I’m just going to offer a few thoughts on last night’s GOP debate in New Hampshire, taking the candidates in alphabetical order.
Jeb Bush: I do believe this was his best debate, particularly when he challenged Trump on eminent domain. For the first time, he didn’t seem cowed and overwhelmed by Trump; he more than held his own. It’s probably too late for him, though.
Ben Carson: Unfortunately, he took Iowa personally and it shows. My opinion of him as a fine Christian man is unchanged, but his campaign is virtually over. Eventually, he will have to face that fact.
Chris Christie: He took on Rubio forcefully and made his point about robotic answers when Rubio seemingly couldn’t break away from his pre-programmed response. However, Christie leaves me cold with his rudeness. That may work in New Jersey, but not across the nation. Then his belief that a child conceived in rape should be killed absolutely killed any positive thoughts I might have had of him. Take the life of an innocent child who did nothing wrong to be conceived? Sorry, but I don’t want a president who believes that.
Ted Cruz: Handled another public apology to Carson quite well, although some thought it was awkward for him. I disagree. I’ve seen opinions that he was “flat” in his answers. I disagree again. If you were listening at all, you heard well-informed, crisp policy comments. His personal testimony about his half-sister dying from a drug addiction was the most poignant moment of the evening. Some didn’t like it, but I consider it a high point. In my opinion, he was presidential in his manner and knowledgeable in his responses.
John Kasich: Yes, I get it that he has done some successful things as governor. He tells us continually. Yes, he sometimes makes valuable points. But there’s the other side: he wants to be conservative-Republican-light, rejoicing in a New York Times endorsement. Also, he still comes across as the kid in the room who wants to get the teacher’s attention. Bottom line: I find it hard not to be annoyed with him.
Marco Rubio: This was his big moment to shine, but in his exchanges with Christie, he stumbled badly. Did he not realize he was making Christie’s point by constantly repeating a memorized speech, no matter what the question was? He missed every opportunity to hit Christie on his real record on such matters as appointing judges. Why, oh why, did his advisors not prepare him for what was coming? It should have been obvious what Christie was going to do. Later, he settled down and gave some sterling answers when he got away from his talking points, especially about abortion, yet you have to wonder if those who saw the beginning of the debate saw the strong finish. This was Rubio’s moment, but, sadly, he wasn’t up to the challenge. I say “sadly” because I like him and hope he will learn from this experience.
Donald Trump: For a while, he was steady and unflappable, but then the real Trump showed up in the eminent domain argument. His criticism of the audience was either bold or stupid, depending on one’s perspective. His final comment about Cruz taking Carson’s votes was snarky, especially as it immediately followed Cruz’s final statement when he had no chance to respond, but that’s no surprise; that’s classic Trump. Those who say he won the debate apparently have no concern for his general answers that provide little in the way of policy other than boasts of making everything “great.”
One more point: Trump may have been right about the nature of the audience when he said it was bought and paid for, in a certain sense. I was struck from the start that the audience seemed to wildly applaud everything Bush and Christie said while remaining silent or offering tepid applause for the other candidates, no matter how solid their answers. A packed audience for those particular candidates? It’s worth asking.
On Tuesday, we’ll find out if this debate made any difference.