GOP Debate Reaction: The Main Event

AUGUST 7, 2015

CLEVELAND, OH - AUGUST 06:  Republican presidential candidates (L-R) New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL), Ben Carson, Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker, Donald Trump, Jeb Bush, Mike Huckabee, Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX), Sen. Rand Paul (R-KY) and John Kasich take the stage for the first prime-time presidential debate hosted by FOX News and Facebook at the Quicken Loans Arena August 6, 2015 in Cleveland, Ohio. The top-ten GOP candidates were selected to participate in the debate based on their rank in an average of the five most recent national political polls.  (Photo by Scott Olson/Getty Images)
What a night.  Where, oh where to begin?  OK, let’s start with Donald Trump.

I’ve got to hand it to Fox News (words I never thought I’d write), they do know how to stir up the drama.  They kicked it off by asking the candidates to raise their hand if they would not take a pledge to support the GOP nominee and not to run as an independent.  Trump took the bait amidst some boos.  Then Megyn Kelly asked Trump about his comments about some women being “fat pigs.”  After a quick swipe at Rosie O’Donnell, Trump reverted to an argument about not having time to be politically correct.  Then when Chris Wallace cited the 4 bankruptcies of Trump properties and the money investors lost, Trump basically argued that these guys were no babes in the woods.

Any one of these exchanges would have torpedoed the candidacies of the other 9 on the stage, but I have the feeling that Trump is going to walk away from this night unscathed.  Yes, he may have lost a few curious GOP centrists who could be turned off by the disloyalty or “fat pig” answers, but Trump’s base are folks who are angry at politics, the GOP included.  The fact that he doubled down on his previous positions will only strengthen their support.  Trump’s not going away any time soon.

Were there any winners in the 10-candidate field?  I think the two men who helped themselves the most were Marco Rubio and John Kasich.  Rubio made a clear and compelling case for his candidacy, emphasizing his hardscrabble upbringing that could counter any attacks that Hillary Clinton could make about helping the poor.  Kasich, while making a subtle play for Trump supporters, still managed a reasoned and respectful answer regarding marriage equality that hit all the right notes for a Republican presidential candidate.

Rand Paul‘s strategy was to insert himself as much as possible in the debate, picking a skirmish with Trump and then getting into a catfight with Chris Christie over government surveillance.  Paul, who’s dovish, took a canned swipe at Christie’s hug of Obama, which got big applause and will probably make the highlight clip reel on Friday.  Christie, however, got some much needed airtime for a candidate who needs the attention.

As for the others, Ted Cruz got relatively few questions thrown his way, and for a candidate that likes the spotlight, it must have been a frustrating night.  Scott Walker maintained his opposition to any kind of abortion, even if the life of the mother is in danger.  And in a curious remark, Mike Huckabee pitched his “fair tax” idea as a way to save Social Security “because the money paid at consumption is paid by everybody, including illegals, prostitutes, pimps, drug dealers, all the people who are freeloading off the system now.”  Well…OK.

Dr. Ben Carson.  zzzzzzzzzzz

I think Jeb Bush was there.  I do remember him speaking at times.  But was this how a supposed frontrunner behaves at a debate?  Not if he wants to stand out from the pack and win the nomination.  And on a night with big personalities as well as lower-tier candidates performing at the top of their game, careful and cautious was not the way to go.