(Jim Clark) – What can we conclude about the first GOP presidential candidate mega-debate (24 million viewers according to Nielsen). There is a consensus that Carly Fiorina won the “happy hour” debate among the 7 candidates with lower poll numbers. As far as the 10 candidate main event, it depends on who you ask. Respected conservative columnist Charles Krauthammer wrote “(Donald) Trump is over.” A Frank Luntz focus group of Ohio Republicans concluded: “Trump crashed and burned”. Conservative talk show host Rush Limbaugh pronounced Trump not only the winner but a survivor of a Fox News conspiracy to embarrass him and eliminate him from the race. Conservative e-news source Newsmax reported a poll of its subscribers showing 66% believe Trump won the debate while the next closest candidates were Ted Cruz (9%) and Marco Rubio (8%). So, clearly the main event was a blowout; we just don’t know in favor of whom.
Whenever confusion reigns about what’s going on in national politics, I turn in to PBS News Hour for reasoned and balanced analysis. New York Times columnist David Brooks, who represents the moderate conservative view, believes that Trump is really the life of the party in these debates and that proceedings are ever so much more fun to watch when he’s in there mixing it up. However Brooks does not believe that Trump is a real candidate because he has no ideology or belief system beyond his own narcissism.
While no candidate other than Trump (arguably), self-destructed Brooks singled out Marco Rubio for his message that the country is changing fast and Rubio gets it. Rubio understands Amazon and Airbnb better than the older candidates on the stage and is very articulate and well-spoken in delivering his thoughts.
Brooks also liked John Kasich who exuded compassion combined with a commitment to economic growth. He thought Kasich was bold in stating that he had attended the wedding of a gay friend. Clearly this was a general election message that may not help him in a Republican primary.
Summarizing Brooks stated: “Among the real candidates, I thought Rubio did quite well. Carly Fiorina in the under debate card did quite well and John Kasich did quite well. And so, I think those three helped themselves and they are actually viable candidates and make us rethink the race.
Brooks’ liberal colleague, Mark Shields, thought Carly Fiorina was the big winner of both debates even though she did not participate with the top polling candidates. He believes she would be the GOP’s most potent weapon against Hillary Clinton. Shields agreed with Brooks about Rubio’s performance but was disappointed in Kasich. Immediately after a Trump bloviation about Mexico Fox News moderators lofted Kasich a soft ball question designed to prompt a searing of Trump but Kasich actually complimented Trump saying he “has touched into something in America” with his stand on immigration.
Shields went on to opine that Trump made a “serious mistake by . . . attacking (moderator) Megyn Kelly” when she asked him to explain his misogynist comments about women. “Fox News is the validator, it’s the gatekeeper for Republican, particularly conservative voters,” he said. “You’re attacking the mother church when you go after Fox.”
In the miscellany department following the debate, Factcheck.Org had revelations about some of the candidates’ claims. They tagged Trump, Rubio, Bush, Kasich, Walker, and Huckabee with factually exaggerated statements, primarily about fairly minor issues so it is unlikely that any of them will be seriously damaged by the revelations.
In summary, the two debates were great as a first inning but the game has a long way to go.
Jim Clark is President of Republican Advocates. He has served on the Washoe County and Nevada GOP Central Committees. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.