For the first time this cycle, I skipped the undercard debate. Jim Gilmore is there out of charity, and the crass last-second decision by Huckabee and Santorum to join Trump at his anti-Fox News rally just solidifies that they’re going to bomb on caucus night. So I’ll say Carly Fiorina won the debate by default, right? Doesn’t matter. None of these four should still be in the race this time next week.
So on to primetime. What did I learn?
1. Rand Paul gets a loud pop. Libertarians in da house!
2. The first question is about Trump? Seriously, Megyn?
3. Ted Cruz is so so pleased with himself with that Trump joke. Calls Trump a maniac.
4. Ted gets a second question about Trump. He says he won’t attack him. (I guess just calling him a maniac doesn’t count.)
5. Rubio is next, gets a question about Trump. What is going on here? Rubio nicely pivots to Obama.
6. Jeb Bush now commenting on Trump. Judas freaking Priest!
7. Chris Christie is the first one to get a question that isn’t about Trump. Wahoo!
8. Bret Baier asks Rand Paul why he didn’t embrace his father’s politics sooner? Something like that. Rand points out Ted Cruz didn’t show up for the “Audit the Fed” vote.
9. Kasich says there are three lanes. The establishment lane, the anti-establishment lane, and the Kasich lane. He’s been a reformer all his life.
10. I almost fell asleep during Carson’s answer.
11. Cruz “will apologize to nobody” for wanting to utterly destroy ISIS. (pauses for applause) Then he starts sawing the air with hands worse than Kasich when talking about Obama’s approach to ISIS. He will utterly destroy ISIS. Utterly, I say.
12. Rubio laments how the US military has been diminished.
13. Cruz compares to Obama to Jimmy Carter. You know who followed Jimmy Carter, right? Get it?
14. Cruz seems to think the “your time is up” bell is the “speak for 30 more seconds” bell.
15. Chris Wallace sets up a softball for Christie to attack senators Cruz and Rubio. Christie pivots to criticizing Clinton for her email scandal. She put national security at risk “for her convenience.” Nice moment.
16. Cruz tried to jump in for 30 seconds, and Wallace won’t put up with it. Cruz keeps sniping.
17. Bush points out the tough talk on terrorism amped up after Paris and San Bernadino. He’d put up a no-fly zone over Syria.
18. Cruz criticizes the questions, crowd boos. “If you ask one more mean question, I may have to leave the stage.” It’s a joke about Trump, but it falls flat. “Let’s stick to the issues.” Yeah, whatever. Wallace says the questions were about issues.
19. Rubio says “Don’t worry; I’m not leaving the stage no matter what you ask me.”
20. Paul says the question is should we be bombing both sides in Syria? We’re trying to topple Assad while we fight ISIS. He says we should focus on ISIS or they’ll take over all of Syria.
21. Kasich wants to talk about foreign policy, but the moderators say “No, no, no!” Then Megyn Kelly asks Rubio another question. I’m thinking Kasich hasn’t had a chance to speak for a long time.
22. Rubio will crack down on domestic terrorists and says domestic ISIS fighters will go to Guantanamo.
23. Paul rips Rubio for his Gang of Eight bill. He says you can’t be tough on domestic terrorism if you’re not for border security.
24. Now they cut to Christie. (When the heck is Kasich going to get a question?) Megyn Kelly goes back and forth with Christie about “if you see something, say something.”
25. Carson gets a second question. He seems to have not noticed what it was about, so he bashes political correctness and then gives a Teddy Roosevelt quote.
26. Megyn Kelly goes to Kasich. (“See? I’m back!”) Kasich talks about how we need to defeat ISIS “in the air and on the ground” with a coalition like we had with the first Gulf War. Says we shouldn’t be the policemen of the world.
27. Bush says as president, his first achievement should be to clean up the mess at Veterans Affairs. People died waiting for help.
28. Why are we taking questions from “YouTube stars”? Question about body cameras.
29. Rand Paul said he supported legislation for body cameras, then speaks about how people are getting fined too much, then goes to how we need to legalize drugs and do criminal justice reform.
30. Bret Baier asks Christie about specifics on what the federal government should not fund. He says Planned Parenthood. Baier: “Anything bigger than that?” Christie says he can’t imagine anything bigger than millions of unborn children being killed.
31. Cruz’s timeout is over; he gets a question. He says he will appeal every word of ObamaCare. (pauses for applause) Cruz said we should allow people to purchase insurance across state lines, expand health savings accounts, and de-link health insurance from employment.
