Cresent Hardy and Niger Innis debated one another tonight at Temple Beth Sholom in an event sponsored by various civil and Jewish groups. The event was well attended, held in Temple Beth Sholom’s beautiful sanctuary. The organizers projected real time tweets from the audience as the debate progressed, which was a lot of fun.
The contrast between the two candidates in terms of delivery, style and execution could not be more stark. Innis, a frequent talking head on conservative broadcast media, was prepared, polished and engaging. In contrast, Hardy wasn’t polished. Innis continually attacked Hardy, some of the attacks utterly absurd, but, as a debate tactic this was extremely effective. Innis kept Hardy on defense, forcing Hardy to explain and defend himself throughout the night. The first rule of these kinds of debates is that if you’re explaining and defending, you’re losing. And Cresent Hardy was losing tonight. A lot.
That said, Hardy was authentic (even though I often disagreed with him). His answers were honest and too detailed. Innis, who is more experienced in sophistry, preyed on Hardy’s candor by using it to keep him on the defensive.
While I think that substantively Niger Innis is a a pandering fake, tactically there is no question in my mind that he won this debate. In future debates, Hardy needs to be better prepared, better coached and more polished.
In his closing remarks, Hardy did land a direct blow by noting that Innis has only voted four times since 2000, contrasted with Hardy’s actual years of service. This was very effective and very powerful. But this was too little, too late.
The recap below doesn’t cover everything, just a highlight reel of sorts (of what was interesting to me).
The nastiest parts of the debate came when each candidate brought up the finances of the other. Hardy attacked Innis’ personal finances, questioning whether they disqualify Innis from serving. Innis, having attacked Cresent Hardy personally all night on virtually every issue, became morally indignant that he was being personally attacked. Another moment of unintentional humor. The truth is that Niger Innis’ finances display a decade long patter of evading and avoiding personal responsibility. Innis may be a skilled public speaker, but his financial irresopnsibility and incompetence should raise the eyebrows of voters. Innis even compared himself to the regular Nevadan hurt by the recession, but Innis’ financial problems predate the recession by many years.
These problems date back more than a decade to when he lived in New York City and include a $8,968 IRS tax lien in 2005, a $11,430 New York tax lien in 2003, a $9,953 IRS lien in 2002 and the largest one, a $57,255 tax lien in New York in 2003. They also inlcude a $1,680 judgment in a suit by Ford (his car was repossessed), a $1,047 judgment with AMEX, $9,518 with his New York City landlord (he was evicted) and a $9,953 judgment after he defaulted on his student loans.
Evictions? IRS tax liens? Civil judgments? What a winner! This guy’s credit is so pathetic he probably couldn’t qualify for a used car loan, and yet he wants us to elect him to a position where he gets to vote on the largest budget in the world? In the immortal words of John McEnroe, Mr. Innis, you cannot be serious!
The absurdity of electing Innis to Congress reminds me of that great, old P.J. O’Rourke quote, “Giving money and power to government is like giving whiskey and car keys to teenage boys.” Niger Innis campaigning on fiscal responsibility is like Lindsay Lohan giving a seminar on sober living. Then, Innis invited the audience to Google him. Given his financial history, this raises the serious question of whether Niger Innis has googled Niger Innis.
Anytime that Hardy brought up Innis’ finances, Innis countered with a one-two punch of righteous indignation of the “politics of personal destruction” and references to Hardy’s corporate bankruptcy.
Republican Assemblyman Cresent Hardy is running for Congress as a small business owner who “knows what it takes to create jobs, make payroll, and meet a budget,” according to his campaign website.
But after 20 years in business, in January 2012, his Mesquite-based construction company, Legacy Construction & Development, Inc., declared Chapter 11 bankruptcy with 73 creditors owed more than $8.1 million.
Hardy on Tuesday blamed the recession, which knee-capped the construction industry, shrinking his workforce from more than 300 in 2006 to 70 in 2010. He said the company is paying all its debts while under reorganization. Last year he sold the business to his partner to focus on his campaign to unseat U.S. Rep. Steven Horsford, D-Nev.
