The Briefing, Vol. III, Issue 36- Debate Winners & Losers
- Jeb has a miserable debate
- Rubio and Cruz soar; Trump forgettable
- Bernie Sanders the sexist?
The format was poorly designed, the questions were mostly tendentious (and still not necessarily tough), and some terms agreed to in advance were simply not respected. The CNBC debate last week was bad enough that RNC Chairman Reince Priebus responded to it with a letter canceling NBC’s participation in a later debate.
But of course, 14 million people still watched, and the candidates gave them quite a show. This debate will prove to be a huge turning point for several of them. Naturally, we will look at the losers first.
Bush was under a lot of pressure to turn in a great performance in this debate. And his advisors wanted to see him bludgeon Marco Rubio, even though his donors have “little appetite” for such an attack.
And so Bush showed up at the debate hoping to do both. Unfortunately, he showed up with a pretty lame and tendentious attack on Rubio’s senate attendance, even though he has missed fewer votes than Sens. Ted Cruz, Barack Obama, John McCain, or Hillary Clinton have missed or did miss in their respective campaigns. Rubio, who had already been fielding this criticism for a few weeks, was predictably well prepared, and dispatched with him pretty well while keeping the high ground and appearing to remain above the fray.
Things didn’t improve after that for Bush, who took up less debate time than nearly all the others on the stage. He came off looking a bit petty and definitely outwitted in that exchange. Bush’s call to regulate fantasy football but not at the federal level was somewhat absurd — given that he said he’s in favor of regulation, where else would he regulate an interstate business except through the federal government?
On its own, the debate performance would probably have been enough to doom Bush, just because his campaign has been so underachieving so far. But he has a few additional problems that relate to his and his campaign team’s effectiveness and good judgment.
- Costly and ineffective in Iowa: Team Bush has found little excitement for its candidate in the Hawkeye State. It has made over 70,000 calls there so far, and identified just 1,260 caucusgoers who will be supporting Bush. It has also found only four volunteers.
Bear in mind, this comes after a substantial television buy in Iowa by his SuperPAC — $6 million has been booked, although only part of it has been spent so far. No wonder Bush is retrenching and focusing on New Hampshire.
- Suicide attack on Rubio: We’ve noted the little dust-up between Bush and Rubio on stage, but it gets much worse than that. A leaked Bush campaign memo implied that Rubio has far worse skeletons in his closet than a few missed votes. When asked about this by a reporter, a Bush aide spread the rumor that Marco Rubio had failed his vetting by Mitt Romney’s campaign in 2012, when he was considered as Romney’s running-mate.
Only problem is, that’s not so — and the Romney aide who did the vetting of Rubio has gone public to debunk the rumors. Unless the ominous hints become revelations soon, Bush is really crossing a lot of lines with this sort of rumor-mongering, and he’d better watch it if he has hopes of running again in the future.
Bush has the money to stay in this race for quite some time, but it’s looking pretty hopeless for the moment. Unless, of course, he really does have something that can end Rubio, in which case he’d have a small chance anyway.
Rand Paul: Although we stopped watching when the debate ended, we are told that one of the CNBC commentators said in the post-mortem that the two senators in the debate — Ted Cruz and Marco Rubio — had done pretty well. Yes, it was that kind of night for Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky., who was nearly invisible on stage. He spoke less than anyone else, and we had to go back and look at the debate transcript just to remember at least one thing he had said.
Nothing has gone Paul’s way in this race. There are many reasons, but Trump might actually be his biggest problem, because the billionaire has attracted a large swathe of the traditional Ron Paul base.
Time to get that re-election campaign rolling, senator.
Donald Trump: You can say good things about Donald Trump, or you can say bad things about him. It doesn’t matter — it all helps him. But when people stop talking about him or find him dull and unremarkable, that’s when he starts to turn back into a pumpkin.
And nobody was talking about Trump last week because his performance was utterly unmemorable. He spoke less than three other candidates, which is not very Trumpy. He could have had more time if he’d tried, but he didn’t seem to have much to say except about the rules of the debate itself. He bragged in his closing statement about his involvement in getting CNBC to reduce its length, and that was probably his best moment of the evening. For those who backing Trump over his single-issue immigration stance, it’s also worth noting that he forgot his own position on immigration at one point while discussing the H1B program and high-skill immigration in general.
