GOP debate only skin deep

With reality TV star Donald Trump leading the field, should anyone have been surprised that the most memorable moment of the longest presidential debate in history was about appearances?

Trump, as expected, was put on the defensive over his comments last week about Carly Fiorina‘s looks — “Look at that face! Would anybody vote for that?” Fiorina, the former CEO of Hewlett-Packard, said Trump’s comments offended all women. Trump, who had argued he was referring to her persona not her visage, made a different observation under the glare of 20 million viewers last night. “I think she’s got a beautiful face, and she’s a beautiful woman,” he said.

Trump turned his schoolyard ways instead toward Sen. Rand Paul, who caught the ire of the politically raw billionaire after ramping up his attacks on The Donald in recent weeks. “I never attacked him on his looks, and believe me, there is plenty of subject matter right there,” said Trump.

Since Richard Nixon sweated away the White House in a televised debate in 1960 against a telegenic Massachusetts senator, campaigns have understood the power of the picture in shaping successful campaigns. It’s all about the optics, and Wednesday night’s debate on CNN at the Reagan Presidential Library had plenty to look at.

One of the most striking moments was just before the main event, when the 11 top-tier candidates walked out from the green room to join the four junior varsity members who didn’t make it to the grown-ups’ table (though the sobriquet is debatable) for a photo-op. The overhead CNN camera showed the men walking together in groups of two or three chatting with each other while Fiorina was in the middle by herself with a halo of several yards between her and the guys in front and behind. Though no one mentioned it on-air, it’s fair to think women watching caught the juxtaposition.

As for the debate itself, with three hours to split among the 11 candidates, there was plenty of space to ask and make salient points. And at several junctures they did, with Sen. Marco Rubio pointedly explaining he speaks Spanish on the campaign trail to honor his roots, and John Kasich giving a thoughtful response to the pact with Iran over nuclear weapons, which he opposes but said he’d see how that country responds to its responsibilities.

But the presence of TV reality star Trump time and again seemed to have everyone playing to the camera. “We don’t need an apprentice in the White House – we have one right now,” Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker said, referring to Trump’s former show on NBC.

The silliness extended to the moderators, who asked less than piercing questions such as what each candidate’s Secret Service name would be if elected. Jeb Bush, whose laid-back style has been fodder for attacks by Trump, responded, “Eveready,” after the battery. “High energy,” he said, smirking, which drew a low-five from Trump.

When one questioner noted a movement to replace Alexander Hamilton on the $10 bill with a woman and asked who each candidate would nominate, the answers were more about responses that might serve them well in the polls. Two of them offered foreigners (Bush said Margaret Thatcher, while Kasich nominated Mother Teresa); others said they’d want their wife (Mike Huckabee), mother (Ben Carson), or daughter (Trump); and four picked historical figures, though it was unclear if Chris Christie meant Abigail Adams or Wednesday Addams when he said “the Adams family has been shorted in the currency business.”

Maybe for the four candidates who had the stage to themselves before the main event should be grateful they could address topics of substance. Then, again, the first four questions were about a candidate who wasn’t there: Trump. Seems he’s everywhere.




Rep. Aaron Michlewitz, who chaired a hearing on regulating ride-sharing companies on Tuesday, says the bill that eventually emerges from committee will probably change taxi regs as well. He talks of leveling the playing field. (State House News)

Gov. Charlie Baker and Boston Mayor Marty Walsh take the temperature of their (friendly) political relationship. (MassLive)

Senate President Stanley Rosenberg tells Worcester officials he favors high-speed rail service to their city. (Telegram & Gazette)

Black Mass pumped $20 million into the Massachusetts economy, according to the Motion Picture Association of America. That would mean Bay State taxpayers pumped $5 million into the pockets of the show’s producers through the state’s film tax credit. (MassLive)


The Boston Redevelopment Authority and some community leaders are at odds over the agency’s plan to renew the designation of a number of Boston neighborhoods as “blighted,” a legal characterization that gives the BRA leeway in advancing redevelopment but is at odds with the multimillion-dollar condos that now line the streets of the South End, Charlestown, and other targeted sections of the city. (Boston Globe)

Worcester residents favor an athletic complex at an abandoned Wyman-Gordon property now owned by Warren Buffet. (Telegram & Gazette)

The Quincy Housing Authority will allow residents with pit bulls, dobermans, and rottweilers to keep them but will ban anyone from owning one of those breeds in the future. (Patriot Ledger)


