Tonight’s Republican Debate in Las Vegas was run by CNN, the moderators were Wolfe Blitzer, Hugh Hewitt and Dana Bash, a very good group. As mentioned in previous debates, I make no judgement as to the legitimacy of their opinions on the issues, but rather how I believe their performance will affect their candidacy.
This debate was defined by a couple of battles,ably orchestrated by CNN moderators:
Jeb vs. Donald – Donald won this for the most part, and Bush appeared weak at times (and Jeb indeed got “smooshed” by Donald, as only Donald can do). At first, I thought Jeb was crazy for taking on and insulting Donald, and seemed a bit awkward at first because frankly Bush’s policies are not well known.
This was good for Trump, but it also was good for Jeb because in viewers’ minds it put the two on par. After these exchanges it was clear that Jeb was being paid attention to. The “smooshes” were devastating in the first debate, but not so much now, because people are used to it.
Rubio vs. Cruz – These were very eloquent exchanges, highlighting the differences between the two (after all they are both Republican junior Senators, with Hispanic ethnicity). Rubio in general made accusations that Cruz has equivocated in his views, but Cruz responded ably. Both candidates clearly benefited from the exchange.
I believe Cruz came out ahead because, first, he was able to call Rubio a liar (which stung a bit) and second, Rand Paul added another voice in his attacks Rubio. But Rubio displayed considerable and impressive knowledge of detail.
My score of the individual candidates:
Trump +1 – Trump’s battle with Jeb Bush gave him extra time to present his views in his usual and very effective manner. Trump’s only really bad moment was when his lack of understanding of technology allowed others to assume he would shut down parts of the internet. While I believe the issue had little effect on short term perception in the audience, it may open the door to future attacks. (Donald! Use these words! “We want to deny ISIS the use of the internet as a recruiting tool”).
The battle with Bush made Trump seem strong and gave him more airtime. Several times he was able to double down on his issues, a tactic that always works for him.
We award Trump only a single positive point, because this debate reinforces his lead but does nothing earth-shattering for him. His lead is secure for the moment.
Cruz +6 – Cruz’s battle with Rubio presented Cruz in a positive manner, as he ably defended himself againsts Rubio’s attacks. Cruz made a very nice refinement of Trump’s ‘ban muslims’ policy which provided a very nice moment of ‘presidential’ moderation and understanding.
Cruz’s demeanor is much better, not as preachy as he has been in the past. This is perhaps the result of renewed confidence as he rises in the polls (overtaking Trump in Iowa).
Senator Cruz gets a high score because his battle with Rubio highlighted and distinguished his views. This plus his positive adjustment in demeanor makes him a winner.
Rubio +4 – Senator Rubio once again proves he is the most well informed candidate on the stage, his grasp of the details was impressive. While the battle between Cruz and Rubio helped him by allowing him to show his skills, he was damaged just a bit when Rand Paul joined in.
I believe he has heightened confidence with his increasing poll numbers, this debate put him in a good light and will improve his position.
Bush +3 – Governor Bush had a reasonable night mostly because the moderators were able to set up a “battle” with Trump. He called Trump the “Chaos candidate” and told Trump “you can’t insult your way to the Presidency” but, as mentioned above he did get smooshed by Trump.
We awarded him positive points, because he may be able to used this performance as a wedge to push his campaign forward and his poll numbers up. We will see though, his campaign has been bogged down so far.
Fiorina -4 Ms. Fiorina eloquent as usual, very well spoken, if a bit highbrow at times. Her points were well made and cohesive. However she did very little to stand out.
While we believe she did OK, Ms. Fiorina did not do as well as she has done in previous debates. Also she has never been able to take advantage of her debate performances in the past. I suggested after the last debate she needed a new campaign team. At this point, I believe her journey is done.
Paul -1 – Senator Paul had a decent debate, he contributed some very cogent arguments and his attacks on Rubio hit home. However we declared his campaign dead two debates ago, and nothing happened here to change that judgement.
He continues to be on stage because he has a diehard following who will likely stick with him to the end. In retrospect, his performance has markedly improved over time, which bodes well for his future. But this campaign will go nowhere.
Kasich +1 – Governor Kasich provided very reasonable dialog and was at times passionate in his views. He was effective in using his record in Ohio as a differentiator.
But I believe his lack of a “battle” opponent left him a bit of an orphan with no differentiator. His performance was good but we only gave him one point because we believe this performance will not help his poll numbers.
We will not declare his candidacy dead yet, but he needs a serious boost from somewhere. This debate did not do it.
Christie +0 – Governor Christie’s performance was actually very good, but like Governor Kasich, his lack of a “battle” opponent marginalized him in comparison to Trump, Bush, Cruz and Rubio. Christie did manage to distinguish himself by carving out his niche as a veteran fighter of terrorism in a most personal way.
Despite some very good rhetoric, this performance will not help Christie because his campaign has not been able to take advantage of Christie’s unique (and formidable) characteristics. I’m a fan of Christie, but at this point I’m declaring his campaign deceased.
Carson -7 – Dr. Carson’s debate was characterized by low energy, lots of blinking which made him seem very unsure of himself, and answers lacking detail and conviction. This was his worst debate so far.
Dr. Carson has started to slip in the polls, I’m predicting his numbers will fall rapidly over the next month. This debate will hasten his campaign’s demise. Not dead yet, but he will need something spectacular to reverse this trend.
This was the best run Republican debate so far, the moderators were fair, the questions were serious and all candidates got a reasonable chance to express themselves. Their encouragement of certain battles perhaps provided an effective advantage for Trump, Bush, Cruz and Rubio. If the other campaigns are smart, they will orchestrate their own battles for the next round.
As an aside, CNN commentators before and after the debates appeared particularly moronic at times. I found myself wondering why CNN contributor Amanda Carpenter was allowed to continue to talk. She clearly has no grasp of the issues, and passionately expressed her non-sensicle opinions.