32. Bush said if he was Puerto Rican, he’d vote for statehood.
33. Baier asks Kasich how he would have handled the Flint Michigan water crisis. Kasich says people forget government is about serving the people. “You don’t serve us; we serve you.”
34. Baier asks Rubio about cap-and-trade. Rubio talks about how he was against the liberal governor of Florida who called himself a Republican, Charlie Crist, who was for cap-and-trade.
35. Immigration. *sigh* Kelly plays clips of Rubio where he’s been against amnesty. Then Kelly says he was for amnesty. Rubio said he was not for blanket amnesty. Kelly keeps interrupting him. (Is this Megyn Kelly or Candi Crowley?) When Rubio’s allowed to speak, he laudry-lists his plan for dealing with illegal immigration. Kelly then asks Bush to pile on, which he gladly does. He says Rubio “cut and run” from the Gang of Eight. Bush plugs his book.
36. Rubio says that book is where Bush changed his position on illegal immigration.
37. Kelly keeps going with this immigration line. Plays clips of Cruz supporting immigration bill. (Has Cruz ever worn a suit that fit?) Cruz talks about his amendments for the immigration bill were to fix its problems and he didn’t agree with everything in the 1000-page bill.
38. Kelly to Paul: Do you buy Ted’s answer? Paul says Cruz is the king of blaming everyone else for being for amnesty, but he’s the pure and perfect one. Says Cruz has an authenticity problem.
39. Cruz refers to Rubio as his friend, and I can just picture Rubio thinking “Yeah, right.”
40. Rubio says “This is the lie that Ted’s campaign is built on. He’s the only true conservative and everyone else is a RINO. Ted, you worked on George W. Bush’s campaign.” Some Ted fans start to boo. “You helped designed W.’s immigration policy.” “We can’t defeat Hillary Clinton with someone who’s willing to say or do anything to get elected.”
41. Cruz calls Rubio charming and smooth, but here are the facts. I’m sorry, but I can’t stand Ted Cruz. The more he talks, the less I like him. He is so phony and so patronizing and talks out of both sides of his mouth, and he’ll throw anyone under the bus to get his way. Snake. Oil. Salesman.
42. Christie says we heard what Cruz and Rubio said. We need to send someone from outside of Washington to Washington. “It’s okay to just change your mind. As governor, you can’t hide behind parliamentary tricks. Cut the Washington bull.”
43. Oh geez, another YouTube star. Dulce Candy. At least both of them so far have been veterans. She asks about if the economy will suffer if the US is not a place for immigrant entrepreneurs. Carson says we’re a nation of immigrants, and switches to ISIS. I’d wager he wasn’t paying attention to the question.
44. Bush thanks Dulce for her service, and for being an entrepreneur on “the YouTube.”
45. Wallace points out that no fellow senator has endorsed Cruz. Asks if his style gets in his way of getting things done. Cruz says he is not the candidate of career politicians in Washington. (Mugs for applause, gets it. Man, he’s like a brick-wall comedian.) Says he’s accountable to the Texans who elected him.
46. Kelly asks Bush about his Super-PAC attacking fellow Republicans and especially Rubio. She says polls show Bush would lose to Clinton in general election. Bush says ‘Well, I’ve seen polls where I beat Hillary Clinton.” Seemed a little bothered there. No one is benefitting more from Trump not being there than Bush.
47. Baier says to Rubio that he’s been called the savior of the Republican party. “Well, there’s only one Savior, and it’s not me. It’s Jesus Christ.” Later says “Bernie Sanders would be a good president…of Sweden.” And then “Hillary Clinton’s first action of president would be to pardon herself.”
48. Wallace asks Christie about Bridgegate. “Who cares!” I scream internally. We’re covering a lot of the same ground we’ve covered in previous debates. How about a question of the deficit and our national debt? How about a question about stagnant wages? C’mon, Wallace, Baier, and Kelly! As they cut to commercial I think I heard someone yell “Ask better questions!”
49. Wallace asks Kasich about evangelicals and Medicaid. Somehow. Talks about the improvements they’ve made in Ohio on Medicaid, on mental health issues, drug addiction, then talks about his faith. The conservative message is economic growth.
50. Paul said we could have federal and state solutions for curbing abortion. If we let the Supreme Court reverse Roe v. Wade, it could be a state issue again.
