Something seemed to be missing at the GOP debate in Iowa: anger. Anger that any given candidates views were being misrepresented by moderators or competitors, and gumming up all that laser-focused ambition that is the fuel of anyone who makes it to this stage of a campaign. Even if quite a few more have made it this far than is normally the case.

Bush was more relaxed. Rand Paul was more relaxed. Everyone on the main stage was more relaxed. Ben Carson has been relaxed for a while now. So relaxed that his once-wonderful run is now closer to the end than many thought it would have been a few short months ago.

Even Ted Cruz was not quite the flamethrower he usually tends to be. On the debate stage and in the halls of Congress. Is New Hampshire to blame? Is that who candidates were really talking to?

Or did people know about the Rasmussen poll that was released on Friday? Had rumors filtered into their campaign teams? That What’s-his-Face was still riding high with GOP voters despite his no-show? Perhaps riding high is not an appropriate turn of phrase. Perhaps inevitability is. Just about three quarters of GOP voters seem to see Trump’s nomination as inevitable. Or at least very likely.

If it was up to the usual caucus goer – or the usual GOP primary voter – this would be a very different story. But reasoned arguments – such as those heard in Iowa – do not resonate with angry voters. Especially when candidates try and appropriate their anger after flip-flopping, like Rubio on immigration. Who at the same time still tried (had to perhaps under Kelly’s questioning) justify why he co-sponsored the amnesty bill in the Senate. You almost felt that Marco and Jeb are starting to like each other again as they go back and forth on the issue.

Cute, but not much for a Trump supporter to identify with. So, the question is, will they turn out? Are a wave of former non-participants in the primary process as mad as they seem to be, and will they take action by actually participating? Trump’s team seems convinced of this. And the Rasmussen poll seems to give them the reason to be so convinced. Or at least to suggest that most GOP voters think Trump supporters will swamp the results. And that is one way of defining inevitable.

After making the final decision to skip the GOP debate this week, and disregard Megyn Kelly, Trump opted to hold a fundraiser for our veterans instead. Trump began the donations with a cool $1M out of his own pocket. The cause is nothing short of admirable, but there’s a short list of reasons to skip the debate this week.

For some, it’s a big problem that Trump is “Scared” of FOX journalist, Megyn Kelly, and it seemed fearful to walk away from the debate. Consequently, some Republicans fear that if he can’t confront or handle Megyn Kelly, how could he handle ISIS, China, and forgein affairs as POTUS?

On the other hand, it’s not a secret that Trump isn’t a fan of the media. By skipping the debate, he takes control of his own headlines by doing something that benefits the brave individuals who are the backbone of this homeland.

In the 2012 election, it was super discouraging to hear so much about social issues, over economic issues and the treatment of our veterans. I’ll never be convinced that the legalization of gay marriage is more important that taking care of the people who sacrificed their lives to protect this country. So in hopes that the real reason for skipping the debate this week was really for the veterans, Trump can do no wrong. There’s nothing bad to say about someone who wants to lead this country who is putting the very people who defend it first.

Iowa matters if you really need a win or a surprise, but it’s New Hampshire that has had the much better track record of picking GOP winners. So there’s high-fives and maybe a toast or two with Biff and Scooter celebrating that Jeb Bush has suddenly surged in the Granite State. At least according to one outlying poll by Emerson College, Jeb is now in 2nd place at 18% behind Trump who is still sitting pretty at 35%.

It’s one poll only, and an outlier compared to other samplings, but it could signal some final shuffling of preferences among the pragmatic voters of New Hampshire. Is the old-fashioned attack apparatus brought creaking but finally functional and into action by the GOP elite starting to have an effect? The emerging wisdom of this campaign has been that attacks on Trump tend to backfire fairly quickly. Could this finally be changing? With Trump at over a third of voters and almost double Jeb in this poll – never mind the others where Jeb’s numbers are closer to a sampling error – are the attacks on Trump capable of producing serious damage?

