer questions, both men remain subdued — something to which Trump is not accustomed. With Carson, on the other hand, the calmness that his fans appreciate has already had a negative impact on his performance in the first two debates.
In Boulder, he seems to be a bystander, watching while the other debaters hack away at one another. He never utters a single sentence that could be called memorable — such as in the first debate when he said, “You see, when I take someone to the operating room, I’m actually operating on the thing that makes them who they are. The skin doesn’t make them who they are. The hair doesn’t make them who they are.” That was Carson’s statement on racism.
By the third debate, Carson — who is a member of the Seventh Day Adventist church — presented his tax program to the public. He wants to make the biblical “tithe” the statutory federal tax rate. John Kasich calls that a pipe dream. Ohio Gov. Kasich is a solid conservative politician, but in the popularity opinion polls, he can’t break out of the single digits. The political neophyte Carson, on the other hand, scores big. He is against most forms of abortion. He denies the theory of evolution and doesn’t believe human activity has anything to do with climate change.
Opportunities for Marco Rubio
Election season in the United States is extremely long. Voting for the president doesn’t take place until November 2016, but usually, election trends begin to show up in individual states about three months before the primary elections. But this time, everything is unpredictable so far. One who had been given the best chance of becoming the leading candidate and already had potent donors behind him is long since out of the picture entirely: Scott Walker of Wisconsin.
Another one considered strong, Jeb Bush, has recently introduced radical economizing measures with his campaign team, while assuring his donors he would still be at the helm of his campaign. But in Boulder, he mainly stands out as the Floridian attacking a fellow Floridian. Bush brought up Rubio’s absentee record in the U.S. Senate, accusing him of having a “French work week” only three days in length in order to allow him more time on the campaign trail. Rubio, a former Bush protégé, responded calmly that it never seemed to bother Bush when other candidates did the same thing. But now, he protests because both men are applying for the same job.
As Bush descends, Rubio is on the way up. In the debates, he makes confident, rehearsed statements and is polling just behind Carson and Trump. Financial supporters have taken renewed interest in him. He represents a moderate conservatism, as does Bush, and the Republican Party can come to terms more easily with him than it can with any of the “outsiders.” In addition, Rubio brings three advantages into the race with him: He is 44, has an immigrant background (his parents came from Cuba), and he’s not burdened by a past that includes a presidential family.