Carson’s performance is the easiest to critique. He is a gracious, dignified soul. However, at this stage in the race, there doesn’t seem to be much demand for those qualities. And in watching Carson, I was reminded of the classic line delivered by Jeff Spicoli in the movie “Fast Times at Ridgemont High.” Frustrated by a slow driver while weaving in and out of traffic, Spicoli declares, “People on ‘ludes should not drive.” Well, they probably shouldn’t debate, either. I’m not suggesting Carson uses drugs, but he lacked energy, as Trump would say. His campaign needed a spark of energy before last night’s event, and now he needs a spark more than ever. The doctor’s slow-moving performance hurt him. I was expecting better.
A quick read of the morning news suggests Carly Fiorina was the big winner of the debate. She was prepared and poised. She had some intelligent things to say and she cowed Trump with her sharp comment to him about the insulting remarks he had made to Rolling Stone magazine about her appearance. She also delivered some notable lines about abortion that will live on in Campaign 2016. Assuming Hillary Clinton is the Democratic nominee, Clinton will be confronted with the image of “a fully formed fetus on the table, its heart beating, its legs kicking, while someone says ‘We have to keep it alive to harvest its brain.’” That is powerful stuff, and it was a 10 with the GOP’s pro-life activists. My wife has been telling me that Fiorina can connect with voters, and last night she proved that. Fiorina is a credible person and she did a lot to establish herself as a credible candidate.
And Donald Trump continued to be Donald Trump. He came across as shallow, narcissistic, immature and gratuitously insulting, and there was no discernible effort to be anything else. Trump’s debating style at times reminded me of the first Bush-Gore debate in 2000. Trump’s grunts, sighs, eye-rolling and overall body language were all Gore-esque. His posturing bordered on creepy and was a distraction. Campaigns are marathons. I can’t imagine that his act will wear well — and I don’t think he has another act. On stage, Trump has less of a personality and more a series of compulsions that leave him without a useful filter or a measured presence. I find it gets kind of tiresome after a while. If his style doesn’t adapt, he is going to start losing support.
So my takeaway from last night is that of the three so-called “outsiders,” Carson and Trump didn’t do themselves any good, and only Fiorina scored any points. So will this really be the year of the outsider? I’m reminded of something Joe Klein of Time magazine once said, something along the lines of, “Over time, politicians tend to make the best politicians.” We are beginning to enter the real 2016 political season, and I agree.