CNN is hardly a trustworthy source for news, and it’s clear their primary goal for the night was to see how many times they could shout “he called you a poo-poo head! Go fight!” But debates provide candidates with a relatively unfiltered opportunity to make sound bytes. Here’s who won, who lost, who treaded water, and who really needs to go home.
THE WINNERS: Carly Fiorina, Marco Rubio, & Ted Cruz.
Carly Fiorina made the most of her prime-time debut, and managed to make waves without playing the gender card. Her comments on abortion and the character of the nation were meaty and moving. Her personal connection to the tragedies of drug use made her more than just another candidate. CNN tried their best to make it about gender, but Carly gave them zero help. Drudge has her finishing second behind Trump, and she wins the most improved prize of the night as well.
Marco Rubio has much to atone for to conservatives, who will not forget his role as spokesman for the Gang of 8 amnesty push. His remark on speaking Spanish so a Univision translator doesn’t get to shape his message had merit. It was a nice save for Bush, who was losing badly to Trump for the same policy. Rubio also got a corner market on an issue that impacts the most voters; government assaults on families, the bedrock of society. He connected the breakdown of the family unit to several of the national problems we face, making the case of “save the family, save the country.” He may have some vision after all.
Ted Cruz does not make friends in Washington, which makes him friends in principle with most Republican Party voters. He knows how to blend policy with personality, and understands how to play “good, better, best” with the audience. He doesn’t waste his time bashing other candidates; he used sound byte seconds to sell himself as the best option. He’s arguably the most Reaganesque candidate around. Should Trump fizzle, he will be best positioned to take the mantle.
THE LOSERS: Jeb Bush, Donald Trump & Chris Christie.
If you have a burning desire to make 2016 a contest between older, angrier relatives of previous presidents, Jeb Bush is your guy. He admitted to an illegal activity on live TV, tried to out-liberal Trump on abortion, and wound up promoting a very royalty-esque view of the presidency. It’s not like he has a choice though, his whole candidacy reeks of hereditary aristocracy. Just… no.
Donald Trump needed to use this debate to look presidential and (finally) provide more substance on his solutions. He failed on both counts. Trump looked especially bad against Fiorina; her sound byte friendly solutions made him sound full of hot air by comparison. He’s not out by any stretch of the imagination, but to really pull off the invincible act he’s been working, you need to let voters know you have fresh and viable solutions. Shouting “you’ll have more of everything!” doesn’t count. People want to believe Trump can actually do what he promises, he needs to make it easier for them.
Chris Christie is what we call a “niche candidate,” which is a nice way to say “no one in a red state will vote for him.” He has the bravado persona going for him, but Trump has a lock on that slot. Christie managed to look fairly relateable with his body language, but his debate statements didn’t match. He likes the cudgel of government domestically, but not on places like the Mexican border. Primary voters are the polar opposite of Christie, who needed to show his ability to be a president to more than the deep blue north east. He failed.
TREADING WATER: Scott Walker, Ben Carson, & Rand Paul.
Scott Walker did a good job of highlighting his record, but the persona he projected on stage didn’t match the resume. He’s got good experience in battleground state dynamics, but next to the other ten candidates on the stage he doesn’t look like he can take on problems like Putin, ISIS, or China. He made no gaffes, but didn’t make himself memorable. Hint: Asking a CNN moderator if you can speak is like asking Obama for religious protection for Christians. Take a page from Fiorina and elbow your way into the game.
Ben Carson is the non-DC candidate that isn’t Trump. That makes him stand out, and he has been gaining ground. His training as a meticulous, methodical surgeon may be working against him here though; the sound bytes candidates need to produce in debates didn’t happen. Carson didn’t articulate much substance, but that’s another thing he has in common with Trump. The Donald can get away with it though, because he hides a lack of substance with a mind-blowing helping of style. Carson needs to show how he’s more than a one-trick pony, sooner rather than later.
Rand Paul didn’t get much time in, and seemed to have a fidgeting problem. He did have one shining moment though when he made the case against perpetual US boots on the ground. What Fiorina did for the unborn, Paul did for our service men and women. He consistently does a good job on substance, so he didn’t lose ground there, but he didn’t have the energy onstage to make him look presidential. I wish appearances weren’t that important, but I don’t make the rules.
PEOPLE WHO NEED TO GO HOME: Mike Huckabee, John Kasich, CNN.
Mike Huckabee was invited, and there were no empty podiums, so I assume he was present. What little time he had was wasted; I can’t remember a single thing he said less than 3 hours after the debate. Huckabee has the same problem that Christie does, but in the South. To this day I can’t find a meaningful mission statement for his campaign. He needs to retire with dignity… if that’s possible.
John Kasich seems to talk about his 90’s accomplishments quite a bit, which makes him more qualified than Hillary, but not by much. The world we live in today is very different than the world of the 1990’s and if he wants to rest on those laurels, he needs to show how 20 year-old accomplishments can be repeated in modern day. In unrelated news, my 15-year-old son said “Is Christie standing next to the guy that looks like Garry Shandling?” #HailHydra
Dear CNN. “What would you want your Secret Service code name to be?” Really? That’s your attempt at a “lighthearted question?” Really?! That was only slightly more embarrassing than, “What woman do you want to put on the $10 bill?” Carly Fiorina totally pwned you when she hi-jacked your 5th grader question and forced something worthwhile into it. Go home, and take your Flight 370 psychic with you.