The Houston Debate: Analysis and Grades

Once again, after watching the debate live and again taped, and reading the transcript and given some time to ruminate not in the moment, its time to look at how the five candidates did upon reflection.  In alphabetical order:

Dr. Ben Carson

During the debate, I repeatedly asked myself, “Why is this guy on the stage?”  After watching it again and reading the transcript, nothing changed.  I think at this point everyone gets it- Ben Carson is a nice guy.  But, if that is all you have to run on besides whining about not getting any debate time and his occasional quotes from the Pledge of Allegiance or Preamble to the Constitution, this writer fails to understand the appeal.  My guess is that in the next debate, he’ll lift some lines from the Declaration of Independence.

Some candidates had their 15 minutes of fame, like Carly Fiorina, and gracefully exited the race when they faced reality.  Perhaps because Carson had 30 minutes of fame he believes he should hang in there longer.  Either that, or Trump slipped him a few million to stay in the race.  For someone who has no chance at the nomination and with each debate proving he does not belong on the stage, Ben Carson is quickly transforming from a “nice guy” to an obstinate embarrassment.  I always thought that Carson- given his background- would play a role in a Republican administration, possibly head of Health and Human Services.  After these debate performances, I sadly believe he is not even qualified for that position.  Surgeon general anyone?  Grade: F

Sen. Ted Cruz

But for Rubio’s performance, Ted Cruz would have been the undisputed winner of this debate.  It was a thing of beauty to witness the one-two blows landed at Trump by Cruz and Rubio who, at times, seemed to be feeding off of one another’s attacks.  There was more agreement than disagreement between Cruz and Rubio as the latter finally and thankfully realized the real threat to conservatism and the Party.

Whereas Rubio’s attacks were more emotional portraying Trump as not a friend of the common man, but as an exploiter and hypocrite, Cruz’ attacks were more cerebral.  Yet, the blows were no less effective.  Reminding people of Trump’s past seemed effective.  When he noted that if Trump gets the nomination he would have to appear on the witness stand in a fraud case, it was turning the tables on Trump and his “worries” about a court case involving charges of birtherism.  Again, using the Trump line of attack on Trump was genius.  Cruz methodically dissected Trump’s views like a skilled prosecutor taking down a star witness for the defense.

I believe the only time his attacks on Trump failed to really register is when he nuanced some statements and tried to draw a Rubio attack into the conversation.  But, they were far and few between.  One hopes that Cruz and Rubio have buried the hatchet now that South Carolina is behind them and they can both go on making their case while taking down Trump.  Grade: A

Gov. John Kasich

The good news is that he did not wave his arms about as if animated by an unseen puppeteer above the stage.  The bad news is that when he holds his hands in his pocket, he hunches over like Quasimodo, the famous hunchback.  Looks aside, I really do not think Kasich stood out in a good or a bad way.  This writer is getting a little tired of him prefacing statements with “look…” as if he is somehow the voice of reason.  Since it was gang up on Trump night, Trump’s lone sarcastic aside about Kasich and oil in Ohio was swatted away by Kasich with facts (when he said about 15,000 of the 400,000 jobs created in Ohio were energy industry jobs).

Kasich is also quick to remind us that he was in Congress when the last balanced budget was passed and a surplus occurred.  Of course, that was a different time and era altogether, but he plugs along with that line.  Several times he ran over his time trying to appear forceful.  For the life of me, I just cannot see this man sitting in the Oval Office come January 2017.  And please (!!)- we know your father was a mailman.  John Kasich did nothing to really hurt himself on that stage in Houston, but more importantly he did nothing to help himself.  You kind of get the feeling that even Ben Carson (when awake) realizes Kasich is no threat.  Grade: C

Sen. Marco Rubio

What would have happened had this Marco Rubio showed up three weeks ago?  The obvious question at this stage is: Too little, too late?  Running through a litany of Trump failures trying to portray him as not-as-successful as Trump portrays himself, the attacks just kept coming in virtually every sequence of questions despite the subject matter.  Many of the lines are memorable, but for my money pinning Trump down on health care and the “lines around the states” theme was most effective.  Cruz then grabbed the baton and attacked Trump on the “people dying in the streets” theme to portray Trump as using Democratic/liberal talking points.

After the debacle in New Hampshire, Rubio vowed that would never happen again.  If one rationally analyzes these debates, other than those few minutes against Christie, Rubio has shown that he is a good debater who thinks quick on his feet.  If only he had that opposition research at the ready against Christie (trust me- there is a lot to attack Christie on), who knows what might have been.

What this writer found most amusing and interesting was Rubio’s (and Cruz’) mocking attitude towards Trump.  Besides attempting to portray him as the snake oil salesman he is, this clearly got under his skin.  Trump at one point complained that too many questions were being aimed at him (comes with the territory when you are the front runner), insulted Hugh Hewitt, and people in the audience.  He was becoming unhinged and one suspects he welcomed commercial breaks.  In the aftermath of the debate, the Trump insults came hard and heavy including Trump throwing water around on the stage.  If Rubio’s purpose was to unveil Trump for the charlatan he is, he and Cruz were effective.  Again- too little, too late?  Grade: A+

Donald Trump

Undoubtedly, Trump will trot out some online poll from Drudge or Breitbart showing him the winner of the debate.  Yawn!  Anyone who watched that debate live, recorded, or reads the transcript realizes that Trump was the loser by far.  His feeble defense about his tax returns when pressed by the moderators and most effectively by Cruz fell on deaf ears.  His assertion that the mythical wall just got “ten feet higher” was negated by Rubio’s assertion that Trump would use illegal workers to build it.  The “lines around the states” exchange between Trump, Cruz and Rubio will go down in presidential debate history.

Unmasked, it became obvious that Trump is devoid of any real policy solutions to anything a President must confront in 2017.  Cruz even attacked his electability and when Trump trotted out his ace card- polls- Cruz effectively short-circuited even that attack.

Unfortunately, despite his dismal performance, it will make little difference to Trump’s supporters.  They will adoringly march to the polls on Tuesday and dutifully cast their votes for  Trump like little lemmings.  But make no mistake, Trump was left staggering somewhat if not in this nomination process, then in a general election campaign against Clinton.  We will see on Tuesday whether he lost any momentum, or whether Cruz and/or Rubio gained any momentum.  If voters react as they did in New Hampshire against Rubio based on his performance there, then obviously people are watching these debates and making decisions from them.  If there is any intelligence in the electorate, Trump should suffer but sadly this writer believes that not to be the case.  Hate to say this, but literacy tests look good right about now.  Grade: F