The Piper’s Picks: Handicapping the first GOP presidential debate

By Scott St. Clair | The Save Jersey Blog

In a previous lifetime, I was a competitive Highland piper, which shouldn’t be given more due than it ought since I never made it out of Grade 4, always having difficulty mastering jigs and hornpipes. Still and shamelessly in a land far, far away I was known as “The Piper,” that kilted right-wing devil – most pipers are lefties because they live on the dole to support their playing – who delighted in opining in a regular newspaper column, op-ed analysis pieces and dropping into progressive blogs to troll the crap out of them. 

I made a living at it for several years, too, before coming east.

The Piper’s Picks was something I routinely did during the political season, where I would handicap races, analyze debates, assess winners versus losers and generally give readers the benefit of my experience and cynicism. Resurrecting it after Thursday’s debate among the poll-average top 10 contenders for the Republican presidential nomination, here’s my take on how it went down.

While it got off to a first-game-of-the-season-jitters start, the Fox News folks – Brett Baier, Megyn Kelly and Chris Wallace – did as good a job moderating the Republican presidential candidate cage-match debate and asking equally tough questions of everyone as any debate I’ve seen, and I’ve seen hundreds over the years. No softballs, but plenty of high, hard chin music to satisfy even The New York Times.

Piper ScottDonald Trump obviously doesn’t like Megyn Kelly, and the feeling is mutual. But she wasn’t about to be deterred when she believed he unfairly dissed women. He, on the other hand, dismissed it all as PC garbage, and, to a degree he has a point. But essentially telling women to “man up” isn’t the best way to make it.

That Trumpies are angry and claiming he was unfairly picked on is evidence of their true-believer character: He can do no wrong under any circumstances, while any criticism of him is commiepinkobedwetter-inspired RINO-blastie treason. Meh.

Paranoia is better than no noia at all, I suppose, but he’s a politician now, not the Second Coming. And exactly when did he become a Republican? He never did say.

Trump made the only real news of the night when he went Ross Perot by not taking a pledge to support the eventual Republican nominee, whoever he or she is. But if you listened to him closely, his caveat was itself caveated with a “depends on who it is.” Jeb Bush and Rand Paul, phone home.

It will be interesting to watch the tracking polls over the next week to 10 days to see if his support numbers drop. I’m inclined to think they won’t now, but if he doesn’t do better in the next debate, look for sliding numbers to quickly emerge.

Everyone had their moment, while some had more than most. Ted Cruz was in a demagoguery league of his own, and, I believe, finished dead last. Camille Paglia has written that he gives her “the willies,” and it’s easy to see why. Every time I hear him he reminds me of Major Tetley, the leader of the lynch mob in the old western movie The Ox-Bow Incident. You can look it up. While Trump’s anger is sometimes funny, Cruz’s is always scary.

Of the sane candidates, Rand Paul and John Kasich came off the worst, followed by Chris Christie and Ben Carson (his witty closing aside). None of them told me why they should be the one, the Christie-Paul duke-out over the NSA and the Fourth Amendment notwithstanding.

And Rand – stop having your hair done by Mixmaster. To those in the imaging business, you look like a poodle. America doesn’t need a thin-skinned 90 lbs weakling unwilling to defend its interests.

Jeb Bush probably pleased his donor base, and he did his best to shuck some of his policy and familial baggage. For him, it was a push. But his answer on Common Core left me scratching my head. Whadhesay?

Mike Huckabee was better than expected, with a mix of fire and fun. Talk to me some more about taxes, Mike, because I think you might have made some sense. He had the best jab of the night at Trump without it being at Trump in his closing line about Hillary Clinton’s zero record and divisiveness. He improved his prospects.

Scott-WalkerMarco Rubio‘s smile is worth 10 points in the polls by itself. He was charming, erudite and, if you believe a lot of news reports, the big winner. Since I don’t buy news reports, we’ll have to wait and see. Still, he did come out in better shape than when he went in.

For a long time, my candidate has been Gov. Scott Walker. He’s got the policy chops and a solid track record of implementing them despite vicious opposition from progressives and, especially, unions. He’s also been to the voters three times in four years, coming out of each election or recall election with better numbers than before. Besides, some Midwest values in Washington would be a refreshing change. His debate performance was relatively safe, so call it a push, also.

In the JV debate, Carly Fiorina and Rick Perry were the one-two finishers, and they should move up to The Show for the next one. Both were smart, crisp and knew why they were there.

That Fiorina crushed MSNBC’s Chris Matthews in a post-undercard-debate interview is worth an honorable mention all by itself. And Perry is still unfairly tagged for miscues during the 2008 campaign, but who said life is fair?

Poor Lindsey Graham is running not to be nominated, but to hammer away that we need to send troops back to Iraq and Afghanistan and into Syria or they’ll send them to America.

“Senator, your thoughts on school choice?” “We must choose to go back and finish the job until all the terrorists are dead – that’s our only choice.” He looked beleaguered as only a missionary on his way to martyrdom can.

Bobby Jindal is still a “Who are you?” candidate. That he’s the governor of Mardis Gras doesn’t help. He’s the kid who’s always picked last when choosing up teams for sandlot baseball. He needs to make an incredible catch or knock one through Hillary Clinton’s plate-glass window or something otherwise he’s lost in the political fog.

Jim Gilmore and George Pataki are yesterday’s news. How many voters have come of age since either was last in office or done anything noteworthy? Sorry fellows, your time passed…a decade or more ago. And that suit, Gov. Gilmore? Perhaps they will be designated by the National Park Service as “living” historic landmarks, but that’s about it.

Rick Santorum is running to be a paid contributor on a cable news channel. Most likely it will be al Jazeera America since he wore out his welcome at Fox, and, frankly, because he’s an earmark-loving, pedantic bore. Go home, Senator – your seven children need a father, not a candidate.


Scott St Clair
About Scott St Clair 127 Articles
SCOTT ST. CLAIR: Earning a J.D. from the University of Puget Sound in 1975, Scott is a communications professional who has worked as a freelance journalist/writer as well as a political operative.


  1. The man in the plaid skirt doesn’t like Ted. Cruz is Number 2 in the latest poll. When non-RINOs get to see him, he rises in the polls, while the “Establishment” RINOs sink. Mayhaps the “Piper” can pick pickled peppers better than prognosticate ? In any case, the man in plaid and I are happy to see the distinguished governor of NJ bringing up the rear. As it were.

  2. Press hath no fury like itself when picking on their own…Meghan is taking some real heat by the lemming Trumpies.

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