My Northern Alliance Radio Network colleague Mitch Berg and I had a blast hangin' with the listeners, live tweeting the debate (with our tweets being posted on a big screen) and just indulging in the discussion on the salient issues. Kudos to CNN/Salem moderators Wolf Blitzer, Dana Bash and Hugh Hewitt with their terrific line of questioning. With the recent terror attacks in Paris, France and San Bernardino, CA, obviously the main focus was on foreign policy. While the methodology differs among the candidates, there was multiple times more substance on this issue than you will ever hear in a Democrat debate.
The "also ran" debate featuring Lindsey Graham, Mike Huckabee, Rick Santorum and George Pataki was OK, I guess. I viewed as little more than Graham constantly puffing up his 36 separate visits to Iraq, probably in the hopes of angling for Secretary of Defense. Other than that, it was a feckless exercise.
Anyhow, here's my breakdown on how each top tier candidate performed in the "main event."
Jeb Bush: Started out strong. Someone said that "Jeb Bush with nothing to lose is my favorite Jeb Bush." He even landed a rare good zinger on his main nemesis Donald Trump by saying Trump likely gets his information from Saturday morning shows (i.e. cartoons) as opposed to the Sunday talk fests. However, Bush seemed to fade as the debate went on.
Yes, Jeb! needs to get a clue that the millions upon millions his Super PAC has spent to tout his candidacy has barely moved the needle. He emphasized a need to ensure that Donald Trump is not the GOP nominee. He could help expedite that process by moving on himself.
Ben Carson: Foreign Policy is definitely Dr. Carson's weakest area. The more troubling aspect is he doesn't appear all that desirous to become more knowledgeable. Like Sen. Graham, Carson should angle for a cabinet position (In Carson's case, Surgeon General). I greatly admire Dr. Carson and his life story but he definitely should not be in this race for much longer.
Chris Christie: After slipping to the under card last debate, Christie was back in the main event. With foreign policy/terrorism at the heart of Tuesday's debate, Christie was definitely in his element given his role as a prosecuting attorney during the 9/11/01 terror attacks. He also effectively touted his executive experience, chiding the Senators on stage whom he felt didn't have to make as difficult of decisions as he does. Christie was also more emboldened (if that's possible) by receiving the endorsement of the New Hampshire Union Leader.
One concerning moment was when Christie did not hesitate in saying he would shoot down a Russian fighter jet if said vessel violated a "no fly zone" over Syria. Dunno that starting a war with Russia is a great idea.
Ted Cruz; The long awaited tussle with Marco Rubio finally happened. Cruz hit back at Rubio's assertion that their respective plans on immigration reform are not that dramatically different. Cruz essentially said Rubio's statement was like saying a fire fighter and an arsonist are the same just because they're present at the same fire.
For me, Cruz's debate was summed up by two incidents. One, he flat out denied he supported some sort of legalization for illegal aliens (except he did).
And two, he quite often when past the buzzer indicating his time was up. I was hoping the moderators would be all like.....
Carly Fiorina: Calm, cool and collected. As usual, she did a nice job of conflating how her personal experiences (losing a child, surviving cancer, etc.) and business background would translate into being a good leader. And while the other candidates often took shots at each other, she was the only one who consistently went after Hillary Clinton.
Unfortunately for Ms. Fiorina, she doesn't seem to have the ability to parlay those debate performance bounces into any sustained success on the campaign trail. I don't see her in this race past the Iowa Caucuses.
John Kasich; Upon seeing Kasich flail his arms like a Kung Fu fighter...
....while saying little of substance, I (and, judging by my Twitter feed, much of the debate audience) couldn't help but wonder.....
Rand Paul; While I don't agree with a good portion of Paul's foreign policy vision, I admire the fact that he has developed a vast knowledge of the issue during his Senate term. However, Paul came off as quite petty and snarky when dinging Rubio for being part of the Senate's "Gang of Eight" and then jabbing Christie over Bridgegate. Since neither Rubio nor Christie took the bait, Paul appeared even smaller.
I had high hopes for Paul as a candidate, but I just don't see a path to victory. He certainly will win reelection to the US Senate in a walk come November 2016.
Marco Rubio: I was surprised it took until this debate for the moderators to broach the "Gang of Eight" issue. To Rubio's credit, he didn't back down. A path to legalization for illegal aliens may not be popular among conservative Republicans but it's something that wouldn't necessarily destroy him in a general election.
I've said often that Rubio is the most thoughtful and articulate of all the candidates when it comes to communicating the GOP message. While he needs to shore up his stance on surveillance and the NSA's gathering of meta-data, he's in this for the long haul.
Donald Trump; If you've read this blog for any length of time, you know full well I am not a Trump supporter. In fact, I'd be hard pressed to say he's in my top 10 despite there only being 13 candidates. With all that said, I thought Trump had a pretty good performance.
While he occasionally employed his trademark mockery and snark, Trump actually stuck with the substantive issues. Again, he's not exactly the most nuanced speaker in the field, but he didn't back down from his plan to ban Muslim immigrants from entering the U.S.
I'd say that Trump did nothing to hurt his substantial lead in the polls but that seems to be an obvious statement given his usual bombast and outrageous statements rarely has a negative impact.
I felt Trump's low point was his complaint about how the moderators constantly asked questions about statements he's made on the campaign trail. For as much of an attention whore he comes off as, that just seemed downright whiny.
For the final debate in 2015, I was pleased with how it turned out. Not only was there a lot of substantive discussion, it also gave us insight as to who clearly belongs and who does not. Let's hope we're down to about 4-5 candidates by the January 2016 debate in Iowa.