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Presidential Horse Race 2016: Would you accept a pledge from Donald Trump?

Now that the initial shock over Justice Antonin Scalia’s unexpected death has subsided somewhat, the hard work of analyzing the potential impact of such a game-changing event on the Republican presidential race begins.

Up until Saturday it was easy for the candidates to concentrate on a relatively narrow set of topics in trying to appeal to conservative and Republican voters. And some issues have solved themselves along the way. After Donald Trump pledgeIowa and New Hampshire voted, for example, it’s clear that the question of candidate viability has largely been settled.

The establishment will certainly continue to argue that Donald Trump or Ted Cruz will hurt the party in November, but the voters aren’t buying it. Or, even more likely, people don’t care what the elites think anymore, having been discredited by years of similar false scare tactics never bearing fruit.

Fool us once, shame on you. Fool us twice, shame on us. Or in the case of the establishment, fool us dozens of times and we’re finally telling them to go to you-know-where.

Likewise, the differences in foreign policy seem to have been duly noted and absorbed by Republican voters. In the wake of the Paris attacks, all the Republican candidates have tacked towards a position of strong opposition to ISIS, strengthening the military and restoring America’s image abroad after eight years of Obama weakness.

Last Saturday’s re-litigating of the Iraq War was a mere distraction. There isn’t a great deal of ambiguity in terms of where the candidates stand on foreign affairs, which makes me wonder why so much attention is devoted to the subject in debates.

The differences can be summed up thusly: Donald Trump takes a nationalistic America-first approach to foreign policy which includes talking openly with enemies and “making deals” to advance America’s interests (determined by him of course). Trump is more than happy to let Russia bomb ISIS if he thinks it will help in vanquishing the caliphate. The notion of who’s an enemy is fungible if The Donald believes he can win them over with his personality.

Trump’s a protectionist in terms of trade and will treat China and Mexico as adversaries rather than partners.

His overall foreign policy is basically whatever he feels at any particular moment. No real ideological underpinning. It’s another “trust me and I’ll get it right” line of persuasion.

Meanwhile, Ted Cruz occupies more of a Reagan-like middle ground, promising an intense air war against ISIS but he would only consider limited commitment of Special Forces for “boots on the ground” to support local troops – and even then, only if it were absolutely needed based on consultation with military commanders.

Ben Carson appears to be in this camp as well, though it’s still not clear to me exactly where he stands. He was against the Iraq War but now seems to be more open to committing American ground troops, vaguely stating that defeating ISIS is the highest priority.

The rest of the candidates – Jeb Bush, John Kasich and Marco Rubio are dedicated George W. Bush-type neoconservatives who favor an aggressive military response to threats, deposing dictators and regime change to foster democratic institutions.

John Kasich even went so far in Saturday night’s debate to say that a Russian attack on a NATO member is the same as an attack on the United States. Does that mean he’s willing to send in ground forces if Russia threatens to invade a NATO country?

That’s a scary proposition. Trump was right in saying such an action might trigger World War III.

The candidates’ positions on immigration have also largely been settled, though it really boils down to whom you believe on the issue. Trump and Cruz are for deportation, no citizenship and no legalization – though Trump’s softened his position a bit, merely insisting that the people can “come back” as soon as they go through proper channels in their home countries. Trump and Cruz are insistent on building a wall.

Marco Rubio gives the same standard robotic answer on immigration every time he’s asked about it, calling Ted Cruz a liar and then arguing that comprehensive reform failed simply because the American people didn’t trust that it would be done right. If that were true, we wouldn’t have Obamacare either.

Rubio’s Gang of Eight failed because Ted Cruz, Jeff Sessions and Steve King led the fight against it.

Rubio’s and Jeb Bush’s immigration positions appear similar but neither has any credibility on the issue so it’s not really worth discussing. If either is elected president, you get the impression nothing will change – at least in a positive direction.

John Kasich says border security first, no citizenship and a guest-worker program.

Viability, foreign policy and immigration are only three areas of discussion. There are more, such as tax plans and opposition to Obamacare that aren’t much in debate any longer. Voters know where the candidates stand and their preferences are reflected in the polls.

But with Scalia’s death, there’s a whole new focus on judicial appointments, a topic that hasn’t received much attention until now.

How will it change the race? We’re about to find out.

Increased focus on judicial appointments will benefit Ted Cruz

Never one to mince words, Ted Cruz says Republicans should make 2016 a referendum on the Supreme Court.

He’s right for three reasons. First, it will shine the spotlight on Obama’s lockstep leftist nominees and the consequences that follow electing Democrat presidents who offer judges that are much more political than impartial.

Second, by locking the meaning of the entire election into a narrowly defined box it will help Republican candidates for the Senate as well. Messaging will be simple, coordinated and easier to understand, showing Americans that their votes do count and have real consequences.

It will also serve to nationalize the election, which is something the Republicans MUST do to be successful this year.

Lastly, by making the election a referendum on the Supreme Court, it helps Cruz make his own case, because there’s no doubt he would be the strongest candidate to put forward originalist judges in the mold of Antonin Scalia. Having served as a clerk under former Chief Justice William Rehnquist as well as having argued nine cases before the Supreme Court, Cruz knows the inner workings of the institution and the type of judges who would be successful there.

