Tonight’s debate got off to an awful start, with Jake Tapper asking a series of bad questions that were all about Donald Trump. But as the evening went on, it got a lot better. I think the overriding impression for anyone that saw it to the end is that there are vigorous arguments going on within the Republican Party, and only within the Republican Party. It is hard to imagine Bernie Sanders and Hillary Clinton–or Barack Obama–on stage with the Republicans, engaging in what is often a free for all. Democrats don’t debate, Republicans do.
Who “won”? I’m not sure that’s the right question, but here are my thoughts:
Chris Christie was strong and effective throughout. He showed a sense of humor, too. Like several others, he closed strongly. I will be surprised if he doesn’t get a bump from tonight’s show.
Ted Cruz is terrific in this format. But there is something about him that some people really, really don’t like. I am not sure that any display of brilliance can overcome that sentiment.
Scott Walker was strong and vigorous. He came alive, in my view, and should have helped himself. His closing statement was very good.
Marco Rubio was shut out for the first half hour plus of the debate, but when he finally got some air time he did extremely well. I think most viewers came away with an appreciation of his mastery of foreign policy. And he responded forcefully and effectively on immigration, his most sensitive issue. He was excellent on the climate change scam, too.
Donald Trump came across poorly, sometimes appearing to be a Democrat who forgot that he was talking to an audience of Republicans. Is this the beginning of the end for him, as many observers on Power Line Live speculated? Probably not in the short term, but the clock is beginning to strike.
Carly Fiorina was terrific. She won several exchanges with other candidates, and destroyed Trump with regard to his insulting her appearance. Her rise will continue, and should. Her final answer on putting a woman on the $10 bill was a classic. Her closing was astonishingly good.
Ben Carson was Ben Carson. He is a brilliant, accomplished gentleman, but a novice on the political scene. People like him, and they should, but I think he is more likely to be a cabinet officer than a president.
Mike Huckabee was shut out of the first part of the debate, and probably got less air time than anyone else. When he was on the screen, he performed with his usual skill. Tonight he came across as a team player and contributed to the overall positive vibe of the event.
Rand Paul was himself; he appeals to a segment of the electorate, but it’s a pretty small minority of Republicans. I don’t think anything that happened tonight will change his trajectory.
Jeb Bush seemed determined to raise his energy level, especially early on, and he did OK throughout. But I still don’t know why he would be in any Republican’s top three. He did get in a great line at the end: “Everready.”
John Kasich didn’t do badly when he was on screen, but there is still no obvious rationale for his candidacy. I don’t see how his reminiscences about his time in the House will sway a lot of votes.
Throughout the evening, there was one overriding question: what the Hell happened to Hugh Hewitt? After an hour or so I was ready to put out a missing person report. After all these weeks of buildup, did Hugh anticipate that he would get to ask–what was it, two questions? I really have no idea what was going on there.
Bottom line: despite everything, a bad beginning and some food-fight interludes, tonight was a win not for any one candidate, but a big win for the Republican Party. Rarely has so much talent, so much vigor, so much diversity, been on display.