51. Carson says Putin’s a bully, and I would face him down. (So unconvincing.)
52. Rubio says Iran is using the billions we gave them to develop long-range missiles. Says he’ll cancel the Iran nuclear deal his first day in office.
53. Kasich says you need a coalition to reneg Iran deal. Says if US is only one who puts sanctions back on, it won’t have an effect. Baier tries to lecture Kasich but he interrupts him. “I know, Bret.”
54. Kelly asks Paul about him bringing up Bill Clinton. He says any CEO who did that to a 22-year-old intern would be fired, says Hillary can’t be a champion for women when her Foundation takes millions from regimes that treat their women like cattle.
55. YouTube star. Muslim. Says hate crimes have tripled against Muslims. Says this inspires more to radicalize and join ISIS. Bush says he won’t be like Trump and stoke fear. He said she’s not the threat, the threat is Islamic terrorism. Says to destroy the Caliphate, we need the help and cooperation of our allies in the Muslim world.
56. Wallace asks Cruz about Gov. Branstad (large cheers from audience) being against him over his ethanol stance. Cruz says he will tear down the EPA blend wall.
57. Reagan: “Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this wall.”
58. Trump: “Hey, Mexico, build up this wall.”
59. Cruz: “EPA, tear down this blend wall.”
60. Question to Carson. He answers every question like he just woke up and only heard the last five words of the question.
61. Paul closing statement. Said he did a couple of surgeries over Christmas break. Says he’s the only fiscal conservative who will look at the entire budget.
62. Kasich closing statement. We can solve problems. We can create jobs and provide job security.
63. Christie closing statement. 9/11. Terrorism scares everyone. As POTUS, no one will keep this country safer than I will.
64. Bush closing statement. This country desperately needs a conservative leader. I will make you proud.
65. Carson closing statement. He cites the beginning of the Constitution. (Think he got some words wrong, but good try.)
66. Rubio closing statement. The light of America is dimming a little after seven years of Obama. Caucus for me and I will unite this party, defeat Hillary Clinton, and the light of America will shine again.
67. Cruz closing statement. The central question in this race is trust. Who do you know will defend life, marriage, and liberty?
RANKING HOW THEY DID
11. HUCKABEE & SANTORUM – Way to look like Tweedledee and Tweedledum on your way out, fellas.
10. CARLY FIORINA & JIM GILMORE – Two people who will not be president.
9. DONALD TRUMP – He was probably smart to skip this debate, because I guarantee he would have had some tough questions that he would have furiously tweeted about later, but it wouldn’t have mattered, because the online Drudge and Breitbart polls would have shown he was the winner. Meanwhile, you have veteran groups who are tired of him using them as a political chit.
8. BEN CARSON – Should really drop out so he can go back to hibernating.
7. TED CRUZ – The pausing for applause. The smug resting face. The exaggerated hand gestures. The disingenuous set-ups. The whining about the questions. I thought this was his worst performance yet. It was his first time at center podium, and he did not win.
6. THE MODERATORS – They were tough, and Chris Wallace got the better of Ted Cruz when Cruz tried to Gingrich his way around them. But most of the questions were reworded from several other debates we’ve already seen. It was more of the same. And most of the night wasn’t a debate, it was a series of mini-interviews. We really need fewer people on stage.
5. JEB BUSH – Bush had the confidence of Alfalfa when he finds out that Butch won’t be going to school today. No Trump meant he felt a little freer throughout the night. But his comment about how he has “no control” over his Super-PAC. I mean technically, legally sure. But, come on.
4. CHRIS CHRISTIE – His mock-bewilderment at senator-speak is starting to feel like shtick.
3. JOHN KASICH – It’s clear the guy know what he’s talking about, but the moderators wouldn’t let him talk. I mean, they didn’t let Carson talk much, but I don’t think anyone minded. I actually wanted to hear what New Hampshire’s rising candidate had to say.
2. MARCO RUBIO – He didn’t have that definitive above-the-fray moment, but any time he got in a back-and-forth, he came out on top. His weakest part is probably immigration, because he and Cruz keep getting into bickering mode as to who was really for amnesty more four years ago. And you know every debate from now until the end of time is going to have 3-4 question on immigration.
1. RAND PAUL – He was the cool cat on the end who could just look side-eyed at everyone else and had the relaxed nature of someone who’s not worried about winning. He was able to bring up topics no one else would. It was a hint of the candidate many of us thought he would be. If only he’d shown up sooner.