I multi-tasked through tonight’s GOP presidential debate, watching the proceedings on Fox while participating in Power Line Live and simultaneously exchanging several hundred texts with my wife and three of my children. It provided a sort of three-dimensional perspective on the proceedings. For what it’s worth, here is my take.
My guess is that the only candidate who gained perceptibly was Marco Rubio. As you may know, I have endorsed Marco, so take this with a grain of salt. But I thought he performed very effectively throughout, and handled the extended immigration discussion well. As always, he was strong on foreign policy. I thought he was clearly the best performer tonight.
Ted Cruz held center stage with Donald Trump gone, but that seemed to throw him off. He responded well to the first question of the evening, but then went downhill as he appeared to try to dominate the proceedings. At one point he got into a battle of wills with Chris Wallace which he lost, and looked bad doing it. I thought he came off rather poorly in the immigration flip-flop discussion, although I don’t know how many viewers managed to follow it. Cruz is, of course, skilled in this debate format, so he didn’t do badly. But I thought that on the whole, he didn’t come across as well as he should have, and probably lost a little ground.
Chris Christie performed well; in my opinion, next best after Rubio. That probably won’t matter much in Iowa, but it may help him in New Hampshire.
I hate to admit it, but John Kasich was actually pretty good tonight, by far his best showing. I still hope he drops out soon.
Neither Rand Paul nor Ben Carson scored much, but at this point it probably doesn’t matter. Jeb Bush was mediocre, I thought, which is about as good as it has gotten for him in the debates.
How did Fox do? Quite well, I think. But Megyn Kelly, in particular, tended to give long speeches rather than ask questions. The “gotcha” mode was annoying at times. Then there is this: two of the questions were asked by YouTube personalities, i.e., young liberal women. Twitter has been buzzing with this picture, which appears to be the second YouTube questioner who asked about hate crimes against Muslims. (I got this from my daughter in Australia, who watched the proceedings, texted non-stop and simultaneously kept an eye on Twitter.)
Really? A Bernie Sanders activist asking a question in a Republican primary debate on Fox News? We have strayed a long way from Hugh Hewitt. I know Fox wants to be fair and balanced, but this is ridiculous. Don’t hold your breath waiting for the moment when a Ted Cruz or Marco Rubio activist gets a question in a Democratic debate!
UPDATE: For what it’s worth, Frank Luntz’s focus group saw it the way I did:
— Frank Luntz (@FrankLuntz) January 29, 2016