Or will any damage that Trump suffers be entirely of his own making? Like skipping the Iowa debate. Assuming, of course, that his no-show does not prove instead to be a brilliant tactic. At this point, it appears to be a mistake. But almost every commentator has been wrong about Trump’s tactics so far.

The other interesting fact, is Massachusetts seemingly constant need to comment on politics in their neighboring state. Chris Christie polled 5% despite an endorsement by the Boston Herald, and Emerson College is located right in dowtown Boston. The communications-focused institution is of course perfectly suited to produce polls, but one wonders whether this need has more to do with the restrictive regulation-bound state’s worries about it’s low-tax, libertarian neighbor. Imagine the Commonwealth of Massachusetts with a tax structure put together in Concord. How would that poll in Boston?

As the media digests the Trump-no-show story, a more deadly game is being played out in Oregon. One which goes back a generation or so, or about a century if you want to be fussy. A wildlife refuge created by Teddy Roosevelt – the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge – is now the site of the death of a protester. Or crazed militia member if you feel ranchers and gun owners are scary people.

The Bureau of Land Management is at the center of this fight. Two of its local senior officials – a husband and wife team – seem to have a vindictive crusade against the Hammond family, around whose ranch and grazing rights this conflict evolved.

It’s interesting to note that the BLM was formed in 1946 by merging the General Land Office, and the Grazing Service. The BLM holds a quarter billion acres in Western states (including Alaska) and grazing rights of rancher’s cattle are a key element of what it was set up to do. But when you have a Federal Wildlife Reserve, then you also involve the US Fish & Wildlife Services, charged with protecting habitats of selected species.

Clearly, local BLM and FWS officials have wanted ranchers out of the area surrounding the Malheur Wildlife Reserve for some time now. And they have used legitimate and apparently somewhat dubious means to achieve this goal. The Hammonds resisted selling their ranch, and their life has been a living hell ever since.

The specific reason for the protest, is two fires started by the Hammonds – one in 2001 and one in 2006 – to burn invasive species and then to back burn and stop a lightining strike fire. They thought they had the right to do so. The BLM and FWS have relentlessly used the two fires as legal weapons to put the senior Hammond and his son in jail – twice.

The second time was as a result of an appeal by the federal government when the courts handed out sentences under the minimum required by the Anti-Terrorism & Effective Death Penalty Act, the AEDPA, of 1996. This law, put together quickly under the auspices of Senator Bob Dole, was a response to the Oklahoma City bombings of the Alfred P Murrah federal building carried out by McVeigh and Nichols in 1995.

To charge a rancher doing burns he and his family believed were his right under an act meant for terrorists shows the level of legal violence the BLM and FWS are willing to stoop to. Did the Bundy’s help by their occupation? Perhaps not. Most certainly not, if you are family of the victim of the recent shootout.

Perhaps the Hammonds would have had more luck if instead of ranchers they had been oil men. There are over 63,000 oil and gas wells on BLM land and they are undoubtedly a spectacular source of revenue for the federal government. Perhaps some of that BLM oil money made its way to the Malheur Wildlife Refuge. Either way, the Hammonds have lost just about everything in their fight with the BLM and FWS. It is likely a matter of time before they finally have to sell their beloved ranch to pay for legal bills and debts they still owe. Mostly to the federal government.

The point isn’t whether you like ranchers or you are a bird-watching vegan. The point is the eminent domain – whether legally it is quite that or not – that the federal government through the BLM, has used to bludgeon the Hammonds into submission. The legal ramifications of their story needs to be remembered and studied. If one has any interest in controlling the reach of the federal government and it’s crushing power.

It is fitting that as the Davos forum in the secluded luxury of Switzerland unites the global elites – even if some of the attendees would never self-identify as such – we have Rush Limbaugh pronouncing that the inevitable rise of populism in America has finally taken hold. Precisely as a result of Davos man and his (and her) way of viewing and shaping the world.

