January 29, 2016
Ted Cruz got his moment at center stage. He wasn’t awful, but wasn’t good either. There were moments. When asked about his opposition to ethanol subsidies, he gave an organized, complete and persuasive answer. He generally defended himself well from various attacks and fended off some sharp moderator questions.
As the front runner among those present and accounted for, he got the full treatment, some from his opponents, even more from the moderators. The problem was when he was given more open-ended opportunities. An over-scripted Cruz just isn’t as effective.
He overdid the pandering to Iowans, overdid the Reagan references, and overdid the cleverness when he made his Trump comment. Given the choice between trying to lock down his base, and acting like a nominee, he opted for the former.
I get the logic, but his actual base isn’t quite enough to win the caucus if Trump can turn his voters out. It’s also important for him to continue to work on convincing mainstream conservatives that he’s the best non-Trump option. Not only would that have helped him harvest enough votes to win Iowa, but would insulate him if he falls slightly short.
Instead, Marco seized the virtual throne. Cruz can still wind up winning. He’s not trailing Trump by that much, didn’t lose vast amounts of support with his debate performance (might have held even or even gained slightly), and isn’t necessarily finished if he winds up second.
Still, he didn’t do enough to separate himself from Rubio or make Trump supporters think they didn’t need the missing option.
Marco Rubio: I missed this while it was happening. Bias is a terrible thing. He wasn’t doing what I thought he should. He was rushing his words, sounding too excitable. He prefaced everything by saying “when I’m president.” Well, apparently it worked.
Some of us base debate reviews almost entirely on what we saw during the debate. Others do a recap of what everyone is saying. This time I’m splitting the difference. Frank Luntz did a focus group that loved Marco. Most of the post-game reviews were favorable.
Most importantly, the sound bites I saw after the fact made him look pretty good. For each viewer, there’s at least another one (even in Iowa) that only sees the aftermath. Plus Cruz wasn’t strong and Trump was absent, so it was easier for his potential voters to picture him as a nominee.
John Kasich: He was physically in Iowa but verbally in New Hampshire. Everything he said was for the benefit of his audience back in the Granite State. As such, he didn’t get the same cheers as many of the other candidates. That doesn’t matter. He’s got his act down and stayed in his “Kasich Lane.”
I still haven’t figured out how he adjusts/adapts/accentuates his message after New Hampshire if things wind up going his way. The first step is getting to worry about what happens after New Hampshire, and he took one more step in that direction.
What if they’d sounded like this in August?
Rand Paul: Way too late to contend for the nomination, but really hitting his stride. Don’t be surprised if he beats expectations on Monday. That would let him stick around for a couple/few more weeks acting as a thorn in Ted’s side. Even if he only pulls 5% after Iowa, it makes it harder for Cruz to win competitive early states.
Jeb Bush: He’s an increasingly eloquent zombie. Unless Rubio face plants, something very unlikely to happen anytime soon, it’s too little, too late, but he’s getting better each time out. Now if he could just start running some decent ads.
Ben Carson: Enough for the true believers, not enough to convert anyone else. A good turnout on Monday is 150,000 voters. It’s not hard to imagine the doctor turning out 10,000 or so and retaining 7%. Anything more than that and he has more loyalists than people are giving him credit for.
Sounded fine, lost ground
Chris Christie: He didn’t do anything wrong and got a couple good lines off. This was exactly the Christie that built some momentum in December. The problem is he sounds exactly the same as in December.
That apparently isn’t good enough, as the governor currently sits sixth in New Hampshire. His three main competitors, Rubio, Jeb and Kasich, all had good nights. Unfortunately, he has the third best governing record of the three governors. Florida did better and Ohio recovered faster.
You can argue otherwise, but that’s the common perception. Christie’s argument is based on degree of difficulty, and having to explain is never a good thing in politics. In order to win, he needs the others to sound inept. They don’t.
Please make it stop
Undercard Debates: The moderators were awful. They spent the first fifteen minutes asking the candidates why they haven’t given up yet. Those of us dumb enough to watch didn’t learn anything. I felt bad for everyone there except Jim Gilmore.
If enough people drop out after Iowa, the next debate, a week from Saturday on ABC, the night before the Super Bowl, should only have one round. Please.
Ask me Monday
Donald Trump: Skipping out was probably the right move. While a few leaning Trump voters almost definitely moved away, he likely succeeded in his goal of firming up strong supporters who haven’t caucused yet. Most of the people most upset at his absence weren’t going to vote for him anyway. Plus, I’m convinced giving Iowa the finger will help him elsewhere.
He ran the risk of Cruz stepping up at center stage, but it didn’t happen. Without Trump as a foil, he was less likeable. Rubio was effective enough to make the two senators relative equivalents. All in all, it worked out more than decently. Not sure how many people watched his show, not sure how much (if any) the debate ratings were down, but it probably doesn’t matter.
No matter what happens on Monday, everyone will say it was because he ditched the debate. For all we know it’s a total wash. If he loses, as long as it’s not by that much, the idea that he could have won if he’d only debated is probably better than if he’d debated and fallen short.
If he wins after playing by his own rules, in a state that doesn’t set up as well for him as others, with Cruz having had momentum, it’s a huge win. Well played.