Much has already been said about the Republican debate held in Colorado last week. Probably the most prominent characteristic of this event being discussed has been the questionable handling of the proceedings by the moderators. They were, especially in the prime-time portion of the evening, over the top in asking hostile questions, phrasing queries in ways most likely to cast a negative light on the candidates, and treating those on the stage rather rudely. Still, the debate was another opportunity to see and hear for a couple of hours from those running for the Republican presidential nomination, and I think that it’s worth taking time to note some impressions about the candidates in addition to directing deserved criticism at the team from CNBC.
As others have noted, he was somewhat toned down last Wednesday. The insulting of other candidates and making of faces was reduced, but he did go after John Kasich quite a bit at the beginning of the debate and more than once mentioned that he wasn’t going to criticize other people on the stage about something, even though he certainly could. Perhaps he figured that he could take a break from spreading negativity about his opponents that evening since the moderators were already taking on that task.
I still find the topic of the bankruptcies of Trump’s companies to be a glaring fault that should be a problematic issue for voters, but many others must not see it that way.
In response to a question related to immigration, Trump claimed he had not said what the moderator attributed to him regarding Marco Rubio and Mark Zuckerberg. By the time the moderator was able to find her source and point out that the statement was on Trump’s website, people may have dismissed this as another falsehood or mistaken point from the moderators. Trump’s comments about increasing visas for tech workers and allowing more international students to stay after they graduate from American colleges might not be appreciated by some of the people whose support for him centers on the immigration issue. While inviting more legal immigration doesn’t offend the rule of law the way amnesty-type policies for those who come (or stay) illegally do, there are still concerns about the effects increased levels of immigration may have on jobs and wages for Americans and current legal residents, on costs for government services such as education and health care, on the assimilation of newcomers into American culture, and so on. I understand that Mr. Trump (once again) completely changed his tune in appearances the next day, presumably after realizing (or being told) that his statements in the debate could be problematic among his supporters. Will this latest flip-flop and/or the notion that Mr. Trump was not even familiar with the opinions and positions attributed to him on his own website cause anyone to re-think their support of his candidacy? Who knows? But, many other inconsistencies and controversies haven’t seemed to dissuade his fans up to this point.
Dr. Carson continues to seem like a nice man with good intentions, but I’m not sure that he gave us much information or clarification about the policies he would favor. Over the last several weeks, Dr. Carson has been subjected to a lot of overblown criticism in the media, etc. about various comments he’s made, which seems to have actually caused him to gain support from many people who want to combat political correctness and the “outrage” it can generate. I do think, though, that we need to be careful not to just regard every question or challenge (for example, about the amounts of revenue to be expected under his tax proposal) posed to Dr. Carson as an unfair “gotcha” question that doesn’t merit a thorough answer.
Mrs. Fiorina once again had a pretty good debate, but, to me, she didn’t seem to stand out as much this time, maybe because we’d already heard some of the things she was saying or perhaps because more of the other candidates were able to take the opportunity to present themselves well, too. I’m not sure how those of us who are not experts on the world of technology business can really evaluate how good a job Mrs. Fiorina did as a CEO, but, since this part of her background is important in judging her qualifications to be the country’s Chief Executive, it is an issue worth our attention.
Unfortunately, this was not a good night for Governor Bush at all. He still seemed to have trouble presenting his points clearly and assuredly, and actually probably took a couple of steps backward in this regard from the previous debate. Of course, I’m sure it doesn’t help a person’s confidence to start the evening answering questions about your greatest weakness and your dropping poll numbers. Cutting into the conversation to add to the Senate attendance-related criticism the moderator had already raised with Marco Rubio was a painfully poor choice for Gov. Bush. He needs to turn things around in a major way, and I can only hope we’ll be able to see a much improved performance at the next debate.
I thought that Senator Rubio had another successful night in Colorado. He communicated well and also managed to keep his cool even when facing hostile questions and criticisms. His characterization of the mainstream media as a Super PAC for Democrats was memorable and should be popular with many Republican voters.
Obviously, Ted Cruz’ rebuke of the moderators for the antagonistic nature of their questions was one of the most notable exchanges of the night and will resonate with many people who do not like the way Republicans and conservatives tend to be treated by the media. Beyond that, though, the debate was a very good one for Senator Cruz. He has demonstrated before that he is knowledgeable and well-spoken, but this time he also seemed to come across as more “relatable” and better connected with the audience than before, which should be a big plus for him going forward.
Rounding out the field
Mike Huckabee and Chris Christie each had a few good lines and moments. John Kasich seemed to get quite a bit of time to speak, but he also seems to often be on a different page from most of the others and from what I’d think most Republican primary voters are seeking. It appeared that Rand Paul didn’t get that many chances to talk, but he may also have been the rare person on stage who was asked some more straightforward questions about policies. As for the four candidates in the earlier pre-prime-time debate, while I agree much more with a couple of them than the others, I think that they all did a credible job of articulating their views and really should have a full chance to make their cases to the public along with the rest of those running for the nomination. I’m not sure what debate arrangements would have been the most fair with the very large field this campaign cycle, but the two-tiered setup we’ve seen so far doesn’t seem ideal.
Some candidates definitely have much more reason than others to be pleased with their individual performances last Wednesday, but, in general, despite the way the debate was handled by CNBC, the GOP field may benefit from what happened at the event. Besides managing to get at least a little substantive discussion of things like entitlement programs and tax reform onto the airwaves, the candidates pushed back against the negativity of the media (as represented by the moderators) and rallied support from a sympathetic audience, both in the venue and watching at home. It will be interesting to see how things go for the group when they gather for debate number four in Milwaukee next week, so we will all have to stay tuned.