My view of how the Republican presidential candidates did on the debate on Wednesday (or at least the “Top 11” debate.)
Ben Carson: B
He did pretty well with most answers, sticking to what works (calm affable outsider.) I think his comments on how it was a mistake to go to war in Afghanistan aren’t going to go well with Republican voters.
Carly Fiorina: A
It was her debut on the big stage, and she’s likely to stick around. She hit Trump and Hillary well, and gave strong forceful responses on planned parenthood, the nation’s drug problem, and her record as Hewlett Packard CEO.
Chris Christie: A-
He reminded people that if it wasn’t for Bridgegate, he would be a top-tier candidate. Won his confrontations, and got good knocks at the frontrunners, while getting his message across. If this can be the new normal for him, rather than a particularly good day, he might become a credible candidate.
Donald Trump: C-
He got hit by the others, especially Fiorina, whose record in business overlaps with his. I don’t think he had anything new to say, although he did have a strong moment arguing against birthright citizenship in a country with welfare. Personally, I was happier when he was off-screen because the discussion was markedly more substantitve. There’s something to be said for the argument that he doesn’t want to be on-camera when anyone’s talking specifics. That vaccine answer is also not going to go over well. Maybe people responding to polls will keep grading him on a curve because he doesn’t act like a normal politician, and that’s the only thing they care about.
Jeb Bush: B-
He had some mixed responses; stumbling for the right answer on some occasions, and forceful on others. He seems smarter than his brother, but less gifted politically.
John Kasich: C-
I like the guy, and he maintained his niche as the moderate in the race, but this was a stumbling performance for a guy on the bubble in polling.
Marco Rubio: B+
He did well with relatively few questions. He can cut a few campaign ads based on his responses on communicating in Spanish, and on foreign policy. If Walker and Jeb continue their slide in the polls, these kind of debate performances do show that Rubio is a good choice to combat Hillary for the establishment Republicans. In a field with Carson, Cruz, Fiorina and Trump, his relative inexperience isn’t as significant an issue.
Mike Huckabee: B
He wasn’t onscreen much, but I thought he handled himself well whenever he was. He’s not my type of candidate, but he’s good on-camera, telling the bible-thumpers what they want to hear.
Rand Paul: B-
He didn’t win some of his confrontations, but he differentiated himself from the other candidates, and advocated effectively for his policies. Though he also seemed to be the guy who asked “Can I speak?” the most, which isn’t very presidential.
Scott Walker: B
He gave a much improved performance compared to the first debate. It’s not going to be enough to change his current status, but won’t serve to disqualify him either. It’s been noted that he had the least screentime of any of the candidates, but that seemed to be by design. He didn’t want to win the debate; he just wanted to do his campaign no harm.
Ted Cruz: C
Maybe it’s wishful thinking to suggest that he gave what was obviously a poor performance. Watching the debate, I realized something about Cruz: He seems to only have one tone. He could be talking about his love for his daughters, or foreign policy, and he won’t modulate his voice at all. That can’t come across well, even if it is always red meat.
I watched the debate with my 69 year old father. He was most impressed by Kasich and Paul, although that might be because they’re the candidates who fit his worldview—moderate, slightly libertatian—most. He didn’t think Carly Fiorina was especially impressive, but that was mainly because he thought everyone on stage did well.