The second Republican debate took place Wednesday night hosted by CNN. There were plenty of fireworks between several candidates which was by design as the moderators posed questions to incite the conflict. However, overall I give the broadcast decent marks for content and hearing much more from the candidates instead of the moderators.
Given that this website did not come under a cyber attack, which is what happened during the first Republican debate back in August, I was able to watch this broadcast and provide some thoughts on each candidate. I’ll start in podium order.
Watch: CNN Republican Debate Video
Rand Paul put in a much better performance this time around, perhaps because he received more time to talk thanks to a longer broadcast. He had some good lines and made some valid points. I don’t know if it’s enough to move his poll numbers much but he came off much better than the first debate.
Mike Huckabee was fairly irrelevant except for the topic of Kim Davis, the County Clerk from Kentucky jailed for refusing to issue marriage licenses to gay couples. That is where he shined and actually got Jeb Bush to back down and agree with him on religious accommodation. He had some other good moments but I think he has hit his ceiling in this race and is not going to move much in the polls.
Marco Rubio probably had a breakout performance, if you can have such a thing among ten other candidates. He spoke deeply on foreign policy, held strongly against Trump and other attacks, and came off sounding like a solid statesman. I think he greatly helped himself and will likely see a bump because of it.
Ted Cruz delivered a solid performance very similar to the first debate. However, I don’t know what he said that is going to make people give him a second look or improve his numbers. He stuck to his conservative credentials and touted the “I’m the only one on this stage” routine which, I think, sometimes comes off the wrong way. Either way, I think no harm no foul and Cruz continues cruising along.
Ben Carson could be described in one word: Quiet. Maybe a little too quiet. Then again, maybe that is his appeal, that he’s calm, cool, and tempered compared to those around him. He didn’t have much in the way of memorable lines like the first debate but I don’t think he harmed himself other than perhaps coming off a little too timid at times.
Donald Trump delivered a Donald Trump performance. He was loud, he was unapologetic, and he probably came off pretty well to his supporters given how he stuck to his guns on immigration in the face of Jeb Bush. He absolutely took some punches in this round but there wasn’t anything new except the hits from Carly Fiorina which were some direct hits. However, they were not hits over policy positions, they were hits on comments Trump made about her face. Therefore, I’m scoring Trump as not having harmed himself fatally.
Jeb Bush was certainly stronger than the first debate. He was more aggressive, but he still comes off sometimes as scripted and robotic. However, what I picked up one were many times he staked out conservative positions, something he said he was trying to avoid in the primaries. On abortion, on States’ Rights, and a few others, he held firmly to the right which tells me his strategy of ignoring the base during the primaries has softened given the state of his stagnant poll numbers. Overall, I’d say he helped himself with this performance. It wasn’t a serious breakout, but it was a life-line he sorely needed in terms of a stronger image.
Scott Walker delivered a straightforward performance with his matter-of-fact like recital of his accomplishments in Wisconsin. There’s nothing wrong with that, but I don’t think he did much that will create a polling surge either. He’s got his record and he’s got many strong conservative positions, but voters aren’t gravitating toward him like they were four to six months ago. I don’t think he helped or hurt himself, which in summary, is probably a loss for him moving forward.
Carly Fiorina may have come away benefiting the most from this debate. She had her largest audience to date after being relegated to the “kids table” debate last month on Fox. She came out and had detailed opinions on every topic, even when it wasn’t solicited. She clearly was trying to use her time wisely and it showed. She probably had some of the most memorable lines of the night when going back and forth with Donald Trump, which I think she got the better of. I predict a fairly decent polling bounce for her in the next couple weeks.
John Kasich gave a similar performance this time around as he did back in August. However, one thing I kept noticing was how often he reminded people how long he’s been in and around Washington. It started with his story about riding on the plane with Ronald Reagan when Kasich was a congressman. From then on, he mentioned his experience in Washington many times. In a year like this, when outsiders are surging, I wonder if I’m not the only one who noticed. He probably didn’t do much to help or hurt himself overall.
Chris Christie had a pretty good performance. I think he may actually have helped himself to the point where his polls might improved a bit. He was strong on several topics and have a few emotional connections which were memorable when talking about his wife and the September 11 terrorist attacks. Was it enough to dig him out of the polling basement? I doubt it, but people may give him a second look.
Well that’s it, I’d love to hear your analysis and tell me where you agree and disagree with me. I give decent marks to CNN and Jake Tapper for keeping the moderators toned down. The only issue was the constant question setup to get the candidates fighting each other, but some of that elicited good policy discussion.