Fox Business #GOPDebate, and This Week in Polls

Fox Business Channel went into this day with a mission: to show CNBC how to actually moderate a Republican primary debate. They got #GOPDebate trending and early reports are that the ratings were about on par, maybe a little less, than what CNBC delivered. Which is to say, it was the most watched day in the history of Fox Business Channel.

THE AFTERNOON DEBATE

Ranking them in order of how I think they did, not just to me, but how I think it played to the millions of likely Republican primary voters watching.

1. CHRIS CHRISTIE – Hands down winner. Showed he belongs back in primetime. He kept his focus on Hillary Clinton and the Democrats and refused to attack back when Jindal kept going after him. Some of his specifics: he’d sign an executive order for no new regulations by any agency his first 120 days, and then they’ll review. His spending plan will save $100 billion a year, said he’ll counterattack the Chinese with cyberwarfare if they really want to get into it, his tax plan lowers the highest rate to 28% and the lowest rate to 8%.

2. MIKE HUCKABEE – The other three are closely tied, really. He referred to his Fair Tax bringing $31 trillion “parked offshore” back to America. Can someone fact-check that one, please? I gather his Fair Tax is a consumption-only tax.

3. BOBBY JINDAL – His insistence to keep attacking the other people on stage (especially Christie) backfired. He showed he was prepared to attack other people’s records, but when it came to what he’s done or what he’d do, he kept repeating himself. “We need to shrink government.” When the moderator asked him which Democrat he admired most, he refused to answer such a “silly” question, but it wasn’t exactly Cruz’s moment against CNBC. I found him really off-putting.

4. RICK SANTORUM – Said he wants a 20% flat tax, which… raises taxes on the lower middle-class, unless they have kids. I guess it evens out by raising the child tax credit to $2,700 per. He wasn’t any worse here than in any other debate, and he didn’t say anything embarrassing like “I am a child of Ronald Reagan.” He said he could win in a blue state (even though he’s polling at 1% in his home state of Pennsylvania). He’s polling at less than 1% in Iowa, New Hampshire and South Carolina. But hey, as long as he keeps getting 0.5% in the national polls, he’ll keep showing up.

Meanwhile Lindsey Graham, Goerge Pataki and Jim Gilmore weren’t invited, but none of them have dropped out.

Some take-aways:

Most of them agree that interest rates are too low, “artificially” low. They want to repeal Dodd-Frank. Jindal’s tax plan has a floor of 2%, but that 2% would something everyone pays so that everyone has “skin in the game,” one of my least favorite taxpayer cliches. They all says they’d do better by the V.A.

THE PRIMETIME DEBATE

So how did this one go? The moderators were polite, direct, asked good questions, let the candidates talk. There were a few times I wanted more follow-up or pushback, but ehh, they wanted to make sure they were the anti-CNBC debate. How’d they do? (And this is definitely not the order of my preference as to who should win the nomination.) ((Although Rubio’s my #1.))

1. MARCO RUBIO – No one had a wow moment, but Rubio was deft once again. He had more challengers this time, as he’s in third place but being treated like the front-runner he’s destined to become. He handled himself well in all of the exchanges, although the one that got closest to throwing him off was Cruz.

2. RAND PAUL – He decided to embrace the dynasty and sound more like his old man. Audit the Fed; cut spending everywhere. 14.5% flat and fair tax. Doing this will force them to severely cut the budget. I can see that playing well with some delegates, but I can only see many supporters gettin cold feet as they edge closer to such a dramatic change. Yet he was able to easily poke holes in other people’s foreign policy. When Jeb called for a no-fly zone over Syria, Paul was incredulous. “Russia already flies over Syria. Are you going to shoot down Russian planes?” I thought this was Paul’s best performance thus far.

3. TED CRUZ – I find him grating, but he’s pretty popular with a decent section of Republican primary voters, and he gave them the performance they sought. His faux pas of listing the Department of Commerce twice when he named five departments he’d eliminate won’t affect him because no one called him on it during the debate. The reason forgetting a department name was so deadly for Rick Perry is because they gave him ample time to remember the name of the third department he’d eliminate, and he could not do it. Oops. We’re at the part in the primaries where GOP candidates start ramping up their rhetoric as to who’s the most anti-illegal immigration, and Cruz is the winner. No one can get to the right of him without sounding insane. And he helped kill Kasich by misrepresenting what he said about banks and let Kasich dig a hole that hadn’t been there.

4. CARLY FIORINA – She needs to explain better what she means by zero-based budgeting. She’s at her best when she’s doing that, like when she got specific on crony capitalism helping write ObamaCare, or what all the groups in the Middle East are.

