The first debate is in the books for the 2016 race to the Republican nomination for President. I wanted to give a brief synopsis of how I felt the debates went after I had a chance to go back and review some video.
First I think it was disrespectful to the candidates on stage during the “happy hour” debate to not allow general admission to watch the debate. Especially when you don’t make it widely known that no one beyond the candidates’ friends and family were allowed in. With no live audience there wasn’t any reaction to comments, etc. That feedback can be helpful to the candidates and observers. It would also be extremely difficult to debate without a live audience.
Second, the moderators should have been more equitable with time and questions. The “happy hour” debate was better, the “primetime” debate was awful in that regard. Moderators do voters a disservice when they focus so much on the top 1 and 2 candidates in the field.
Third the moderation in the primetime debate was simply awful, there was too much pitting candidates against one another rather than exploring a candidate’s opinion on an issue. The start of the debate of simply awful. I generally like Megyn Kelly, but she did an awful job last night.
Here are the winners and losers of both debates.
Ted Cruz – The junior senator from Texas is an excellent debater. He stayed above the fray. His comments about ISIS resonated. His discussion of America’s cyber-security was detailed. He was well prepared for this debate. He came across as someone who will fight, but not with his colleagues on stage.
Carly Fiorina – She gave excellent answers on Donald Trump, Iran, cybersecurity and Planned Parenthood. She was well-prepared, articulate, and I believe made a good impression with voters watching who may not be familiar with the former Hewlett Packard CEO. While she did not make the “primetime” debate I believe she’ll be on that stage soon and has shown herself worthy.
Mike Huckabee – I am not surprised that the former Governor from Arkansas did well last night. He demonstrated his ability to debate in 2008. He is an excellent communicator. He handled his exchange with New Jersey Governor Chris Christie well. Christie was combative, Huckabee was not. He’s simply likable. His statement on Iran stands out in my mind as one of the best of the evening. His closing statement was memorable when he said, “It seems like this election has been a whole lot on a person who has been very high in the polls, who doesn’t have a clue about how to govern, a person who has been filled with scandals and could not lead.” Just when you thought he was talking about Donald Trump he said, “And of course, I’m talking about Hillary Clinton.” Nice.
Bobby Jindal – Jindal I would call a close second in the “happy hour” debate. He was prepared, engaging, and gave bold answers. His statement on Planned Parenthood resonates, and his statement that “we will take the political handcuffs off the military” in his remarks about ISIS.
Marco Rubio – He cast a fresh vision. He was positive. He was confident. He gave the boldest answer on the life issue of anyone debating during “primetime.” Rubio did an excellent job rebutting a false claim made about his pro-life record. Rubio also explained how Common Core is a problem for state and local control of education. This debate helped him.
Ben Carson – Carson was not asked many questions, but I could tell that he was prepared. He gave the best closing statement of the primetime debate. The best line of the night goes to Carson who said, “I was the first to take out half a brain, but if you go to Washington, DC you would think somebody beat me to it.” He needs to work on his debate style. He needs to look up at the camera. He needs to exude confidence and project his voice. Fortunately for Carson that can be learned. This debate helped him.
Rick Santorum – During the “happy hour” debate Santorum gave the best statement on life talking about how we should extend 5th and 14th Amendment protections to the unborn. While I don’t fully agree with his immigration policy the point he made sharing his father’s story was a poignant one. It’s vitally important that we respect those immigrants who followed the rules and came here legally.
Rick Perry – The former Texas Governor redeemed himself from his last presidential campaign. No flubs. He gave clear and consistent answers. He made a great case for his experience. He started his campaign well, and if he can disengage from Donald Trump I believe his standings in the polls will improve.
Donald Trump – In my mind Trump lost. In the minds of the Republican electorate? Who knows!? I’m done guessing how his statements will impact his poll numbers. The fact he was booed during the first question is not a good sign. It looks bad when he can’t commit to not running as an independent should he not win the nomination. He didn’t give any policy details. He didn’t look prepared at all. His exchange with Megyn Kelly was awful. I agree that we are concerned too much about political correctness. There is a difference between being politically incorrect and just being a jerk. If you are a Trump supporter I’m sure you’ll disagree with me. That’s fine. I believe the shine will eventually wear off.
Rand Paul – He came across as grumpy. I’m sure his supporters will say fiesty, but I don’t know if that is how it will play with the general electorate. By attacking you can win yourself more time in a debate, but you can also make yourself look bad. The exchange he had with Governor Chris Christie while factually he was correct, in terms of a debate, Christie had the upper hand as he was ready for a response. Christie mischaracterized his position on the NSA collecting meta data from phones, but Paul’s delivery in that exchange needed some work.
Lindsey Graham – Sending troops over to Iraq and Syria seems to be the hill he’ll die on, and so he will. The general electorate is concerned about ISIS, but I don’t believe they are ready to give the President a blank check to do “whatever is necessary for however long as necessary.”
John Kasich – He probably gave the best possible answer he could about his decision to expand Medicaid, whether that satisfies voters will remain to be seen. It didn’t satisfy me. Update: I was reminded about his answer on gay marriage which was one of the worst of the evenings. Saying you’ll do nothing, considering a Supreme Court ruling law, and then bragging about attending a gay wedding. Yeah, great way to reassure social conservatives that you care about their concerns.
Chris Christie – Other than his exchange with Rand Paul do you remember anything else he said? Me neither.
Scott Walker – He stayed out of the fray, but he didn’t say anything remarkable either. He needed to use this debate to stand out beyond Jeb Bush and Donald Trump, he didn’t. I don’t believe he hurt himself, but I don’t think this debate helped either.
Jeb Bush – Putting aside areas of disagreement I have with Bush. I’d have to say ditto to what I said about Scott Walker. He may have stopped the bleeding after recent flubs he has had, so if he had any type of win last night that would be it. Saying “it didn’t matter” that the Bloomberg Foundation gave to Planned Parenthood since he was involved in education issues isn’t acceptable. What saved him is saying he was unaware and then highlighting a pro-life record as Governor of Florida. I also think he spun his comments on Common Core.
The rest of the “happy hour” debate line-up – Nobody did anything that will hurt themselves, but I don’t believe they said anything that will translate into higher poll numbers.