CNBC Debate Review

No time. (Thanks a lot, JOB.) Let’s make this quick.

Biggest loser: The Moderators. Bias or lack thereof aside (which could be a whole column), they had little control over that debate. The candidates smelled blood and pounced. Grade: F

Colossal loser: Jeb Bush. Remember when Christie responded with outrage over the fantasy football question? It was perfect. But the question was actually asked to Bush, who responded with, “I’m 7-0 in my fantasy football league!” He has needed to show passion and punch, and this was the opportunity. That was when he should have shown some life. Instead, he joked and then said something canned about the federal government. Microcosm of his campaign. The football question was actually a softball, and he missed. He’s Scott Walkering the hell out of this thing, and there’s an increasingly real chance he doesn’t make it to Iowa. Grade: F

A for Effort (but still a D): John Kasich. He fielded the first question of the night, when the moderators asked the candidates to identify their greatest weakness, and proceeded to ignore the question and go all Tasmanian Devil at Trump and Carson for leading the polls when they “can’t do the job.” Trump then slapped him silly with some lies (managing at Lehman Brothers??) and some truths (end podium again). Kasich was the only one on the stage who couldn’t hide his incredulity at who’s dominating the polls. It was as if he grabbed the entire party by the shoulders and yelled at them, “WAKE UP!” Such a tactic won’t help at all. Grade: D

Out of Breath Kid Telling a Long Joke He Keeps Forgetting: Ben Carson. This guy. Every time he speaks, it reminds me of a classic Michael Scott line: “Sometimes I’ll start a sentence, and I don’t even know where it’s going. I just hope I find it along the way.” He’s totally out of his depth on the issues, including taxation, but keeps winning people over due to his delivery and magnanimity. Grade: C-

Surprisingly Gathered: Donald Trump. After putting his neck on Kasich’s throat and all but staring at his other opponents and asking, “Anyone else?,” Trump didn’t have to worry about more attacks. With that mission accomplished, there were no criticisms left to deflect and return. As a result, we had a calm Trump. It was his most respectable debate yet, but will that even help? His supporters were bored, and his detractors have already made up their minds. Grade: C

Surprisingly Overshadowed: Carly Fiorina. It wasn’t that she was bad, it was that several debaters were excellent and bested her, which ruined her chance at winning her third straight debate. And that was with the most speaking time. Grade: C+

Yes, he was there: Rand Paul. An utterly forgettable performance, mostly due to having the least speaking time, about 60 percent as much as Fiorina. I thought he’d be better, since his economic plank is the part of his platform that best matches the GOP’s, but for most of the night he might as well have been an 11th podium. Grade: C+

Still Mike Huckabee: Mike Huckabee. Grade: C+

And the winners…

The Brilliant Counterpuncher: Marco Rubio. He turned an attack from Bush and the moderators regarding his Senate absenteeism into his best moment of the campaign, which not only embarrassed both Bush and the moderators, but got the ball rolling on the night’s anti-media theme. All night, he showed his typical youthful energy that should make voters take notice. He continues to look the most presidential, which is important as Bush continues his epic collapse and his supporters look for someone to whom they can turn. Grade: A-

Making Love to the Camera: Chris Christie. He was on top of his game all night, and no one was better speaking to the voter at home. Whether it was pointing out the absurdity of the fantasy football question, or using his prosecutorial history to go after Hillary Clinton after the Benghazi committee couldn’t pin her down, or personalizing his message to voters by staring into the camera and mentioning someone like a landscaper, he was fantastic. Downright (Bill) Clintonian, really. Will the party start to notice? This is his third straight strong debate. Each time I think it will help. The last two times, it hasn’t. Still, excellent debate from him. Grade: A-

The Breakthrough: Ted Cruz. He had the best moment of the debate. The beauty of his tirade against the media was that there was no way it was rehearsed. He brought up questions that most of the candidates had to answer to that point, showingt how each one was negative. (“This is not a cage match. And you look at the questions — Donald Trump, are you a comic book villain? Ben Carson, can you do math? John Kasich, will you insult two people over here? Marco Rubio, why don’t you resign? Jeb Bush, why have your numbers fallen? How about talking about the substantive issues!”) In an era of debates when most candidates repeat their stump speeches in 60-second bursts and 30-second replies, that was thinking on the spot. That was Princeton debate team. Marco Rubio might have started the night’s anti-media theme, but Cruz brought it to its apex. It was the tipping point into an all out attack on the left and its media arm, and it’s all Republicans are talking about today. Meanwhile, Frank Luntz tweeted that his focus group dials hit an average of “98” with that moment, and his focus group broke out in applause. In his career of doing that, neither of those things had ever happened. Even beyond that moment, he continued to boast a consistent and sterling conservative record. He’s setting himself up for a big run. Watch out for Ted Cruz. Grade: A

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5 thoughts on “CNBC Debate Review

  1. Your take on Chris Christie contradicts what The New York Times’ editorial board concluded from his performance:

    “Mr. Christie has been called a lot of things, but until Wednesday’s debate performance, “barely there” was not among them. In eight minutes of speaking time, Mr. Christie said little of substance. … New Jersey is in trouble, and the governor is off pursuing a presidential run that’s turned out to be nothing more than a vanity project. Mr. Christie’s numbers are in the basement, and he’s nearly out of campaign cash. This is his moment, all right: to go home and use the rest of his term to clean out the barn, as Speaker John Boehner would say.”

    What’s with the Times being so harsh on him?

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    1. What’s with the liberal New York newspaper attacking the conservative Republican of New Jersey? (Rhetorical)

      I thought he had substance. He’s the only one seriously talking about tackling the looming social security and Medicare crisis. As for giving up if one’s poll numbers are down, that would eliminate all but a few candidates. Plus, at this point in 2011, Rick Santorum was low single digits, too. They’re all waiting for that surge, and few of them believe Carson and Trump will stay dominant in the polls. There’s a lot of campaign left.

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