Last night, we saw the candidates in their fourth GOP debate of the 2016 election cycle. Sponsored by Fox Business and moderated by Neil Cavuto, Gerard Baker and Maria Bartiroma, the debate focused on the economy, and was more substantive than any of the previous debates. The candidates fielded questions on job creation, tax plans, immigration, the Trans-Pacific Partnership and a fair amount of foreign policy. This was the best debate so far, and the moderators asked excellent questions, but they definitely need to come up with a better way of monitoring the time situation…their bell just wasn’t getting the job done.
Going into the debate, the frontrunners were Donald Trump and Ben Carson, followed by Marco Rubio, Ted Cruz and Jeb Bush. Carly Fiorina, Rand Paul, John Kasich all continue to hover around 2 percent in the polls. Overall, the climate was civil, with a little back and forth between Marco Rubio and Rand Paul, and Donald Trump and John Kasich. Donald Trump only threw one real insult, which he directed at his favorite target, Carly Fiorina. He complained to the moderators that she kept interrupting, although in reality, John Kasich was the real culprit there.
So, now to the important stuff…how did they perform? Here are my thoughts:
Trump was just mediocre. He did not have as much opportunity to speak as he normally does, and his lack of knowledge on foreign policy was painfully obvious. This is not surprising, and as the debates become more substantive, his weaknesses will become more noticeable. As a candidate, he lacks depth, so when the discussions become more complex, he tends to quiet down and hang back. His comfort zone is business, and he did make some good points, but I think he is naïve on immigration. I am very much in favor of securing the border, but the idea that we can just automatically deport 11 million people is unrealistic. I do think he has been good for the GOP, because he does shake things up and he is not afraid to go on the attack. I don’t think he hurt his numbers tonight, and his faithful followers will probably stay with him, but I don’t expect that this debate will give him a bump in his poll numbers.
Dr. Ben Carson, like Trump, was just okay. His most effective moment was when he deflected the criticism from the mainstream media over his West Point “scholarship”. He compared his vetting process, and the hard line taken against him, with the fact that Hillary Clinton gets a pass for lying about the events in Benghazi. That brought his best applause of the night, and he made a good point. For the most part, he seemed somewhat disconnected, and his response on the banking situation and on the Special Forces in Syria, didn’t make a lot of sense. As with Trump, I don’t think he hurt himself last night, but I don’t think he had a particularly strong showing.
John Kasich was just painful to watch! He was obnoxious with his constant interruptions, and his long-winded monologues. For a while, it seemed like the Kasich/Cruz hour, as they both dominated much of the latter part of the debate. When Kasich defended the idea of a banking bailout, he got boos from the audience, and according to Frank Luntz of Fox News, he received the lowest score ever recorded with Luntz’s focus group. He was too aggressive and argumentative, and I think his poll numbers will pay the price. I will be shocked if he isn’t relegated to the kiddie table in the next debate.
I’m sorry, I am sure he’s a very nice man, but Ted Cruz just really irritates me. His answers are endless; the man just loves to talk. Most of the pundits are saying he had a great night, and he definitely had more than his share of airtime. He has an extensive background in debate, so it’s not unusual for him to perform well. He had a few good applause lines, but he also had a Rick Perry moment when he was enumerating the five federal agencies he wants to eliminate in conjunction with his tax plan, and he could only name four of them. I think he probably won over some voters last night, and he will probably see a slight bump in his poll numbers, but I still don’t think he’ll overtake Rubio.
Carly Fiorina had a good night. She was more involved in the discussion than Trump or Carson, and she definitely knows her facts. She is extremely well spoken and knowledgeable, and she is comfortable debating both economics and foreign policy, which is especially impressive since she is an “outsider”. I don’t think her poll numbers will change a lot, and I don’t think she has enough personal appeal to win the nomination. She’s almost robotic, and like Cruz and Kasich, she is too long-winded. I do, however, think she would make a good vice-president.
Rand Paul just needs to throw in the towel. I still don’t see how he managed to be on the big stage last night, when Christie was demoted to the bottom tier. He went after Marco Rubio, who is his main competition right now, but I think it backfired on him. He likes to throw barbs at the other candidates, and I think it just makes him look petty. His poll numbers aren’t going to improve, so he’s on borrowed time.
Jeb Bush needed to have a great night, but he didn’t manage to pull it off. He was better than he was in the last debate, which really isn’t saying a whole lot. I just don’t think he’s comfortable in a debate setting. He seems to come across better in interviews or on the campaign trail. Debate performance really shouldn’t be the deciding factor when selecting a President; after all, Obama debated well, and you know the rest of that story. However, Jeb just seems to get a little confused at times, and he just looks awkward. I don’t think he helped himself last night, so his numbers will probably stay about the same.
Last, but certainly not least, Marco Rubio. In my humble opinion, he was the winner last night! He wasn’t quite as good as he was in the last debate, but I still think he came across very well. His answers are concise, and he has a way of discussing complex issues in a way that most anyone can understand. He made some great points about the importance of the family, and about education, and I thought he was particularly strong on foreign policy. He knows that we have to have a strong military, and he made Rand Paul look foolish for attacking him over military expenditures. I kept waiting for Marco to invoke President Reagan, because Reagan was both conservative and pro-defense spending, and that would have really shut Rand Paul down. I noticed on Twitter last night that as the debate was ending, one of the top political backers in the country tweeted to Rubio’s campaign, “I’m in”. I think we can expect to see Rubio move ahead in the polls. Go Marco!!