5. DONALD TRUMP – On the minimum wage, he said he wouldn’t raise it; we have to be competitive with the rest of the world. He even said wages are too high. Isn’t that something? A billionaire telling us we should make less money. That’ll make America great again. He tried to get a laugh from the audience by pointing out Carly Fiorina keeps interrupting people. It might have worked if he’d done to one of his male opponents, but Trump’s previous tussles with Fiorina mean that he just can’t jab at her like that. Trump was polite and subdued, and he was exposed how shallow his understanding is on some of these issues. Rand Paul had to educate him on what the TPP actually contained.

6. BEN CARSON – Politico’s overreach on his West Point story helped him. I don’t know how much more traction he can get out of complaining that he’s getting vetted more closely than any candidate in history. How quickly they forget what the media did to Mitt & Ann Romney. And of all the candidates, he sounded like the least comfortable in discussing economic issues. I get it. He’s a neurosurgeon, not a politician, but if he wants to actually win, he needs to come up with plans and have detailed answers on the tip of his tongue. And his answer on Special Ops? It was like he didn’t know what they are and bluffed his way through it.

7. JEB BUSH – Debates just aren’t his thing. He doesn’t have the patience or charisma for it, and I say this after he gave one of his better performances. His very presence means Republicans have to relitigate the legacy of George W. Bush, and as much as they love hearkening back to Reagan, they also love moving on from Dubya. How depressing would it be to have a Bush v. Clinton election 24 years after we had a Bush v. Clinton election?

8. JOHN KASICH – He has one of the best track records in the race. He’s proven he can balance budgets. But he’s one of the very few candidates that drew boos for his position. He tried engaging/arguing with other candidates and usually came out the loser on such exchanges.

Some thoughts:
– Ted Cruz is a smart guy. That’s another reason why saying the Department of Commerce twice hasn’t hurt him. People who don’t like Kasich (and there are many) were probably delighted by his putting words in Kasich’s mouth then talking over him until Kasich got booed for trying to explain how he’d help people with money in failing banks. It’s like he set up a mouse-trap in front of him, said “Why, Gov. Kasich, did you grab that cheese?” and Kasich said “I didn’t” as he’s reaching in to gab the cheese. SNAP! Here’s my problem with Cruz. He comes across as insincere, as if every time he talks, inspirational music plays in the background. He’s very easy to dislike. He would get killed in the national election.
– Apparently Donald Trump has decided to stop being nice to Ben Carson. He compared Carson’s pathological issues to those of a child molester.
– I think at this point if you can’t poll at least 5% in your own state, you should drop out. That means Pennsylvania’s Rick Santorum, South Carolina’s Lindsey Graham, Virginia’s Jim Gilmore, and Louisiana’s Bobby Jindal should drop out now. Would anyone really be broken-hearted by that?
– We haven’t had any post-debate national polls yet but here’s a look at how things are trending.

CANDIDATE       AUG           SEP             OCT            NOV
1. Trump           22.5%        29.8%          23.4%         24.8%
2. Carson           6.3%         16%             19.1%         24.4%
3. Rubio             6.3%         5.5%            9.9%           11.8%
4. Cruz               5.8%         7%               7%              9.6%
5. Bush              11.8%       8.3%             7.3%           6%
6. Fiorina           2.4%         5%               8.3%            3%
7. Paul               4.5%         3.2%            2.7%            3%
8. Kasich           2.6%          3.8%            2.9%            3%
9. Huckabee      5.5%          4.2%            2.6%            2.4%
10. Walker         9.3%          4.8%            –                  –

Here’s what’s key right now. Trump seems to have plateaued, but plateauing in the 20’s isn’t a bad thing. Carson’s had a steady rise, and maybe he’ll get thrown off by something soon, but so far, that hasn’t happened. I actually expect him to dip a little bit in Iowa and/or New Hampshire after that debate. He wasn’t a disaster; he just clearly didn’t know how to answer some of the questions.
One final thing I wanted to demonstrate: what if we ignored the national polls and just looked at the two most recent polls from each of the first three voting states – Iowa, New Hampshire, and South Carolina? Then it’d look like this:

1. Donald Trump – 23.8%
2. Ben Carson – 20.8%
3. Marco Rubio – 11.8%
4. Ted Cruz – 10.7%
5. Jeb Bush – 10.5%
6. John Kasich – 4.8%
7. Carly Fiorina – 4.5%
8. Chris Christie – 3.5%
9. Rand Paul – 2.2%
9. Mike Huckabee – 2.2%
11. Bobby Jindal – 1.8%

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