October 28, 2015
GOP Candidates 10
CNBC Moderators 0
The contest between candidates and moderators was even more lopsided than the Royals 7-1 victory over the Mets this evening. There’s nothing wrong with moderators asking strong or challenging questions, but when the line is crossed it’s obvious to everyone in the room and watching at home.
Unless the RNC paid off John Harwood and friends, the result is often the opposite of what was intended; the candidates rally around each other and those contestants who were queued up for more scrutiny slip off the hook.
While several candidates acquitted themselves well, the two biggest beneficiaries were Marco Rubio and Ted Cruz. Each showed a side previously missing or hidden, one necessary to win the nomination and general election.
For Rubio, the first two debates were easy. Nobody challenged him that much, especially the moderators. This time he had a giant missed votes target on his back. A few short hours ago, I speculated this would put him in a very difficult position.
Team Rubio was up for the challenge. He justified his actions without whining and skillfully pushed back when Jeb Bush suggested he resign without saying anything negative about Jeb.
It’s hard to imagine how someone can open their checkbook for Jeb instead of Marco at this point. If you think executive experience is a must, there are other justifiable choices, but without question Rubio proved the less prepared candidate from Florida is Bush.
Marco also got plenty of time later in the debate to reinforce why he’s a great option for establishment Republicans as well as taking several well placed shots at the media to remind outsider-leaning voters the NY-DC corridor is against him too.
With only 13 days until the Group of 10 convenes again, Rubio should get a jump in the polls and have plenty of momentum heading into the next debate. Expect him to run against the media between now and then. He silenced Jeb and Donald Trump will keep busy attacking Ben Carson.
Cruz displayed a crucial new talent. Likeability. The diehards have always supported him, but mainstream conservatives fear Goldwater 2.0. If tonight is any indication, he’s actually electable.
Yes, Hillary and friends would run all sorts of alarmist ads. But Cruz would have plenty of opportunity to make his case. He did a solid job talking about the plight of single moms. He talked about the 1%. For a minute there, I thought Cruz was channeling Bernie Sanders.
The campaign was already well funded and prepared to compete in Iowa and on Super Tuesday. He’d already telegraphed his plan to consolidate evangelicals, strong conservatives and Liberty voters. Tonight, there was something for each of them, stitched together with previously missing charm.
Whether you like Trump, Carson, or Rand Paul, when your candidate falters or you tire of him, Ted is waiting with open arms. Several pundits have made the case Cruz and Rubio will be the final two. Tonight made that look very plausible.
At this point, Marco’s path is much cleaner. Neither Trump nor Carson embarrassed himself in any way. There is no reason for a semi-committed supporter of either to bail based on anything they heard tonight. Cruz still has plenty of work to do.
But he made a giant leap, one he can follow up on very soon. All in all, a great evening for sons of Cuban immigrants.