Last night, audiences all over New Hampshire (and the country) thrilled to the on-screen debate adventures of the remaining Republican candidates in an ABC hosted venue! Gone was the undercard debate (leaving Carly in the cold); Huckabee, Paul, and Santorum are out of the race; although the absent Gilmore might still be in… somewhere… if it matters. Once again, ThunderStruck brings you the latest GOP debate analysis!
Trump – Grumpy Cat returns! That’s right, after a one debate hiatus that might have very well cost him the Iowa Caucus, the orange-one, Donald J. Trump, once again scowled his way into the hearts of all Americans, gracing the viewing public with his oratory skill and his expert command of framing the issues of the day with ease… Actually, that last part I made up. Trump connects with his hard-core supporters only on an emotional level; other than that, if Trump can complete one sentence before starting a new one, it’s the most he can do. Trump’s greatest line of the night, concerning how to deal with Muslim
extremism/immigration, was “We have to have a temporary something, because there’s something going on that’s not good.” Trump = modern day Cicero. Other than that, Trump really had no high points. He even lost ground in a skirmish with the stuttering Jeb Bush on eminent domain, in somewhat of a reversal of a previous debate clash where Trump came out on top, chiding Jeb as a “tough guy”. And while this time Trump tried the same retort, this time Jeb had the shaky upper hand, challenging the toughness of a guy who tried and failed at seizing an old lady’s house for a limo parking lot. The exchange elicited boos for Trump, to which he responded in attacking the audience booing him, saying they were all donors of his non self-financing opponents. Trump won more boos.
The Don also did very poorly when he was asked to define what a Conservative was; all he could really come up with was that a Conservative wants to save money, this before he reverted back to his usual shtick. Trump even tried to mention the founding fathers (a possible first for him), but came off as very inauthentic, revealing only that he has little clue about the founders or the Constitution. It was almost as bad as Trump’s thinly veiled pandering to Evangelicals which made obvious to anyone but his supporters that he’s out of his depth. In his defense, I can’t blame Trump too much for not having these matters in his heart; there’s not much room, after all the Trump he’s got stuffed in there. Despite these low points, Trump still had time to double down on socialized medicine, while at the same time reversing himself on medicine of the socialized variety, saying it would only be for the needy.
After last night, Trump might lose ground with some of his fringe supporters, but not with his core devotees for whom Trump is more like a cult leader, and as such, what Trump actually says and does is of little concern, just as long as he fulfills his prophetic role in their lives. After all, a false prophet is better than no prophet. To anyone who believes that the country’s future depends on Constitutional reform and reducing the size and reach of the federal government, Trump remains an unacceptable choice, despite the areas where he agrees with Conservatives.
Cruz – Cruz may have had a lot riding on this one. After the circumstances that have tainted, to some extent, his victory in Iowa, Cruz needed to handle this one just right. I think he did. In an unusual move for a Presidential candidate, Cruz expressed regret, repeating his private apology to Ben Carson for his campaign’s actions in Iowa. Cruz offered a brief and understated explanation for why the mistake happened, which was the right way to respond. In other respects, Cruz was quite capable (as always) in his answers, with no big mistakes or gaffs, although his time on stage seemed lighter than usual. Cruz may not have convinced many in NH to vote for him, but I think he safely put the charges against his good name to rest.
Rubio – This debate was really the Rubio Show. Not that I was on hand with a timer, but it seemed that he got the lion’s share of the debate. However, I’m not really sure that it helped him. He gave a little speech about how Barack Obama is not incompetent, but rather deliberate in what he’s doing to the country. Good enough. However, Christie then chimed-in to loudly point out Rubio’s pattern of giving a small retort followed by a 25 second speech. Next, as if to prove Christie right, Rubio gave him a retort, followed by the same 25 second speech. And just to make things clear, he gave virtually that same speech two more times throughout the night! It was almost as if he couldn’t help himself; he had to say those same words again and again! In most other matters, Rubio was pretty good, but I got the unmistakable impression that, with Rubio, less is more. Look for Marco to hold or lose a little ground in NH.
Carson – I think that this is one of the worst offerings from this candidate, to date. For starters, Dr. Carson caused an embarrassing traffic jam during the entrances of the candidates. Not hearing his name being called, for minutes Carson stood unmovable in front of the camera as stage help tried to usher him on. The whole scenario was bizarre. Additionally, he played the whole why isn’t anyone talking to me card one time too. Lastly, understandably upset that some of his supporters in Iowa may have voted for Cruz, mistakenly, Carson took an opportunity to rise above and wasted it on sour grapes. Most of the blame can be placed on CNN for falsely insinuating that Carson may be dropping out, some blame falls to the Cruz camp for not properly checking with the Carson Camp before putting out the info to supporters and without follow up, but Carson has not yet openly dealt with his campaign’s stupid decision to put out a statement that communicates the same message that a wounded animal does to a predator. Additionally, while Cruz came out of this looking like a leader that is not beneath taking responsibility, Carson, who until now has enjoyed a tremendously good natured reputation, looked bitter in his half-hearted acceptance of Cruz’s apology and his insistence of something nefarious lurking in the Cruz camp. He didn’t sound like Ben, the guy that brushed off Trump’s comparison of him to a child molester. That’s too bad. Either way, I think that the Ben Carson candidacy is TRULY finished; his campaign’s future suspension is merely a formality, now.
Kasich – Yes, he’s still here! The candidate that most resembles Despicable Me is actually gaining some traction in NH. On the debate stage he was awkward, as usual. At one point, listening during a Christie retort to Kasich’s attack on Christie’s record, he resembled a bemused boy being scolded by his Mom, this even though the response was mild and laced with a bit of praise for his record. His explanation for his comment about his plans to change the definition of Conservatism was fumbling and strange. At one point, he revealed that his plan to work with Congress was to go to them and “plead,” which should appeal to those who believe a President’s role is to be shut in a locker by the bigger kids. I think Kasich may have soundly defeated his up-tick in the polls with one fell swoop!
Bush – Jeb did pretty well. Don’t get me wrong, Jeb is no wordsmith, but he definitely had a few average to good moments in the debate, such as the fore-mentioned exchange with Trump. However, the bar had already been pretty low. Any subsequent mediocre performance would have looked great by comparison. Jeb didn’t blaze a trail to take him to the top, last night, but look for Bush to absorb some of Kasich’s surge, making him a contender for the new standard bearer for the moderate wing of the Republican Party.
Christie – Christie did well, and he only mentioned that he was a former federal prosecutor once, this time. He was the beneficiary of every exchange he had with Marco Rubio. However, his seeming zeal for abortion allowances was a bit weird. The topic of ending the life of a pre-born child is unpleasant enough, but to tout your allowances on that matter with such gusto was a bit… dark. He should have just said that he believed in exceptions and moved on. Christie may woo some Rubio voters away from the surging candidate.
So that’s it for NH. Expect at least two candidates to drop out before South Carolina, depending on how this one goes. Carly seems a sure bet, though I will admit that I will miss her as I usually appreciate her and what she has to say. Other than that, one or more of the Governors will not make it into SC, hopefully. I’m looking forward to a debate with significantly less mouths on stage.
– Ryan Thorson