Chris Cillizza of the Washington Post seems to agree that Cruz would gain from such a “referendum,” writing, “Cruz, a well-regarded Constitutional lawyer who has argued several cases in front of the Supreme Court, would seem the obvious beneficiary of an even more energized Republican base looking for someone who is committed to standing up and fighting like hell to make sure that the court represents conservative values…

“As WaPo's Dave Weigel has noted, the death of Scalia and the opening on the court it creates could well cause Donald Trump problems — given his past wishy-washiness regarding the sort of people he would like to see serve on the nation's highest court.”

All of this depends on the Texas senator’s ability to educate the voters on Trump’s past statements on who he’d nominate (such as his sister), but also in keeping the focus on the Supreme Court.

Every candidate looks for a signature issue or a “lane” to run in, and Cruz may have found his. He was already held in high regard by movement conservatives as the best choice in the field, but now there’s an opportunity to be seen as the strongest potential president who can help restore the balance in the Constitution’s separation of powers system.

It’s safe to say it will be nearly impossible to replace someone like Antonin Scalia. He was a legend on par with the Founding Fathers whose force of personality was exceeded only by his amazing intellect.

But if any of the Republicans can find judges like Scalia who will interpret the Constitution and protect individual liberties in the way they were meant to be defended, it’s Ted Cruz.

Let the referendum begin.

Unbalanced Trump goes one step further in threatening to sue Ted Cruz

We’ve learned through the course of this year’s campaign that Donald Trump doesn’t take criticism well. Now he’s once again renewed his threat to go nuclear and sue Ted Cruz over the eligibility issue if Cruz doesn’t apologize for drawing perfectly legitimate distinctions between the two candidates.

Paige Winnfield Cunningham of the Washington Examiner reports, “Speaking to reporters in South Carolina, Trump said he would ‘quickly’ file a suit arguing that Cruz's Canadian birth disqualifies him from running, and also warned that if the Republican National Committee doesn't take a stand against Cruz, he would consider it a violation of an agreement he reached with the RNC not to run as an independent.”

In other words, Trump is telling the Republican Party that it needs to hand him the nomination right now or he’s going to make it very messy in the courts.

Trump’s latest “table pounding” incident exposes a man who just can’t handle the rough and tumble of politics. His tirade was nothing short of a visceral reaction to being challenged in a way he doesn’t like. The same mental disorder has cropped up at various times in the campaign, only this time it’s not Megyn Kelly or some other easy target that he’s beating up -- it’s a serious fellow competitor who is truthfully hitting him where it hurts.

Many have argued Trump was exactly the right medicine for an establishment dominated Republican Party that desperately needed a makeover, but this is really getting extreme. It almost looks like The Donald is deliberately trying to sabotage the party.

Maybe Rand Paul was right last summer in suggesting Trump was only running to help the Democrats.

By playing such a game, Trump is rapidly opening wounds that can’t be healed. His tactics could ultimately win him the Republican nomination, but there’s already a sizeable portion of Republicans who swear they’ll never vote for him. He’s adding to that list everyday now.

Trump’s walking a tightrope that’s just about to snap. Assuming that he listens to anyone, someone needs to tell him to cut it out before the damage can’t be undone.

He’s the one who needs to apologize.

Ratings numbers for Saturday night’s debate prove Americans are still riveted

Finally today, Republican presidential debates continue to draw record numbers of viewers, indicating interest in the race remains very high.

Bradford Richardson of The Hill reports, “The debate averaged 13.51 million viewers and finished with a 3.0 rating in the 25-54 adult demographic, which was also the highest among primary debates in the new year.

“CBS said in a statement that the debate was Saturday night’s top primetime broadcast and peaked with 14.63 million viewers between 10:00 and 10:30 p.m.”

Over five million also joined-in online. Not bad for a Saturday night broadcast.

Donald Trump will insist he’s the sole reason why people watch. It might be true for his supporters, but it’s more the case that Americans are anxious to see who’s going to get a chance to fix the mess Obama, the Democrats and the Republican establishment has created.

The next debate is on February 25. Here’s thinking a lot of folks will tune-in then, too, if for nothing else to see how The Donald might come unglued once again.

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Pledge from Donald Trump

Trump’s a protectionist in terms of trade and will treat China and Mexico as adversaries rather than partners. China and Mexico are trade partners not trade adversaries?
His overall foreign policy is basically whatever he feels at any particular moment. No real ideological underpinning. What exactly is a “real ideological” underpinning?
Ted Cruz occupies more of a Reagan-like middle ground, promising an intense air war against ISIS..Who exactly is ISIS and where precisely are they located so they can be targeted for an intense air war?
..but he would only consider limited commitment of Special Forces for “boots on the ground” to support local troops. Heard that before c.1960. 5 years later there were 500k pairs of boots on the ground. I wore a pair.
… there’s already a sizeable portion of Republicans who swear they’ll never vote for him. He’s adding to that list everyday now. As Trump was not going to last past July 2015, the pledge was to ensure that Trump supporters would vote for the establishment nominee and not stay home. If he is the nominee, what are those who swear they will never vote for him, going to do?