There were a few weird moments at the debate last night, but none was stranger than the crowd reaction when John Kasich and Jeb Bush were talking about immigration. Both were unapologetically pro-amnesty. Neither bothered to make concessions about how problematic the breakdown of the rule of law is when it comes to illegal immigration. Bush didn't even make a kabuki gesture toward securing the border. And yet the audience in Milwaukee gave them both thunderous applause when they made their out-of-the-closet amnesty pitches, and was much more muted in response to Donald Trump and Ted Cruz's arguments against amnesty.
Kasich and Bush have a combined 9 percent in the RealClear poll average; Trump and Cruz together have 35 percent. So either there is a mass of Republican voters out there who aren't merely resigned to amnesty, but are really pumped up for or ... the audience last night was wildly unrepresentative of GOP voters.
Almost as weird was the fact that Kasich was on the stage all. Kasich is like the bizarro Amazo from DC comics: a figure who embodies the worst aspects of all the other candidates. As my buddy Michael Graham observed, he combines the warmth and soft-touch of Bobby Jindal with the political intuition of Jon Huntsman packaged with the disarming humility of Rand Paul and the policy know-how of Donald Trump.
It was absurd that the debate rules stipulated that eight-tenths of a point meant Kasich was on the main stage while Christie-a guy who actually has a triple-bank outside shot to win the nomination-was on the undercard.
Have a look at this exchange with Ted Cruz on bank bailouts to watch how Kasich mangled his understanding of banking by insisting that he would only bail out the clients of a bank who actually needed it:
As an executive, I would figure out how to separate those people who could afford it versus those people or the hard-working folks who put their money in those institutions-[audience boos]-no, no, let me say another thing. Here's what I mean by that: When you are faced in the last financial crisis with banks going under, and people, people who put their life savings in there, you gotta deal with it. You can't turn a blind eye to it.
For someone who was a Wall Street banker during the run-up to the financial crisis, this seems like a painfully incorrect understanding of the system.
Cruz, by the way, seemed to come out for the gold standard last night, saying that the money supply "should be tied to a stable level of gold." My friend Jeff Bell will be proud to see his work bubbling up to the presidential stage. It will be interesting if Cruz decides to make this argument more explicitly in the coming weeks.
One of the most disturbing political slogans in recent memory has been the call to "Take Our Country Back." It originated, in the modern context, with the Dean campaign in 2003, but has since been used by both parties. The sentiment is, literally, un-American: It suggests that the country belongs to one particular group and that the other group has no claims on the American experiment. "Take Our Country Back" has been almost totally absent from this campaign cycle- which is good. But last night Carly Fiorina unveiled a twist on it, saying several times in the course of the debate that it was time to "Take Our Government Back." As political sloganeering goes, that's a vast improvement. All Republicans should follow her example.
The final bit of weirdness last night was the conventional wisdom that Jeb Bush had a good debate. That is incorrect. Jeb Bush set a personal record, but that's still a long ways off from "good." And from a strategic standpoint, every opportunity Jeb misses to be actually good is another hour vanished from the half-life of his campaign.