February 17, 2016
Ben Carson was there too and acquitted himself more than adequately, but the night was about the Cruz v. Rubio contrast.
For the past couple/few weeks, it seems as though there’s a debate, town hall, or some other similar event every other night. This isn’t much of an exaggeration.
So I wasn’t anxiously awaiting another three hours of candidate discourse. Reality exceeded my expectations. I only switched over to view the Trumpfest on MSNBC during a couple of the commercial breaks.
All three candidates took advantage of the format to give far more textured and detailed answers than they are able to in debates or quick 5 to 7 minute Sunday show spots. It served as a reminder that each are more than capable of speaking somewhat extemporaneously.
Democrats have taken advantage of town halls multiple times. Bernie Sanders does better in these than debates and will get to play again tomorrow on MSNBC with his favorite pal Hillary.
Even now, it will take CNN two days and six hours to get through the current Republican group. With only a limited amount of remaining officially scheduled debates, expect town halls to become a big part of the rest of the process, especially after the field drops to 3 or 4 candidates.
Another benefit was a bunch of more than decent audience questions. Though curated by Anderson Cooper and CNN, they covered items moderators sometimes miss and were framed differently.
Civilians are more likely to provide an opportunity for candidates to go off script. Rubio gave an answer on racism that may have included several things he’s mentioned before, but are most certainly not part of his regular stump speech.
This meant a GOP candidate got to talk about how an African American cop friend of his has experienced multiple Driving While Black stops.
Who won the evening?
The Republican Party above all. It was a three hour showcase instead of a brawl. As for the candidates, it’s a matter of personal preference.
If you were a Carson fan, he was able to show significantly more range and depth than in his truncated debate appearances. It was a reminder of why he surged to the top of the polls in the fall.
There is a market for a bluster-free outsider. Even if it’s way too late to restore top tier status, it was another step along the way to finishing out of the cellar in South Carolina, perhaps in double digits.
It was an interesting day for Mr. Cruz. He began by calling a press conference to push back against Donald Trump’s cease and desist letter regarding an attack ad. It appeared like yet another day where Ted spent his day in Trumpland.
Later in the day, a new NBC/WSJ national poll put Cruz in front of Trump by 2 points. All of a sudden it appeared there was a payoff to Ted’s tactics.
In his town hall segment, Cruz spent the first block addressing his conflict with Trump and issues with Rubio calling him a liar. His supporters are looking for him to push back and failure to is admission they were correct.
The only problem is this gives CNN and others a reason to replay those clips instead of the longer ones where Ted gave impassioned answers on protecting religious liberty and the role of the Supreme Court.
With a couple exceptions, he didn’t show his lighter or more personal side as readily as Rubio did. The two senators differ slightly at most on social policy, but the delivery is completely different.
No solid Cruz supporter woukd abandon him for Rubio based on what he or she heard tonight and vice versa. Marco was about 50/50 between canned bits from his regular act and mostly new material.
For someone who spends too much time listening to him, the change of pace was great. The crowd applauded the most after a couple of his regular answers. He uses them because they work.
Cruz got his good poll news. Rubio received an official endorsement from popular Governor Nikki Haley. Both had plenty of reason to bring their A game.
Round 2 with John Kasich, Jeb Bush, and Trump will help show if these guys had a good night or if the format favors everyone. They’ll have relatively tough acts to follow.