Let’s start by identifying the two biggest losers of tonight’s GOP presidential debate. They are CNBC (along with the mainstream media in general) and Jeb Bush. But since CNBC isn’t running for president, I guess Bush is the biggest loser.
The winners tonight were the candidates who most effectively trounced the blatantly biased CNBC moderators. Heading that list are Ted Cruz and Marco Rubio. Honorable mention (and I do mean honorable) goes to nearly everyone else on the stage, but especially Chris Christie, Carly Fiorina, Ben Carson, and Mike Huckabee.
I knew the MSM had overreached very early on when my wife, a non-Republican who can’t stand Donald Trump, said of John Harwood’s suggestion that Trump is running a “comic book” campaign: “What kind of a question is that?” She repeated the same basic sentiment at several points in the segment before the first break.
Under these circumstances, the winners were always going to be the candidates who, Newt Gingrich style, went after the questioners.
Only Jeb Bush seemed not to get this. He was out to attack Marco Rubio over his attendance record (a fair criticism, in my opinion). But CNBC went after Rubio on this point first. Rubio answered superbly by pointing to the voting records of other Senators who have sought the presidency in recent years (his campaign must have taken John Hinderaker’s advice to heart).
Bush, though, was loaded for bear on this subject (or so he thought). Thus, he tried to press the issue that the biased CNBC questioner had raised. Good line of attack, bad moment for it.
Bush swung hard. But as almost always seems to happen, his opponent punched back harder.
In my view, Bush simply couldn’t afford another bloody nose. If I’m right that Rubio administered one (and my wife agreed with me that he did), this might just about be curtains for the Bush campaign.
Think about it. You’re a donor panicked by the rise of Trump and Carson. After tonight, to whom will you contribute — Bush or Rubio? I think the answer, obviously, is Rubio.
Rubio went on to deliver a brilliant anti-MSM line. When Trump denounced super-PACS, Rubio said that the Democrats have the ultimate super-PAC, the mainstream media. Few Republicans or independents who watched tonight would disagree.
Meanwhile, Cruz had devoted his entire time on a question about the budget deal (as I recall) to denounce CNBC’s performance in the debate. The denunciation was ringing. It was time very well spent.
Cruz debated well in the first two encounters with not that much to show for it. Tonight’s attack on the CNBC questioning should change this. If it doesn’t, I’m not sure what will.
As for the other candidates, Carly Fiorina had another very good performance. She handled a nasty question about her time at Hewlett-Packard adroitly and delivered an excellent sermon on crony capitalism. However, she didn’t stand out as she had in her earlier two debates, and I think she will remain in the second tier (to which the polls say she has fallen back) after tonight. But many on the stage tonight must have been thinking that Fiorina would make a great running mate.
Chris Christie was excellent again tonight. He got in on the attack on the questioners, noting that one inquiry would be considered rude even in New Jersey.
Whether Christie gets a bounce is another question. Strong debate performances haven’t helped him so far. (By the way, my wife, the independent, came away liking Rubio and Christie the most. I doubt this reaction was atypical among independents).
Ben Carson gets points for remaining so calm during the tumultuous opening minutes when some candidates (notably John Kasich) were attacking others and CNBC was attacking everyone. Even my wife, who thinks Carson is way too conservative, liked this. The doctor’s answer to a stupid, insulting question on homosexuality — just because I believe marriage is between one man and one woman doesn’t mean I have anything against gays, he said — was effective.
Off of tonight’s performance, Carson should remain strong in Iowa. But I thought he once again showed less command than other candidates on the issues and this may eventually hurt him nationally.
John Kasich opened with an attack on almost the entire field for making promises they know they can’t keep. The attack was so shrill that it turned off my wife, who has always liked Kasich and certainly doesn’t love the GOP field. I doubt that Kasich helped his cause tonight, and might well have hurt it.
Mike Huckabee is an extremely talented politician and debater. He always does well in these events, but this year they haven’t helped him much. As long as Carson maintains his standing among evangelicals, Huckabee lacks a path to relevance, as far as I can tell.
Rand Paul did okay in a debate where he needed to shine. I don’t think he’s long for this race.
And then there was Trump. In my view, he neither helped nor hurt himself tonight. He probably considers this a victory of sorts, and he probably isn’t wrong.
By the way, I found it interesting that Trump let his rivals get the jump on him in vigorously attacking the CNBC questioners, even though Trump was their first obvious victim. Has he become a little bit gun shy in this respect?
In the coming days I’ll be looking at two things. First, do Rubio and Cruz move up? At least one of them should. If neither does, then the odds that the GOP nominates an outsider with no experience in office will increase.
Second, what happens to Bush? Will his numbers slip even further (they should if Rubio gets a bounce) and will his financial support continue to dry up (it should if Rubio gets a bounce)? If the answer to one or both of these related questions is “yes,” then the former Florida governor may opt to leave the race and start doing cool stuff sooner rather than later.