The first of many GOP presidential debates aired on Fox News last week.
First things first. How awkward was the beginning of that debate? If you were one of the viewers to tune into Fox News earlier than 9pm you would’ve seen that Fox News began its coverage 10 minutes prior to the supposed start time of the actual debate, and marched the ten candidates out onto the stage. There they stood, visibly uncomfortable, at the front of the stage, shoulder to shoulder, while the three moderators asked the collective group ice breaker questions that received no verbal responses from the candidates but merely a head nod from Jeb Bush when asked if they were nervous.
The sheer oddity of this introduction was clearly stated by one of the moderators for the evening, Bret Baier, who added “ …that was awkward enough…” and then began the questioning of the candidates.
Secondly, the format of this first debate seemed odd compared to typical presidential debate formats of the past. There seemed to be more direct questions, posed by the moderators, towards specific candidates and then a response but no actual debate amongst the group.
In all fairness, the crowded GOP field has made it difficult for such a typical debate format to be effective. However, it was a shame that some of the candidates were herded to the background while others were singled out and got plenty of coverage.
To that end, here are a few takeaways from the debate:
- Good performers: Donald Trump, Ted Cruz, Ben Carson, Marco Rubio, John Kasich, Carly Fiorina (earlier debate)
- Staying Steady: Scott Walker, Jeb Bush, Chris Christie,
- Underperformers: Mike Huckabee, Rand Paul
- Trump… was Trump. He began the night by being the only candidate on the stage who would NOT pledge to support the eventual Republican nominee if it happened to not be himself. Increasing the speculation that if Trump does not win the Republican nomination he will run as an independent. Inevitably this move would take away votes from the eventual Republican nominee and give a massive advantage to the Democrat nominee, as Bret Baier made explicitly clear and Trump acknowledged. There were mixed reactions from the crowd, verbal cheers and boos were heard throughout the crowd all night, towards Trump. Whether you liked his debate performance or not, recent polling since the debate seems to suggest that Donald Trump will continue to be a contender in this GOP primary, at least for now.
- Donald Trump wasn’t necessarily the divisive figure that everyone predicted he would be. However, it was clear that many on the same stage did not like or appreciate his presence, most visibly Senator Rand Paul. Donald Trump appeared to stay in line with what has made him number one in the polls. He did not veer from his bombastic approach to his distrust for politicians nor did he begin the use of so called political correctness when grilled by, moderator and Fox News host, Megyn Kelly about his comments towards women. Donald Trump seemingly held his own when it was evident that many on the stage and even the moderators themselves were out to get him. However, a fear among many of his supporters is that if Trump continues to make bold claims and grand strategies without any hard evidence or a plan as to how to accomplish them, his campaign will fizzle out. For now, the Donald continues to excite the conservative base and draw ratings wherever he goes.
- Jeb Bush seemed uncomfortable. Aside from nodding his head earlier on when asked if he was nervous, Bush was noticeably wrestling with his words when trying to respond to some of the questions. Nervousness however, is to be expected on such a stage. Regardless of his physical response, Jeb did not excite or wow anyone by his responses in this debate. He touted his political achievements while Governor of Florida, which was to be expected, but did not assert himself as a true leader of the GOP. Although it is likely he will remain a top tier candidate moving forward, largely due to his massive donor base, Jeb will need to do more to excite and draw in more of the conservative base if he looks to compete with Donald Trump in these early stages.
- Governor Scott Walker of Wisconsin proved that he is determined to make his case as the best candidate to match up against Hillary Clinton, the likely Democratic nominee. When moderator Bret Baier was asking Donald Trump about what he received from Hillary Clinton in return for a donation to her, Gov. Walker interjected saying we’ve spent too much time talking about Hillary Clinton pitting ourselves against each other, when “…Let’s be clear, we should be talking about Hillary Clinton on that last subject, because everywhere in the world that Hillary Clinton touched is more messed up today than before she and the president [took office].” Time and time again Gov. Walker matched up against Hillary Clinton during his responses instead of attacking the other candidates on the stage. Gov. Walker appeals to a large swath of the conservative base and looks to be a serious challenger for the Republican nomination.
- Governor John Kasich was steadfast in his answers and proved appealing to many in the
conservative base. He stood strong when asked about his acceptance of Obamacare money from the Federal government, citing policies from Ronald Reagan (always a good idea in a GOP debate), and wooed the hometown crowd with promises of economic growth stating that “Economic growth is the key to everything.” Gov. Kasich also appeared to evoke support from the republican crowd when moderator Megyn Kelly asked, if you had a son or daughter who were gay or lesbian, how would you explain to them your opposition to same-sex marriage. Gov. Kasich responded “…I would love them and I would accept them…” citing that “…God gives me unconditional love. I’m going to give it to my family and my friends and the people around me.” Gov. Kasich, who is polling at 3% in Iowa compared to Trump’s 17%, will need to build on his debate performance and try to gain more media attention if he looks to rise in the polls.
- Many believe that Governor Chris Christie had a great debate performance. Perhaps this is due to him being involved in one of the more memorable moments of the night.
Christie and Senator Rand Paul squared off against each other in a debate over intelligence collection, surveillance, and personal privacy and security. Sen. Paul, a libertarian and strong constitutionalist, argued for the cease of intelligence agency collection of US citizens’personal information without first obtaining a warrant. Gov. Christie, a former federal prosecutor after 9/11, argued that there is no way of knowing who is a terrorist until after they have already attacked us. Therefore, Christie argued, giving intelligence agencies, like the National Security Administration, these tools, and providing proper oversight, is the best and most effective method to protecting the homeland. Many believe this argument helped Gov. Christie stand out. Regardless of his his debate performance, in the crowded GOP field, Gov. Christie’s perceived left leaning policies will likely keep him towards the middle to lower end of the polls.
All in all, the debate was a great first step in the 2016 presidential election cycle. Many candidates finally got their first chance to speak directly to the public. With a viewership of 24 million people, this was also the first time for many americans to hear from the candidates. It is sure to be a long and exciting road to the republican nomination.