GOP debate night: Few big winners, two big losers, and one cool ‘street brawl’

GOP debate night: Few big winners, two big losers, and one cool ‘street brawl’

What a night! Three hours, 17 candidates, two debates — all you needed was some food and drink and it was a great night of entertainment.

The biggest winner of last night’s debates was Fox News. For the most part the questions were fair, directed, and did not leave wiggle room (although many of the candidates wiggled anyway). And no one asked about birth control.

Watching the debate and following the Twitter feed, I noticed that each candidate’s followers believed their guy was being screwed by the moderator. In other words everyone was treated the same.

How did people do?

The big winner of the first debate (the “kid’s table”) was Carly Fiorina, by a long shot. She was poised, showed a good knowledge of the topic, and hit Hillary Clinton very hard. When she was asked about Trump, she had a classic answer: “I didn’t get a phone call from Bill Clinton before I jumped in the race,” and turning to the other candidates continued: “Any of you get a phone call from Bill Clinton? I didn’t. Maybe it’s because I haven’t given money to the Foundation or donated to his wife’s Senate campaign.”

Rick Perry and Bobby Jindal were also strong, but as they were overshadowed by Fiorina I don’t think they will be helped much from the night.

Lindsey Graham was a one-trick-pony, it seemed as with every answer he found a way to pivot to the need to send more troops to Iraq. It was so bad that when he was asked about the Planned Parenthood scandal, I half expected him to suggest they should all be arrested and sent to Iraq to fight ISIS. He is toast.

The two memorable things from former New York Gov. George Pataki were his lousy comb-over and the fact that he is the only candidate who is not pro-life.

Rick Santorum was … well, Rick Santorum. He is no different than the candidate who placed second last time. What has changed is the rest of the field is much stronger. Every time the former Pennsylvania senator opened his mouth, I experienced déjà vu all over again.

As far as Jim Gilmore goes – well — he was very punctual.

For a political junkie, the second debate was great to watch. Most candidates brought their “A” game and every one of them had a good moment. The debate did however, have two big losers: Donald Trump and to a lesser extent Rand Paul.

Trump showed himself to be a mean=spirited bully. Especially when compared to the other candidates up there, he didn’t look as though he belonged. His comment to Megyn Kelly about her not being nice to him was childish. Her question about all the nasty things he’s said about women was legitimate when one considers the gender gap and the fake war on women. And like a spoiled child, he went after her on Twitter later in the evening after the debate was over, a bush league move:

“The Donald’s” comment about bribing politicians with campaign donations and using the system to bankrupt his companies while screwing those who he owed money made him sound like part of the problem rather than part of the solution.

Trump’s comment about not having time for political correctness was silly. There is a huge difference between being politically correct and being civil.

Probably his worst moment was the very beginning of the debate when he refused to promise not to run as a third-party candidate. Again it was a showing of his childish side (“if I can’t win I am going to make sure nobody wins”). That statement will hurt him, especially in the early primaries.

Will Trump be hurt by his performance? That’s tough to answer. I thought he would be hurt by the McCain comments, and he was helped by them.

Rand Paul was disappointing. His strategy was to be aggressive, and he started blurting out a smack-down of Trump when the businessman was saying he might run as third-party candidate … and frankly it worked. That was his best moment. But the rest of the night he seemed cranky. His “fight” with Chris Christie about the 4th amendment was the best pure debate moment — unfortunately Christie got the better of him. Paul was the only candidate who got slammed by Trump.

One of the winners was the hometown favorite, Ohio Governor John Kasich. He gave a detailed defense of his controversial decision to expand Medicaid and kept driving home the point that he was the chair of the house budget committee the last time the federal budget was balanced. Kasich displayed a strong knowledge of the facts and compassion. His answer to the question about what he would do if his daughters were gay and got married was great — he said he believed in traditional marriage, but if his daughter got married to another woman that of course he would still love her. Kasich also displayed a Reganesque view of the future:

You know, America is a miracle country. And we have to restore the sense that the ‘miracle’ will apply to you. Each and every one of the people in this country who’s watching tonight, lift everybody, unite everybody, and build a stronger United States of America again. It will be and can be done.

Marco Rubio was a winner — possibly the overall winner of the second debate. Of all the candidates on that stage in either debate, the Florida senator looked the most poised and polished. He constantly gave strong and passionate answers and displayed a good knowledge all the issues. Perhaps Rubio’s strongest moment was pointing out how he would approach the likely Democratic candidate:

If I’m our nominee, how is Hillary Clinton going to lecture me about living paycheck to paycheck? I was raised paycheck to paycheck. How is she going to lecture me about student loans? I owed over $100,000 just four years ago.

