The quality of last night’s debate was good overall, I thought. This is a talented field when it comes to debating. Even most of the candidates who were assigned to the undercard are fine debaters.
There were, however, several low moments. I’ve already discussed the lowest — Donald Trump saying that the most important component of the (nuclear) triad is the nuclear part.
Trump, though, is bullet-proof for the time being. His howler won’t matter.
However, two candidates with little margin for error each had what I thought was a bad moment. Carly Fiorina, who rose to the fringe of contention based on her performance in the second debate, has since fallen back to the second or third tier. She needed a strong performance last night.
At times she delivered it. However, she also said “if you want something talked about, ask a man, if you want something done, ask a woman.”
Fiorina was quoting Margaret Thatcher, as she made clear. So the quotation has good lineage.
But until now, Fiorina has declined to play the gender card, to her credit and benefit. It strikes me as a sign of desperation that she played it last night. It may not be lost on Republicans that the “only women get things done” theme is a potential talking point for Hillary Clinton.
Until recently, Ben Carson indisputably was a first tier candidate if one goes by the polls. Now, polls suggest that he’s fallen off the pace.
Carson’s slide has been attributed (fairly, I think) to his failure to talk knowledgeably about world affairs. He needed to discuss them knowledgeably last night.
Carson showed signs of improvement. He was able to sprinkle more details — names and places — into his answer. He’s a smart guy and he’s been doing his homework.
But when, following an important clash between Rand Paul and Marco Rubio about the intersection of immigration policy and protecting against terrorism, Carson was asked who is right, he answered: “I’ll let them decide.”
This non-answer represented either agnosticism or lack of knowledge. Neither cuts it.
After last night, the first tier seems set: Donald Trump, Ted Cruz, and Marco Rubio. There’s still time for another candidate to join them (and for one of them to drop down). After last night, the chances that it will be Carson or Fiorina seem diminished.