Fox News held its last Republican presidential debate in Detroit tonight. They held the very first GOP Debate for the 2016 race seven months ago in Cleveland, OH. There are only two scheduled debates left – the CNN hosts one before the Florida primary in Miami, FL on March 10 and a debate to be held on March 21 in Salt Lake City, UT.
1. If you planned to learn about a candidate’s ideas on an issue you were disappointed.
Debates anymore, and it is especially true this cycle are no longer about issues, but how can we achieve ratings by getting the most fireworks. Mission accomplished. Part of that is the media’s fault, but that’s not helped by Donald Trump’s presence during debates either. I will say having only four people on stage is far better than seven or eight.
2. Trump is less effective when he’s fighting a two-front war.
If Trump has to just deal with one candidate or two he’s pretty effective at dealing with that. This debate and last Cruz and Rubio have drawn blood.
Trump was forced to have to discuss Trump University and the lawsuit filed against him. He was made to look like he was hiding something by refusing to request that the New York Times release the audio of their off-the-record conversation. Also Cruz tied Trump’s donations to Democrats to specific issues that were ushered in like Obamacare and the Gang of Eight bill. Some will say attacks like these won’t work, I would disagree. Donald Trump was poised to do even better on Super Tuesday, but he underperformed his poll numbers in several states and lost four states. In terms of delegates he really didn’t do much better than Ted Cruz. It could have been a lot worse. The attacks work.
3. I didn’t even miss Ben Carson.
4. I didn’t miss John Kasich.
When a candidate admits that his only conceivable pathway to the nomination is through a brokered convention I tune them out. Folks he’s trailing in Ohio as well, that’s a winner take-all state. Buh bye.
5. Marco Rubio and Ted Cruz are better when not attacking each other.
I think they need to form a unity ticket in order to defeat Trump, it’s easier to do that when you are not sniping at one another. Their focus was where it needed to be – Donald Trump.
6. Attacks can be a double-edged sword.
Both Cruz and Rubio needed to go after Donald Trump, they can’t afford not to. I noticed this last time as well, Rubio can almost go too far. While interrupting Trump helps disrupt his train of thought, it also makes you bad. He and Trump devolved into some juvenile discourse during the first exchange. “Little Rubio” and “Big Trump” really? He also can come across as cocky and I’m not sure that plays well.
Also Rubio’s jokes about Trump (“you know what they say about men with small hands”) led him to defend the size of his penis during the opening remarks. I never in my wildest dreams thought I’d hear a candidate talk about his genitals during a debate.
Cruz has a different debate style and he didn’t engage in that the back and forth you saw with Rubio. He was strategic in what he drilled down with on Trump which I think was more effective. Rubio threw a number of things rapidly at Trump in hopes that it would get something to stick.
Also instead of interrupting Trump, Cruz corrected Trump when he did it and it worked. Trump stopped, and Cruz didn’t have to sink to that level. Cruz was able to challenge Trump and still look presidential.
Update: I neglected to mention it, but Frank Luntz tweeted out what I think was the best line of the debate.
.@TedCruz rising above fray and simply asking "is this what you want in these debates?” totally crushed it.
Hit 89% in my #GOPDebate group.
— Frank Luntz (@FrankLuntz) March 4, 2016
Bonus thought: I’ve seen this mentioned numerous times on Facebook tonight and I have to agree – the audience behavior was seriously atrocious.