Republican field passes debate warm-up test

It’s not difficult to find fault with the individual members of the huge GOP presidential field. But watching nearly all of them (Trump, Huckabee, and Gilmore were no shows) participate in the first candidate’s forum of the cycle, I was impressed with what I saw, and more inclined than I have been for some time to agree that the GOP does have a pretty deep bench. (We don’t get to run a bench, though).

To be sure, it was not a challenging format. The candidates didn’t debate each other; they simply took turns fielding questions from a moderator. As often as not, they seemed not quite to answer the question asked, with no push back from the moderator.

But answering the question one wants to answer, and sounding good doing it, is a skill in its own right. I’d say that everyone present tonight sounded good.

Trying to be as objective as I can, it seems to me that Ted Cruz sounded the best (not surprisingly, given his speaking and debating skill). After hearing him blast “the Washington cartel,” it’s more of a mystery to me than ever why GOP “populists” prefer a blowhard billionaire (and, until recently, a center-left Democrat) to Cruz.

For those who like their candidates a bit less slick and polished, I thought that Chris Christie stood out. One feels that, for better or for worse, what you see is what you get with the New Jersey governor.

Jeb Bush probably falls into this category too. But he seemed a bit rusty. A little more polish wouldn’t hurt.

Carly Fiorina continued to impress. Ben Carson came across as decent and thoughtful, but not presidential.

The two candidates I was most interested in seeing were Rick Perry and Scott Walker. Perry because of the 2011 debacle; Walker because he’s a top tier candidate whom I haven’t observed in this kind of setting.

Perry was high energy; Walker was low key. Both did pretty well. But I’m still eager to see how they perform in a real debate.

That debate (actually two of them) will come on Thursday. Candidates in the main event can’t expect Megyn Kelly and company to accept non-answers to their questions.

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