My Northern Alliance Radio Network colleague Mitch Berg and I had a blast at the AM 1280 The Patriot Debate Viewing Party on Wednesday evening. The room we reserved at The Mermaid Entertainment Center in Mounds View was jam packed to the point where we had to bring in extra chairs.
During commercial breaks, Mitch and I chatted with the audience, gave away prizes, etc. All in all a fun evening!
While we watched the early debate among the lower tier candidates (Lindsey Graham, Bobby Jindal, Rick Santorum and George Pataki), most of us were eager to see the "main event" featuring the top 11.
I'll have a more detailed analysis on the radio show Sunday but I thought I'd convey a thought or two on each candidate.
Jeb Bush: Adequately defended himself from attacks on his Florida record, his wife and brother. Admitted he smoked marijuana 40 years ago when the question came up about Federal laws concerning the drug.
Fair or unfair, I still don't see how he overcomes the stigma of the Bush name.
Ben Carson: Dr. Carson has enjoyed a surprising rise in the polls, many of which have him in second place. However, he seemed rather lackluster in his answers on illegal immigration and didn't deliver a rhetorical knockout punch to Donald Trump's assertion that vaccinations of children lead to a high risk of autism. I understand Carson wants to present an aura of dignity and decorum but that wasn't the time or place for it. A real missed opportunity there.
Chris Christie : If there was one candidate who exceeded lower expectations it was Christie. He struck a lot of nerves when recounting 9/11/01 and how he couldn't get a hold of his wife who had gone to the Twin Towers that day. He was also frank about his struggles as a fiscally conservative, pro-life Republican in New Jersey, yet still sticking to his principles.
Where I thought Christie overreached was when the moderators asked candidates Trump and Carly Fiorina about their respective business careers. Christie eventually interjected that the American people who live check to check didn't much care about their lucrative careers. I don't know why he directed his curt statement towards the two candidates when it was the moderators who broached the subject.
Ted Cruz: Oh, Ted Cruz was there?
In all seriousness, Cruz did what he normally did, which is tout his willingness to rip both parties in Washington, D.C. while playing nicey nice with Donald Trump. He also talked about how he regrets being so supportive of a quick confirmation of Supreme Court Justice John Roberts.
Carly Fiorina: Definitely the most commanding performance of all the candidates (moderator Hugh Hewitt thought her presence was in the motif of Lady Thatcher). She effectively sliced and diced Trump's remarks about her looks and even managed to connect Planned Parenthood & the Iran deal.
Where Fiorina is vulnerable would be in regards to her firing as CEO of Hewlett-Packard. She spun it as her having alienated the Board of Directors due to her challenging the status quo. While she was obviously prepared for that line of questioning, will the American people be placated with her answer?
Regardless, there was close to a consensus at our debate party that she was the winner despite the fact most were coming in as Carson and Cruz supporters.
Mike Huckabee: In my opinion he's not a serious candidate but he's still very good on the religious liberty issue. While I disagree with him on the Kim Davis saga, he was terrific when giving his vehement defense of her. Outside of that, pretty lackluster performance.
John Kasich: Kasich overachieved in the first debate in Cleveland. But get him out of his home state of Ohio and he doesn't offer much. In fact, his defense of the Iran deal effectively killed what minuscule chance he had to be the GOP nominee for President.
Rand Paul: He was good on liberty issues surrounding legalization of marijuana as well as the controversy regarding vaccinations. Tries not to sound as loony as dear old dad Ron on foreign policy but still didn't give definitive stances on Israel, Syria, etc.
Marco Rubio: Solid as a rock. Rubio was great on foreign policy as well as rejecting the premise that this country can effectively alleviate any "climate change." I've said for some time that he is the most charismatic and coherent candidate when conveying the GOP message. Wednesday's performance effectively galvanized that belief.
Rubio is also funny in a charming way. When moderator Jake Tapper mistakenly referred to him as "Senator Cruz," Rubio corrected him and then wryly said "we don't all look alike."
Donald Trump: The usual empty rhetoric. Talks about how he'll be the greatest jobs President but offering no specifics. Claims he'll surround himself with the greatest military minds that will guide him in foreign policy decisions but doesn't share one name of anybody he claims to be considering. Indignantly say he opposed the Iraq war before it started despite no record of any stance. And of course his pet issue is illegal immigration. Apparently these great (and, of course, unnamed) legal scholars assure him he's correct that the 14th amendment does not allow babies automatic citizenship if born in the U.S. to non-citizens.
Oh, I have yet to mention his boorish behavior towards Paul, actions which would seemingly disqualify other candidacies. I think we can safely say the Trump candidacy defies all logic and conventional wisdom.
Scott Walker: The Wisconsin governor needed a strong performance to revive what seems to be a floundering campaign. Didn't happen. Walker was average at best in the limited opportunities he had to speak. His strategy seemed to be to attempt to ding front runner Trump ("...we don't need an apprentice in the White House."). He also accused Trump of using Democrat talking points. While it looked somewhat promising early in the debate, Walker pretty much faded in the end. One has to wonder if he'll be around for the next debate in late Ocotber. Far from a sure thing.