Revenues dip slightly at the Plainridge slots parlor. (South Coast Today)


A 14-year-old Texas boy who was arrested after he brought a homemade alarm clock to show a science teacher has been invited by President Obama to bring his invention to the White House. The incident raised concerns that Ahmed Mohammed was targeted because of his religion and his name. (New York Times)

Farah Stockman asks why gun control and the carnage firearms disproportionately exact in black neighborhoods aren’t on the agenda of the Black Lives Matter movement. (Boston Globe)


Boston City Councilor Charles Yancey and challenger Andrea Campbell meet for an at-times spirited radio debate, their first joint appearance since Campbell’s first-place finish in last week’s preliminary election. (Dorchester Reporter)

As the campaign season kicks into gear, Boston City Councilor Michelle Wu tries to make amends with liberal political groups for her January 2014 vote for Bill Linehan as council president. It appears to work in the Back Bay, but not so much in Jamaica Plain. (Boston Globe)

Hillary Clinton lightens up in an interview with (faux) Donald Trump. (Tonight Show).

Tom Brady backs Trump. (Associated Press)


Median income ticked up slightly in Massachusetts from 2013 to 2014, but social service providers say low-income households are feeling even more strapped, largely because of high housing costs. (Boston Globe)

The owner of the Wollaston Theater in Quincy, which hasn’t shown a movie in 12 years but is on the National Register of Historic Places, says he will tear down the landmark building after this winter’s heavy snow left it structurally unsound. (Patriot Ledger)

Thousands of Blue Cross Blue Shield employees fanned out across the state to perform community service projects, including the refurbishing of an elementary school playground in Lawrence. (Eagle-Tribune)

It took $13 million to build the Weylu’s restaurant in Saugus and it will take $250,000 to tear it down. (The Item)

In other iconic news, Girl Scouts of Eastern Massachusetts is raising the price of a box of cookies from $4 to $5, the first increase since 2007. (GateHouse News Service)

Take a look inside an Airbnb hostel in San Francisco: A bunk bed and 30 roommates for $1,800 a month. (KPIX)

A new survey shows donations to medical colleges rose nearly 8 percent in 2014. (Chronicle of Philanthropy)

The state Task Force on Unemployment Inequality takes the measure of the problem at a community forum in Roxbury. (Bay State Banner)

Last winter’s surge in claims is sending home insurance rates up. (MetroWest Daily News)


Students, faculty, and staff protested tuition and fee hikes at the University of Massachusetts Board of Trustees meeting, saying the increases will dig an “even-deeper well of student debt.” (State House News Service) Meanwhile, the system does a record-breaking amount of fundraising. (Boston Business Journal)

Mayor Marty Walsh wants to revamp the school selection process in Boston with a streamlined single application that families can use to apply to district and charter schools. (Boston Globe)


The state auditor’s office’s looks into MassHealth spending and finds $4 million in improper claims for wheelchairs and other medical devices. (Boston Business Journal)

The five states with the biggest drop in uninsured residents all did the same thing — expanded Medicaid. (Governing)


Is Gov. Charlie Baker having a Cape Wind moment with his proposal to bring hydroelectricity from Canada? (CommonWealth)

Kinder Morgan officials meet with New Hampshire residents who would be affected by the company’s proposed natural gas pipeline. (Eagle-Tribune) Mass Power Forward is a coalition of environmental groups mobilizing opposition to the pipeline. (Salem News)

US aims to cut food waste in half by 2030. (Time)

Holbrook officials are trying to determine their next step after the state rejected a proposal to site a transfer station in an industrial park near the Randolph line. (The Enterprise)


A Brockton woman trapped two children, aged 10 and 11, in her home until police arrived after she caught the pair trying to steal a Playstation. (The Enterprise)

A man in his 20s was shot to death just after noon Wednesday in a supermarket parking lot in Boston’s Mission Hill neighborhood in what police say was a targeted killing. (Boston Herald)


The bloodletting in the newspaper business continues as New York’s Daily News laid off a number of people, including its nationally recognized sports columnist Mike Lupica. (New York Times)

Johnny Depp‘s comments at Tuesday’s Black Mass premiere that Whitey Bulger has good sides, too, have infuriated some relatives of Bulger’s victims. (Boston Globe)

In F-bomb tweets, Ann Coulter accuses the GOP candidates of pandering to Jews. (Haaretz)

WBUR runs a cool drone video of Gloucester.