Winners and losers from the fourth GOP debate
On Tuesday night, Republican presidential candidates interrupted each other, squabbled over ISIS, and rallied the GOP against the Clintons. Not much qualitatively changed since the last debate two weeks ago, but two differences gave the evening a new aura: first, with Chris Christie and Mike Huckabee relegated to the undercard debate, only eight candidates took the mainstage Tuesday night, creating a more competitive and focused environment (and ostensibly, without Christie, a smaller snack budget). Second, the remaining candidates engaged in a heated exchange regarding America’s proper role in world affairs -- a vital discussion, but one too often left out of party semantics. Whoever its winners and losers, Tuesday’s debate, hosted by Fox Business Network and The Wall Street Journal, was a win for American voters in its ultimate focus on issues that will matter in the coming electoral cycle. Winners
Ted Cruz & Marco Rubio - The Cuban Duo strikes again. After October’s debate, both men have seen significant rises in poll numbers, and both appeal to voters through their enthusiasm, strong conservative ideology, and persuasive communication skills. Tuesday was neither man’s finest hour -- Cruz listed five agencies he would abolish as president but said the Department of Commerce Twice, and Rubio appeared canned at times -- but the senators once more exhibited their ability to control a room and win arguments without resorting to bickering (a lesson Governor Kasich would do well to learn). Cruz’s censure of amnesty was particularly brilliant, and Rubio, always strongest when discussing foreign policy, offered an impassioned case for U.S. involvement overseas (“I know that the world is a safer place when America is the strongest military power in the world,” he told a dissenting Rand Paul). Analysts increasingly envision Cruz and Rubio as the final two candidates, and with two solid debates under their belts and momentum built in their respective camps, it’s not hard to imagine.
Carly Fiorina - Like Rubio, Fiorina is at her best when the topic is foreign policy, and Tuesday night she continued to impress as she rattled off names and places like she was spelling her name. What made Fiorina’s performance stronger this time around, though, were her eloquent indictments of crony capitalism and overregulation. As a former business executive, nobody is better suited to defend the free market than Carly Fiorina (Donald Trump and his eminent domain support need not apply), and her pledge to go through each federal regulation, while perhaps unrealistic, was a resonant one for both sides of the aisle. Also like Rubio, Fiorina can come across as rote, but the National Review makes a compelling case for why that needn’t be a negative comment.
Jeb Bush - The former governor began the evening as Aggressive Jeb!, a vast improvement over the Sleeping Jeb! normally seen at such events. His opening statement and promise to repeal President Obama’s executive orders were delivered authoritatively, offering glimpses hope for a presumed-dead campaign. But as the evening wore on, Bush faded, choosing to stay in the background while other candidates inserted themselves in various arguments. Kasich’s blunders will likely keep Bush’s name out of the dropping-out game until the next debate, but with the establishment largely switching to Rubio, don’t expect President Bush III anytime soon.
Ben Carson - Dr. Carson’s best moments came when asked about recent controversy surrounding the alleged exaggeration of several parts of his life story. He first responded with a typically gentle laugh line (“Thanks for not asking what I did in tenth grade,” he said with a smile), then demonstrated rare assertiveness in forcefully reminding the crowd of Hillary Clinton’s Benghazi cover-up and its lack of media controversy. Despite the promise of the exchange, Carson spent the rest of the debate as he usually has: looking like a child at the adult’s table (or Joe Biden in a gathering of foreign dignitaries) and lacking any real substance on policy issues.
Rand Paul - When a friend came late to our debate party and asked what she missed, an unnamed student responded, “Rand Paul took a 30-minute bathroom break and nobody noticed.” For the first part of Tuesday’s debate, the senator could have been napping in his hotel room and the moderators wouldn’t have been the wiser; his comments on the Federal Reserve and quantitative easing, while celebrated in many circles, were articulated poorly and unpersuasively, especially for a millennial generation convinced that the government ought to control the economy (note that Marco Rubio did exactly the opposite at the debate’s beginning when he explained how raising the minimum wage hurts those it’s supposed to help). Paul did come alive when presenting an isolationist challenge to a stage full of candidates eager to expand the defense budget, but Rubio’s “either we win or they win” regarding Islamic jihadists stopped Paul’s momentum.
Donald Trump - In many respects, Trump was entirely inoffensive and (what’s that word?) low-energy. He rambled about the Wall (and how Israel shows us its eventual success), repeated Trumpkin cliches about America not winning anymore and all the jobs he’s created, and refused to share plan details lest any grand secrets be revealed. But Trump earned boos from the audience when he attacked Fiorina for interrupting (a crime she committed far fewer times than Kasich) and was made a fool of by Rand Paul when Trump railed against the dangerous benefits China would receive from the TPP and Paul reminded him that China isn’t part of the deal.
John Kasich - Kasich certainly changed his standing Tuesday, but instead of moving to the top tier, he bought himself a one-way ticket to the undercard debate. Clearly tired of not having enough speaking time in previous debates, the governor attempted to enter nearly every argument. But loud interruption does not an artful entrance make, and Kasich, at one point nearly stopping Bush from answering his own opening question, came across as rude and annoyed. Whoever wins the GOP nomination will face either Clinton or Sanders, both of whom have ignited millennial excitement, making it more imperative than ever for candidates to make a dynamic case for conservatism. Kasich, more interested in fighting than policy, utterly fails.
The night’s true winner? This Vine of Marco Rubio laughing after receiving a question about Hillary Clinton: https://vine.co/v/elDl0WzxjMz
Photo Credit: ABC News