Here are my thoughts about the debate:
Marco Rubio had a great opportunity to build on his momentum out of Iowa…then inexplicably blew it. He didn’t seem prepared for the attacks from Governor Christie despite Christie telegraphing the attacks all week. I can’t explain what Team Rubio was thinking. The poor performance will be discussed on the Sunday shows and regurgitated on social media. Fortunately for Rubio, the Super Bowl will halt most political talk tomorrow, but this also works against any efforts to rebound from the poor performance and regain some momentum ahead of Tuesday’s primary.
Ted Cruz got a bit dinged up when the debate began when the moderators focused on the, for lack of a better word, opportunistic report sent out during the Iowa Caucus by Team Cruz that Ben Carson was suspending his campaign. Cruz tried to apologize, but undermined his own apology by trying to blame CNN for not immediately clarifying it’s report. Cruz should have allowed the apology to suffice, as Carson was able to counter that a clarification was available on Twitter within a minute of the CNN tweet. Cruz also looked smarmy when it became apparent he was willing to criticize Donald Trump behind his back, but not to his face. He did have a poignant moment when talking about how drug addiction affected his family. Even so, not a great night for Team Cruz. They’re probably looking to South Carolina as a better opportunity for them than New Hampshire anyway.
JEB! had a decent night, but it’s kind of late for him at this point. He finally stood up to Trump with some effectiveness on the eminent domain issue, but it’s unlikely to matter. Too little, too late…and it’s simply the wrong year for a dynastic candidate.
Speaking of Trump, I don’t see how he was hurt. If anything, he might benefit if some of Rubio’s vote is spread out among Christie, Kasich, Bush and Cruz. The so-called “revenge of the governors” might ultimately help Trump on Tuesday. He’s been leading in the polls by a fairly significant margin and is likely poised to win a state that’s pretty well-suited for his candidacy and message.
Governor Christie had a pretty good night by drawing a sharp contrast between himself and Rubio. He also had a pretty good line with “that’s not what leadership is, that’s what Congress is”. Christie is likely positioned to poach some of Rubio’s vote after the Senator fumbled the ball.
What can I say about Governor Kasich? He turned in his usual solid performance that would have probably put him in real contention for the nomination in 2012. Unfortunately for the Governor it’s 2016 and his message is unlikely to resonate with a frustrated Republican electorate chomping at the bit for an outsider to “release the Kracken” on anything and everything establishment. He may be rewarded for spending so much time in New Hampshire, but I don’t see him doing very well anywhere else.
Ben Carson is a brilliant surgeon and a nice man, but it just seems like he’s a complete afterthought at this point. He would make a great Surgeon General, but he’s not going to be president and should probably withdraw if he experiences a poor showing in New Hampshire. There’s no reason to think he’ll place high enough to justify fighting on.