ROMNEY WORDSWORTH – Last night was Round Two in the Republican Primary Debates, which was a marathon of nearly two and a half hours. With such a large field, the debates have taken on the character of a Celebrity Death Match reality show.
So, who won? By two measures, Donald Trump won. The first measure is to see who got the most air time. Air time has traditionally translated into dominance (unless the candidate implodes from self-inflicted wounds). Trump got the most air time, with 16:01 minutes, followed by Bush with 11:32, Carson with 10:18, and Fiorina at 9:58. The Biggest Loser for airtime was Mike Huckabee, with only 5:00 minutes, with Walker (5:13) and Paul (5:15) being close seconds.
The second measure by which Trump could be said to have won the debate is this one: Everyone went in to the debate gunning for Trump, to take him out or damage him as much as possible, including the CNN Moderators. If this was the mission of the GOP field, then they all failed. To be fair, I will note that Huckabee and Cruz made no direct attacks on Trump. On the question that was designed to hurt Trump the most (does he have the temperament to have his finger on the nuclear button), Fiorina and Bush punted, saying it’s up to the voters to determine. Fiorina’s attacks on Trump for having dissed her looks is already water under the bridge with voters. This isn’t the issue that will propel Fiorina to the White House. She needs to drop it.
44% of the questions were about Trump. When you are the major topic of conversation, you at least don’t have to worry about air time and name recognition.
Voters seem to agree with this assessment, with Trump receiving over 50% of the votes in a post-debate Drudge Poll.
Who was the Biggest Loser? Probably Scott Walker, who not only spoke little but had nothing memorable to say. His attack line on Trump about having an Apprentice in the White House fell flat. His policy proposals were unremarkable (repeal Obamacare, don’t raise the minimum wage, kill the Iran Deal). With Walker dwelling in the basement in the polls, and his campaign seemingly getting no traction, this debate was a do or die moment for his candidacy. Walker’s performance had none of the urgency that it needed.
Who gained the most? Carly Fiorina put in a very good performance, and I expect to see her get a further bounce in the polls post-debate. Fiorina is one of the few candidates likely to see a gain in the polls. The performances of Trump and Carson were so-so, and I don’t expect either to do more than tread water in the polls (which isn’t bad when you are the number one and two leading candidates).
Who improved the most? My vote in this category was Chris Christie. Christie’s performance was everything that Walker’s wasn’t: Christie had a unique approach compared to the other candidates. He stressed that the election wasn’t about him, it was about the voters. Christie memorably acted as an adult in the room, chiding Trump and Fiorina that the unemployed in America don’t care about their career biographies. While only getting 7:21 minutes to speak, each question Christie fielded showed he was swinging for the fences each time: Christie touted the 400 crazy bills he has vetoed from the “crazy” Democrat controlled New Jersey legislature and proclaimed that Republicans ought to be talking about what the party IS willing to shut the government down over. Fortune favors the bold. While Christie isn’t my candidate choice, I applaud his performance in the debate.
Likewise, I note that Jeb Bush performed better in this debate than in the first one, showing more energy (even Trump complimented him on this) and a bit more human (admitting he smoked pot as a kid, and apologizing to Barbara Bush for it).
Who was the most obnoxious? Without a doubt, this dubious distinction belongs to John Kasich. Kasich bullied his way into a lot of exchanges he was not involved in, but ultimately did himself no favors by taking positions anathema to conservative voters. Especially his refusal to risk a government shutdown to defend Planned Parenthood. Compared to the impassioned pleas of Carly Fiorina on the subject, Kasich came off as the DMV Bureaucrat of the bunch, more preoccupied with process over principle. I expect Kasich to continue to repel voters and stay in the basement in the polls.
Individual Highlights: Mike Huckabee shone bright in the defense of religious freedom, and Rand Paul was reliably a stout defender of the Constitution.
Who Hurt Themselves The Most? Ben Carson’s denial that vaccines are linked to autism may come back to haunt him, as this is an issue of concern for many libertarians. Marco Rubio’s defense of speaking Spanish said to me that he doesn’t support assimilation, because learning to speak English is the single most important thing a person coming to America can do to assimilate. Since the issue of immigration is one of the most important to voters, this issue may come back to haunt him.
Biggest Lost Opportunity: This one goes to Trump, who continues to fail to effectively rebut the charge that he isn’t well enough informed about world leaders, an issue generated by Hugh Hewitt’s pre-debate gotcha question asking the name of the commander of Iran’s Kuds forces. Trump should rebut this notion by pointing out that the Presidency is about grand strategy, not tactical issues. FDR didn’t know the name of every Japanese Admiral, and he didn’t need to when he was deciding whether or not to approve MacArthur’s island hopping strategy. Likewise, Lincoln didn’t know the name of every Confederate General, nor was it relevant to deciding on adopting the Anaconda Plan. The psychological profile of an enemy field commander is something for our battlefield commanders to ponder, it isn’t a concern for the Commander in Chief.
Trump’s approach of promising to hire good people smacks of delegating out of disinterest, without explaining why it is appropriate for a President to delegate on this issue.