Which candidate would make the best little league coach and other observations from the Milwaukee Magazine Media Overflow Room.

Last night’s Republican debate at the Milwaukee Theatre was as eventful as an evening commute in Milwaukee’s rush-hour traffic: mostly placid, occasionally too long, with tiny burstlets of tension. That tempo seems to be what the Fox Business and Wall Street Journal moderators were going for – an eight-party Q&A session without much actual debate. But with seven more debates scheduled for the GOP candidates, we’re assuming it’s a slow build. Last night no candidate managed to completely control the dial, but there were stronger showings (Rubio’s 1940s radio voice projected control and conviction) and weaker performances (Kasich seemed exasperated from the start) from the eight top-tier candidates that included Marco Rubio, Jeb Bush, Carly Fiorina, Donald Trump, Rand Paul, John Kasich, Ben Carson and Ted Cruz. Former candidate Gov. Scott Walker sat in the audience with his wife Tonette, where he must have heard his only call-out, which came from Carly Fiorina. No camera shots revealed him staring longingly at a podium.

Random moments of absurdity came from just about everyone, but the multiple plugs for campaign websites, ahem, trumped them all. Fiorina had the hardest time staying within the 90-second time limit for answers, only barely beating Kasich and Cruz in verbosity. Bush and Carson said the least; the former was likely hoping to avoid butchering his talking points even more, and the latter seemed content to watch the rest of the candidates from the best seat in the house. Unfortunately for everyone, Donald Trump never once uttered the word “huge.”

The next debate is scheduled for Dec. 15 at Las Vegas’ Venetian hotel, which is owned by GOP mega-donor Sheldon Adelson’s Sands Corp. In 2014, The Washington Post declared Adelson and his wife Miriam “the biggest givers in the political world” because they donated a combined (and astronomical) $93 million to conservative groups in the 2012 election.

Senior Editor Matt Hrodey and I watched the debate from the official Milwaukee Magazine Media Overflow Room, where we feasted on takeout from Jing’s and bakery left over from a photo shoot. It was a fitting way to toast our sixth installment of Just Desserts. 

Senior Editor Matt Hrodey: Which candidate did you think would make the best little league coach?

Associate Editor Claire Hanan: Donald Trump. Winning is a huge theme of his and I think that would translate well to the field. You?

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MH: I have to say Rubio and, strangely, Ted Cruz. I think they would both work well with kids. The worst baseball coach would have to be Carson. His talents would be better served leading the chess team.

CH: Rubio did say something to the effect of “think of the children!”

Which candidate had the most coherent answers?

MH: It’s a tie between Rubio and Rand Paul. Kasich had much to say, but it got lost in his flailing delivery. Cruz came across as straw-manning at a higher rate. He said, “How do we bring back economic growth”? In reality, that’s already happening.

CH: I agree with Rubio and Paul, but I’d add Fiorina. I thought she didn’t actively try to avoid answering questions, and she repeated her three-page tax plan enough times that it stuck in my head until this morning.

MH: She does well on TV. Carson was barely audible. He’s serving as yang to Trump’s ying, the gentle outsider. Did he promote a tax plan? There were so many, extending so many, or so few, pages, and the gestures demonstrating them went up and down, flat tax, level tax …

CH: Yeah. His answer on whether he agrees with increasing the minimum wage to $15/hour made no sense: “Only 19.8 percent of black teenagers have a job, who are looking for one. You know, that — and that’s because of those high wages. If you lower those wages, that comes down.”

Let’s play Taxes, Hang Out, Teach. Who would you want to do your taxes each year, who would you want to hang out with on a Saturday and who would you rather teach your nonexistent children?

MH: Whoa. Jeb for my taxes, Rubio for chilling and Paul for teaching if the kids were in high school. If younger, probably Fiorina. I’d hire Trump to harass my enemies. How would you gamble?

CH: Ha! I’d want Paul to do my taxes, Donald for hanging out at one of his gilded hotels, and Rubio for teaching the future generation of Hanans. “I’ve never met Vladmir Putin, but I know enough to know he’s a gangster,” Rubio said. Protection from gangsters seems like a great thing for the kids.

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Who had the most distracting hand movements?

MH: Undoubtedly Kasich. His entire body was distracting, although a lot of candidates were doing karate chops to accentuate their tax plans.

CH: Which country was made out to be the greater foreign threat: China or Russia?

MH: Strangely, Russia. Putin was the leading antagonist. Those candidates who have not had private or semi-private encounters or patio-side lunches with him are probably going to hurry to do so before the next debate. Unless they believe in only lunching from a position of strength, per Fiorina.

CH: Yeah, Trump’s position was the most interesting, even though it was weak. He essentially said, yes, Russia is a problem, but…So are many other countries. And then he ended with this gem:  “If Putin wants to go and knocked the hell out of ISIS, I am all for it, 100 [percent], and I can’t understand how anybody would be against it…”

So there.

MH: Cue Jeb Bush to talk about how complicated the world is.

CH: He did! Bush challenged Trump on Russia taking on ISIS, to which Trump responded: “They blew up a Russian airplane. He cannot be in love with these people. He’s going in, and we can go in, and everybody should go in.”

I think that little exchange was representative of Trump’s style. Lots of gusto, few specifics.

MH: How much of his appeal do you think is the aura of independence he gains from funding his own campaign?

CH: Some, I suppose. He wouldn’t have made a point of mentioning that fact completely out of nowhere if his campaign didn’t think people needed to be reminded of it.

What do you think is the likelihood of a candidate’s tax plan – on either side – becoming their actual tax plan in office?

MH: It’s extraordinarily low, I would think, even with Ryan as speaker. There are just way too many losers when you do tax reform. People say it has to be done in times when the coffers are flush, not during periods of crisis.

CH: Do you want to declare a final winner, dead or alive?

MH: I have to say Rubio, who was coherent, energetic, electable and forward-looking without leaving the base behind.

 

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