The penultimate #GOPDebate before voters have their say in Iowa has occurred. Voices were raised, tears were shed, lives were changed. Okay, maybe it didn’t quite go like that but let’s review how it went.
1. CARLY FIORINA – The fact that she didn’t outshine Huck & Rick by more solidified to me that she’s not going to last past New Hampshire. She was the best, keeping her attacks focussed on Hillary Clinton, but it ultimately doesn’t matter. If you can’t finish in the top five in Iowa or New Hampshire, drop the heck out.
2. MIKE HUCKABEE – He has no chance, should’ve dropped out months ago. His most memorable line was when he talked about how he raises his dogs and his children the same way. If you want some folksy platitudes, by golly, he’s your guy.
3. RICK SANTORUM – He made me miss Lindsey Graham. He shouted a lot. Every time he said “when I’m President” or “as President,” I just thought it sounded about as believable as the Sixers saying they’re going to win the NBA Finals this year.
4. RAND PAUL – No-showed the undercard debate but didn’t do anything last night to otherwise make headlines. Wasted opportunity.
Cue up the climax of “The 1812 Overture”, because there are going to be fireworks! So how did they do? I’ll do my best to rank them objectively.
7. BEN CARSON – He said the vitriol in comment sections on websites did not come from our Judeo-Christian roots, but I liked his larger point about American society needing decency again. There’s a certain section that likes his non-combative style and the dulcet tones of his voice, but I don’t see enough people wanting that in the wake of Paris and San Bernadino.
6. CHRIS CHRISTIE – Well, he lied about his former support for Sonia Sotomayor, so that deflates his straight-talk bluster a bit. He also said he was going to kick the president’s rear end out of office this fall. Um, the president isn’t running for re-election. I found him off-putting this time around.
5. JEB BUSH – I noticed his favorite phrase is ‘Think about it.’ Jeb, what chance do you really have? Think about it. I also liked the part where he defended attack ads, since his Super-PAC is far and away putting out the most. He called for reason, but on the edge of the stage he was easy to forget.
4. JOHN KASICH – He got back to being the optimistic governor, and it worked well for him. He’s not the handsomest candidate, so he’s more like a rumpled-coated professor that would be the best at the nitty-gritty details of the job. He can pick a VP who’ll be the charming, camera-friendly face of the ticket. That seems to be the lane he’s going for. He was also on the edge of the stage but he felt more significant in the debate and did a better job of outlining how his experience was prologue for how he’d be president.
3. MARCO RUBIO – “I hate to interrupt this episode of Court TV…” Rubio has a tendency to laundry-list in his debates, but he had some moments of good humor in between his angry “this is everything wrong under Obama” paragraphs. He’s very confident when discussing foreign policy, national security, and his tax plan. There wasn’t that clear moment for him though. The top two remained the top two when it was over.
2. DONALD TRUMP – He’s getting better as he goes. Which shouldn’t be surprising since he’s been on TV for so long. He embraced the “anger” mantle and made it a positive. He still insists he never said he’d put a 45% tariff on Chinese goods. But more than once he made a booing audience laugh by claiming they were booing about something other than his answer.
1. TED CRUZ – His best work was when he was able to annihilate the birther question once and for all. And Trump doubled-down, and it was actually an amusing exchange, but Cruz came out the better for it. Cruz showed tonight why he’s a debate champion.
Looking ahead, I see Trump and Cruz staying firmly on top in Iowa, and I’d give the edge to Cruz in Iowa. It’s hard to really know how votes will go, because many of the polls making headlines have uneven sample sizes and large margins of error. The nice thing about Iowa is we’ll be able to look and see which polls most closely reflected what’s happening.
The fight for third will matter more this year than any previous year. Whoever comes in third in Iowa will be helped by that, and whoever comes in the top three in New Hampshire will be crucial. If the top three in Iowa are Cruz, Trump, Rubio, then Rubio’s still in good shape. What if he comes in fourth? Could that affect him in New Hampshire, where he, Cruz, Kasich and Christie are within the margin of error for second place? I do think Trump’s going to win New Hampshire.
This last debate didn’t really move the needle for anyone, and there were many campaigns that needed needle-moving. At this point I don’t expect anyone to drop out until Iowa, but after Iowa, we’d better see a minimum of three candidates suspend their campaigns. After New Hampshire we should see a minimum of three more. (Technically Gilmore’s still in there, so this would reduce the field to six.) There should be a maximum of six candidates going into South Carolina, and there should be a maximum of four the morning after. Then with Nevada and Super Tuesday and a final four of candidates, the race can become real, instead the crowded noise it currently is. I say “should” but with the impenetrable egos of some of these people, it wouldn’t surprise me if we still have eight candidates in mid-March, with seven of them still insisting “I am the only one who can stop Trump!”