BAYHAM: The Debate About The Cleveland Debate

One of the problems I have with my own side of the political divide is how they view Fox News as “our network”, as if it were an auxiliary of the Republican National Committee.

It’s not nor is it ever supposed to be.

It is true that the network does have a conservative bend, which is hardly a sacrilege of journalism as the Big Three networks and CNN have a leftist slant in coverage, tone, talent and news management many more degrees off the middle line than Fox, while MSNBC is entirely off the ideological protractor of fair journalism.

In fact, MSNBC is so absurdly partisan that it ought to have to file paperwork with the FCC and the FEC.

Sometimes Fox News does seem to play favorites by proxy via their talking heads during the GOP presidential nomination battle. While working with one candidate in 2012, the pro-Romney narrative being pushed by some of the guests was so over the top that the White House aspirant ordered all the televisions switched to CNN.

So when FoxNews led off with the first Republican presidential debate of the 2016 campaign cycle, I did not know what to expect.

I went into the event dismayed with their policy of inviting only the top ten candidates according to “certain polls” while exiling the other seven to the equivalent of the “children’s table”, i.e. the late afternoon forum- especially since the difference between the bottom three of the “elect” and the rest was within the margin of error.

Also in light of the Romney soft-push from 2012, I was wondering if the debate hosts were going to serve up softballs to leading GOP establishment candidate, Jeb Bush.

However as I sat in the lower bowl of the “Q” in Cleveland, I was pleased that moderators Megyn Kelly, Chris Wallace and Brett Baier not only brought the heat, but managed to deliver their queries on the inside corners of the plate, even if one candidate accused them of hurling “chin music”.

Fox News received a great deal of praise from the journalism community and Democrats for their tough questioning- though unfortunately I suspect not so much because they thought the network was being professional and true to the trade but because they enjoyed watching the Republican White House contenders squirm.

Fox News has raised the bar for not only all of the other Republican debates but the Democratic debates as well…though judging how the established media has played down unfavorable news stories about the governmental and political indiscretions of the Democratic Party’s leading candidate, it is hard to imagine that Hillary Clinton’s feet will be held to the fire.

I was proud of Fox News for showing the country how a presidential debate should be conducted and for doing the GOP the service of confronting our candidates with tough questions early.

Now on to how the candidates fared-

Chris Christie– I figured the New Jersey governor would show some pep and he did not disappoint, tangling up with Rand Paul over data collection and its use in protecting the homeland. The crowded dais kept Christie bottled up but he did well.

Ben Carson– Sans spectacles (a mistake), Carson seemed overwhelmed by the debate and murmured his answers. He scored on a few Will Rogers-esque one-liners that the party faithful loved. Carson came off as likable but not presidential. Kept thinking how much better Carly Fiorina would have been at his podium.

Marco Rubio– Clearly had the best night.   Looked like a president and rekindled images as the great hope of the Grand Old Party. Answered the questions smoothly. Gave his candidacy a major boost of credibility.

Scott Walker– In contrast with Rubio, the Wisconsin governor was bland and lacked energy. However Walker did not need to emerge as the clear winner amongst the mob of candidates. Walker did not fumble and asserted his conservative bona fides. Mission accomplished.

Donald Trump– The billionaire truly merits his own column- he would expect and feel deserving of nothing less.   The Donald brought the record number of viewers and if the masses tuned in to be entertained, he did not disappoint.   That said, his standing as a candidate was not helped during the debate or his reaction thereafter.

Jeb Bush– If anyone thinks Fox News was hunting for Trump’s distinct scalp, the opening question quoting his mother about whether America needs another Bush in the White House should have answered it. Less successful than Walker in pivoting his record in a conservative context, though he was the second most popular candidate in the arena. Team Jeb! is happy enough to let their Super PAC money do the talking anyway.

Ted Cruz– The TEA Party favorite should never wear that tie again; he looked like an undertaker. More was expected from the world class debater though the crowd of candidates stifled him. Cruz’s tendency to be rhetorically expansive was hemmed in by the time limit.   Gave sharp answers and lots of red meat to his pocket of the primary electorate yet lacked stage presence. Not a great night for Cruz but not awful either.

Rand Paul– The best that could said was that he did not wear blue jeans.   Christie got the better of him and the libertarian came off the least presidential (somehow beating Carson out). Could’ve used the venue to grow his vote instead of sticking within the confines of his political niche. Needs to quit sounding like a tenured professor and more like a president.

Mike Huckabee– After Rubio, Huckabee had a great night. One of the best orators in the party, cagily utilized the old preacher’s trick of leading the congregation along in his closer, you could have heard a pin drop in the arena up until he clarified that his unflattering description was about Clinton and not Trump, who played the perfect foil.   The first debate will keep his financially flickering campaign burning a bit longer in Iowa.

John Kasich– Clearly the hometown favorite, unlikely the Ohio governor would have received applause like that anywhere else. Making a play for the moderate vote and a major threat to Bush. Many people felt he had a strong night as he reintroduced himself to the country after vanishing off of the radar a decade and a half ago.   Though I like Kasich, I thought he really showed his age on stage, wasn’t a forceful speaker and he kept fidgeting, though mercifully for him the cameras did not capture it. The alternate for centrists who love his state’s electoral votes and agree with Jeb’s mother about the family dynasty. Kasich used the debate to “dot the i” of his nascent candidacy.

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