GOP Debate Had Multiple Winners…and Losers

Donald Trump not only held his own at the CNN debate in Las Vegas on Dec. 15, he gave a hugely important answer to moderator Hugh Hewitt when he said he would run only as a Republican.  I believe that was one of the most important statements of the night, and made him a debate winner, because Republicans can now put to bed fears of a divisive third party candidacy that might hand Hillary Clinton the election.  Trump’s timing on the statement could not have been better to help himself.

I was sitting in the live audience, and I thought Marco Rubio was the best communicator, and he surely received the most positive responses from the live audience.  Yet television commentators seem to tip the scales in favor of Ted Cruz over Rubio.  I did not see Cruz doing better at the debate than Rubio, but many I talk to feel he did.  I do see a growing interest in him among my conservative friends, many of whom are less open to Rubio’s position on one issue: immigration reform.

Both Kasich and Fiorina seemed annoyed and off-kilter, perhaps because they felt they weren’t getting enough time, and it seemed to show.  Fiorina had a good line calculated to appeal to women voters about “going to a woman to get a job done,” quoting Margaret Thatcher.  But as she has done in previous debates, she interrupted questions and answers repeatedly to draw attention, and at one point drew soft “boos” from the crowd for doing so.  Kasich seemed overly animated at times, using his hands to “karate-chop” points for emphasis.  Carson started with a well-meaning gesture of a very brief moment of silence for the victims of the San Bernardino attack.  It was a “miss” for the organizers of the debate to not do that themselves, on their own time.  However if there was any candidate that “lacked energy,” it was Carson.  He handled tough questions in much too moderate and uninspiring a manner.  These were the candidates that probably did not gain ground at the debate.

Chris Christie once again addressed himself directly to the television audience, and highlighted his experience as a Federal prosecutor during the 9/11 attack in New York.  In a low moment for the debate, Rand Paul attempted to minimize Christie by bringing up “slowing bridge traffic” or words to that effect, in a blunt reference to the so-called “Bridgegate” scandal in New Jersey whereby Christie staffers concocted a bogus traffic-slowing study to get even with a Christie political opponent.  Paul’s line was ignored by Christie, rightly so, who has not been directly implicated in the matter.  Christie had a good night, Paul had his usual night.

Some observers feel Jeb Bush had a good night.  I must say I did not think his referring to Trump as the “chaos candidate” reflected the class that we usually associate with the Bush family, particularly George H.W. Bush, Jeb’s father.  It was a line not in keeping with what you think Jeb’s temperament really is or should be.  I thought Jeb handled questions well on the substance (when he wasn’t attacking Trump), but he had a weak close with two or three vocal cadence trip-ups.  I don’t think he was a loser in the debate, but I do not think he gained ground.  He surely has not slowed down Donald Trump, which was his goal.

I attended both debates: the first “undercard” and then the mainstage debate, and I am grateful to have attended these as a guest of Mike Huckabee’s campaign and my old friend Floyd Brown.  And I felt Huckabee was a winner too, by his solid performance in the first debate.  I also think Lindsay Graham would make a terrific Secretary of Defense, is funny and intelligent, but according to polling probably won’t have much of a campaign going down the line.  Though on the undercard, Huckabee remains the “mature man” in the race, and the “shout out” Donald Trump gave him from the mainstage (along with Rick Santorum) a few hours later was significant.

California Political Review Publisher Jim Lacy before start of CNN Presidential debate, Venetian Hotel, Las Vegas, 12/15/15.

California Political Review Publisher Jim Lacy before start of CNN Presidential debate, Venetian Hotel, Las Vegas, 12/15/15.

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