There’s no doubt this was the most anticipated debate in decades. Not because there would be 10 men who want to be our next president, but because of the inclusion of the flamboyant, multi-billion-dollar businessman, Donald Trump. Who would help the cause? Who would hurt it? I’ll break that down in a minute. But, first — it bears noting that even Fox News was unfair with Trump. Maybe the idea was to neuter him off the top to keep him in line. Maybe it was to expose him as the non-politician he is. But, the opening foray asking if there were anyone on stage who would NOT pledge to back the eventual nominee and would NOT pledge to run third party was a juvenile tactic with a known outcome that swayed the audience from the get-go. They knew the answer and they knew how it would be received. That question was not about issues, leadership, fixing what Obama has broken — it was pure political theater in front of the largest debate audience in history… an audience only so large because of the inclusion of Trump.
The Big Winners? Ted Cruz, Ben Carson and Mike Huckabee. The Big Losers? Chris Christie and Jeb Bush.
Here’s my break down ranked in order of polling position going into the debate:
Donald Trump – I don’t think he helped nor hurt his cause. He’s not a politician and came across as a non-politician. People like that about him. The answer to the leading question about what he’s said about women could have been smoother. But, as much as I like Megyn Kelly, it was an unfair question with a lot missing. Trump only went after Rosie O’Donnell after Rosie first called him names.
Jeb Bush – I think the former Florida governor hurt his cause by not giving a valid answer to his support for Common Core. I also think he hurt himself by again saying going into Iraq was a mistake. No candidate should ever answer such a stupid hypothetical question. We didn’t know then what we know now. Stop asking it. I thought he came off as shaky.
Scott Walker – Here’s a guy we’re still getting to know nationally and frankly he didn’t stand out. He was smooth and firm in his answers but there was nothing that I felt separated him from the pack.
Mike Huckabee – The former Arkansas governor turned talk show host reminded the country how firm he is in his beliefs, how you can be firm like that while coming off as very genuine and nice and had a great turn of phrase in his closing statement seeming to allude to Donald Trump then telling us he was actually talking about Hillary Clinton. He acquitted himself very well. I think he might have rediscovered what had helped him so much in his unexpected successes in 2008.
Ben Carson – A big winner of the night. The former neurosurgeon stumbled out of the box by showing his lack of charisma on early questions. But, once he found his comfort level and, more importantly, once we realized his very intellectual sense of humor, his ratings went through the roof for me. His answer on race was superior and he was strong on a question about waterboarding. His closing statement was amazing as he talked about his accomplishments as a doctor while still humorously dropping an attack the establishment in Washington, D.C.
Ted Cruz – The Jr Senator from Texas was another big winner of the night. Living in Texas, I am well-aware of what he promised he’d do as a senator and that he’s followed through on those promises. The nation didn’t know that. I think many got to know him last night and liked what they heard. He’s probably the most staunch conservative in the field and was unwavering. His answers were concise and direct and on point.
Marco Rubio – The senator from Florida did well. He came off as smooth and well-rehearsed but, I didn’t get the feeling he stood out. He had a snappy line about how Hillary Clinton can’t lecture him about living paycheck to paycheck which I think will resonate well with voters. I think he didn’t help nor hurt his cause.
Rand Paul – The senator from Kentucky takes a lot of heat for being and angry guy. For some reason, he listens to the criticism and makes excuses for it. He shouldn’t. This is who he is. He has strong beliefs and will fight for them. I think he had a real opportunity to make great gains last night but he allowed Chris Christie to get under his skin and probably nullified any chance of moving up. He left the stage in the same position entered it for me.
Chris Christie – The aforementioned New Jersey governor is being widely praised for his performance last night. I wholeheartedly disagree. Chris Christie let the nation see him as a big government, Northeast moderate with his stance on surveillance. He’s so wrong on it and so firm in his wrongness that I was actually a little embarrassed by it. Yes, the Fourth Amendment matters. No, I don’t feel safer because the government is collecting my phone and email data. No, you’re not right and you do not come off as conservative.
John Kasich – Many thought former governor Rick Perry should have been on that stage instead of Kasich. He resonated very well with the audience because he had a hometown crowd. His answer on why he expanded Medicaid didn’t make sense to me. He did come off as a nice guy steeply rooted in his beliefs. He edged up maybe a little for me.
That’s what I saw. The big winners from the early debate were Carly Fiorina and Rick Perry. I’d like to see them on the big stage next time.