Some Quick Hit Thoughts on the GOP Debate
Just a few quick-hit thoughts after the debate:
This was certainly the most contentious debate of the year besides the CNBC debate. This time, though, the moderators stayed back, and the candidates fought it out. Right now, it sure seems like the Republican candidates treat Marco Rubio as the front-runner. Marco Rubio remains the most naturally talented candidate in these settings; he is quick on his feet and always seems so fluid. When I think about it, I keep coming back to poker: If this were Texas Hold’em, Rubio would be holding high cards of the same suit with a favorable flop: he has lots of different ways to win, but he’s not winning yet, and there’s no guarantee that the next two cards will get him there.
Rubio is right in the middle of the Republican Party right now: he’s probably about as conservative as the “establishment” would go, but he’s not quite as conservative–or combative–as a Cruz. So it makes sense that Rubio faced so much criticism tonight; everyone could stand to knock Rubio off his path.
- Ted Cruz comes across as so… lawyerly to me, when he argues. The immigration point stood out on that front, and I think it’s a weakness. But I do think that his “America First” foreign policy is a rhetorical winner in GOP circles. Rubio’s foreign policy is at least somewhat more Wilsonian, and I think the GOP base is basically fed up with Wilsonianism. Cruz also has genuine credibility with the base, probably moreso than any GOP candidate in the Tea Party era. He seems to me to be the top contender to knock off Rubio.
- Rand Paul seems dead set on denying Rubio the nomination; Rubio is not a libertarian, period, and Paul knows it: in the last couple of debates, Paul has hit Rubio on defense spending, his child tax credit, border security, and interventionism; the fight there is pretty constant. I get the feeling that Paul will endorse Cruz when he drops out.
- Meanwhile, Chris Christie prefers to focus on his tenure as US Attorney instead of his tenure as NJ governor, so this debate–with its intense focus on terrorism–was well within Christie’s wheelhouse on that front. Ross Douthat asked earlier today how Christie would handle his need to attack Rubio. Christie seemed to try to thread the needle by emphasizing the executive experience angle, which is not an ideological critique, and is also directed at Cruz. It also happens to be what Christie cares about; he never comes across as a particularly ideological candidate. (Incidentally, I think Christie has found his lane: either he steamrolls his way through New Hampshire, or, more likely, he gets on the short list for Attorney General for basically any Republican nominee.)
Two where I might be biased:
- I thought Jeb looked better this time around. He was by far the most aggressive candidate against Donald Trump. Then again, my anti-Trump bias might be getting the best of me there. I don’t think that this will do anything to salvage his campaign.
- Ben Carson seemed better informed this time, like he really paid attention in the briefings. But he always seems so out of place on stage, like he’s very new to all of these debates. Then again, Carson has seemed to gain after every debate, so I’m hesitant to put too much stock into my impressions.
- John Kasich remains stuck in the 1990s; he talks about being on various Congressional committees, and twice mentioned the Gulf War. At this point, it’s probably time for him to drop out. I suspect he’ll drag it out to New Hampshire.
- Trump did Trump. Half of the time, he was saying things that could genuinely appeal to Jacksonian America (like “We got nothing for the $5 trillion.”) The other half of the time, it’s painfully obvious that he doesn’t actually know what he’s talking about (the triad, “shutting down the Internet”).
- Carly Fiorina didn’t make much of an impression this time. She continues her focus on the specifics of governmental incompetence, which, while somewhat compelling to me, doesn’t seem to be a solid message for building an actual campaign.
With luck, we’ll start to see the field shrink a bit before the next debate; these nine candidate debates are just too much.
Image by Gage Skidmore