The PJ Tatler

Two Winners and Four Losers in CNN's GOP Debate

Here’s my 10-minute summary of the CNN Republican debate (which should have been renamed the CNN-Pssst-did-you-hear-that-nasty-thing-one-Republican-said-about-another-Republican debate):

The Winners:

Marco Rubio and Carly Fiorina were the two standouts in Wednesday’s debate.

Rubio brought an appealing mix of the common touch and tough talk on foreign policy to the debate stage. Unlike some other candidates, he didn’t seem like he was elbowing his way into the debate, so it “felt” like he was a featured speaker. He sounded like the grownup in the room when he tussled with Trump on foreign policy. Trump grimaced and rolled his eyes, but offered no substantive rebuttal. Rubio has a nice way of dispensing with an opponent without sounding angry.

Fiorina was smart and scrappy. Her Planned Parenthood screed was fantastic. She rightly redirected the focus away from the faux “women’s healthcare” straw man (straw woman?) to the real issue of Planned Parenthood selling chopped-up babies. Other candidates ought to take note. Carly does need to soften her edges a bit because she tends to dial it up to harsh and stay there.

Middle of the Pack:

Ted Cruz was brilliant and in command of the facts (despite the fact that Jake Tapper cut him off at nearly every pass). It occurred to me that Mike Huckabee could do a great service to his country by dropping out of the race and coaching Cruz on the common touch. Cruz’s talking points are spot on, but he is missing warmth and the ability to connect on a personal level.

Mike Huckabee’s shining moment was his defense of religious liberty. He noted that GITMO prisoners are afforded more religious accommodations than county clerks in Kentucky. He has a point.

Chris Christie also had a good night and he landed some solid blows in Trump’s direction. But he was crowded out by Carly and Rubio, so viewers will likely only remember his “You kids stop fighting or I’ll pull this debate over!” moment when he told Carly and Trump to knock it off.

Walker had some good moments, but not enough of them. I honestly do not remember one thing he said.

Jeb Bush didn’t do anything to help himself in this debate, but he wasn’t as terrible as he could have been and didn’t cede any of his (already shaky) ground. That business about his wife was really cringeworthy. Rule #1: Don’t dare Donald Trump to do something in a debate you’re not 100% sure he’ll agree to. Basically, that rules out pretty much anything except asking him to mug for the camera. There was also way too much, “Nuh uh. Yes huh!” I realize he needed to punch back at Trump and defend his record, but his personality doesn’t lend well to those types of exchanges, mostly because he’s not quick enough with the rhetorical retorts.

The Losers:

Ben Carson was out of his element. Completely. And it was almost uncomfortable. His quip about Trump being an “okay doctor” was clever, but you got the sense that he had been waiting the entire debate to use it.

Donald Trump, as usual, was boorish and didn’t give substantive answers to important questions. From his patronizing attempt to salvage his remarks about Carly’s face to his strange comments about Rand Paul’s looks, Trump demonstrated once again that he is not a man of character. Over and over again he deflected serious policy question with clever laugh lines and insults.

Rand Paul tried to salvage his floundering campaign with appeals to the hardcore libertarians who supported his father, but he was too wonky and not likable.

John Kasich’s answers on foreign policy were bizarre. He seriously defended Obama’s Iran deal. And then he didn’t. Or did he? Who knows? He said two things that are in conflict: a) We shouldn’t trust the Iranians and b) if they cheat, the sanctions should be lifted. That’s Obama’s position, right? I also didn’t like his lecture about the American people not wanting to hear about these policy debates. That’s another line from Obama’s playbook…shut your opponents up by crying about how partisan they are while doing the exact same thing in another sentence.

Also in the Loser Category: 

Add CNN to the list of losers. The debate format was terrible. Some candidates disappeared for 15-20 minutes at a time — as did moderators Dana Bash and Hugh Hewitt. A disproportionate number of questions focused on Donald Trump — who said what about whom and what did Donald Trump think about that? Granted, viewers were tuned in to watch the Trump sideshow, but one would hope to see some civic responsibility on CNN’s part (I know, I’m dreaming). Instead, they chose to pour gas on the Trump bonfire — burn, baby, burn. Dana Lash played the role of  debate partisan Candy Crowley, injecting Planned Parenthood’s agenda into her questions, and Hugh Hewitt had an odd, flirty Trump swoon that was disappointing.

Also in the Winner Category: 

The Reagan Library. The debate platform with Reagan’s plane in the background was fantastic.

Which candidates did you think were the winners and losers?