Cruz and Rubio sparred during the CNN GOP Debate.
Cruz and Rubio sparred during the CNN GOP Debate.
Photo credit: Gage Skidmore (CC-By-SA 2.0)

Just a few quick thoughts about tonight’s CNN GOP Debate in Las Vegas, NV.  U.S. Senator Ted Cruz (R-TX) had a good night being center stage for the first time.

Before I get to that I was pleased to see some substantive debate and a divergence of opinions on how to best handle national security and radical Islamic terrorism.  There were definitely two different schools of thought on balancing security vs. liberty, as well as, on the topic of toppling dictators in the Middle East.

This was far, far better than the last CNN debate so well done.

For the prime-time debate I would call Cruz the winner because held his own, he parried attacks well, and he gave crisp answers.  I believe he won the exchange with Rubio on immigration. He also should thank U.S. Senator Rand Paul (R-KY) who almost seemed at times a tag-team partner.

Rubio mischaracterized Cruz’s position on immigration due to a legislative strategy Cruz employed to try to derail the gang of eight bill in 2013.  Attacking Cruz on voting to end the NSA’s metadata program which was wildly unpopular when it was revealed I’m not sure is a winning approach. Also Rubio’s criticism of Cruz’s no vote on the National Defense Authorization Act was disingenuous as it also authorized, for instance, the Employment Discrimination Act where conservatives had legitimate religious liberty concerns. (Correction: I was thinking about an attempt to amend the House version of NDAA which ended failing. I apologize for the error. Update: Here is some additional information about why Cruz voted against it.) There was additional crap added to that bill.  The question should be why did Rubio vote for it? Senate Republicans should have demanded a clean bill.

I believe Cruz and Paul drew blood in their criticism of Rubio’s involvement in the 2013 gang of eight immigration bill.  I also don’t think Rubio helped himself doubling down on ousting Bashir al-Assad in Syria. While certainly he’s a bad actor it’s unfathomable to me how one could defend that particular policy when the last three countries the U.S. has supported regime change – Egypt, Libya and Syria we’ve seen a rise in radical Islamic terrorism.

This isn’t to say I think Cruz had a perfect night, I think he needs to get away from the term “carpet bombing” as that is a strategy we have not employed in recent conflicts. He eluded to precision bombing, along with an increased number of sorties, but calling it “carpet bombing” muddies the water.

Cruz addressed the question of criticizing Donald Trump at a fundraiser well, and reaffirmed support of everyone on stage should they become the nominee.

I don’t think this will give Cruz a boost in the polls, but he didn’t hurt himself which is exactly what he needed to do.

Outside of the exchanges with Cruz I think Rubio had a decent debate, but if his goal was to draw blood with Cruz he failed.

Former Florida Governor Jeb Bush’s back and forth with Donald Trump was ill-advised. Trump almost always comes out on top with those. Ben Carson, in my opinion, was a non-entity and I don’t believe did anything to stop his free fall in the polls. This was not Carly Fiorina’s best debate and I can’t really think of anything that I would say stood out.

Christie’s belittling of legislators especially in a national security debate I believe fell flat, especially when he wasn’t advancing any unique ideas.

Trump survived, but I am not sure what would bring him down. His statement on ISIS families was concerning, and it was clear he was out of depth discussing the nuclear program.

Rand Paul had a good night. Ohio Governor John Kasich didn’t really stand out.

With the undercard debate I think it’s pretty clear that former U.S. Senator Rick Santorum (R-PA) was the winner. The topic is his wheelhouse. U.S. Senator Lindsey Graham (R-SC) “whatever it takes, for however long it takes” is not what the American people want to hear after spending years in Iraq and Afghanistan. He also didn’t appear to have the knowledge of the enemy we have in ISIS like Santorum did.

He’s had impressive undercard debates before and it doesn’t seem to help with his polling so I’m not sure we’ll see him rise as a result. Former New York Governor George Pataki seemed like he had a better handle on the issue than former Arkansas Governor Mike Huckabee did, but I don’t think either men had the best debate.

I don’t think either the undercard or the prime-time debates will move polling.

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