By Zachary Toillion
Let’s take a look at who won and who lost the first Republican Primary debate. For the purposes of simplicity, we’ll be taking a look at the prime-time debate with the 10 highest polling candidates rather than looking at both debates. Additional debates may change the roster anyway; we may yet have time to discuss candidates like Sen. Lindsay Graham, Gov. Rick Perry and Carly Fiorina (whom handily won the earlier debate).
Ben Carson lost credibility in the debate. It’s hard to see how he gets taken seriously from this point, with a series of rambling answers and low on specifics. Gov. Chris Christie made himself look the worst of the candidates. His “tough talk” attitude was usurped by Donald Trump and he lost significant ground in an exchange with Sen. Rand Paul, who was lukewarm throughout the debate. At points, Christie’s rhetoric was just shameful—evoking 9/11 as reason for spying on everyone in the world.
Gov. Jeb Bush did nothing to show himself as better than any other candidate on the stage. He was upstaged by nearly every other one of the candidates. He just did nothing to enthuse voters to come over to his side. He has half of the support of Donald Trump and is tied with Gov. Scott Walker. Bush needs to do something to retake his frontrunner status. He certainly didn’t stand out or give the impression he was one of the leading contenders.
Sen. Marco Rubio shone in the debate, perhaps to the point where he can be called the true winner. Every answer he gave was polished, and he appeared as “the adult in the room” among many candidates with meandering answers. He sold himself to all sectors of the party-social conservatives, war hawks and budget battle warriors. But Rubio wasn’t the only one that did well in the debate. Gov. John Kasich also stood out for the first debate. He gave reasoned responses to the questions that were asked. Kasich sold some of his more controversial decisions in a conservative way. He also won the room since it was his home state.
Then there’s Donald Trump. The moderators clearly went after Trump. They appeared to be acting on behalf of the GOP establishment to try and destroy him. He did great framing himself as fighting against the media—something that GOP primary voters typically like. He could have given sharper answers with more policy proposals, but the nature of the questions given to Trump made that difficult. Trump’s support will probably remain unchanged given he played the part many expected—the anti-establishment warrior.
The remaining candidates, Gov. Huckabee and Sen. Cruz, were more balanced in their performance as each gained points appealing to the base of the party—a potent force in Republican primaries.