October 29, 2015
Marco Rubio is enjoying a great 24 hours. Ted Cruz opened some eyes and has a new template for debate success. Your correspondent wasn’t going out on a limb in saying they won last night.
Several candidates did pretty well. Donald Trump didn’t lose himself any supporters. He’s clearly improving as he gets more practice. John Kasich is still spinning from Trump flipping his critique back on him. The Donald is now capable of staying under control and applying the Full Trump in the same debate.
Chris Christie put on a good show. He’s still a Break Glass in Case of Emergency Candidate, but he was strong. People touting him in 2012 weren’t insane.
While Carly Fiorina was overshadowed by Rubio, Cruz and her own previous performances, she was at least as solid as Hillary Clinton, who has received two weeks of plaudits for acting like Carly after taking a mild sedative.
She won’t get a poll bounce and her closing statement indicated realization she’s still a second or third choice for many, but Fiorina remains an excellent communicator and solid backup or VP possibility for both establishment and insurgent sides.
But there was a third big winner and in the end he may benefit from the third debate more than anyone. His name is Dr. Ben Carson, GOP Alpha Dog.
Yes, Rubio officially knocked out Jeb Bush last night. It’s an instant debate classic, ready to enter the pantheon. I’ll remember where I was when I saw it and all that. However, it just sped up the inevitable. Rubio is a very good candidate and may become a great one. Jeb stinks. I’m sure he was a good governor, but George Pataki is a better debater.
Once Rubio proved he could answer the missed votes question, something he’d done before Jeb stupidly pushed play on his canned attack, it was clear the betting markets front runner would remain so.
As well as Rubio did today, continuing his attack on the media and Hillary, he’s just reaffirming he’s the top tier candidate many of us thought he was. Given what happened to Bush and Scott Walker, it’s nothing to take for granted (I thought Marco was potentially heading for a cliff yesterday afternoon), but business as usual now.
Carson is the one everyone except his most fervent supporters likes to doubt. Many pundits and insiders now say Trump has a shot. The betting markets have The Donald second most likely to win. After surviving 100 days in the spotlight and putting boots on the ground in a bunch of states, he’s starting to get the benefit of the doubt.
It’s just a matter of time before Carson fades. That’s what virtually everyone says. He’s too quiet, too low energy. He lacks larger-scale executive experience.
He doesn’t sound presidential (to many). He said himself in the debate he never saw himself as president until very recently. He hasn’t been fully vetted yet. His PAC is doing a bunch of his work in Iowa. While other candidates are making early state voters sick of them, he’s on a book tour to random states.
He talks about the Holocaust and Nazis in front of the mainstream media. He’s incapable of cleanly explaining his health savings account plan. Alastair Campbell, the operative behind Tony Blair’s 3 election wins in the UK says he spoke to Carson about foreign affairs and it was like talking to a 10th grader.
Maybe so. Maybe Republicans are flat crazy for making him the polling co-front runner heading into the debate (Carson leads in Iowa, Trump in New Hampshire and South Carolina. A new Texas poll is Carson 23, Trump 22, a new Pennsylvania poll is the exact reverse. These guys are tied.)
It’s possible. Or it could just be that Carson is a really good candidate, at least as much of a leader as anyone else on stage. On Sunday, representatives from several campaigns are meeting in DC to figure out how to take the debate process back from the RNC.
Carson made this happen. Trump will surely take much of the credit, and he is a very willing participant. On the CNBC debate shortening issue, Trump led and Carson quickly added support.
We remember Cruz’s effective moderator blast, but forget Carson started the debate by making it clear he wouldn’t attack his competitors. A combination of his normal calm under fire and the grease fire that was moderator John Harwood kept Carson safe all evening.
He now goes down in history as the first candidate of the several-candidate-debate-format era to rush to the front of the polls and not spend the next debate on defense. He and Trump are getting similar results with completely opposite styles, but make no mistake, gentle Ben is not backing down.
You’ll also notice that while experienced, establishment-friendly politicians like Bush and Kasich lob shots at other candidates and stay away from working with rival campaigns, Carson and Trump are beginning to effectively work together to strongly influence the process.
This matters greatly. Whether you doubt Carson because you think he’s too nice and lacks non-medical savvy or question Trump because you think he’s too reckless and unable to work with others, it appears the two outsiders are showing the most constructive leadership.
While Jeb’s campaign manager spent part of the debate banging on a CNBC executive’s door, the Carson campaign is actually doing something about the problem. Which of these guys is unqualified to lead again?
Carson remains an underdog, but each week becomes increasingly plausible. If I had to bet, I’d still put my money on Rubio. Cruz is more likely too. After those guys, Carson is at least as likely as anyone. At this point, Bush or Kasich would be a far larger surprise.
Should Carson win the nomination, or just wind up making it interesting, this was the week where he took the biggest step forward, consolidating his gains, taking leadership among his peers and escaping without a scratch.