My main thought about tonight’s debate is that Jake Tapper did a horrendous job of moderating. As John says, he devoted way too much of the first portion of the debate to bad questions about Donald Trump, presumably in the hope of perpetuating the food fight and, perhaps, making candidates look bad.
By doing so, Tapper froze out part of the field.
The freeze out was exacerbated by the fact that if a candidate mentioned another candidate, the mentioned one got time to respond (which he or she often used to spout talking points on an entirely different issue). Tapper’s questions sometimes were tailored to invite the mention of a specific candidate, often Trump. Thus, the unfair treatment of certain candidates must have been intentional.
Tapper didn’t just freeze out candidates, he froze out the two other questioners — Hugh Hewitt and Dana Bash. As John says, Hugh seemed to be missing in action. Since their questions were generally superior to Tapper’s, the debate suffered.
Most of the candidates did reasonably well under these conditions. But my impression is that Scott Walker, Mike Huckabee, and John Kasich didn’t get the air time they needed and deserved (I haven’t seen the stats on air time, though).
Ben Carson is a special case. He could have done with less air time. Recall that he was frozen out of chunks of the first debate (he complained about it at one point), but came out smelling like a rose thanks to a few funny lines at the end.
Tonight, forced to talk about policy, he too often was lame, in my opinion. I don’t think he’ll suffer much as a result in the short term. His calling cards are his life story and disposition, and both came through.
But if this debate caused me to make up my mind about one thing pertaining to the candidates, it’s that Dr. Carson doesn’t have what it takes to be president. I’ll be more specific in a subsequent post.
Who won? As in the first debate, I thought Marco Rubio and Ted Cruz talked/debated the best, with Carly Fiorina also in the mix. Rand Paul was surprisingly good when given the opportunity to participate (though I didn’t agree with him often).
Who is the winner (a separate question from who debated the best)? Fiorina, I think. Because she wasn’t in the previous debate and still isn’t very well known, she stood to gain the most from a good performance. She delivered a performance that was quite good.
Moreover, she showed herself to be the only one of the three non-members of the “political class” to have a strong command of the issues. I could imagine voting for Fiorina in our primary; I cannot imagine voting for Trump or (after tonight) Carson.
It’s difficult to see how Fiorina doesn’t keep moving on up.