My Reaction to the CNN GOP Debate

First, the afternoon GOP debate. None of these four have a shot. How’d they do?

1. LINDSEY GRAHAM – Graham seemed downright depressed in the first debate, so he was much more relaxed and energetic here. He destroyed Rick Santorum in their exchanges, and he had the confidence in his positions. Too bad the main thrust of his campaign is fear-mongering and making sure we get into another decade-long war. “Vote for me, or ISIL will come to America and kill you!”

2. GEORGE PATAKI – The former New York governor had more than one “grown-up” moment, but whenever he’d said “when I’m president” I had to snicker. Has yet to provide a real reason why he’s running.

3. BOBBY JINDAL – You could tell he was concerned about having a one-minute limit on their answers, and so he sped through all of his points. His low point was probably spinning the story of 14-year-old clockmaker Ahmed into a diatribe against radical Islam. He did nothing to make me think he deserves another look.

4. RICK SANTORUM – He is embarrassing. It doesn’t matter that he won some states in 2012. He’s winning none now. He comes off as whiny and dishonest. He kept saying “led the fight” against partial-birth abortion or illegal immigration, but really, I can’t picture any senator lining up behind him to be led into a fight. Doesn’t he have anyone who loves him to let him know he has zero chance, and he should really recognize this and drop out now?

I’ve seen indications that the GOP might be done with afternoon B-team debates, but if these four can draw over 6 million viewers, I see no reason to get rid of it. But if I were them, I’d cut off the next debate with the top 8 candidates. If the afternoon debate is truly dead, then all four of these guys should drop out today.

On to the primetime debate. Did anyone “win”? Here’s how I think they did.

1. CARLY FIORINA – Showed confidence in every topic, except maybe her record at Hewlett-Packard. Had the line of the night against Trump and his comment about her face. This should do wonders for her fundraising and poll numbers. Personally I still can’t picture her actually winning the nomination, but I can see her as one of the favorites for the VP pick for the eventual nominee.

2. MARCO RUBIO – As one of the youngest on the stage, he showed the most in-depth knowledge of foreign policy. I thought that of the experienced candidates, he helped himself more than any other. I am open to others changing my mind, but so far, he’s the one I want to ultimately win the nomination. But he needs to never joke about drinking water again. Just let it go.

3. CHRIS CHRISTIE – He was much better this time around. He was engaging without being belligerent but found ways to talk about his record even when he was set up to criticize others. He however repeated his false claim that he was appointed by Pres. Bush on September 10, 2001.

4. JOHN KASICH – Probably gave the most credible argument for how he’d be able to build coalitions and persuade others to come on board with him. Faded toward the end.

5. JEB BUSH – Jeb doesn’t have that aura of inevitability that Mitt had in 2012, by which I mean that no matter who led the polls that month, Mitt was confident in debates and just seemed assured he would eventually win. In many ways, he acted like a gracious host to Rick Perry and Newt Gingrich and the like. Jeb is not to that point, and he needs to get there if he wants to have a chance. He stood up to Trump, sure, but half the time Trump won the exchange just by bullying his way through it, even when Jeb was right and Donald was wrong. It’s also clear his biggest liability is still and will always be his last name.

6. SCOTT WALKER – He had a great line against Trump early. “Just because he says something doesn’t make it true.” Trump was wrong about Walker’s record in Wisconsin. Walker seemed to disappear during the debate, but it’s not surprising since he got the least amount of speaking time in the night. Also, maybe he should stop bragging about surviving a recall election. That’s like Bill Clinton boasting he may have been impeached but he wasn’t removed from office.

7. BEN CARSON – There’s a real soft-spoken caution to his answers, to the point that it feels like he hopes no one notices that he really can’t address foreign policy with any confidence.

8. TED CRUZ – He did this creepy thing early where he looked straight into the camera while giving his answers. There’s still no indication from him how he would be able to convince others to get his ideas implemented. He seems to operate on the notion that he’s right, he’ll give soaring rhetoric, and people will follow him because he’s right. And if they don’t, they’re just wrong. I also don’t get why he keeps sucking up to Trump. Actually, I do. He wants the Trump votes once he finally falls.

9. DONALD TRUMP – “I say not in a braggadocious way I’ve made billions of dollars.” He was made to look a fool over his comments about Carly Fiorina’s face, and there was so much focus on him, he was exposed for not having specifics. It didn’t damage his confidence, as Trump is a guy who believes if he says something, it’s true. Could not name specific leaders or advisors he was looking at for his team; just said they’d be “the best.” He still insists vaccines cause autism. He lied about his efforts to get a casino in Florida. He said he’d let Syria and ISIS “fight each other.” What does he think is going on over there? But Trump’s coalition of cynics, nihilists, white nationalists, and “hey, it’d be funny” will keep picking him in polls and flooding online sites saying he won.

10. RAND PAUL – Had his best answer on the 10th Amendment and legalization of marijuana. But he didn’t do enough to dispel Trump’s early charge that he didn’t deserve to even be there.

11. MIKE HUCKABEE – Gave an impassioned answer on Kim Davis’ plight that might please some social conservatives. Otherwise his folksy charm rings hollow.

Other notes:

– Someone needed to turn on the air conditioning in that room. Many of the candidates were sweating after an hour.

– There was a heavy emphasis on foreign policy this time around, so hopefully next time they can turn the emphasis to domestic policy. There was also a heavy emphasis on “Donald Trump said this. What’s your response?”  Maybe next time have a format where the questioner and candidate can just have some back-and-forth to clarify on their answers before other candidates jump in to interrupt. More than once, Jake Tapper was trying to get Donald Trump to just give him one name when the other candidates would interject, and ultimately he’d escape without naming anyone.

– I’m enjoying having a robust campaign season on the red side. No coronation here! Sure, I’d eliminate over half of them right now to narrow it down, but we got time.

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