Well, that does it for the last GOP debate of the year. While I’m sure it won’t sustain us through Christmas quite like visions of sugar plums do, I think it was an interesting mash-up. Here are my thoughts on that Vegas evening.
Jeb Bush – Much like I assumed, Jeb tried to do something spectacular, and failed. Although I can say that he was a little better than last time, making a fair point to Trump that if he so sensitive about people not treating him nice, what does he expect from the world as President? However, his whole interrupt exchange with Trump was still awful to see unfold and played out like a re-run from the previous debate. Jeb Bush was a loser for not convincing anyone that he’s the one. If he continues, it’ll be only as a wraith.
Ben Carson – Predictably, Ben tried hard to prove his foreign policy chops and discussed his threat to leave the GOP because of party boss interference. On the former, I thought his call for Congress to declare war on ISIS, his moment of silence for San Bernardino, and his discussion about his conversations with Syrian refugees and their desire to remain in the Middle East were all well done. On the later, Ben declared that he had reassurances from GOP leadership that no such interference would take place, rather than renewing his threat to leave the GOP, and I think many were pleased to hear this. Ben is still in this thing, but while he did overall better than he has, I’d be really surprised if his poll numbers change radically, because he really didn’t have the watershed moment he needed to get back on top.
Chris Christie – Chris did very well in overall performance, showing himself to be a potential tough leader. His best moment was when he flat-out called the current POTUS a “feckless weakling”, which everybody wanted to hear, but no one had yet said. However, it was also the endcap to his worst moment, for the POTUS insult followed Chris’s declaration he would shoot down Russian planes in a no-fly zone in Syria, an assertion which Senator Paul proceeded to stomp on. Paul correctly pointed out that if the Russians already fly in Syria, you can’t just establish a no-fly zone and shoot them down, unless you want to start World War III. Paul even got in a dig about Chris’s bridge scandal, to which Chris chose to ignore rather than confront. Additionally, Chris probably didn’t help himself by forgetting that King Hussein of Jordan was dead, making it difficult for him to ally with. Chris’s biggest obstacle is that he’s a big-government Republican who champions power and security over individual liberty. However, his performance was strong. Look for his numbers to go up nationally and in New Hampshire.
Ted Cruz – Ted had a good night, but not all was well. He was cheerful, humorous, and his answers were spot-on. In fact, I don’t think that Rubio, his immediate contender, landed a single blow. In fact, it almost seemed like a tag-team with Rand and himself, the two big constitutionalists, taking on Rubio. I almost expected them to switch off, saying something like, “Rand, I got this one.” However, Ted shot himself in the foot when he tried to interrupt another candidate and was repeatedly told by the moderators to stop talking; that was bad. However, overall, he was really good and finished strong. Also, he had the best joke of the night, saying that he would build a wall that works and get Trump to pay for it! In terms of holding ground or helping himself, Cruz was in first or second place. Look for Cruz to go up in the polls.
Carly Fiorina – Carly, as always, had something intelligent to say whenever called on, and that normally would have helped her. However, she really negated her gains with all her interruptions. Whenever two candidates were called on for a little rhetorical pugilism, you could always hear Carly’s voice above it, making some criticism, and it really sounded bad. Additionally, her comments about first-term Senators didn’t go over right. Carly may go down a bit in the polls, and she may even have hurt her viability as a Vice-Presidential Candidate.
John Kasich – John interrupted less this time, but much like Carly or others, his frequent assertion about America not wanting their leaders to bicker failed to land a solitary punch. Furthermore, he kept referring to what his daughter had to say on this matter, which didn’t help him at all. Seriously, if he had mentioned his daughter one more time, I’d be leading a petition to have her replace Kasich as a candidate. By the end of the evening it was clear that John had failed to justify his candidacy.
Rand Paul – If we’re going just on debate performance, Rand was consistently the best debater. However, I’m not sure that his performance will translate into better polling, but I think he did help Cruz’s numbers when he and Cruz fought Marco. Ultimately, the Vegas debate may have been a grand farewell for Rand, but there’s no denying that he did well.
Marco Rubio – Marco was eloquent and pithy, but ultimately a failure. What he needed to do was take out Ted Cruz and promote himself… he did neither. Additionally, Rubio failed to properly deal with his stances on amnesty and his favoring of the bulk-collection of American’s phone metadata. Truthfully, Cruz cleaned his clock. A lot of pundits are claiming that this race will become a three or four way race very soon, and that may be, but if Rubio’s performance in Vegas is any indication, that race may not include him. Rubio’s poll numbers will probably take a hit.
Donald Trump – If in terms of mostly holding his own, the Don was the big winner. Frankly, that’s the only way Trump can win something like this. He can’t win on substance or clarity, but he’s definitely got style. Contrary to my prediction, he was reserved and only attacked when confronted or interrupted. This is definitely a point in his corner. However, Trump also made nice with the GOP establishment by complimenting them and renewing his pledge to run only as a Republican, a point that might go down hard with his supporters that are pro-Trump only as much as they are anti-establishment. Additionally, Trump took back his “maniac” comment about Ted Cruz, probably because he realizes as Cruz does that neither has much to gain from mutual attacks, but when it comes to making a compliment sound like an insult, no one on that stage is better than Trump. His lowest point came at the hand of Rand Paul, when Paul correctly criticized the Don’s intention to control the internet and kill the families of terrorists, requiring the repeal of the first amendment of the Constitution and also our withdrawal from the Geneva Convention. Expect Cruz to be the beneficiary of former Trump supporters who just figured out that Trump is not a conservative, but also expect Trump to stay on top for the time being.
– Ryan Thorson