- Donald Trump is not only unafraid to play the rich kid in the schoolyard; he revels in it.
- Ben Carson doesn’t know what he’s talking about, but he says it in a very gentle and calming way.
- Marco Rubio is good at this debate stuff and has used it to be the only one of the original top three candidates to still be there.
- Ted Cruz has not been very good at this and so has had to stay in the hunt on the strength of his campaign.
- Jeb Bush has gotten a Gentleman’s C in each of the first two debates adding to the disappointment his backers appear to be feeling about his campaign in general.
- Carly Fiorina has used the debates like a booster rocket to fuel her campaign, largely by directly taking on Trump. But, in between, she has lost steam.
- John Kasich, like Fiorina, has benefitted from his debate appearances but is also what Chuck Todd coined “A momentum candidate.” They both need to develop internal sources of power to keep moving ahead.
- Mike Huckabee has been workmanlike in these debates, but he hasn’t been able to light it up as he did in 2008.
- Rand Paul is not as good at this – or running a national campaign in general – as his father was.
- Chris Christie has done well in the debates but not well enough to overcome the sense that his time was 2012, not 2016.
How did they do?
The big winners were Ted Cruz and Marco Rubio.
John Kasich and Carly Fiorina helped themselves a lot. Again. We will see whether their campaigns can figure out how to keep them in the news until the next debate in November.
Jeb Bush and Mike Huckabee did fine, but didn’t move the needle.
Ben Carson didn’t sound like a front-runner. Chris Christie, again, was good when he was speaking, but disappeared for long stretches.
The big losers were Donald Trump and Rand Paul.
The Moderators. Lost control of the debate on the very first question and never got it back. There was no rhyme or reason for the questions after the candidates jumped in at will. Carl Quintanilla was actually booed by the crowd.
The CNBC people wouldn’t dare take that tone with a CEO sitting three feet away on the Squawkbox set. They were trying way too hard to look like tough questioners. Didn’t work.
When John Harwood interrupted Governor Christie, Christie said, “John, even in New Jersey what you’re doing is considered rude.”
Tough night for the moderators.
Donald Trump. Trump was Trump for the first 10 minutes then disappeared. Finally got back in almost an hour later. Was unsure about a question about his employees carrying guns but rallied on an immigration question by pivoting away from it and answering something else. Still, this was the first debate where Trump was not the dominant political force in the GOP and he didn’t perform well.
Ben Carson. Was out of his depth when trying to explain his tax plan. He knew he wasn’t playing well and stood quietly for a long time. Got back in the game when he was asked about same-sex marriage and his board membership on Costco by correcting the incorrect basis of the question. But, when he was asked for the details of his plan to allow people to opt out of Medicare, he had none to offer.
Marco Rubio. Rubio was fun to watch. When asked why is he in such a hurry: “That’s exactly what the GOP establishment says.” Did a great job whacking Jeb when Jeb accused him of not doing the job (being a U.S. Senator) he was elected to do. When Becki Quick asked about his personal finances he was solid, he smiled, he was humble, and he got the crowd on his side.
Ted Cruz. This was Cruz’ best performance yet. His tax plan answer was well-delivered. Cruz channeled Newt Gingrich by attacking the questions and the questioners – helped Newt short-term, might help Cruz, too. Got a huge response in the hall. I think Cruz gets a big boost out of this.
Jeb Bush. Bush attacked Rubio about missing votes. Rubio ate his lunch by citing other Senators who ran for President and missed as many. Bush is not a good counter-puncher and should stay away from trying to play that game. However, when Jeb talked about the future he sounded strong. The campaign should build on that.
Carly Fiorina. Fiorina started by saying she was told she didn’t smile enough. Then stood there and smiled. Took a lot of guts and she pulled it off. Also gave a shrewed and impassioned speech about why the size of government has to be reduced to let everyone compete against the big banks, etc.
John Kasich. Came out swinging and stayed there. Talked about being House Budget chair the last time the Federal budget was balanced. Can’t get the better of Kasich on fiscal policy. Probably knows as much as anyone in public life today. He was unabashed about jumping in when he thought it would help him, and so stayed in the discussion all night.
Mike Huckabee. Had one of the best non-gotcha lines of the night: “Social Security is a matter of morality not math.” Huckabee likes these forums and thinks on his feet. When asked to attack Trump, Huckabee said “I’m wearing a Trump tie.” Good night for him.
Rand Paul. Why was he here? Finally, 75 minutes into the debate, he got a moment to shine when a question about the Federal Reserve was raised. He whined (see, also former candidate Jim Webb) about not being able to respond to a question that was not asked of him, nor was he attacked.
Chris Christie. Did his usual solid job, was fun to listen to when he was in the discussion, but didn’t move me off my position that his time has come and gone.
Mr. Galen is a veteran political strategist and communications consultant. He blogs at www.Mullings.com.