Trump’s rise seen through the prism of the post-iron-curtain world order is a logical imperative, according to this view. And while the end of history as preached by Fukuyama some 25 years ago has proven rather messy and, well, even historical, the fact is that increased connectivity, trade, and the global reach of large corporations is seen as far more sinister to their own local lives by many working families in America. Even if Davos benefits American corporations like no one else.

But holding onto your Coke and MacDonalds shares in your retirement funds is not a very convincing reply to a paretn of two kids who is about to have his or her job outsourced.

That’s a natural suspicion to have on the part of those whose jobs have been placed at risk. And wonks and pundits may occasionally – less so with each passing year it seems – worry what to do about displaced workers, but it is seen as inevitable collateral damage to an otherwise robust and worthy system of economics, and of politics.

But – as is the case with coders – what if the “bug” of disposable mid-skilled and high-skilled workers is, in fact, a feature of this program? What if increased investment in tech and connectivity is seen as a way to shift a wage and profit economy to the gig-and-even-more-profit economy? Where you don’t have A job, you have a series of little jobs that you scurry to gather up in competition with an increasing percentage of the world’s labor force who only need a laptop and a modem to compete with you?

Yes, that’s only part of the picture. Crushing regulation and high taxes do wonders at killing off jobs. So nowadays, we get the worst of both worlds. Ever increasing pressure to work harder for lower wages, and employers so bound up in red tape that they have no choice but to lay off full time employees and enter the gig economy – contracting out part-time help that sometimes delivers and sometimes doesn’t.

There are few safe harbors from this pincer-like crush on working families. But high-value professionals tend to do better in a gig economy, because we are not yet at the point where you will have your surgery done by remote control by an intern in Bangladesh. And lawyers will make sure that smart contracts need lots of lawyers to make them stand up in court. Or sue you to death if you actually dispense with their legal wisdom.

Is it any surprise then that many are drawn towards Trump in today’s world? Even if The Donald would be quite at home shaking hands, doing a little skiing, and checking out the Eurotrash nightlife. Like any Davos man worth his (or her) salt.

While islamo-fascism is a powerful phrase that has brought focus on the underlying ideology of islamic extremists in the Middle East and elsewhere, the connection between islamic extremism and marxism is also all too clear.

Consider Julio Pino, a Cuban-born professor of Latin American studies at Kent State in Ohio. Marxist liberation theory burns and seethes in this Ohio state employee – that may be stretching the definition a little but not by much – to a frightening extent. But hardly illogical, in terms of classic marxist thought.

Consider these remarks:

I apologize for not considering earlier that there is but one path to liberation – daily blows against the empire.

Or that his colleagues:

Study Latin America for the same reason Eichmann studied Hebrew – to better serve a rapacious, ravenous empire.

The UCLA PhD could be dismissed as a clown, but he is far more disturbing than a silly throwback to student protests nearly 50 years ago. By bolting islamic terrorism onto marxist liberation theory – and by implication guerilla tactics – you open up the possibility (the certainty) that drugs, violence and still-surviving marxist terror groups in Latin America like FARC could be co-opted into the islamic terrorist movement. Or at least provide weaponry, drug money, and support. To say nothing of America’s southern border and the destabilizing effect of drug cartels in Mexico. With or without El Chapo behind bars.

So while Islamo-fascism serves to strip the self-justifying crazed leftist rhetoric away from the terrorists – and more importantly from those who apologize for and justify their actions – the lure of using Bin Laden and Che Guevara as brothers in arms is real. Especially in Latin America, who have never run out of reasons to resent and attack America.

Latin America is not the Middle East. But for a significant number of latinos – especially in the Southern Cone – 9/11 provoked a revolting Schadenfreude in response to the terrorist attack on the towers. But not a crazed urge to join with groups like ISIL. There is a small minority, however, who already have made that connection. In places like the former government of Cristina Kirchner and her shadowy connections with Iran. Julio Pino would be – will be? has been? – listened to with devotion on the steps of the law faculty at the University of Buenos Aires, or in Uruguay, Brazil, Bolivia and elsewhere.

