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Presidential Horse Race 2016: Hillary Clinton bails on Democrats during debate

The three-candidate strong Democrat presidential field met in New Hampshire Saturday night for the party’s third presidential debate.

Going up against an NFL game – even featuring the hapless Dallas Cowboys – I’m guessing the ratings won’t be great.

Democrat debateThe event was about as exciting as you would expect. Hillary Clinton, Bernie Sanders and Martin O’Malley did everything possible to steer the conversation away from terrorism towards other Democrat priorities such as gun control and domestic spending giveaways.

It was also clear Clinton has already started looking in the direction of her upcoming general election match-up with a Republican to be named later.

W. James Antle III of the Washington Examiner writes, “Clinton has emotionally checked out of the Democratic nominating contest before the vote, preferring instead to focus on the Republican presidential field. Donald Trump, the most controversial of those GOP voices, was mentioned 12 times. She claimed at one point that Trump appears in Islamic State recruiting videos, which Politifact rated false.

“It showed in a fundraising email her campaign sent following the debate, essentially describing the appearance with her primary opponents as a non-event. ‘Elections aren't won or lost based on what I do behind a podium, so it's okay if you weren't watching tonight's debate,’ Clinton's email read.”

The people who would be inclined to vote for Hillary or any Democrat after the disaster of the Obama administration don’t need to watch such mundane restatements of big government politically correct propaganda. They already know who they’re voting for.

Beyond that, a three-person “field” of candidates (which includes non-serious message candidate Bernie Sanders) is insulting to the American people, basically like saying – “Here’s your choice, take it or leave it.”

Several Republicans stated last week that they would gladly take any of their fellow candidates above Hillary Clinton. That’s not much of a reason to choose any of them…but after seeing some of the Democrats on Saturday night, even Mike Huckabee looks more attractive.

After Las Vegas, Trump’s lead builds, Cruz also advances

It’s only been six days since the Republican presidential candidates gathered in Las Vegas for the fifth debate, but it already seems like a long time ago. And according to a new poll, there appears to be some movement in the race as well.

Dana Blanton of Fox News reports, “Donald Trump, a candidate even Republicans once considered a side show, increases his lead yet again in the nomination race, according to the latest Fox News national poll.

“The poll also finds Ted Cruz ticking up, Marco Rubio slipping, and Ben Carson dropping.”

Looking at the numbers, Trump is up to 39 percent (+11 from November), consistent with other recently released polls. Cruz has 18 percent (+4), Rubio 11 percent (-3) and Carson rounds out the top four at 9 percent (-9). Jeb, Christie, Fiorina and Rand Paul all come in at three percent.

Blanton points out that Trump’s general election support is down, however, with the Fox poll now showing him losing to Hillary Clinton by a margin of 49 to 38 percent. He was leading by five points last month.

Expect Cruz and Rubio to hit Trump on the electability argument.

One other notable finding from the poll: “Views are more mixed when primary voters are asked who is most qualified to be commander-in-chief.  Trump is the top pick at 31 percent, followed by Cruz at 21 percent.  Next it’s Rubio at 11 percent and Bush at 8 percent.  Trump (+12 points) and Cruz (+8 points) both improved on this measure since early November,” Blanton wrote.

This is significant because it doesn’t look like Marco Rubio’s attempts to label Ted Cruz as a “non-interventionist” are working. Voters appear to appreciate Trump’s and Cruz’s more measured approach to war in the Middle East.

Sorry, Marco. Conservatives don’t want a return to the George W. Bush neoconservative vision of perpetual war.

(Note: Here’s an excellent look at Cruz’s Reaganite foreign policy by Peter Ferrara at The American Spectator. Ferrara writes, “Cruz’s ultimate intellectual coup in this last debate is a very positive turn for Republicans. Reagan’s wise, conservative, foreign policy was enormously popular. All his political life, Reagan was maligned by Democrats as a warmonger. But once he got his chance as President, he won the Cold War without firing a shot. Bush’s neoconservatism, however, was hugely unpopular, and paved the way to the Republicans’ fall from Reagan’s grace.”)

Trump isn’t being given special favor by his competitors

As Donald Trump continues to dominate the national polls heading into the Christmas holiday, speculation persists as to what might be the most effective way of attacking the frontrunner’s near insurmountable lead.

