I know I’m late to the party when it comes to debate reactions. I was just too exhausted to write anything last night. I’m also glad I slept on it because I finished that debate in a fairly foul mood. Given that the undercard bout started at 6:00 p.m. and the main event ended after 11:00, it was just too much. I’m a fan of Jake Tapper. But that was a lot of Jake Tapper in one sitting (I agree with Brit Hume that Tapper was poorly served not having a bell or buzzer. The relentless interruptions of “Thank you senator” and “thank you governor” had the cumulative psychological effect of getting unfairly pissed at Tapper for doing his job). Hugh Hewitt got only slightly more camera time than Jim Gilmore.
Moreover, the incessant Trumpcentric framing of the questions was extremely grating. “Donald Trump said X, what do you say to Donald Trump?” “Donald Trump believes Y, tell Donald Trump why he’s wrong about that.” I heard someone say this morning on TV that over 40 percent of the questions came in this form to one extent or another; it felt like a lot more. Donald Trump and Trumpism are significant topics worthy of discussion. But I don’t see why everyone and everything needs to be pulled into the orbit of Trump’s egocentrism.
At least that’s how I felt last night. In retrospect, I’m more forgiving. We learned a lot last night. Tapper actually allowed for a remarkable amount of crosstalk and interaction, which is hard to do without giving into chaos.
Anyway, my brief takeaways:
Objectively, I think everyone got at least a passing grade. The problem is that these things are graded on a subjective curve. So what would be a gentleman’s C in a smaller field or in a different season, can be a failing grade. In the undercard debate, I think Graham and Jindal were the best, but neither did what they needed to do — if it was even possible — to get out of the also-rans.
In the main event, I’m pretty much on the same page as Rich and the others. I think Fiorina was the winner. Rubio was, again, surefooted and relatable (except for that awful water joke at the beginning). I actually think that, after Fiorina, Chris Christie may have helped himself the most. He doesn’t need a huge pop in the polls right now. He merely needs people to be open to giving him a second look, and I think he did that. Maybe he’ll gain a point or two in the rankings, but the real sign he helped himself will be whether he gets bigger crowds in New Hampshire and an uptick in donations.
I am very disappointed in both Ben Carson and Rand Paul for not being more forceful on the issue of vaccinations — one of the only topics Trump discussed with any specificity. Both of these guys claim to be unconventional politicians — Carson more plausibly than Paul — and legitimately tout their medical careers. But their response to Trump smacked of political pandering.
As for Trump, who knows? From my perspective he continued to confirm that he has no place on the stage. He was boorish, uninformed and often pretty tedious. But he was also at times entertaining, and his fans have a keen gift for editing out the parts of his act they don’t like. I don’t think he’ll go down in the polls because of anything that happened last night. But I suspect his ceiling of support got a little lower and a little thicker.