November 11, 2015
Don’t expect any major polling changes as a result of last night. The biggest question was whether Ben Carson could handle the extra pressure. He did. Nobody is abandoning his ship.
Carson also didn’t suddenly display the type of facility for domestic policy detail or foreign policy explanation to get mainstream conservatives on board. However, he was strong enough that he does have room to win them over eventually.
Much like he was a week ago, before anyone focused on who he may or may not have stabbed in 1965, he’s a relative political novice with tremendous favorability ratings to go with strong poll numbers. He needs to win Iowa to seriously contend and is still in position to do so.
A week ago, Chris Christie was better positioned than John Kasich to pull off a New Hampshire upset and serve as the Rubio alternative on the establishment side. Still true.
Christie was strong in the undercard, fending off a peevish Bobby Jindal, who belatedly began making the case for conservative governance he should have focused on months ago.
In fairness, the type of governor Jindal needed for contrast didn’t exist in previous undercards, but the effectiveness is blunted now. He does remain a threat to play spoiler in Iowa by picking up enough caucus day support to change the order on top.
While Christie’s performance was forgotten by the time pundits did their post-main event breakdown, Kasich is worse off for the extra exposure. Each successive debate makes it less likely he will find the tone a plurality of GOP primary voters can tolerate.
While he may have a better understanding than Dr. Carson of many policy details, it’s hard to imagine Republicans inviting Kasich into their living rooms for the next four years. Christie and Donald Trump are proof you don’t need a resolutely conservative record to appeal to Republicans. Trump has the poll numbers and Christie the positive favorability trajectory.
Kasich has the record, but he just can’t bring himself to locate the tone. Speaking of tone, The Donald was back. He sounded very Trumpish without getting in the way too much. He’s continuing to improve at this.
Critics will point to a few semi-baffling answers. Some completely disagree with his comfort in outsourcing ISIS containment in Syria to Vladimir Putin. But few are hopping off the bandwagon because of it. If you went in supporting Trump, you likely exited the debate that way too.
Rand Paul had a pretty good night. He got plenty of time, made several strong points, some, like mentioning the inequality rates in Democrat-governed cities and states, will appeal to all Republicans, others like criticizing Rubio for defense spending will not.
It’s not his year, but Paul is slowly hitting his stride and did enough to connect with his audience to stay on the main stage next debate. By contrasting himself with the other candidates, he’s at least justifying his existence, while the recent election in Kentucky eliminated a competitor for his senate seat next year.
Jeb Bush did not succeed. A week ago he looked dead in the water. Still is. Two problems. First, Christie did well, so Jeb isn’t presently necessary as a Rubio backup. He’ll need to get through the New Jersey governor before we even worry about Marco.
More importantly, Mr. Fix It did not show up at the debate. Rather than attempting to bring the new, rebooted Jeb, he instead brought a mildly upgraded version of the previous debate failure. He was a slightly better version, but that’s not going to cut it.
I’d assumed he would play up his willingness to answer emails by giving his address out to the largest possible audience. He didn’t, even while many competitors directed viewers to their campaign sites. Opportunity missed. He was already running short on time. Bad choice.
Carly Fiorina did as well as she could have. Most answers were strong and the audience responded well. She entered as a strong debater who was the second, third, or fourth choice of many voters. Still is.
Carly remains a backup behind Rubio and possibly Christie on the establishment side and Trump, Carson and Cruz among insurgent leaders and strong conservatives. Though not her goal, she remains a strong VP possibility.
Many observers believe Rubio and/or Cruz won the debate. Both certainly did well, Cruz in particular, as for the second straight round, he showed an ability to consolidate comments from other candidates and leave himself with the best answer.
He both acts as more of a unifier than divider on stage (important given his reputation), and sticks up for conservatism. It’s hard to imagine someone with strong rightward leanings wouldn’t at least consider supporting him.
Rubio did what Rubio does. He’s good at this. Not much to say about it anymore. If he and Cruz wind up as finalists, a debate between them should be a good show.
Speaking of which, we remain in a position where such a showdown is both very easy to imagine and not currently indicated by poll numbers. They are clearly better debaters than Trump and Carson, but have combined support at best equal to one of them.
This may change sooner than later, but not because of anything that happened yesterday. For all the pre-debate hype, we are where we thought we were.