The most important thing is that Trump got where he is now by dominating the field and making all of those politicians look like fools. People liked that, back when he was doing it. He isn’t doing it anymore, and he didn’t do it in that debate. (Our theory is that he doesn’t know enough about the subject matter when substantive issues come up, but there’s also the possibility that the schtick just gets old at some point.) The fact that he seemed unaware of what was in his own immigration position paper — praised by many of his biggest fans — seems to confirm that.
Either way, Trump seems to have lost the shine that made him the frontrunner. Just because everyone predicting his demise has been wrong for so long doesn’t mean they won’t start being right. The polls in Iowa are just beginning to hint that Trump’s moment is almost gone.
Ben Carson: Carson’s new status as the Iowa (and perhaps national) frontrunner didn’t make him any less low-key in this debate. He didn’t do horribly, but he didn’t seem to understand questions about his own tax plan and that’s never good. He took up less speaking speaking time than all but Paul and Bush, and he was a non-entity throughout.
Marco Rubio: Not only did he stop Bush in his tracks, but he also dealt deftly with criticisms about his personal financial acumen and an inaccurate characterization of his tax plan. No, he did not quite address these things head-on, but no good candidate does. Rubio showed how good he is at redirecting tendentious questions and accusations. He does so effortlessly, just as when he dealt with Bush. He’ll have to do more than that to reassure people in the long run — and but this is good enough for now.
This guy is good on his feet — really good. He has a positive message, he’s young and attractive. Team Bush has tried to frame him as a Republican Obama for his assumed lack of experience. One could say he fits that bill in some ways, but don’t forget that Obama won two presidential elections and was considered the ideal candidate when he ran.
Ted Cruz: Sometimes, when Cruz speaks, he says the right things but doesn’t sound very convincing. That was not the case last Wednesday night. He displayed perfect timing in deciding when to go after the CNBC moderators, right when he was given a tendentious but not terribly hard-hitting question, much like the others before him.
Cruz earned a lot of good will just with that little riff. And overall, he made a realimpression and had a good debate. His discussion of the problem with the Federal Reserve Bank’s dual mandate (price stability and maximum employment) is one that needs to be had and rarely is — there is, in fact, little-known legislation to go back to the single mandate of price stability. His reference to the gold standard (to which he wisely did not entirely commit) is surely a means of fishing for the old Ron Paul base — the part of it accessible to Cruz at this point is mostly attached to Trump.
Cruz shows potential to become one of the contenders after Trump and Carson fade away — assuming they do. That’s clearly been his plan all along.
Chris Christie: A surprisingly strong debate performance from Christie doesn’t mean he has the slightest chance of winning the GOP nomination. But you had to enjoy watching him, much like conservatives did in his YouTube confrontations of the old days.
Carly Fiorina: She wasn’t exactly a clear “winner,” but she broke even and she didn’t hurt herself at all. Her problem is that she’s been slowly fading ever since that spectacular performance in the last debate. She didn’t do anything in the debate to stand out too much, but she smartly took the initiative to consume more debate time than anyone else.
Democrats: If Hillary Clinton is elected, Americans face eight years of being called sexist for criticizing her about anything. It’s worth laying down this flag now, because if Bernie Sanders is a sexist, then every human being alive is a sexist.
Republicans would do well to mark this one down for the future, because when the inevitable “war on women” theme crops up again, it will be worth bringing up the example of Sanders to show how empty the rhetoric really is. “Just ten months ago, her campaign was accusing Bernie Sanders — a lifelong progressive democratic socialist, of being a sexist, of waging a war on women. It just goes to show that they’ll really say anything…”
Virginia State Senate: Republicans face a risk of losing their narrow 21-19 majority in the State Senate. Tie goes to the Democrats, who control the lieutenant governorship. Keep an eye out for this result on Tuesday.
Kentucky-Governor: There is a late GOP poll showing a tie, but Matt Bevin, R, remains the underdog and trails by five points in the more-trusted Bluegrass Poll. A major factor in the outcome will be the performance of the third-party candidate, Drew Curtis. If he does worse than the polls suggest, Bevin at least has a chance.