Well, the second primetime GOP Presidential Primary debate is in the can. None of the candidates really landed a knockout punch, and none had a moment or line that will likely doom their campaign. That said, there were some clear winners and losers from tonight’s debate, and we are here to separate the two. Let’s get right to it!
1. Carly Fiorina – Fiorina didn’t walk away completely unscathed as she did in the first debate, when she was on the JV stage, as Trump landed some substantive punches on her record at HP. However, she clearly showed that she belonged on the big stage, and had probably the most memorable moment of the night, stinging Trump on his attempted dodge about his remarks on her face, and forcing the alleged alpha male to eat his humble pie. Fiorina was also able to grab an outsized piece of air time, given her standing in the polls, which showed the personal magnetism she clearly conveys through a TV screen.
2. Chris Christie – Christie didn’t get a ton of screen time, but made the most of what he had. He was one of the first candidates on screen and had a warm and funny exchange with Carson that made people remember what made him a star in the GOP prior to the 2012 elections. He also was able to interject himself into a number of pertinent discussions and scored surprising points during the discussion of Planned Parenthood. He was also the only candidate on stage who was able to get under Fiorina’s skin a bit. Christie didn’t win outright, but he may be the best at making a lot of impact on a crowded stage.
3. [mc_name name=’Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL)’ chamber=’senate’ mcid=’R000595′ ] – Another candidate who didn’t have a ton of screen time, but had a couple of meaningful exchanges with Trump in which he came out looking well. In particular, the anecdote he told about his father teaching him to love America by speaking Spanish because it was the only language he knew was the sort of poignant 30 second story that only [mc_name name=’Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL)’ chamber=’senate’ mcid=’R000595′ ] can pull off. Rubio also won the third hour of the debate with a great answer that stole the entire global warming sideshow. Note to anyone on [mc_name name=’Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL)’ chamber=’senate’ mcid=’R000595′ ]’s team who might be reading this, however: stop making jokes about the water. They’re kind of cringe inducing.
1. Jeb Bush – Jeb Bush had one job tonight, and it was to land a meaningful punch on Donald Trump, and he failed. This is most inexcusable because he had two very easy softball opportunities. When Trump confronted him about his “women’s health” remarks – which he had already explained by saying that he misspoke. But he was summarily unable to access that explanation when Trump pressed him on it. He also had a great opportunity to step on Trump about Trump’s remarks about his wife, and he flubbed it. He scored a minor victory in the fracas about the casinos in Florida, but it wasn’t nearly enough. Bush continually gets pitted against Trump and he is just ill suited to confront Trump head on.
2. Ben Carson – Carson didn’t have anyone land a substantive punch against him, but he was nonetheless exposed as a guy who still has not really thought about the issues. He stumbled and stammered in response to questions about his tax policy and the minimum wage, and essentially answered that he still didn’t know what he thought about those issues. Ben Carson was still nice and polite, but he looked not at all Presidential and his grasp of the issues was clearly lacking in comparison to most of the other candidates on stage.
3. John Kasich – Kasich continued to do his best Bob Dole Jr. impression, by far the most dour and gruff person on stage. He attempted to angrily interrupt repeatedly in discussions that didn’t concern him to basically say that GOP voters are unrealistic in their expectations. I am at a total loss as to what John Kasich is doing on these debate stages that might even possibly motivate someone to want to vote for him.
Impossible to Quantify
1. Donald Trump – I’ve long ago stopped trying to predict what will or won’t affect Donald Trump’s standing in this race. As usual, his answer to every question is that he is leading in the polls. He out of nowhere took a petulant and pointless swipe at [mc_name name=’Sen. Rand Paul (R-KY)’ chamber=’senate’ mcid=’P000603′ ]’s standing in the polls (and his looks) in the response to his first question. He came off as the clear loser in at least two exchanges with Carly Fiorina (and the narrow winner in one other). His body language when confronted on the Florida casino deal was purely Joe Pesci in My Cousin Vinny. On the other hand, he got the better of Jeb Bush, which seems to be his only goal in life. I give up trying to predict what will happen with Trump. He was there. He was at the center of the stage. He was Trump. Any other candidate would have been destroyed by his performance tonight – but also, any other candidate would have been destroyed by every public performance he has literally ever had. I give up.
1. Scott Walker – For people who only tuned in to the first 15 minutes or so, Scott Walker had a great debate. Good opening statement, and came out of nowhere to rip in the middle of the first Trump/Bush exchange. After that, Walker mostly entirely vanished, as he is wont to do on a crowded stage. This format is probably the harshest on Walker, out of all the candidates, who doesn’t excel in soundbites and 15 second frames.
2. Mike Huckabee – It took 45 minutes for Mike Huckabee to get his first question, and no one really objected. Nothing wrong with anything that Mike Huckabee said tonight, but I’ve heard it all before. He didn’t have any of his trademark cornpone lines that really grabbed anyone’s attention. He gave a pretty good defense of Kim Davis, but was otherwise mostly set decoration.
3. [mc_name name=’Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX)’ chamber=’senate’ mcid=’C001098′ ] – Cruz also took about 40 minutes to get his first question. Cruz was solid and knowledgeable, as he always is, and strongest on the Iran deal. But he had few memorable moments, and faded into the background for the most part.
4. [mc_name name=’Sen. Rand Paul (R-KY)’ chamber=’senate’ mcid=’P000603′ ] – Paul had I think a pretty good response to Trump’s bizarre, out of the blue attack in the opening minutes of the debate, but after that was almost totally forgotten. He tried to distinguish himself from the other candidates on stage from foreign policy, which was really the only time he was allowed to talk, but not allowed to speak on issues where he actually has ground in common with Republicans. He did score a style point in a testy exchange with Jeb Bush over medical marijuana, but I’m not sure that moves the needle for him in the polls. In a couple days, people will mostly forget he was there.