I must confess I feel guilty commenting on Donald Trump. After all, he is the "gimmick" candidate of the moment, but it's a moment that just seems to keep dragging on and on.
Trump is only in the news because his quirky popularity is so outrageously interesting, and somehow I get the feeling any time spent discussing his candidacy is time wasted that should be spent on whoever should, by now, be passing for "the real thing". But of course, there is no "real" Republican candidate, at least not yet, and for all we know we may never end up getting one.
In the meantime, we end up laughing at Trump so hard, it hurts, but then discover that Trump may be no joke. At some point, his insidious antics are to Obama what the Joker's are to Batman. Donald Trump may be the best real-life example of why so many people are afraid of clowns.
Trump didn't actually dominate the debate, but still brought so much to it that some of the best of it got lost -- for example, when he was explaining his position as the only one on stage not to agree to take a pledge to support the eventual Republican nominee, and to promise not to launch a third-party bid, which finally came down to this:
“If I’m the nominee, I will pledge I will not run as an independent.”In other words, yes, he'll support the Republican candidate, but only as long as it's himself.
In olden times, wouldn't that have been enough to get a candidate booted right out of the race? As obviously deadly as Rick Perry's famous "Oops!" moment was that the troll was fixin' to throw him off that Bridge of Death, it wasn't half as bad as Trump saying what he said last night, and yet all of Trump's absurdity just seems to get lost, unnoticed in all the rest of his absurdity, and so he gets away with it.
Or has the Republican side of the race been stricken with so much "nonsense overload" that it no longer matters what anybody says? That may be what Paul Krugman was trying to get at in his column this morning, in which he suggests that Trump's foolishness may just be running interference for the rest of the pack:
For while it’s true that Mr. Trump is, fundamentally, an absurd figure, so are his rivals. If you pay attention to what any one of them is actually saying, as opposed to how he says it, you discover incoherence and extremism every bit as bad as anything Mr. Trump has to offer. And that’s not an accident: Talking nonsense is what you have to do to get anywhere in today’s Republican Party.Take Carly Fiorina, widely considered the star of what my wife calls the "kid's table debate" last night. According to The Hill:
Former Hewlett-Packard CEO Carly Fiorina stood out Thursday in the first GOP primary debate, taking shots at Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton while showing off her foreign policy acumen. Fiorina, the only woman among the 17 Republican candidates taking part in Thursday’s two debates, shined as the seven candidates who didn’t make the Republican top 10 squared off in a 5 p.m. undercard. ... “I didn’t get a phone call from Bill Clinton before I jumped in the race. Did any of you get a phone call from Bill Clinton? I didn’t,” Fiorina said, referencing reports that Trump spoke with Bill Clinton ahead of his presidential launch. “Maybe it’s because I haven’t given money to the foundation or donated to his wife’s Senate campaign,” she added.That's why she "shined" last night? No, more likely it was that business of "showing off her foreign policy acumen":
Fiorina outlined an ambitious agenda for her first days in office if she were to become president. She would call Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and the Iranian supreme leader to express displeasure with the agreement, she said, and then on the second day, she’d convene a summit at Camp David with Arab allies.If that's what qualifies an an "ambitious agenda", we're all in trouble. I think maybe what people meant by calling her a standout was that she was articulate.
Not that having a "big fat resume" (in the words of Sarah Palin) is needed to make you eligible to run for president -- after all, Barack Obama didn't have one of those -- but I still don't quite get what qualification this woman has that makes her candidacy attractive to anyone at all. It can't be based on her being named as Hewlett-Packard CEO:
Fiorina instituted three major changes to HP's culture shortly after her arrival: a shift from nurturing employees to demanding financial performance, replacing profit sharing with bonuses awarded if the company met financial expectations, and a reduction in operating units from 83 to 4. ...
Fiorina said to Congress in 2004: "There is no job that is America's God-given right anymore. We have to compete for jobs as a nation." While Fiorina argued that the only way to "protect U.S. high-tech jobs over the long haul was to become more competitive [in the United States]," her comments prompted "strong reactions" from some technology workers who argued that lower wages outside the United States encouraged the offshoring of American jobs. In the US, 30,000 HP employees were laid off during Fiorina's tenure. In 2004, HP fell dramatically short of its predicted third-quarter earnings, and Fiorina fired three executives during a 5 AM telephone call.
Fiorina frequently clashed with HP's board of directors, and she faced backlash among HP employees and the tech community for her leading role in the demise of HP's egalitarian "The HP Way" work culture and guiding philosophy, which she felt hindered innovation. Because of changes to HP's culture, and requests for voluntary pay cuts to prevent layoffs (subsequently followed by the largest layoffs in HP's history), employee satisfaction surveys at HP — previously among the highest in America — revealed "widespread unhappiness" and distrust, and Fiorina was sometimes booed at company meetings and attacked on HP's electronic bulletin board.Still, the company's revenues doubled, what with mergers such as that with Compaq Computer. (Remember Compaq? You must be old!)
However, the company reportedly underperformed by a number of metrics: there were no gains in HP's net income despite a 70% gain in net income of the S&P 500 over this period; the company's debt rose from ~4.25 billion USD to ~6.75 billion USD; and stock price fell by 50%, exceeding declines in the S&P 500 Information Technology Sector index and the NASDAQ. In contrast, stock prices for IBM and Dell fell 27.5% and 3% respectively, during this time period.Finally, the HP board had had enough in early 2005. They forced her to resign:
The company's stock jumped on news of her departure, adding almost three billion dollars to the value of HP in a single day. Many employees celebrated her resignation.And from there, it only got worse for her:
Since her forced resignation, CBS News, USA Today and Portfolio.com have ranked Fiorina as one of the worst American (or tech) CEOs of all time. In 2008, InfoWorld grouped her with a list of products and ideas as flops, declaring her tenure as CEO of HP to be the sixth worst tech flop of all-time and characterizing her as the "anti-Steve Jobs" for reversing the goodwill of American engineers and alienating existing customers. According to an opinion piece by Robin Abcarian in the LA Times, Fiorina "upended HP’s famously collegial culture, killed off its beloved profit-sharing program and hung her own portrait between those of the company’s two sainted founders" before "flam[ing] out in spectacular fashion". Katie Benner of Bloomberg View described Fiorina's leadership at HP as a "train wreck" and a "disaster".It might not have been enough that she was a schmuck to her employees, but the company's performance is what did her in. There may be a lesson in those two factors being linked together, and maybe even a modicum of justice for us liberals, but the mystery remains as to how she's still a serious contender for a major party's nomination.
I suspect it has something to do with whatever positive fame she enjoys being derived from her being named by Fortune Magazine as the most powerful woman in business, or her place in history as "the first woman to lead a Fortune 20 company".
But think about this: If, instead, some man had taken her place at HP, and ended up with the same performance record, would he be running for president today? In fact, would we even know his name?
I know, I know, now I'm talking about some other Republican candidate who doesn't deserve our time of day, simply because she made enough noise to capture a little press. And like Trump, she, too, is a minor character who, fortunately for us all, has no real chance of becoming our president either.
But maybe that's the point. Every candidate in those debates yesterday was a minor character, so for all of that, we might just as well continue blithering on about Trump, until the last one is tossed over the bridge.