And in places where these sorts of perversions are also protected and incubated: North American universities.

Julio Pino has a a right to spew his venom from the safety of a well-paid professorship in an Ohio university. But the government and law enforcement agencies have – and are fulfilling apparently – a duty to monitor Assad Jibril Pino – his Muslim name seeing Julio converted to Islam – at least as closely as the IRS monitors conservative non-profit groups, for example.

If you want to sell a book, especially an ambitious sweeping analysis of a past president like Nixon, you better give good soundbite. And Douglas Schoen has done himself and his book proud: Trump understands the current silent majority and will end up – by implication – winning by a landslide. Like Nixon.

This does get our attention, does it not? The sweaty loser of 1960 – barely losing in reality – lives on in the media, as does Watergate. But according to Schoen, Nixon re-arranged the political map of America. Literally. Red and Blue states are his invention and the divisions so lamented by so many in 2016, are the result of his divide-then-unite strategies, that even Clinton paid attention to in the early 90’s.

Don’t blame Ted Kennedy for the economic mess of the late 70’s. Blame Nixon’s administration that expanded the federal government’s regulatory powers – especially in environmental matters – and proposed a national health care solution that would have gone beyond Obamacare. Had the Democrats – including Ted Kennedy – not opposed it.

Is Nixon’s revealed liberalism such a shock? Is it a contradiction that his surveillance-state co-existed with an expanded invasive regulatory state?

And while Schoen seems to say that Trump understands the current silent majority and its angers and frustrations, does that mean that Trump would be a surveillance-happy president? Poking into the private affairs of Americans on an unprecedented scale?

That seems a little less likely for one simple reason: Nixon was a lawyer and long-time politician forged in the worst of the Cold War. Trump is a businessman and an economic pragmatist. Despite the criticisms some of his bombastic policy positions are receiving.

The real question that Douglas Schoen raises is whether Trump really does have a grasp on the zeitgeist prevailing in America today. One where imported German phrases still raise an eyebrow. If Schoen is right, and Trump really does, then Ted Cruz and Marco Rubio, and the rest of the GOP field, are fighting a losing battle. To say nothing of Hillary and Bernie.

Why is it that when Governor Kasich starts speaking in the debates, one has an urge to head to the fridge and see if there are any snacks left over? He has a good legislative record – especially if you listen to Kasich – in both Washington and in his home state of Ohio. He’s a fiscal pragmatist who has helped balance federal budgets from key House committees, and has balanced state budgets as a sitting governor. His record on jobs is apparently quite good, even if a governor’s job is to let others – hopefully in the private sector – do the job creation without getting in their way.

So why is John Kasich so annoying? Could it be that his earnest anger comes off as whining? Incessant complaining that beats unbearably against one’s ears like the voice of a nagging parent? Perhaps his somewhat liberal social side is frustrated as a Republican. Especially as a Republican in 2016. And frustrated liberals can be very whiny.

Will he finally bow out? Soon? One assumes he knows his days are numbered. But Kasich really seems to have a need to vent, and what better place than in the race for the GOP nominee for president?

Ben Carson, does not whine. He makes the same joke about not getting enough time on the stage, and then in almost-too-painful-to-watch sotto voce style that was so compelling a few months ago, tries to show his grasp of foreign policy issues. Dr. Carson misses the point. It’s not what you have learned on the danger of an attack on the electrical grid, or a possible dirty bomb attack on the nation. It’s how you project both leadership and confidence.

A candidate’s understanding of the facts around any given issue, is just a starting point. You have to convince voters you are the candidate to lead the nation on any and all the relevant issues. Perhaps Carson’s problem is he is trying to overcome a perceived lack of experience in policy areas like terrorism. It may be that the good doctor should have followed his supporters’ advice and stayed true to his faith-based values in everything he says on the debate stage. And leave the quick command of the hard facts to candidates like Rubio and Cruz.

