Judging by social media, the talk of GOP debate night was centered more around the moderators at CNBC than the actual debate. This was more of a win for the GOP as a whole than any one candidate, but there should still be some movement as a result.
There will be ton of comments about CNBC following this odd display, but we need to look at the candidates themselves as well.
Here’s the video followed by the transcript if you’d prefer to read it:
The third GOP debate hosted by CNBC was by far the strangest to date. With moderators that tried desperately to maintain control in the beginning to Chris Christie magically appearing out of nowhere for a few moments, it was the type of debate that should eliminate some of the candidates once and for all while propelling others to a tougher fight going forward.
The first big loser was Jeb Bush. I listened intently and I can say with all honesty that I barely remember anything he said. It’s as if his voice and visage casts a spell on the listeners to make them forget the words. Every response was scripted and he needs to fire whoever wrote them because they failed to inspire anything other than John Kasich supporters who are hopeful that they can steal some of his moderate donors.
Speaking of Kasich, his response to the first question of the debate completely avoided the question and it only went down from there. He was trying to be the establishment candidate with the track record but his continuous drumbeat of successes in Ohio and with balancing the budget were better suited for an interview than a debate. Some analysts will say it was a good night for him, especially with Bush bombing, but I’ll preemptively disagree. He promised to deliver a new twist on his campaign because he’s mad as hell and he’s not going to take it anymore, but other than a couple of quick shots at Donald Trump and Ben Carson, he didn’t deliver on his promise.
For Trump’s part, it was a good debate. He was more reserved but delivered a few strong lines that should be noted. While it wasn’t the infusion of freshness that he wanted to deliver to rejuvenate his campaign after losing ground to Ben Carson, it definitely didn’t hurt him with his current supporters and may have endeared him to a few people who were on the fence.
Carson was somewhat of an enigma. I hate to admit it because I like the guy a lot but his responses were off a bit tonight. I don’t question his heart nor his intelligence but I am a little worried about his ability to resonate with voters in a general election, especially when debating a fiery Hillary Clinton or scrappy Bernie Sanders. The Republicans need a strong debater who addresses the issues and he fell a little short sometimes. This wasn’t a killer and he won’t be hurt too much because some of his answers were stronger, but he didn’t pull away from the pack with this performance.
Just as I’ll disagree with assessments about Kasich, I’ll go ahead and disagree with those who think Marco Rubio failed tonight. He was the best prepared of the candidates and handled the attacks very well. It wasn’t a breakout moment, but with his problems in the Senate and the media attacking his voting record, he nicely deflected the controversies and came out looking stronger than before the debate.
Carly Fiorina was on the defensive. She did okay and proved once again that she’s a great debater but there wasn’t a ton there. We heard her trying to reply a lot and getting shot down multiple times by the moderators even when she tried to speak over them. Any time she’s on the debate stage she’ll get a bit of a bump because she’s likable but we won’t see her shooting up in the polls like last time.
Rand Paul and Mike Huckabee were there. That’s about all we need to say about them.
Ted Cruz had the zinger of the night by attacking the moderators themselves. Let me read his comments in case you didn’t hear them:
“The questions asked in this debate illustrate why the American people don’t trust the media. This is not a cage match. Donald Trump, are you a comic book villain? Marco Rubio, why don’t you resign? Jeb Bush, why have your numbers fallen?” Cruz added, “How about talking about the substantive issues?”
This changed the entire flow the rest of the night. The other debaters followed his lead and were aggressive with the moderators. It was a great demonstration of his famous debate skills since it was clearly unscripted and demonstrated the fearlessness that we need in a President. The only other memorable moment from Cruz came when he mentioned that his father left his family before being saved and returning home. It gave a sense of humanity to him that Carson has had for the last month and should help his poll numbers rise.
The real winner tonight was Chris Christie. That’s hard for me to say because I’m not a fan of his politics but he was an extremely capable debater and did one important thing: he turned his attacks towards President Obama and Hillary Clinton. Those notes were memorable. He seemed like a candidate who should be in the top tier and if any of the bottom tier can move up as a result of tonight’s debate it’s Christie. His performance coupled with the poor performances by his fellow moderates Kasich and Bush will keep him alive a little longer.
The big loser, as most commentators will note, was CNBC. They utterly embarrassed their network and as individuals they seemed more like reluctant parole board members questioning convicts about why they should be released to the general population. Most of the candidates handled them nicely after Cruz turned the spotlight onto them with Christie having a nice zinger about how their actions would be considered rude even in New Jersey.
We should see a little shakeup coming after this debate. Hopefully, some of those who have no chance will take the hint and abandon their campaigns.