Debate only ended a little over an hour ago, but he’s already got a writeup for y’all. He watched so I didn’t have to. He’s a good man, that Dave Asche.
The Republican candidates for President of the United States just concluded their final debate before Iowa and New Hampshire go to the polls to, finally, start the actual voting process of picking their nominee.
Well, not all of the candidates concluded the debate. There was one glaring absence from the stage: Donald Trump. I am struggling as to whether his absence hurts or helps him. On the one hand, many people probably watched his rival event. Not to mention he was the subject of the first question, and the next ten minutes of the debate. Not to mention the news cycle for most of the days.
On the other hand, the debate was a lot smoother and a hell of a lot more substantive than previous debates. I lean toward saying it helped him. Aside from the first question and a pot shot or two later on, Trump was not really attacked much. Which as the frontrunner, is quite a win for him.
Now, on to more important matters. Grading the candidates who were actually on stage tonight:
Bush (A): Jeb Bush by far had his best debate performance this year. It’s not close. He seemed more at ease, more engaged, and more confident up there. He was on message, and gave great answers on his immigration stance, electability, and the VA and wounded veterans. Even his attacks and counter-punches were very good tonight. He landed some clean shots on Rubio when he called him out on his changing positions on the immigration issue. The big difference tonight? No Donald Trump to emasculate him.
A few polls have showed positive signs for Jeb Bush in New Hampshire. That being said, if this Jeb Bush had shown up from the beginning of this campaign, he would certainly still be one of the frontrunners in the race. Instead, he is hoping for a good performance in New Hampshire simply to keep his campaign alive.
Moderators (A): Say what you want about Fox News, but their debates this year have been outstanding. Tonight was no different. The questions and their follow ups were fantastic. They even asked the candidates questions outside of their comfort zone, especially on climate change, ethanol subsidies, anti-Muslim sentiment, and the Flint Water crisis.
The best part of the job they did was playing videos of the Cruz and Rubio, in their own words, taking different positions on immigration than the ones they are taking today. It made it a lot tougher for them to spin their way out of these statements. A great night for them.
Cruz (B+): With Trump pandering to headlining an event for wounded veterans, Ted Cruz was the prime target of the moderators and the candidates. All eyes were on him to see how he would be able to handle being the only frontrunner on stage. It certainly did not start out very well for him. He got into an argument with Chris Wallace about speaking time, and lost badly. And later on he complained about the questions and the other candidates picking on him. At one point he threatened to walk off the stage.
Thankfully for Cruz, it was early in the debate, and he avoided repeating the mistake. He handled tough questions and attacks much better as the debate wore on. He didn’t melt under the bright lights. His response to Megyn Kelly’s tough question, and follow up questions, on his past immigration was much better than that of Marco Rubio’s. Cruz once again showed his skills in debate formats and aside from the early hiccup, did exactly what he needed to do tonight.
Paul (B+): In addition to Jeb Bush, tonight also featured a more polished and confident Rand Paul. Even though he is grossly under delivering on the high expectations he had coming into this race, Paul still represents a much needed voice in the Republican Party.
His answers on racism, foreign policy, and the drug war offered a stark contrast to what the majority of the other candidates were saying about these issues. Although the party has adopted a more hawkish foreign policy stance since the rise of ISIS and tougher law and order policies here, Paul did a great job representing the sizable portion of the GOP who want a more scaled back foreign policy and liberal enforcement of current drug laws in the country. Unfortunately for Rand Paul, it’s likely too little, too late.
Christie (B-): As is the norm with Chris Christie these days, he portrayed himself as the grown up, straight talking leader in the room. He also, as usual, turned every single question into an attack on Hillary Clinton, as opposed to his opponents on stage. And again, he did it very well.
But Christie seemed to be a bit too rehearsed and quite frankly, was grasping at straws on some of his answers. When asked about what he would do, specifically, to reduce the budget deficit in the country, his only response was to cut funding to Planned Parenthood. And when asked about Kim Davis denying marriage licenses to same sex couple in Kentucky, he turned it into an answer on how horrible ISIS is. For a guy who prides himself on directly answering all questions, these answers were canned and evasive.
Rubio (C): Stop me if you have heard this before. Rubio, while he gives a great delivery, comes off as way too rehearsed. He is the student who memorized the entire book and cannot wait to recite it in front of the whole class. But when he’s asked a detailed question about what the book is about, he has trouble providing a direct answers. Tonight, once again, showed that Marco Rubio is not very good when forced to deviate from his stump speech. See the aforementioned contrasting of he and Cruz’s response to tough questions on immigration. Rubio’s answer was just not up to par.
It’s also pretty apparent he sees an opening to exceed expectations in Iowa. Rubio is a religious guy, but I have never heard him talk about his faith more than I did tonight. This might play well with the conservative evangelicals who make up a large share of the Iowa GOP electorate, but Cruz and Trump are getting most of that support and to be honest, even those answers seemed rehearsed and came off as pandering.
All in all, not a great night for Rubio.
Kasich (C-): Kasich has stayed true to himself throughout the entire campaign. A midwestern guy who tries to win on substance and optimism. Nothing changed tonight. His answers were fine and he again managed to avoid being the grumpy grandfather of the group.
But aside from a few decent answers, he disappeared for large portions of the debate. At one point I forgot he was taking part in the debate at all.
It is New Hampshire or bust for Kasich. Some polls show him doing well there and I don’t think his performance tonight hurt, or helped, in any real way.
Carson (F): “Putin is a one horse country. Oil.” This pretty much sums it up for Ben Carson tonight, and for most of this race. I really wish they had a shot of Carson’s face when Bret Baier was asking him what he would do if Putin invaded Estonia.
That’s all I got. What else is there to say?
Website Plugs (F): Somebody really needs to tell all candidates, Democrat and Republican, that it is not 2004 anymore. It’s 2016. Everybody on the planet knows they have websites. And if they don’t know the exact site URL, they can fire up their Google Machine and search the candidate’s name on the interwebs. Please stop doing this, already. It’s a step below the candidates who plug their books during these things.
I usually end these by giving a grand prognostication of what I think is going to happen going forward. But this race has seen so many twists and turns, I am perfectly fine saying I have no clue how this whole thing is going to shake out. But man, this is fun to watch.
The real fun begins in four days. I am going to sit back and enjoy the ride because there really is no better show on earth than a presidential election.