He also gave a great answer to the abortion question:

What I have advocated is that we pass law in this country that says all human life at every stage of its development is worthy of protection. In fact, I think that law already exists. It is called the Constitution of the United States. And let me go further. I believe that every single human being is entitled to the protection of our laws, whether they can vote or not. Whether they can speak or not. Whether they can hire a lawyer or not. Whether they have a birth certificate or not. And I think future generations will look back at this history of our country and call us barbarians for murdering millions of babies who we never gave them a chance to live.

Ted Cruz did himself proud. He showed himself to be every bit as truthful as Trump, but with more class and a much better knowledge of the facts. His best moment was his close:

If I’m elected president, let me tell you about my first day in office. The first thing I intend to do is to rescind every illegal and unconstitutional executive action taken by Barack Obama. The next thing I intend to do is instruct the Department of Justice to open an investigation into these videos and to prosecute Planned Parenthood for any criminal violations. The next thing I intend to do is instruct the Department of Justice and the IRS to start persecuting religious liberty, and then intend to cancel the Iran deal, and finally move the U.S. embassy in Israel to Jerusalem. I will keep my word. My father fled Cuba, and I will fight to defend liberty because my family knows what it’s like to lose it.

Jeb Bush reminded me of a football team playing prevent defense. He worked hard not to screw up, and he was absent of major gaffes. However he didn’t come off as the man most likely to be president either. At times he displayed the same stiffness that hurt Mitt Romney. Perhaps that was his strategy: to idle until the field was whittled down and then kick to the finish. Bush did not help himself last night, and if he hurt himself it was only by a little bit. If Bush is playing not to lose, I don’t think it will work. There were plenty of people on the stage just as qualified (or more) as he may be, but their passion for wanting the Job is much stronger.

I happen to like Ben Carson as a person. He really is a smart and comes off as a decent human being. For most of the evening, Carson looked out of place – maybe because he is so soft-spoken. His only shining moment was his great closing statement (although I don’t know how much it will help him):

Well, I haven’t said anything about me being the only one to do anything, so let me try that. I’m the only one to separate Siamese twins … the — the only one to operate on babies while they were still in mother’s womb, the only one to take out half of a brain, although you would think, if you go to Washington, that someone had beat me to it. But I — but I’m very hopeful that I’m not the only one who’s willing to pick up the baton of freedom, because freedom is not free, and we must fight for it every day. Every one of us must fight for it, because we’re fighting for our children and the next generation.

Mike Huckabee must have surprised many people. He answers were solid, and he may have scored points among older Americans with his answer to the social security question:

Well, let’s all be reminded, 60 million Americans are on Social Security, 60 million. A third of those people depend on 90% of their income from Social Security. Nobody in this country is on Social Security because they made the decision when they were starting work at 14 that they wanted to trust some of their money with the government. The government took it out of their check whether they wanted them to or not. And, if person goes to 65, they’re going to spend 51 years with the government reaching into their pocket at every paycheck. Now, here’s the point, whose fault is it that the system is screwed up? Is it the recipients, or is it the government? And, if Congress wants to mess with the retirement program, why don’t we let them start by changing their retirement program, and not have one, instead of talking about getting rid of Social Security and Medicare that was robbed $700 billion dollars to pay for Obamacare. It’s always that the government figures that they can do this off the backs of people, many of whom are poor, and depend on that money, and I just think it’s fundamentally lying to people and stealing from them, and we shouldn’t be doing it.

Huckabee definitely picked up some support last night, but I don’t know if it will be enough to propel him into the top tier.

As I mentioned previously, Chris Christie’s best moment was his spat with Rand Paul. He won that exchange with his last line. The two clashed over Paul’s support for curtailing the National Security Agency. When Paul bashed Christie’s infamous hug of Obama just before the 2012 election, the New Jersey governor shot back that the hugs he remembered were with the families of 9/11 victims. Christie’s biggest problem last night is that almost everyone did as well as he did, but he didn’t stand out from the crowd in a way to generate momentum.

Finally there was Scott Walker. He began his closing statement with “I’m guy with a wife and two kids, and Harley. One article called me ‘aggressively normal.’”

That may be his failing. Walker is a very qualified candidate but he seemed “vanilla.” Kind of just there. Most of his answers were fine, just not memorable. One answer may have even hurt him: his flip-flop on immigration didn’t seem real. He was good on foreign policy and showing his record in Wisconsin, but he may not recover on immigration and his inability to stand out.

There you go, 17 candidates, mostly strong performances. The next debate is CNN’s on Sept. 16. Look for Carly Fiorina to move into the top ten for that debate (and possibly Rick Perry — possibly). Rand Paul might slip into the second tier. The reaction to Trump’s performance cannot be predicted. If it were anyone else, I would say his numbers are about to fall. But this is Trump, the new Teflon Don.

Cross-posted at The Lid

Jeff Dunetz

Jeff Dunetz

Jeff Dunetz is editor and publisher of the The Lid, and a weekly political columnist for the Jewish Star and TruthRevolt. He has also contributed to, HotAir, and PJ Media’s Tattler.


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