The first debate is in the books. Rather, the first debates are in the books.
I wasn’t a fan of Fox’s questions. They seemed to have an agenda against Trump. He is a clown and not a serious candidate, but their job is to be impartial, and they appeared to target him. They also asked each candidate individual tough questions aimed at tripping them up. That may be appropriate for an interview, but I think a debate should be an equal playing field where all the candidates are asked the same questions.
Here’s my take on last night.
Winners: Fiorina, Rubio, Carson, Christie
Carly Fiorina may not have been on the main stage, but her performance in the early debate was so strong that she is getting a ton of earned media and exposure to a wider audience. Her poll numbers are almost certain to rise. This is one tough lady and she takes apart Hillary Clinton better than any of the men.
Full disclosure: I am firmly in the Rubio camp. So while I may be biased, Marco Rubio once again impressed on a national stage. He had been fading in the polls after his announcement bump, but I expect him to surge back into top tier position. Rubio handled every question with ease, appeared presidential the entire time and continued to exhibit himself as a generational type of candidate akin to Kennedy and Reagan.
Ben Carson is a political novice, but he wasn’t intimidated last night. Personally, I’m concerned about anyone whose first run for political office is for president and I cannot see myself voting for him in the primary. But he certainly showcased his obvious intelligence (he’s a brain surgeon, duh), thoughtfulness and most of all, the man is likable. He doesn’t have the gravitas, but when you’re that likable, it goes a long way.
This is where most will disagree with me, but I was impressed with Chris Christie. The man isn’t afraid to tell you his honest opinion and doesn’t sugar coat his answers. That’s part of the reason Trump is doing so well. What impressed me the most was his honest and straight talk about entitlement reform. That’s always a touchy subject but give him credit for speaking the truth about it. In the fireworks between him and Paul, I actually agree with Paul, but Christie beat him on stage.
Didn’t impress but didn’t hurt themselves either: Walker, Kasich, Paul, Huckabee, Perry, Cruz
I was a little disappointed in Scott Walker early, but he did better in the second hour. I’m afraid he came across as a little boring and still not quite ready for prime time. He’s definitely running mainly on his impressive win record in a blue state, and not as much on the issues or the future. He didn’t hurt himself, though, and I expect him to stay in the top tier and continue to run very strong in Iowa.
John Kasich had a nice advantage in the hometown crowd packed with his devotees by the ORP. He was asked a tough question about his embrace of Obamacare’s Medicaid expansion and gave a response that will please the most moderate of the base. I don’t think he won over more conservative voters, but he isn’t going after those votes anyway. He kept his cool and didn’t take the bait when asked to go after Trump. And when Megyn Kelly tried to trip him up again on the issue of gay marriage, his response was his best of the night. He believes strongly in traditional marriage, but still can love and respect people who are gay. We can still be friends with people even when we disagree with them. That mirrors my feelings on the issue exactly. However, that’s not an issue that will decide this primary, and we didn’t get to hear anything from Kasich on foreign policy. He came across as extremely competent and likable but I’m not convinced it was a breakout performance.
Rand Paul is who he is. Much like his father, he has a certain small segment of rabid devotees who would follow him off a cliff. But he doesn’t have the charisma or the talent to attract many more people into his camp, and I am very wary of his dovish approach to foreign policy. You’re either a Paulbot or you’re not, and last night didn’t change that.
A lot of the pundits thought Mike Huckabee had a great night, but I wasn’t impressed. He can certainly roll out some nice quips and one-liners, but I still saw a candidate from the past on stage last night. But he already had a sizable enough following to keep him around 5th place or so, and I don’t think he did anything to lose it.
Rick Perry has a terrific record to run on and should be polling much higher but for some reason he’s not. Whether it’s his poor debate performances from 2012 or something else, I didn’t see much in the early debate that will change that.
Ted Cruz is a great debater and has a devoted following. He actually answered his questions extremely well. But the main concern with him will continue to be his divisiveness and polarization. Nothing he said last night addressed that. He didn’t do anything to lose support but didn’t attract any new people into his camp either.
Losers: Bush, Trump, Santorum, Jindal, Graham, Pataki, Gilmore
Does Jeb Bush really want to be president? He put me to sleep. He has none of the folksy likability that his brother does, that’s for sure. Simply by way of his warchest, he will remain in this race, which is a shame. I actually know very little about Jeb Bush and expected to be reassured by watching him in this debate. I was not. Boring, uninspiring, stiff and dull. I have real concerns if Bush is our nominee against Hillary Clinton. I really expect to see Bush dip a bit in the polls.
Donald Trump will continue to be a wild card. Though he made me laugh at times, he certainly does not have the temperament to be president and is not a serious candidate. He SHOULD take a dip in the polls for refusing to rule out a third party run. He SHOULD lose support for admitting that he corruptly used his money to buy politicians like Hillary Clinton without explaining how all of a sudden he won’t be corrupt anymore if elected. He SHOULD be held accountable for once again refusing to provide any evidence to another outrageous claim. But his followers have stuck with him thus far, and he will continue to receive huge coverage in the media. I put him in the losers category because he SHOULD have hurt himself, but who knows whether any of his supporters will actually abandon him or not.
Rick Santorum and Bobby Jindal are solid Republican leaders. I’d be proud to be a constituent to either one of them. But the rest of this field is just too strong for them to stand out and nothing last night changed that.
George Pataki failed to adequately explain why he deserves to be in this race.
Lindsay Graham? Please.
Jim Gilmore. Who?
Of course this is all just my opinion. Where do you agree with me? Where do you think I’m wrong? Sound off in the comments and let me know!