Because Ben Carson has slipped into a no man’s land of not being presidential like a Trump – like him or not – and not being effortlessly substantive the way Rubio and Cruz are. And Christie and Bush are, to be fair. So what course Carson plots will depend on a little soul searching. He should be careful how he exits this race. Ben Carson is a force for good – quite literally – and should not dilute that positive potential by hanging on for too long. Or by leaving suddenly and clumsily either. It’s a balancing act that matters more to him than to the other more politically experienced candidates.

With Trump’s generous lead in the GOP race, it seems that Trump is generally the the center of the debate surrounded by Crux, Rubio, Kasich and Carson scoring a few points here and there.

It was interestingly strange to observe Cruz and Rubio drop the gloves over who is the most anti-illegal immigration, when the most anti is standing beside the. And because these two are actually arguing over this, is a direct proof of the influence Trump has had over the GOP and adjustments in the face of the party.

Months ago, the fundamental GOP’s thought they could reel it in, and with the lead Trump has taken, and the ratings he’s pulling, the time has come to shape up or ship out.

Has the GOP Establishment finally adopted a Waiting-For-Trump strategy? In other words, don’t try to predict his fall. Don’t point out inconsistencies with regards to his past political leanings. Just wait. As if it was the lazy days of early August back in the summer of 2015.

Could a scandal, or an external event like the Paris and San Bernardino shootings, finally disrupt Trump’s long standing atop the polls? Yes, of course. But will it? Or does he have his bases – in every sense of the word – covered unlike Ben Carson who was decimated by surging concerns over terrorism?

Carson’s collapse in the polls was almost certainly not due to doubts about his character, especially in matters of his beliefs about islamic extremism. It was about his perceived ability to be Commander-In-Chief. With capital c’s. Trump does not have that problem. Much as his critics within the Republican Party truly believe that someone like Rubio, or even Bush and Christie, would be better chief executives. Enough voters trust Trump to be as tough as necessary should the situation require it.

In other words, the supposed political clown has turned out to be one shrewd politician. For now at least. Hence, a certain resignation perhaps is now evident. With a quiet hope that letting Trump be Trump is the only solution available to those who want Rubio as their next president. Having decided that Jeb really won’t be nominated.

What event could upend Trump’s campaign? Why bother trying to imagine it? Or suggest it, with negative push polling like Cruz is apparently doing in Iowa?

Unfortunately, the down side of the Waiting-For-Trump strategy is that if Trump does for some unforeseen reason stumble and Cruz takes his place, what then? One suspects that establishment Republican stalwarts would prefer a Donald Trump to a Senator Ted Cruz as their nominee. If they had to choose. And choose they might have to.

The birthers are back, and now it’s a Texas Senator who happens to have been born in Calgary, Alberta who’s in their sights. Alberta happens to be in Canada, of course, and even for some commentators on the right, who may not want Ted Cruz to be the nominee of the Republican Party, the birther issue is being used again as a weapon. Of course, there are also those on the left who have said they will launch legal challenges against Cruz as well. And Trump is also playing with the weapon, fondling the handle even as he keeps it in his holster. For now.

The Constitution uses the wording natural-born citizen as its stated requirement for eligibility for the offices of President and Vice President. And no, the Supreme Court has not ruled on what exactly is meant by those three words. Mainly because it has seen no reason to do so, as Senator Ted Cruz has had to clearly explain recently.

It seems that natural-born means born in the United States; or born abroad to one or more US parent. That is, someone entitled to US citizenship at birth. Which Ted Cruz qualifies for, by that opinion and that interpretation.

Will Florida Democrat Alan Grayson actually follow through with a legal challenge? And more importantly, will such a challenge go beyond the lower courts, rather than wither and die under the weight of settled law? Because if it does prosper somehow, there are a few legal minds – like UCLA professor Chin – chomping at the bit to show in court that Senator McCain, for example, having apparently received his US citizenship about a year after his birth by right of a Congressional grant of citizenship in 1937, is not a natural-born citizen. As a means of chastising Congress for bad policy more than anything else.