“All the vendors have been paid back ahead of schedule,” Hardy said in an interview, although he added that a handful of vendors have yet to be paid in full. “The key thing for me is the jobs we saved.”
Innis effectively pounded Hardy on this bankruptcy, presenting it as a personal bankruptcy and a personal moral failing by Hardy. Hardy did not effectively counter, which is unfortunate, given that this is an outrageous false equivalency by Innis.
First, Hardy’s bankruptcy wasn’t personal, unlike Innis’ problems. Second, Hardy’s corporate bankruptcy is a single instance whereas Innis’ problems are an established pattern of irresponsibility over several years, including a failure to pay his taxes. Third, is it really that remarkable that, in the wake of the recession, the debts of a Clark County construction company were restructured (not discharged)?
All of these distinctions were lost in the debate because Innis kept throwing punches and Hardy kept taking them.
The candidates were asked for their positions on marriage equality, as well as their thoughts on the Nevada Republican Party’s removal from the platform of opposition to marriage equality.
Recall that Hardy absurdly compared ENDA to racial segregation.
In some expert-level pandering, Cresent Hardy affirmed that he believes marriage is exclusively between a man and a woman based upon his “righteous” religious beliefs received from “Elohim above.”
Surprisingly, Innis lead out with a response that praised the advocates of marriage equality. Innis also said that changing the platform was the right thing to do. Then, when pressed, like Hardy, he too took a position against marriage equality. Basically, Innis took every side of the issue. He is for the change to the Nevada Republican Party platform. He admires the advocates of marriage equality. But he’s also against marriage equality. This was an extraordinary act of mental contortion that would leave even Mayor Quimby in awe.
Of course, the candidates were asked about Israel generally, and John Kerry’s apartheid comments specifically. In the course of this discussion, Niger Innis made the absolutely embarrassing assertion that the Palestinians, whom Innis referred to as “Israeli Arabs,” were the “freest” Arabs in the world, proving that either Innis has never heard of the Gaza Strip, or, more likely, that he is just a shameless panderer willing to say any outrageous thing to any group depending on what is to his advantage in the moment.
If Innis gets the nomination, expect Democrats to be all over this video footage.
In a moment of unintentional humor, Niger Innis, who was an outspoken supporter of Cliven Bundy’s armed insurrection, claimed that he was a key player in “defusing” the situation in Bunkerville. This is the kind of unflinching bullshitting that comes so effortlessly to Niger Innis. One week, he lends political support to those who are ratcheting up tensions and an armed stand off, and the next, when convenient, the’s the guy who is the peacemaker.
Cresent Hardy did flat out state that Steven Horsford is fabricating allegations that militia members are running armed check points in Bunkerville. Given that I haven’t seen any pictures or videos of these checkpoints, I tend to share Hardy’s skepticism.
Innis has borrowed a meme from Sue Lowden’s campaign against Mark Hutchison, namely that Hardy voted for dozens and dozens of tax increases. This was one of the few retorts that Hardy handled well. In his defense, Hardy brought up the “marriage tax” which is really just a $25 fee for a license, asking Innis whether it would be fair for taxpayers to pick up the cost instead of the actual users. Innis didn’t have a response. While both Hardy and Hutchison are legitimately vulnerable for voting for tax increases, Innis and Lowden over reach by mischaracterizing some fees, like the marriage license fee, as a tax increases.
The immigration discussion was mostly unremarkable. Cresent Hardy did state he supports a path to citizenship for those brought here while children, which is a level of pragmatism that is sadly often absent in these red meat primary debates.
I walked into the debate less than enthused about either candidate. I am troubled by the fact that both are 20th century social conservatives. However, after tonight, I am absolutely convicted that Niger Innis is a masterful bullshitter who will say anything to anyone to get elected. Within the same moment he will take all sides of an issue. He is a shameless panderer with a horrible personal financial history. He has no idealogical core. He is rudderless. He is bad for the Republican Party and I sincerely hope he does not get the nomination.