Fiorina and the Fine Art of Rhetoric

Last night, I had a volunteer commitment at 6:30 p.m., so I was only able to catch the very end of the GOP debate live. The Oilman dutifully recorded it for me, however, and, this evening, I watched it in its entirety.

May I first just say what a pleasure it was to watch 11 would-be presidents orate, declaim, harangue and — every now and then — quip about a spectrum of issues both serious and silly? As heavy a heart as I so often have when I pray about or ponder the future of the United States, the logophile in me still revels in skillful rhetoric and equally delights to mock clumsy verbal constructions. Because both were in plentiful supply throughout the debate, I count the hours I spent glued to the television well-spent, even though I’m still unsure which of the Republican candidates I endorse.

As a sheer rhetorician, Carly Fiorina dazzled me most, with Marco Rubio a close second, but Chris Christie climbed unexpectedly on my chart in this regard, as well. Inevitably, when I paused or rewound the DVR to transcribe a quote word for word, it came from one of the three of them.

These candidates speak in complete sentences! If so seemingly small and insignificant a habit in any way indicates a well-ordered mind — and I think it does — then this is actually not an irrelevant qualification for the presidency. They also exude a sense of style; that is, they have charisma.

Ted Cruz and Mike Huckabee also exhibit an impressive command of language, which they employ in the service of both passion and principle, but they were offered very few opportunities to speak and were less zealous about grasping opportunities for themselves.

By contrast, Scott Walker, Jeb Bush and Ben Carson, while gentlemanly, seem dull. Rand Paul is scrappy and John Kasich, cloying.

Donald Trump, of course, is a babbler and, often, a shameless imitator. (That he is also an egomaniacal and narcissistic demagogue has already been said.) He surely knows how to play to a crowd by appropriating a few compelling talking points from his fellow candidates and combining them with obnoxious taunts and insults, but, for all his boasts to the contrary, he exhibits little originality.

Presidential campaigns are long and it’s still early. As Fiorina herself put it, the character of each candidate will be tested over time and under pressure. Still, it’s not for nothing that she’s drawing comparisons to Margaret Thatcher and earning plaudits for her masterful articulation of the issues.

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