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Many Winners and One Big Loser in the GOP Debate

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Republican U.S. presidential candidates (L-R) Governor John Kasich, former Governor Jeb Bush, U.S. Senator Marco Rubio, businessman Donald Trump, Dr. Ben Carson, U.S. Senator Ted Cruz,  former HP CEO Carly Fiorina and U.S. Rep. Rand Paul pose during a photo opportunity before the debate held by Fox Business Network for the top 2016 U.S. Republican presidential candidates in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, November 10, 2015.  REUTERS/Jim Young

Everyone will select the Fox Business panel as the most conspicuous winner in the whole night of debates: the contrast with CNBC worked entirely to FBN’s favor. The questions were often tough, but never unfair, insulting or irrelevant.

The biggest gainer among the candidates was, of course, Marco Rubio. As always, he seemed well-prepared, knowledgeable, confident and eloquent. The difference this time came with the intense confrontation between Senator Rubio and Senator Paul over child-friendly tax credits and defense spending–a confrontation that unfolded entirely to Rubio’s advantage. That exchange indicated just how completely Marco Rubio could dominate a debate with Hillary Clinton.

The other candidate who also gave an indication of mastering this difficult format was Carly Fiorina, who reminded everyone why her nomination could be a nightmare for the Clinton campaign. Though she seemed a bit tired, almost weary, in the early stages of the debate she got stronger as the night wore on. While she won’t receive the sort of supercharged boost that she got from the second debate (the first in which she participated) she should succeed in making herself relevant again–perhaps replacing Jeb among the “final five” with a real chance of going all the way. If nothing else, as my 23-year-old son Daniel observed: “She powerfully advanced her campaign for the Vice Presidency.”

Dr. Carson will also benefit from his performance–more energetic, more substantive, better informed than ever before, without losing the aura of a good guy and citizen candidate who is deeply determined to do the right and decent thing. He should succeed in calling a halt to the invidious nit-picking by the mainstream media about irrelevant aspects of his biography. He missed, however, offering the one killer line that could have defused this stupidity even more effectively. Why not question the stubborn media refusal to believe him when he recalls his own past as a troubled kid? Isn’t he more credible on this issue than CNN or Politico? Wouldn’t he know better than skeptical reporters 45 years after the fact about whether he actually had problems controlling his temper?

Ted Cruz had some good lines, as always,  but his melodramatic, preachy, stagey delivery undermined him at every turn. He offered oratory more than answers, and bore a particularly unctuous and uncomfortable resemblance to a rising televangelist asking for contributions to his ministry. He squirmed uncomfortably on the issue of abandoning the depositors in a failing big bank–when he could have cited the FDIC, or other existing protections.

Trump came across as surprisingly timid, befuddled, uncertain and unconvincing, seeming no more genuinely impassioned than his listless performance on SNL. No, the debate won’t kill him, but it won’t help him push beyond his current ceiling of 30% support–with the other 70% still deeply determined to resist Trump-mania. It might be a high enough level of support to win some significant primaries, but probably not enough to win the nomination. Did Donald look commanding and tough when he whined about Carly’s “always interrupting people”?

Finally, there’s John Kasich. Obnoxious, incoherent, insufferable. He cast himself as the unwelcome skunk at the garden party, somewhat in the manner of Bobby Jindal in the “Undercard” debate. Only the impenetrable confusion of his performance saved him from total disaster, but he certainly should either join the undercard or the former candidates before the next debate five weeks from now.

In sum, the contours of the rest of the race seem more clear than before: Trump and Carson will hold most of their true believers, with Marco Rubio gaining dramatically (and benefiting the most from Jeb’s inability to “fix it”). Ted Cruz maintains a lane on the outside, at the right edge of the highway, and Fiorina and Christie could survive if they make some polling gains in New Hampshire.

For the rest of the field, time to think about the openings for new celebrity hosts over at Fox News.

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Comments (15)

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  1. Robert McColl  •  Nov 13, 2015 at 3:57 pm

    Always fantastic commentary, Michael. I stated here exactly how I thighs the debate went although I am not as articulate.

  2. Brad Anderson  •  Nov 13, 2015 at 4:19 pm

    At this time in 2007, checking the candidate preference polls which had Romney and Huckabee as the leaders, McCain was hardly even a blip, yet a few months later he mopped up the primaries. I have no idea who’ll win the hearts and minds of voters this time, and it’s as wide open as ever, as a practical matter.