Some pundits are still insisting he went virtually untouched by his opponents in last week’s debate.

Rich Lowry of National Review writes, “Las Vegas highlighted how Trump has established alpha-dog dominance in the Republican field. He’s not only the front-runner according to national polls, he’s a front-runner other candidates are literally afraid to criticize in his presence.”

I do not doubt Lowry’s assertion, I’m just not sure if it gels with my memory. For example, Rand Paul hit Trump two lines into his opening statement and The Donald received more than enough 30-second rebuttals (by being mentioned, of course) to allow him to dominate portions of the program.

Lowry is particularly hard on Ted Cruz in regards to the Texas senator’s perceived unwillingness to jump on Trump. “Cruz’s submissiveness to Trump is — depending on your tolerance for insincerity in the service of a larger political goal — either appallingly or gloriously disingenuous. It couldn’t be more transparent if Cruz had been caught on tape at a private fundraiser acknowledging that it was part of his plan to defeat Trump — and, in fact, he was! Still, by honoring Trump’s implicit rule that if you demonstrate respect for him, he’ll probably leave you alone, Cruz has so far avoided a Trump onslaught.”

Basically Lowry’s insinuating Cruz is paying tribute to the mafia don in order to protect his family, or siding with the playground bully to avoid a black eye.

In fairness, Lowry does say Cruz’s hands-off-Trump “strategy” is working, allowing Ted to gain the lead in Iowa.

I don’t buy this simplistic view of Cruz’s treatment of The Donald. Cruz isn’t piling on Trump like Jeb Bush, John Kasich or even Rand Paul for the simple reason he sees merit in what Trump’s proposing even if he takes issue with Trump’s words. With the possible exception of Marco Rubio, whom he seems to have a budding rivalry with, Cruz has largely stayed away from consistently attacking all of his opponents. Not just Trump.

Look at it this way -- many of Trump’s establishment competitors were appalled by his temporary Muslim immigration ban and said so in insulting terms to make themselves look “tolerant” to the mushy middle and PC police. They were the ones being phony. If you don’t believe it, check out Lindsey Graham’s statements in the Las Vegas debate…talk about pandering.

Ted Cruz merely said he disagreed with the policy and withheld the insults. What’s wrong with that? The media’s always whining about the lack of civil discourse in politics and now they’re complaining because someone doesn’t pile on?

Further, Cruz doesn’t really need to insult any of his competitors. The voters who Ted Cruz is trying to win can’t be swayed by beating up the Republican field. Surveys say a high percentage of voters wouldn’t even consider Jeb Bush, for example, so what would be accomplished by attacking Jeb personally?

Cruz has a lot more to gain by sticking to the high-road – at least for now.

Speaking of Trump, also in National Review, Jonah Goldberg argues the frontrunner would be weakened if Jeb Bush dropped out.

“The whole rationale for Trump’s candidacy was based on exploiting animosity towards the ‘establishment.’ Jeb represents the establishment for lots of people, fairly or not. If Jeb bows out, that would give a lot of Trump supporters a victory and an excuse to look elsewhere.”

I agree it probably hurts Trump if Jeb bows out, but not for the reasons Goldberg highlighted. Trump’s supporters don’t give a hoot about Jeb Bush’s presence in the field any longer. If Bush disappeared tomorrow, they wouldn’t magically see a green light to give other candidates another look.

Trump benefits as long as the entire field stays as large as it is. It diffuses the “field of fire” so to speak. The smaller the number of candidates, the more Trump will feel compelled to differentiate himself… even against establishment figures like Jeb Bush.

Cruz hits Rubio for bailing on budget vote

Finally today, Ted Cruz and Marco Rubio have been engaging in a back-and-forth over national security and immigration for the past month and now Cruz is introducing something new in their competitive rivalry.

Theodore Schleifer of CNN reports, “Cruz…needled Rubio for missing a high-profile vote that morning on the $1.1 trillion omnibus spending bill. Both Rubio and Cruz opposed the deal, with Rubio at one point this week saying Republicans should try to slow it down, but only Cruz returned to Washington to actually vote ‘no.’”

Rubio’s absence wouldn’t make a difference in the success or failure of the bill but it certainly doesn’t look good for him to miss such an important vote. Cruz is entirely justified in his criticism.

(Note: Also in the same story is a bit on Ken Cuccinelli endorsing Ted Cruz.)

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