Last night was the 5th GOP presidential debate, and for the first time we clearly saw who will be in the final running for the 2016 Republican nomination. There were winners and losers last night that will ultimately winnow down the field of the remaining 14 candidates.
Donald Trump did what Donald Trump does. He had a consistent, on-message debate, with typical Trumpian-style looks and gestures. While Jeb Bush landed a punch on Trump with his line, “you can’t insult your way to the presidency,” Trump quickly reminded everyone that he was above 40% in a recent poll, and Jeb was in single digits.
Ted Cruz is the man of the hour. Many thought Trump would attack Cruz due to his recent rise in the polls in Iowa, but Trump gave him a mulligan and stated that Ted Cruz’s temperament is “just fine,” after referring to him as a “maniac” on Fox News Sunday. More than likely, Trump backed off Cruz because he had a lot of backlash from many talk radio supporters/apologists for Trump.
Cruz, with an assist from Rand Paul, was able to tag team Marco Rubio in a debate not just about the role of the US and our military involvement, but for the future direction of the Republican Party. They differed on the NSA domestic data collection program, the USA Freedom Act, to topple or not to topple Assad, immigration, and the Libya intervention. Cruz held his own earning him his current #2 spot in the polls.
Last night reminded people why they liked Chris Christie all those years ago before the Bridgegate scandal. Christie had some of the best lines, including a line about why America hates the US congress and their endless debating. Perhaps the big news of the night is Christie is now seen as the alternative “establishment” candidate to Jeb Bush and John Kasich, and Rubio should be very concerned that Christie could continue his climb in New Hampshire (he’s currently polling at #2 in a recent poll). For the first time, you see a pathway for Christie to be a real contender for the GOP nomination.
Jeb Bush performed the best in last night’s debate than in any previous one. He has the distinction to land the first solid punch on Donald Trump, suggesting that Donald Trump can’t “insult” his way to the presidency and that he wasn’t sure if Trump gets his news from Saturday morning (cartoons) or Sunday morning (political news shows) television. Jeb, or his campaign staff, still think he has a chance, but he may be better suited for attempting to punch holes in Trump armor in an effort to begin to dethrone him from his top perch.
Like Bush, Rand Paul had his personal best debate performance last night, but is also too little, too late. He shined when he went after Rubio and Christie, pointing out their national security policies being similar to George W. Bush and Woodrow Wilson. He also had the distinction of being the first to knock Christie on the Bridgegate scandal. Unfortunately for Paul, Cruz has seemed to have found the sweet spot between his perceived isolationism and Rubio’s more proactive foreign policy. There’s just not enough left for Paul. Amazing that he was considered to be a frontrunner for the nomination just over a year ago.
Contrary to some analysts, voters saw Rubio rattled for the first time with the one-two Cruz/Rubio punch on immigration, NSA spying, and US military intervention. Rubio seemed to be in an uncomfortable position, but was able to counter most of the punches that came his way. The trouble for Rubio is that he is not leading in any of the first big-3 states (IA, NH, SC); he needed to make a leap at this debate and was outshined by Chris Christie. Both Rubio and Christie are competing for the “establishment” lane within the party and now some are giving the NJ governor a second look as Bush and Kasich fade.
It’s amazing that Ben Carson was leading in some polls just one month ago! With the terrorist attacks in Paris and San Bernardino, national security has become prescient in the minds of voters. Carson’s strong suit was never foreign policy and he did not appear to have a solid grasp of national security issues, compared to Cruz or Rubio. While having some good answers utilizing his medical experience, the primary has seemed to pass him by. Not sure if he can recover.
Carly started off so strong in those first few debates but it seems that she’s lost her raison d’etre for running. She’s had some of the best debate performances but has never been able to translate them into some tangible lead anywhere. She’s probably secured herself consideration for the vice presidential slot or head of the Department of Commerce, but it seems the primary has passed her as well.
Kasich seemed surprisingly neutered throughout the debate. You kept expecting him to go on the attack against Trump, but half way through the night, you could faintly see the dimming star that once was his campaign back at the first debate in Ohio. Christie and Rubio are leading the “establishment” lane now in the primary. This is just not the year for Kasich or Bush.
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