    • Brad Anderson  •  Nov 13, 2015 at 4:20 pm

      adding: The risk and difference this time, is that if 51% of the party coalesces behind someone other than Trump or Carson, there’ll be more bad blood and a deeper party split than the last two election cycles.

  3. Holly Havnaer  •  Nov 13, 2015 at 4:28 pm

    Wonderful analysis Michael. Couldn’t agree more.

    • Linda Prince  •  Nov 16, 2015 at 9:46 am

      Finally, someone put in words exactly how I feel about Ted Cruz. He comes across so disingenuous with his “debate award winning” style. We will not win with Cruz at the head of the ticket.

  4. Jay Haron  •  Nov 13, 2015 at 4:50 pm

    For the love of the country, I wish everyone not in the big five would drop out… then we’d get a better idea of who (Cruz and Carly, I hope) has real traction.

  5. Bunner  •  Nov 13, 2015 at 6:48 pm

    Is it too late for Jim Webb to jump in on our side? Trump’s a ridiculous fraud and a draft dodger; Carson is deep but inarticulate; Rubio is ideologically challenged; Cruz is brilliant,a real deal Reaganite but not general-public appealing; Carly’s got guts and brains but little charisma; Christie-Webb surprise, surprise. A blue state proscecutor and a soldier/writer.

  6. Kurtis Kurzmann  •  Nov 13, 2015 at 6:49 pm

    You sir, are no conservative. Hillsdale should pull their advertisements.

    • Maria Salinas-Baker  •  Nov 13, 2015 at 7:55 pm

      A little late on my comments, but I couldn’t agree more with Michael M. He is spot on with his analysis. God help us if Trump wins the nomination! Carson is a nice guy but too timid to rival Hillary. Marco Rubio and Ted Cruz are the only viable candidates at this time and I firmly believe it will be one of these two who will win the nomination. Thank God for people like Michael Medved who can articulate and intelligently offer his insight.

    • Brian Harmon, Retired Econ Professor  •  Nov 15, 2015 at 11:29 am

      You must have a pretty short list of public figures who are conservatives. Other than illegal immigration, I can’t think of any issue on which he strays from the conservative path. I was always taught that when you state your point of view you should at least make an attempt to support it with something. Otherwise it is more like name calling than political discussion, right?

  7. Beano McReano  •  Nov 13, 2015 at 8:46 pm

    Another hit piece on the Donald. Failed again. He is No ! in the polls and on track to becoming the dreaded president because keeping people barefoot and pregnant are your ways Mr. Medved.

  8. Elizabeth  •  Nov 14, 2015 at 3:34 pm

    Trump is an embarrassment, no.basic and egotistical. I like that Carson and Fiorino, two self-made I.individuals, did not take the gate. I was impressed by Dr. Paul, with the substance if his arguments. Christie us a strong contender too. Up volunteered for Rubio, and almost from his first day in d.c. he turned his back on His constituents back home in Florida. Senator Cruz is a strong constitutionalist and has the courage to push against the republican establishment, solo have contributed to the pickle we are in. Gov Bush was an excellent governor, but ultimately would not vote for him because his family was and us too closely the Saudi royal family. Remember 9/11!!!!!

  9. boggo  •  Nov 15, 2015 at 1:12 am

    There is no chance for Rand (isolationist) Paul, John (but I was the best gov. ever) Kasich,
    Jeb ( to long out of politics among other things ) Bush. Last but not least the trickster in this buch isTrump.He says only what the die-hard conservatives want to here regardless of how hard some of these ideas would be to implement just to see how naive some american’s can be.I believe it’s just matter of time before the curtain is pulled away. The rest of the candidate’s will then have more time to show there more considerable skills….. IMO

    • Brian Harmon, Retired Econ Professor  •  Nov 15, 2015 at 11:38 am

      I think you are right that those three will, and should, probably not make it. Personally, I don’t think the country is ready for a Bush dynasty, a kook like Trump, an isolationist like Rand Paul or a grumpy moderate conservative like Kasich. I don’t really know that much about the views of Kasich but he definitely seems grumpy.

      • Brian Harmon, Retired Econ Professor  •  Nov 15, 2015 at 11:39 am

        Those four, I meant. (Would you believe I was for Rick Perry?:)

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