Legally, and almost certainly, constitutionally, so-called birthers will have a hard time denying Ted Cruz’s eligibility for president. But will they be able to damage his reputation despite that fact? Will suspicions be somehow sown about the geniuses of Senator Cruz’s nativeness? Or will it be so much silly talk?

Perhaps the Supreme Court should rule on the issue once and for all, but their leaving it to the lower courts seems to suggest they’ve long ago made up their collective minds on the issue.

Will it be over before March Madness even begins? Hard to answer that question in early January, but it seems reasonable to say no one really has any idea when it will be over. When a clear favorite – in terms of delegates not polls – emerges, is still a very uncertain prediction. Never mind who that favorite will turn out to be.

Narrow it down to three or four candidates like Cruz, Rubio, Trump, and perhaps one out of Carson, Bush, Christie and who-knows-who-else. And you risk missing out on an upset winner in Iowa.

One can analyze what strategies worked in the past, and which strategies seem to working for now. But what strategy will prove to be a winner and why it will is still hardly clear at this point.

But one question that lurks uncomfortably is how powerful will media coverage turn out to be? Carson was seen as doing an end run around mainstream media with his social media presence. Until weak performances at the debates started to finally hurt his numbers. And the debates are arguably where media has its greatest impact.

One of the reasons Trump has managed to be so successful is he is the media. Or at least, he has been and continues to be an important media figure who understands the medium of media if you will. No one uses media to pick a fight like Trump. Or to finish a fight someone else started. Whether that be other candidates or media personalities themselves.

So perhaps a key question will be who can spin the Iowa and New Hampshire results to their favor? Cruz is already being set up for a fall in Iowa: anything less than a solid showing there will have mainstream outlets running with the Cruz-peaked-too-early story.

Will that matter to voters? At some point, yes it may. Can Cruz use media – whether social or the debate stage or the archaic but still-relevant soundbite – to ensure media does not box him in after Iowa? Can Trump continue to dominate coverage, no matter how much he is attacked by GOP insiders? Can Rubio build on his growing list of endorsements to gather a growing number of delegates in Iowa, New Hampshire and South Carolina and head into March with the odor of victory?

Will anyone dare to predict what strategy will actually lead to the nomination in 2016?

When Marco Rubio trades media jabs with Chris Christie in Iowa as the voting draws nearer by the day, you know Christie is gaining a little more traction with voters each and every day. His debate performances have been funny and to the point and not at all lacking in confidence. And if Christie can somehow surprise in Iowa, New Hampshire will like him even more than they already do. Keeping in mind that he’s at best in the top three in the Granite State.

Can Governor Christie begin to put together a series of surprises, if not outright upsets? That would take some doing with his numbers in South Carolina barely in the single digits. People seem to like him and his favorable ratings are good. But he does not have the impact, or the funding at least at this point, to do serious damage to the leaders.

But that hasn’t stopped Rubio from trading barbs over his Senate attendance record and Governor Christie’s absences from his home state. It might just be a case of Rubio trying to hold onto his third place position in Iowa. Christie trails even Rand Paul with a Real Clear Politics poll average of 2.3% in Iowa. That’s less than half of Jeb Bush’s numbers.

In New Hampshire, the RCP average polling numbers put Christie and Cruz neck in neck at 11.5% and Rubio barely ahead at 12.8%. So the Rubio-Christie sparring certainly makes sense in light of what each is trying to get done in New Hampshire.

The problem is, how can Christie possibly leverage his executive experience in New Jersey in this, of all, campaigns? He’s got a businessman and a surgeon ahead of him, as well as that pesky polished senator from Florida. And most of the rest of the field in most of the primary states, to be honest.

People seem to be willing to listen to Governor Christie. To laugh at his jokes. And to appreciate his point of view. But they are not willing in any significant numbers, to vote for him. At least, not so far.