GOP Debate Showdowns
Fiorina vs. the Undercard Debate: Fiorina with the knockout. It’s not fair, really. Seeing a debater like Carly Fiorina in the lower tiered debate is like seeing a heavyweight boxer drop down to welterweight. Poor Huckabee and Santorum. Still quite literally waiting for a miracle.
Rubio vs. Christie: One of the best rivalries of the primary, Christie and Rubio did not disappoint. Rubio went hard after Christie’s record on Common Core, gun control, and support for Planned Parenthood. He linked Christie and the Obama agenda (not unlike Cruz did to Rubio last month). Christie retorted with a reminder that Rubio’s successful defense against Bush attacks last October was that someone must have given advice to Bush, whispering “because we’re running for the same office, criticizing me will get you to that office. It appears that the same someone who has been whispering in old Marco’s ear too!” He went on to remind the voters that Rubio fully supported Christie two years ago. Later, Rubio was asked about entitlement programs but instead went on to debate taxes with Cruz for five minutes. Christie eventually jumped in, saying that he had to “interrupt this debate on the floor of the Senate to actually answer the question you asked.” Rubio said he would gladly get to the question and Christie jabbed, “no, you already had your chance, Marco, and you blew it.”
It felt like a tale of two debates for these two. Rubio came out very hot last night. He jumped all over this first question like he had just downed six cups of coffee. Here were my notes from his early efforts: ‘Hillary is disqualified from being President.’ Right out of the gate! Emails! Benghazi! Then hard after Obama! ‘One way ticket to Guantanamo.’ No one touch Rubio until he cools down! But then he steadily lost momentum. Christie, on the other hand, started extremely slow, and I thought his slowing New Hampshire numbers had sapped his energy. However, Rubio’s accusations splashed some cold water on his face and allowed him to emerge. (Goes after Senators! First good moment.) But that was pretty late in the debate. How many were still watching? Rubio might regret going after him. Not only did it feel like he awakened the sleeping giant, but it also felt beneath Rubio to be stuck in a Christie brawl. Rubio is a top tier guy. Christie is not.
Rubio vs. Cruz: As mentioned, Rubio also had a bout with Ted Cruz last night. Rubio accused Cruz of wanting to use a European style “Value Added Tax” (or VAT), while Cruz denied it, saying it was only a business flat tax which would allow us to eliminate more burdensome taxes like the death tax and corporate income tax. Then Cruz counter-punched saying his 10 percent tax on Americans, which was endorsed by a Reagan guy, contrasts Rubio’s 35 percent, and that with his own plan, we could abolish the IRS. Then Rubio says that was an inaccurate description, and says that we could change the name of the IRS but would still need a tax collecting agency. Rubio goes on to talk about corporate and payroll taxes before doing a Reagan name drop of his down. Then everyone’s eyes glazed over. Then Christie jumped in to end the fight. Draw.
Trump vs. Nikki Haley: After Haley’s assumed swipe at Trump during her State of the Union Republican rebuttal, the moderators used her presence in the debate arena — which is in her home state — to ask Trump what he thought about her comments about his anger. He owned it. “I’m very angry because our country is being run horribly and I will gladly accept the mantle of anger.” He ran off a disjointed laundry list of what’s wrong with our country — a specialty of his, though proposed solutions are few and far between — to justify his anger. That definitely connected with viewers. Point Trump.
Kasich vs. RINO accusations: In my debate preview yesterday, I noted Kasich’s recent Granite State surge. I said that if he had any chance of success beyond New Hampshire, he would need to convince Republicans in the other 49 states that he wasn’t a “Republican In Name Only.” To do so, he highlighted the area where he and his party are in most agreement. My notes on his first response: Cut taxes! Less government regulation. Fiscal discipline. I swear I’m a Republican! The second dissed the Federal Reserve. The third was a twofer that name-dropped Strom Thurmond (!) and promoting fracking, and so on. He was never once pressed by his competitors on his more moderate positions, which I assume means no one thinks he’s a threat. Nevertheless, if they want to win New Hampshire, they’ll need to blunt the Kasich climb. Don’t expect such friendly treatment at the last debate before voting begins.
Trump vs. Rant on China: Oh my goodness. He took several minutes of wandering around the question just to ultimately say he’s a “free trader” who is “totally open to tariffs.” *Slaps forehead*
Bush vs. Charisma: You know, he has been better of late. His last debate was fine, this debate was fine. He made some good points last night, noting his A+ from NRA, questioning the sad suggestion that Indian and Indonesian Muslims should be barred from entering the country, making sense on China, and musing that if Clinton became president “She might be going back and forth between the White House and the courthouse.” Not one of his points, however, was delivered with confidence, strength, or charisma. It’s clear that many voters this election value style over substance, but Bush, is the most stylistically challenged candidate in the field.
Carson vs. Irrelevancy: Irrelevancy wins again! This record is getting lopsided.
The Field vs. Rand Paul: *Chirp chirp.*
The Field vs. Islamophobia: Before any candidate answered if they supported Trump’s “Ban Muslims from entering America” proposal, each candidate made sure we know they did NOT want Syrian refugees. Once they answered the question that wasn’t asked, most of them opposed going Full Trump. Was Kasich an Islamaphobe last night? No. Christie? No. Bush? No. Rubio? Blamed Obama. Cruz? No, I think? Trump? YES! Carson? He’ll get back to you after speaking with advisers.
The Field vs. Trump: N/A. Kasich brandished his conservative cred. Christie targeted the Senators. Rubio continued to treat Obama and Clinton as his opponents, with nearly every response starting with bashing them. Carson’s battle is still with politicians. Bush kind of went after Trump on the Muslim ban, but for the most part, the “balance of power” has yet to be enacted by the field. The candidates did not go after the polling leader. That is, except for…
Trump vs. Cruz!: Easily the main event of the evening. A written recap couldn’t do it justice — nor could it keep this post from doubling to 2,500 words instead of the tidy 1,250 I’m aiming for — so if you didn’t watch, see if you can find video. I’ll just say that Cruz was incredible, but Trump somehow finds ways to save face even in his worst moments. (The crowd was particularly frustrated, as was I, with Trump deflecting Cruz’s points by talking about how great he was doing in polls.) I think both candidates pull a bit more away from the field nationally and in Iowa, especially with Rubio not being great after his blistering start. My gut says Cruz got the better of Trump with the voters they’re fighting over, but my gut has been wrong many, many times when I feel like a candidate gets the better of Trump. We’ll see. Next week’s polls will be highly anticipated.
Tomorrow: a return to the increasingly exciting Democratic Primary!