BY SALENA ZITO firstname.lastname@example.org
The big winner of Tuesday night’s debate was the Republican Party. The candidates were impressive, engaged, detailed on their different views of how government would work best and left you with the impression that several potential presidents were on stage.
As suspected, the in-depth policy debate swallowed-up both outsider insurgent candidates Donald Trump and Dr. Ben Carson.
“They are not shallow people, but the depth of candidates like Marco Rubio, Jeb Bush, Carly Fiorina and Rand Paul make them seem that way in comparison,” explained Bruce Haynes, GOP media expert and founding partner of Washington-based Purple Strategies. “Carson did help himself by soundly defending his integrity, and his innate advantages of strength and humility still came through, but tonight showed why those qualities may not be enough to make him or Donald President.”
Tonight was likely the beginning of both Trump and Carson settling back into the field in the polls and Rubio – possibly others – growing support.
“Rubio is just silly good,” said Democratic strategist Dane Strother, who said Rubio had an interesting gaffe when he first said the most important job anyone of us will ever do is being a parent, then he repeated it and said the most important job any of us could have is the job of being president.
Strother said Rubio’s “pro-family tax code” statement was solid.
“The winner on the stage was Marco Rubio,” said Haynes, “He didn’t run away and hide tonight like he did in some other forums, but he maintained his momentum and sustained the growing narrative that he is the strongest potential nominee the party can offer.”
Rubio was solid sharing his generational narrative, his unique perspective and his strength on foreign policy, said Haynes: “I suspect we will continue to see more endorsements and financial support moving his way in the days and weeks ahead.”
Most of the other candidates had very good nights as well. A focused policy debate allowed the group to demonstrate intellectual and ideological depth, passionately but politely highlighting differences where they occurred.
“The real Jeb Bush showed up tonight, the one that gives a damn and acts like he wants to be president,” said Haynes. “He wasn’t perfect, but there was more passion and strong policy chops on display.”
Now we see if this is one good night, or the beginning of Bush’s own surge that reframes his campaign.
Strother disagreed, saying Bush is done. “The Republican race became all about debating ability, boiling the race down to snippets and sound bites and ability to jump in. Jeb never made the case that the same family should have three people in a quarter of a century run our country,” he said.
There were plenty of substantive exchanges and differences during the debate, more so than the other three combined, showing sharp differences within the Republican field on a host of issues.
Former HP tech executive Fiorina supported a more strident foreign policy, sharply criticizing Trump on Putin.
Kentucky Sen. Rand Paul found both his voice and his stride with his libertarian-leaning belief that restraint should be used in U.S. military interventions overseas. “You can be strong without being involved in every civil war around the world,” Paul said.
Ohio Gov. John Kasich, took on the mostly silent Trump for his “silly argument” to deport 11 million illegal immigrants. “Come on, folks, we all know you can’t pick them up and ship them back across the border. It’s a silly argument. It’s not an adult argument,” Kasich said.
“John Kasich is a smart man and a great governor, but his awkwardness as a political candidate was on full display tonight,” said Haynes, “He had cringe worthy moments at times, and what should have been a good night for him fell far short of his needs.”
Strother said Kasich probably should have been put in timeout for poor behavior, but on substance he made himself the executive in the race.
While Ted Cruz had the gaffe of the night, mentioning the Department of Commerce twice among the five bureaucracies he would eliminate, a gaffe strikingly similar to former Texas Gov. Rick Perry’s whoopsie moment of the 2012 primary when he failed to remember all of the bureaucracies he would eliminate. But Cruz redeemed the gaffe by delivering the line of the night when – in the heat of a debate over whether to curtail or increase military spending – he said: “You think defending this nation is expensive? Try not defending it!”
Rubio was calm, witty and regimented in a good way — he was ready to show he was going to live up to the hype and down-play whispers he’s not ready for the job.
Cruz was strident taking on Hillary Clinton, more so than any other candidate. He was also very specific in his policy answers, sometimes perhaps too much so, but he proved himself a gifted debater.
Both men will continue to grow after Tuesday’s event; so will Fiorina, while Trump and Carson will start to fade.
Which leaves us with the undercard champ Chris Christie, who owned the event by projecting his candidacy as the true warrior to take on Hillary Clinton. All in all, there were two great debates, full of substance and personality, that highlighted real differences between the differences between candidates.