First, let me state up front that I disagreed with the manner in which the top candidates were chosen. Simultaneous debates of 9 on one stage and 8 on another with identical questions would have been better. But, we have to deal with the hand we were dealt. Clearly, if there had to be a winner in the early debate/forum, Carly Fiorina was the victor. Whether that gets her to the next level is debatable.
As for the format of different questions to different candidates, it had its advantages and some disadvantages. Instead, many of the questions seemed designed to instigate fireworks. In a sense, that is good because these are criticisms and attacks Clinton will use. With all that being said, this is my take on each candidate’s performance:
Rick Kasich: He obviously benefited from a bump in the polls given his late entry into the fray because I neither saw nor heard anything that pushed me in his direction. He defended Medicaid expansion and got some applause from the hometown crowd, but many of his answers were not memorable.
Chris Christie: He, along with Paul, probably delivered the best give-and-take moment of the debate and it became a real debate. He also had a disagreement with Huckabee over Social Security. I am a fan of privacy, but what good is privacy if you are lying under the rubble of a building? In the Christie-Paul argument, I have to side with Christie. And while Paul tried to counter with the “hug” comment, Christie’s response was better. Will this make me pull the lever for Christie? Not very likely. But it shows he’s not going anywhere.
[mc_name name=’Sen. Rand Paul (R-KY)’ chamber=’senate’ mcid=’P000603′ ]: He certainly seemed the most combative regarding his past stances on the origins of ISIS, with Christie over the PATRIOT Act, with Trump over contributions and “the pledge.” He has nowhere to go but up; this will not do it except among his faithful.
[mc_name name=’Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL)’ chamber=’senate’ mcid=’R000595′ ]: He had a good stance on immigration and the fact that he pointed to the future, not the past, a subtle blow at Bush but a bigger one at Clinton. Still, I do not think that he distinguished himself enough and seemed absent at times. It is kind of saddening to see his star fall so much given the promise. He has to do something to right the ship and maybe Simi Valley will be more to his liking.
[mc_name name=’Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX)’ chamber=’senate’ mcid=’C001098′ ]: We know he is the most conservative on that stage, so we really did not learn anything new other than he would move the US Embassy to Jerusalem. Again, he did not say anything that would necessarily move the needle in his direction, but he remains a viable option.
Ben Carson: Humor is always appreciated and he held that until the end. There is an appeal there, but whether that translates into a presidential nomination is another story altogether. He seemed like he lost his footing at times. Like Christie, he did nothing to move the needle in his direction.
Mike Huckabee: No one questions his conservative bona fides but he seems too eager to continuously stress them and go one step further. A good talker, but I just can’t see him being the GOP standard-bearer, let alone President.
Scott Walker: He did not hurt himself, but neither did he greatly help himself. He said nothing that made him stand out. It was a safe performance and the fact he answered questions and criticisms without hesitation shows that maybe he is growing more comfortable as a candidate.
Jeb Bush: Like Walker, a fairly safe performance. He was asked about past comments and positions on Common Core and immigration and stood his ground and explained himself (by the way, I think Rubio’s response was better regarding Common Core). Before Trump, it was Bush and Walker. He didn’t slip, but did he rise?
Donald Trump: Obviously when the spotlight is not exclusively on Trump, his performance is less. The opening question from Megyn Kelly elicited a veiled attack on her, not political correctness. Contrary to his ego, immigration was an issue before he entered the race. And he really could not explain his past contributions to Democrats. Bottom line: Donald Trump got dinged up a little, but I expect him to rule himself the winner. Donald Trump without the bombast is just another person on the stage and he appeared a little out of his league.