We’ve finally arrived! The last debate before the Iowa Caucus, and no Trump! As many are no doubt aware, the Don skipped the Des Moines debate, citing unfair treatment by Megan Kelley, who was set to moderate the debate, as the cause. Whether it was that or just wanting to rest on his laurels, Trump didn’t show, and the result was that the debate was surprisingly topical! Also, reports suggest that ratings didn’t drop for not having Trump at the center, and I’m sure that displeases him. Here’s my brief summation of the main stage debate.
Ted Cruz – Ted had a good showing. He got the Trump jokes out of the way rather quickly (some worked, some didn’t), and proceeded with a sans-Trump debate. His high point was when he was confronted with why Cruz didn’t support ethanol subsidies like his colleagues. Cruz, in a courageous move, with Iowa on the line and the Iowa Governor who discourages Cruz support big on camera, didn’t back down and even redoubled his assertion that there should be no government subsidies for anyone. Honestly, how often does that happen in a Presidential race? I hope such guts pays off in votes. His low point was when he tried to force a turn when the moderator spoke his name; he needs to stop doing that. Overall, Cruz did well, spoke with passion and optimism, and he at least didn’t lose any supporters if not gained some. We’ll find out Monday.
Marco Rubio – Marco also had a good night. Marco was lucid, if dour, but always on his toes. His high point was either when he wondered aloud if a President Hillary would pardon herself or that Bernie Sanders, as a Socialist, would make a good President… of Sweden! His low point was a toss-up between his exchange with Bush defending his immigration stance or his interchange with himself (via video) explaining how he twice switched regarding amnesty. Cruz was likewise challenged, but really did a better job of making his case. Nevertheless, Rubio did well, but as many have noted, he needs to cheer up a bit!
Ben Carson – Ben did his thing. He had no real stand out moments, but nothing objectionable, either. I don’t think he did anything to advance himself.
Chris Christie – Chris got to remind everyone that he was a former Federal Prosecutor… again. He also tried to play hall-monitor to the tête-à-têtes of other candidates… again! He did add that he would prosecute Hillary Clinton, but it wasn’t abundantly clear that he meant in court rather than the court of public opinion in a debate situation. Chris was kind of meh, and he didn’t help himself in Iowa, but he may have held his own in New Hampshire.
Jeb Bush – Jeb had his best debate yet. He was still a little stumbly, but he got the better of Marco, his current chief rival, in an exchange on amnesty. His performance supposedly has helped him in NH, but probably not in Iowa.
John Kasich – There are some times when I think John is in a debate all by himself, almost as if we’ve stepped into another dimension when the camera points to him. He seems to have been doing well in the polls in NH, but I don’t see that he helped himself last night; I have nothing else to say about him.
Rand Paul – Rand was back. He spoke well, as usual, but he really didn’t have any high or low points. I’m sure it wasn’t his goal, but I think he helped Cruz more than he did himself. Cruz, as the stage’s front-runner could stand back and let Rand be his attack dog and make his case for him. Even when Rand attacked Cruz, it didn’t really amount to much. In spite of having his very vocal supporters in the audience cheering him on, I don’t think Rand aided his campaign.
The winner of this debate was clearly Ted Cruz. However, I will admit that this was not his strongest debate, but he managed to score a few points beyond his fumbles, more than anyone else, and he also learned to take a knee when was proper. Second place I would have to award to Marco Rubio. He definitely helped himself, possibly in both Iowa and New Hampshire.
Next time is certain to be a smaller stage as some will have dropped out by then. Who it will be isn’t certain, but I could make a good guess. Jim Gilmore, who returned to the undercard debate, will most likely disappear again. Huckabee and Santorum are pretty much done, since the pair committed political suicide together by going to Trump’s alternate event and appearing on stage with the orange one, a tacit endorsement from the both. Also, Rand may be gone by next debate. Now, on to the Iowa Caucus!