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Score Card from the Big Debates

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All Republicans should feel relieved, if not jubilant. Lots of winners who helped themselves, and no disastrous losers.

Major gains for Marco Rubio who was lucid, passionate, self-assured, Kennedyesque – cementing his status as everyone’s second choice, which may win him the nomination, ultimately. John Kasich also moved his campaign forward: starting in tenth place (according to the polls) he looked and sounded like a folksy, credible, mainstream contender. Jeb Bush, who had to overcome a recent reputation for bumbling and gaffes, seemed strong, capable, sympathetic, and accessible. Frankly, he was also probably helped by the fact that his height (he’s 6’4″) and his position near the center of the stage made him tower over the others, literally.

The losers? Trump and Paul both fared poorly in the opening of the debate, but recovered somewhat as time went on. The Christie-Paul spat helped neither of them. The questions to Trump were appropriately tough; he’s the frontrunner, after all. But the hostile tone of the challenges from the moderators may help him with his preferred presentation of himself as the victim of an establishment cabal.  His defenses on issues of corporate bankruptcies and buying political favors won’t play well, nor will his grimaces and over-broad gestures, or the overall impression of blustery, vulnerable pomposity.

Most importantly, the first question, with his refusal to rule out an independent candidacy, will damage his long-term prospects.

Follow up question for the Donald: Why was it worth sending thousands of dollars in campaign cash and foundation donations to get Hillary to attend his wedding?

If the “main event” debate lacked a clear-cut winner, the “under card”/ opening act  (at 5 PM Eastern Time) added undeniable momentum to Carly Fiorina’s campaign. As I’ve noted on air for more than two months, the only female candidate in the GOP race has emerged as the most effective and polished stump speaker in the entire field. In a televised session that included veteran office-holders Lindsey Graham, Jim Gilmore, George Pataki, Rick Santorum, Rick Perry, and Bobby Jindal, the business-based newcomer who’s never won any election, clearly stood out with her punchy, well-delivered, and aggressive responses. In the next debate on September 16th, she will likely move up from Triple-A minor leagues to the “Big Show” – and she certainly deserves it.

I’ll confess, I feel personally connected to Fiorina as 1) my fellow cancer survivor and 2) my fellow law school drop-out. With Carly and Kasich added to established frontrunners Rubio, Walker and Jeb, the Republican field will look formidable indeed – especially as Trump settles in more comfortably to his proper status as an entertaining distraction, but not a serious contender.

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