No agenda, no policies. Just name-calling and bald-faced lies. Ranked here in descending order, here were the most braggadocious performances of last night's three-hour spectacle.
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If this were the Thunderdome, 11 candidates would go in, but only one would come out. This, however, was the second GOP presidential debate of the 2016 election cycle, and all of the politicians survived. (The real question is: Will we?) Still, some came out a little more scathed than others.
How did the dirty not-quite-a-dozen do? Don’t worry, I watched all three hours of the debate just so I could rank them for you!
11) Mike Huckabee. Oh, Governor Huckabee, enough with the “Aw shucks?” shtick. His opening statement came across as little more than a sad ploy to get along with everyone, and a potential plea to be considered as a down ticket running mate. It’s sort of endearing that he made an A-Team reference, but his refusal to stray from his unwavering support of Kim Davis, and his complete misunderstanding of how the checks and balances system of government works makes him come out dead last in last night’s debate.
10) Ted Cruz. I’ve toyed for months now with the idea that the Texas senator is a sleeper and will sweep the southern primaries. He’s been rallying the religious-right leaders through his “defund Planned Parenthood” push, and his rallying cry for religious freedom should make him a grassroots favorite. During the debate, though, I couldn’t stop seeing and hearing Rev. Steve Newlin from True Blood. He may have said something important in there somewhere, but if so I totally missed it.
9) Rand Paul. Up until about ten minutes from the end of the debate, I had the Kentucky senator ranked at No. 11. Although he hit some high points when it came to noting his opposition to the Iraq war, his biggest moment happened just minutes into the debate, when he criticized businessman Donald Trump for attacking CEO Carly Fiornia’s looks. Trump promptly responded by stating Paul wasn’t much to look at, either, and that moment seemed to have put the libertarian senator into a funk he never recovered from. In fact, there was only one topic where Paul seemed highly engaged and knowledgeable, and that was on the subject of decriminalizing marijuana. Sadly, as the final topic in the debate, most people likely already tuned out.
8) John Kasich. Kasich had some serious moments on the stage where many progressive pundits found themselves admitting that if he made it to a general election, he could be an actual threat to a Democratic nominee. So why is the Ohio Governor still in the bottom of the list? Because he will never win the primary. Not in a year where so far, Republican voters appear to want the most conservative (and, if possible, non-politician) candidate they can find. He had moments where he strove to give them that, especially when he discussed allowing all governors to be able to defund Planned Parenthood. However, it’s doubtful his audience was listening.
7) Ben Carson. In many polls, Carson is a second-place candidate, but once more the idea of Carson is better than the reality of the candidate himself. He’s often slow, soft-spoken and, frankly, mildly incoherent—e.g., after hearing that a fence wouldn’t stop illegal immigration, he suggested a “double fence” instead. His strongest moment was when he had to explain to the rest of the candidates that vaccines don’t actually cause autism (Trump believes they do, by the way). Of course, they didn’t believe him. That may be a pretty apt metaphor for his entire performance.
6) Scott Walker. The Wisconsin governor was another mostly invisible candidate on the stage, although for him it worked in his favor. He managed to throw a few one-liners early, and appeared especially proud of his quip, “Mr. Trump, we don’t need an Apprentice in the White House, we already have an apprentice in the White House.” Other than another zinger about playing cards later down the road, Walker was light on policy, but didn’t embarrass himself too badly. Sadly, among this bunch, that’s considered sort of a win.
5) Jeb Bush. Once considered an obvious front runner, Bush has struggled massively during the 2016 campaign. Tonight, he had a moment to pull it together, and Bush came off serious, sober, and even somewhat presidential. He was able to passionately argue against Trump on immigration, including rebutting Trump’s insistence that if you are going to be in America, you must speak English. The only big problem for Bush? It isn’t apparent yet if the GOP base is interested in a serious candidate.
4) Marco Rubio. The newbie senator from Florida made a fairly good impression overall, which was surprising considering how unbelievably awkward his opening statement was (seriously, give up the water jokes now). He most memorably stood up during some very raucous anti-immigration debate, especially when Trump went heavily into removing birthright citizenship. Compared to the backdrop of other candidates, Rubio looked fairly young and a little green. Yet over all, he was able to give personal anecdotes during the immigration exchanges and offered some massive war hawk foreign-policy answers that made him in the end come off as a potential contender to pay more attention to, at least as a worthy vice-presidential pick-up.
3) Donald Trump. Much like the last debate, the focus was on Trump. The debate was set up in such a way to force each candidate to engage in an argument with Trump, and although he did not hold his own with the same finesse that he did in the first debate, Trump still managed to use his stylistic braggadocio to, if not win, then not come off the loser in most of the battles. His no-apologies style of politicking has always kept him at the top of the polls before, so it’s hard to imagine him falling too far this go around because of it, although when it came to foreign policy, Trump mostly disappeared from the debate—that is, after he told the moderators that he would be sure to try to get along with all foreign leaders while in office, and yes, that means Putin, too. Trump did break away from the rest of the candidates when it came to Planned Parenthood funding, saying he “supports women and supports women’s health,” then subsequently attacked Bush over his vacillating on the issue.
Donald Trump, champion of women? Those are some words I’d never thought I’d say.
2) Chris Christie. I have to be honest, I didn’t expect much from the New Jersey governor, and maybe those very low expectations are part of what made him look so strong. With Trump breaking new ground when it comes to aggressively attacking fellow candidates, it’s hard to see Christie as the bully he has been painted as in the past, and even when he got combative himself he still came off low key in comparison to the GOP front runner. Christie managed to get enough time to remind the audience of all of his longstanding conservative credentials, and his strongest line came when he said he would be the best candidate against potential Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton because “I’m a prosecutor and I will prosecute her in the debates.” Christie’s emotional accounts of the effects of the 9/11 attacks on his family and his community were potentially some of the most moving moments of the debate. Assuming people watched the entire debate (which I can’t guarantee they did), expect a Christie bump in the polls.
1) Carly Fiorina. Frankly, it was Fiorina’s night. She was obviously the most prepared, her answers were pat and full of statistics and detail. She went into foreign policy like a hawk, she swapped business acumen with Trump, and she talked over other candidates and moderators with impunity. No one was going to tell Fiorina to keep to a time limit. There was not a candidate on stage to match the passion of her remarks. Too bad her remarks were based on lies. Her biggest moment of the night: Attacking Planned Parenthood about undercover “sting” footage from Center for Medical Progress that does not exist.
“I dare Hillary Clinton, Barack Obama to watch these tapes. Watch 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. This is about the character of our nation, and if we will not stand up and force President Obama to veto this bill, shame on this,” she said to massive applause. Of course, there is no such video, and that moment doesn’t exist. I watched all of the full videos, and others have confirmed the same: Fiornia simply is not telling the truth.
So, Fiorina won the debate last night. And she told at least one major whopper while doing it. That should tell you everything you need to know about the current state of the GOP presidential race.
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