First, credit goes to Fox Business Network for a substantive GOP debate Tuesday night that hit on a number of serious issues. If there was a clear winner, it was the moderators for keeping the debate from going off the rails while not devolving into minutiae and, more important, allowing serious discussions among the candidates on foreign policy, trade and immigration reform.
Donald Trump was the big surprise. He at times attempted to present a more serious, subdued demeanor but was booed on several occaisions and frankly embarrassed when, for example, after his rant about the Trans-Pacific Partnership and China, Sen. Rand Paul (Ky.) pointed out China was not party to the TPP. Jeb Bush likewise ridiculed Trump’s remarks on allowing Russia to fight the Islamic State, which Moscow isn’t actually doing. He even drew boos when he accused Carly Fiorina of “interrupting everybody.” Fiorina managed to needle Trump once again mocking his remark that he’d met Vladimir Putin on “60 Minutes.” (“Although I have met him as well, not in a green room for a show, but in a private meeting,” she icily observed.)
Ben Carson did not have a good night either. He seemed out of depth in trying to answer questions on breaking up the banks and fighting the Islamic State. His most effective answer was his first, explaining why raising the minimum wage hurts job-seekers at the bottom, especially teenagers.
Bush had his moments, presenting a concise and effective answer on immigration reform. “They’re doing high-fives in the Clinton campaign right now,” he pointed out in response to anti-immigration reform recitations from Trump and Sen. Ted Cruz (Tex.). Likewise, his strong argument in favor of repealing excess regulations drew applause. Unfortunately, he still has not learned to hold the floor or to break into the conversation. His answers, when they did come, were solid, but they were too few and far between. He may have stopped the free fall, but he was outshone once again by competitors.
Sen. Marco Rubio (Fla.) once again had the strongest performance. He shot down Paul’s suggestion that spending on the military makes one “liberal” and repeatedly spoke up in favor of strong U.S. leadership. He drew laughs when arguing in favor of vocational training. (“We need more welders and less philosophers.”) Asked about running against an experienced Hillary Clinton, he went into his effective riff about representing the future while she represents the past.
Cruz got surprisingly little traction with an anti-amnesty rant, but like Rubio he stood up effectively for a strong national defense. His worst moment of this or any debate was getting trapped on whether he would let Bank of America go under in a financial crisis. Insisting that he would gave Ohio Gov. John Kasich the chance to point out how unrealistic it would be to let all the depositors and the economy as a whole go under. Next to Rubio, Cruz seems stilted and his emotional displays appear contrived.
Paul had his one moment when he tagged Trump for not understanding that China is outside the TPP. He came up on the losing end repeatedly on national security as Trump, Rubio and Cruz also voiced support for adequately funding the military. Fiorina started slowly, mostly reciting general criticism of big government. She came into her own, however, on foreign policy, giving voice to a tough-on-Putin policy. Kasich likewise had some shining moments, belittling the pie-in-the-sky tax plans, Trump’s plan to round up millions and Cruz’s willingness to let a big bank fail. What he lacks is a strong, compelling delivery and an affirmative message to excite Republicans.
Winners: Fox Business Network, Rubio
Losers: Trump, Carson
Lives to fight another day: Bush