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Gilbertson: The Republican Debates – How Did They Score?

Gilbertson: The Republican Debates – How Did They Score?

We scored this debate on a scale of +10 to -10. Note we are not rating them on whether we agree with the substance of their arguments, but rather how we believe their performance will influence the voters and their chances to become President of the United States.

One can again question the moderators whose technique was to pit candidates against each other, based often on out of context quotes and misquotes from other candidates.  Several candidates had to make corrections. The questions often seemed petty and undignified. But after the Megyn Kelly fiasco, nobody complained. And it was indeed entertaining.

We haven’t seen the audience numbers yet, but it was likely a huge audience. No matter who wins the Republican primary, the Republican party wins. Christie advertised on the show, a very wise move.

1) Donald Trump +2 – He is already the frontrunner so he would have had to seriously damage Bush or Fiorina to have a “breakout” performance.  It was an acceptable performance though.

As we predicted he was indeed attacked in the first portion of the event, however it was the moderators leading the charge not the other candidates. The other candidates joined in when required, but they didn’t need to be gratuitous, it was programmed into the question set for much of the first portion of the debate. Mr. Trump took it in stride, no new issues, zero effect.  

Mr. Trump took some shots at other folks, actually opened with a shot at Rand Paul (a bit awkward), but, as predicted, no one got “smooshed” like last time. His best attempt was a shot at Carly, but she actually managed to win that exchange. Mr. Trump made it a point to be conciliatory (not apologetic) and dished out praise in a judicious manner. Fences appeared to be mended with host Hugh Hewitt and conciliatory gestures were aimed at Jeb and Carly.

On the issues, he was once again unapologetic and managed to defend what appeared to be tenuous positions, especially given the moderators’ phrasing of the questions. For example, on the question about vaccines causing autism, his position shifted to vaccines being too heavy and frequent for small children. Both Dr. Carson and Dr. Paul supported this, so it was a winning point for Trump. He cracked just a bit when, after an exchange he called Carly Fiorina “beautiful” and basically got crickets from the audience.

One bad point, his posture suffered as he turned and he seemed twisted and uncomfortable on occasion. This was likely from standing too long (it was a 3-hour experience).  Standing next to 6’5″ Jeb Bush, Trump had frequent bad visuals where he appeared small and uncomfortable. He appeared less “presidential” than he could have.

2) Jeb Bush  +4 – Came out of his shell, and without being rude or overly aggressive, was outspoken, held his own against Trump and took his place as a serious player on stage. He did have some awkward moments, I thought it was awkward when he asked Trump to apologize to his wife. But Jeb appeared confident, knowledgeable and genteel, which are his strong points.  

Jeb admitted to having smoked pot in high school yet maintained a strict anti-drug policy. He showed strong family ties, asked Trump to apologize to his wife, and defended his brother’s legacy saying “He kept us safe.”

While he was not necessarily the winner of the debate, this much-improved performance provided the jumping off point he needs to launch his broader campaign with his extensive war chest. Exactly what he was trying to achieve.

3) Scott Walker – +2 – Was more vocal and eloquent than in the previous debate but probably not a breakout performance.  He did not seem to be center of attention, did not show the charisma it takes to break into the top five.  As expected he spoke about his fight against unions and his record in Wisconsin. He defended himself well against Trumps attack on his record.

He may hold steady in the polls, but we believe the good performance of others will prevent him from rising.

4) Ben Carson +1 – Still very authentic, but he seemed tentative to start. Once he got his stride he settled in and regained his comfortable strength. He was clearly liked by the other candidates so no attacks came his way. He gained some authority on stage talking about vaccines and health issues where he is clearly expert. He is always a pleasure to listen to, and that carried through tonight.

This performance, while not as much a breakout as in the last debate, should at least maintain his current level of support. We don’t believe his polling will improve, however, since Fiorina, Christie and Bush will likely gain followers.  It’s a zero sum game.

5) Ted Cruz  0 – As expected he held the same line, no new revelations. His supporters will be energized because they are passionate about his agenda.  He doubled down on all issues and managed to press even further. His association with Trump was made clear in subtle ways. But without a way to stand out, the voters will not flock to his candidacy.

His fundraising should be helped but his poll numbers will not be.

6) Marco Rubio -3 – Very often the smartest guy on stage in the area of foreign policy, however, we don’t believe he resonated well enough to gain traction in his campaign. He still looks exceedingly young on stage, and his quick manner of speaking made him look anxious at times. He needed something special to happen, but it didn’t.

His numbers will not improve and may be cannibalized by other candidates as they move up.

7) Mike Huckabee  -2 – Governor Huckabee was well spoken, clearly a moral authority on stage, indeed mesmerizing at times in his sincerity. He made some important points, speaking eloquently about the existential threat posed to both Israel and American by leadership in Iran. Hopefully other candidates will pick up on this. As predicted he brought up the Kim Davis situation, and spoke passionately about it.  But in mentioning the flat tax plan, he seemed to be borrowing rhetoric from the last election, a bad move on his part.

We have great respect for Governor Huckabee, however his campaign was not helped with this performance. His role seemed secondary. and nothing here improved his position to be President. 

8) Rand Paul -4 – He needed a home run here and did not get it. It seemed to us his inclusion in some of the discussions was a polite afterthought. While he did not get “smooshed” by Trumps unprovoked attack, his response was a bit whiny and showed he was slow in shaking it off. He tended to press issues less relevant to the audience and without really explaining why, e.g. tenth amendment. Based on this performance his poll numbers will likely fall, as others rise.

9) John Kasich -6 – Kasich was well spoken, but his rhetoric was not concrete enough to resonate with the audience. He spoke at length about how to include our allies in middle eastern affairs, which is highly intelligent and relevant, but not interesting enough to get voters excited. His performance was not memorable compared to others. He had some initial cult support based on his performant in the first debates, but this performance will not get him to the next level.

10) Chris Christie +4 – This could be the breakout performance he needed, Governor Christie was eloquent energetic and forceful.  At the start, he drew attention by having the camera show the audience in his opening speech, a very dramatic and impressive move.  He showed he deserved to be on stage with the rest. 

We look for him to gain traction based on this performance moving up in the ranks in the next month or so.

11) Carly Fiorina +7 – Ms. Fiorina provided the most memorable performance, she was strong, well prepared, forceful, and ACTUALLY WON AN EXCHANGE WITH DONALD TRUMP. In the particular exchange, Trump accused her of being a bad CEO at HP, she remained un-rattled and competently destroyed his Ivy League source as a biased Clintonite.

Carly had several spectacular moments, her speech against Planned Parenthood was cogent and passionate, her position on improving the American Military will resonate well. She made a powerful argument against illegal drugs citing her own child’s death from an overdose.  She successfully and smoothly injected her opinion, often when it was not her turn, but she managed to keep herself at or near center stage (figuratively).

We expect a substantial boost in her poll ratings. Likely top five if her campaign knows what it is doing.

Final Prediction

Within 2 months we predict the top five will be Trump, Carson, Fiorina, Bush and Christie, not necessarily in that order. 

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