Marco Rubio- Three Republican debates, three Rubio wins. While the Florida senator has not exactly run away with the debates he is the only candidate who has consistently performed well in each. Rubio was prepared for the debate (more so than the moderators) and anticipated the personal debt and scathing editorial from a Florida newspaper about his senate absences, the latter likely planted by Team Bush.
Rubio deftly handled both and when his “mentor” Jeb Bush went to tut-tut him on missing senate votes, Rubio got in his grill for emulating the party’s terrible presidential nominee from 2008.
I don’t want a flawless candidate, for one does not exist. However I do want a candidate who knows how to manage his shortcomings. Rubio did so like a champ.
Ted Cruz- This was the performance I had been waiting to see out of the field’s lone “world class debater.” Cruz flipped a belligerent question into a declaration of war against the apparent media hostility towards the GOP field and their leftist bias, while also working in insults to most of the other folks sharing the stage with him. Cruz had to win over even those Republican voters who have had trouble embracing his candidacy. Wednesday night could be the start of a move to the front of the pack by the TEA Party favorite.
Chris Christie- Probably the second best debater on the Republican side, the former federal prosecutor did decently in the other debates but finally began to resemble the man who was considered the field’s frontrunner pre-Bridgegate. The New Jersey governor showed aggressiveness and charm without coming off as obnoxiously confrontational. Christie would be the big beneficiary of a Bush/Kasich tank.
Donald Trump- The billionaire real estate developer was hinting going into the debate that he was going to knee-cap poll leader Dr. Ben Carson. Yet he did not bring the bombast for the first two debates with him, as The Donald came off like a reasonable and electable candidate. The only candidate Trump went after was Kasich for his connection with Lehman Brothers, probably in retaliation for the Ohioan’s pre-debate screed about Trump. While a lot of poll numbers will be shifting post-debate, Trump’s already high stats will probably remain unchanged, which is a win for The Donald.
Mike Huckabee- The ex-Arkansas governor once again proved to be an able talker as the Baptist preacher blasted out political parables throughout the night. While the third debate won’t be a defining moment for Huck, he did not perform poorly to the chagrin of social conservative alternatives Rick Santorum and Bobby Jindal who need a Huckabee collapse to escape the “children’s table” debate circuit.
The Media- In this case, the Biggest Loser. You’d have thought their sister network at MSNBC was hosting the debate. I would not have minded the inside pitching and personal pot-shot questions of the media had they extended such courtesies to the Democrats, but they never do. The contempt of the Fourth Estate was on full display throughout the presidential debate, between the smirks by the moderators, the ridiculous questions, and the inside pitching that was nowhere to be seen at the Democratic contest/lovefest that aired two weeks before. CNBC was called out by the candidates and rightfully condemned by RNC chairman Reince Priebus. They did not just embarrass their profession on Wednesday night but laid their anti-conservative bias out for the world to see.
The Republican National Committee- When RNC Chairman Reince Priebus convinced the national governing body of the Republican Party to let the party manage the debates, it was to prevent exactly what transpired in Boulder, Colorado from happening. Priebus owes the party more than a scathing tweet.
Jeb Bush- The buzzards that once circled Scott Walker have now flocked over to Jeb. The former Florida governor and presidential scion/sibling’s campaign has been caught in a morass. Bush’s planted attack on Rubio was a crass act of desperation. Reports of finance concerns and low poll numbers have led many to speculate about the viability of his campaign. The debate was an opportunity to jumpstart his effort and Bush did not make the most of that chance.
John Kasich: The Ohio governor had set himself up for a big night with a passionate critique about his rivals at a campaign rally in Ohio on the eve of the Boulder debate. Unfortunately for Kasich, he came off like an angry crank making incoherent rants, the content of which won’t sell to conservatives and a style that nobody finds appealing. It could be a sign of frustration that his candidacy is running out of time.
Ben Carson: The neurosurgeon who had vaulted ahead of Trump in the polls did not have a night that validated his new front-runner status. Carson’s easily handled the “homophobe” question hurled in his direction but seemed to stumble on his tax plan and his work for a nutritional supplement company that had to settle a deceptive marketing lawsuit. Carson has to improve his less-than forceful speaking style to transition from “the guy everybody likes” to the man everyone could see beating Hillary Clinton in a debate and winning the White House.
Rand Paul: To his great annoyance, the media has wondered if he was still running for president. The Kentucky doctor had so little stage presence the audience at home may have wondered if he was still on the dais. Paul has yet to demonstrate any movement beyond his libertarian niche in terms of his messaging or his base of support. That said, I’d bet on George’s son dropping out before Ron’s.
Lindsey Graham: the CNBC talking heads were choking on their praise for the South Carolina senator in the undercard debate. Mitt Romney tweeted that the South Carolinian deserved to be moved up to the first tier. However Graham’s relative success will get buried under the more interesting stories emanating from the first string candidates’ debate.
Carly Fiorina: Most people would be shocked to learn that the ex-HP boss Carly Fiorina spoke the longest at the CNBC debate, with 10 and one-half minutes. But beyond her smile retort to the panel’s ridiculous opening question and Fiorina’s trademark line about being Hillary Clinton’s worst nightmare, nobody really remembers what she did with the other nine minutes. Fiorina won’t get much of a boost from this debate.