By the time of this writing there should about 19 different analyses of the ABC New Hampshire debate. All of them are littered with exceptional insight, so who the hell cares about what I think? The answer: My mother. If anyone else is interested as well, here you are…
Much to the detriment of the ABC News moderators, most candidates were able to make their final pitch to the New Hampshire electorate. The most important thing to note is that, unlike debates past, this one will certainly have an impact on the outcome of the election on Tuesday. This debate was critical for many candidates, and many candidates fell flat. As the Drudge Report says: “To Live and Die in New Hampshire”
Oh, how they have.
1) Ted Cruz had a solid performance. This is the Cruz we’ve come to expect during debates. He had direct answers and was not overly confrontational with any particular candidate. Cruz was largely able to win this debate by simple sitting back and watching Christie/Rubio, Bush/Trump destroy themselves. When answering questions, they were enormously substantive, especially on foreign policy. However, his best moment was when he told the story of his sister’s struggle with drug addiction. Pollster Frank Luntz tweeted about how the room fell utterly silent when Cruz was speaking. He was clearly emotional at this moment and it showed voters a side of him no one has ever seen. That knocked it out of the park for him. Powerful. Will definitely pay dividends.
2) Chris Christie should be listed as a loser here, because on substance that’s what he was. He only had a good performance in that he was loud and obnoxious and was largely able to take command of stage when he spoke. He was constantly attacking Marco Rubio, and it worked amazingly. He made Rubio look like the pre-programmed “bubble boy” that Christie has labeled him. The only problem for Christie is that he made himself look like a total jerk at the same time. His constant trashing of the office of Senator as a do-nothing no-consequence job is insulting to Constitutional Republicanism. I’ve mentioned this before, but his attempt to channel voter frustration with our current Congressional leaders has translated into having contempt for Congress as an institution. Christie succeeded in bleeding votes from Rubio, but he needed something much bigger than that to place well in the primary.
A quick note here: Christie’s answer on the question of abortion was completely abhorrent. Any politician who claims to be pro-life and in the same breadth also claims to support abortion under any circumstance, either fundamentally misunderstands the issue, or is just plain lying to you. Life is life and murder is murder. Christie proved that when push comes to shove, he’s not willing to fight for the unborn.
3) Jeb Bush, to my utter amazement, looked alive and ready to fight. This was his best performance of the campaign cycle. He went toe-to-toe with Trump and won. When Bush called out Trump on eminent domain, he did it with an understanding and command of the issue. Trump tried to slap him down by actually “shooshing” him, but Bush was the bigger man and the crowed booed Trump viciously. I’m usually not a fan of cheering or booing crowds, but in this instance it was helpful in condemning behavior unbecoming a presidential candidate. The only question for Bush is: Is it too late?
Marco Rubio clearly suffered tonight. Two weeks ago during the debate before the Iowa caucuses, the pressure was on Cruz to have a stellar performance. He wasn’t great, but he was good enough to hold his own, and he earned his victory in Iowa. Tonight was Rubio’s test. Unfortunately for him, he fell very far from expectations. He let Chris Christie troll him for the entire first half of the debate. He became so flustered that he seemingly forgot what to say. And when you don’t have something to say, you must say something. This resulted in Rubio literally repeating the same line about Barack Obama more than 5 times. It was painful. I almost thought that I had accidentally rewound the program by sitting on my remote. He rebound after the first intermission, but by then most people may have already tuned out. It cannot be stressed enough that Rubio was right on substance when he responded to Christie. The problem is that it never looked like that. Their exchange will be the only thing voter’s will remember going into Tuesday. That means Rubio’s momentum has been effectively halted, if not completely reversed.
Ben Carson had a bizarre opening. He was standing just off stage while other candidates walked passed, looking at him confusingly. He refused to go on when a stage manager signaled for him to go. It may turn out to be the fault of poor production on the part of ABC News, but at the time it looked like a move of protest by Carson. He opened the night by honorably refusing to trash Ted Cruz. Then he proceeded to do just that. It was really distasteful, especially given the fact that nothing Cruz’s campaign did or did not do would have made the slightest difference to Carson’s showing in Iowa. It’s been well documented on this site that Carson has run an extremely poor campaign. Many have even suggested that his campaign is nothing more than a glorified book tour. He’s raised more money than Ted Cruz and has burned through it at a faster pace than even Scott Walker did. Once again, Carson could not resist beginning each answer with a complaint about not being called on enough. It was funny the first time -in August. Now it’s very annoying and shamelessly predictable. His campaign is already dead, it’s just a matter of time before he announces it.
Donald Trump as always speaks with a breathtakingly misunderstanding of the issues. His supporters always claim that he speaks like a regular person. I beg to differ. Regular people don’t say “I mean, ya know, c’mon” to the irritating extent that Trump does. We also don’t pronounce our H’s like Y’s. Having said that, Trump’s biggest problem tonight was his exchange with Jeb Bush on eminent domain. This is a sensitive issue for New Hampshire voter’s and the more it’s brought up, the worse it becomes for Trump. When Bush challenged him on the substance, Trump became visibly angry and began his classical Trumpertantrum. While I have to say that this probably does not cost Trump a victory in NH, it will now be a much closer margin, which will cost him with the inevitability factor.
John Kasich needed to take over in a way that Christie did without looking like the rude, old jerk that he is. Seeing as how this is impossible for Kasich, he was a natural loser. After the debate, he was questioned by Bret Baier on how well he needs to perform on Tuesday in order to remain viable. Kasich dismissed the assertion that he’s bet everything on NH by giving some lame answer about a ground operation in South Carolina and Nevada… Yeah, riiiight.
Wrap Up: Donald Trump will still probably win NH, but my money says it won’t be by more than 5 points, which is actually loss for him. Ted Cruz bounces back into 2nd because of Rubio’s implosion. Rubio may very well place below Kasich, which seriously damages his viability. Kasich under performs and barely edges out 9%. Chris Christie hurt Rubio, but he took himself out at the same time. Finally, the world has moved on from the Bush family.