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Posts tagged as “Republican presidential debate”

First take/late

I have seen elections in which the dynamic would have played beautifully to John Kasich, or maybe even Ben Carson.

Normal elections tend to reward non-squabblers, the candidates who glide above all, stay free of the fray. Many are the three-way or four-way elections in which two, or three, of the contenders get drawn into an ugly battle, and the other candidate profits by staying clear and looking like the adult in the room.

Last night that would have been Governor John Kasich, who almost throughout the two hours-plus Republican presidential debates managed not to get drawn into a kindergarten-level battle engaged in by frontrunner Donald Trump, and his two increasingly desperate challengers, Marco Rubio and Ted Cruz. Physician Ben Carson, who was quieter than Kasich (and everyone else, as usual), stayed out of the free for all too.

But this is not a normal election year, is it?

And so we watched to see which of the three combatants fought better. On that level, the result was clear: Trump quickly took the upper hand and never relinquished it. It was not good conventional debating, but it worked as psychological warfare. The many who tuned in to see if Trump would be brought down this time saw that he wasn't. Rubio and Cruz fired shot after shot, and only rarely this time at each other, but none seemed to do much damage. (Some were simply not well delivered. At one point early in the debate Rubio ran through four or five op-research talking points, any of which might have been damaging, so quickly that the details were lost and the points quickly forgotten.)

Various polling afterward showed Trump as having "won" the debate.

I wouldn't say he won the debate. He won the fight, the schoolyard brawl (even to the point of holding up his index finger to get teacher to intervene), which seems to be what matters this year.

It'll probably be good for a strong Super Tuesday showing. Likely, it's now too little, too late to stop Trump in his run for the nomination. - rs

First take/fistfight

The Republican presidential debate last night was the most contentious of any so far, and for understandable reasons. Donald Trump at one point happily accepted the "mantle of anger" of his candidacy, but the whole stage seemed suffused by it.

The focus clearly was on Trump and Senator Ted Cruz; none of the others could wrest it away for long. Senator Marco Rubio had some inconclusive jabbing back and forth with Cruz; neither seemed to decisively trounce the other, which good enough for Cruz, he being ahead in the polls. Jeb Bush tried to take on Trump on Muslims and other matters, but seemed to be flailing in the wilderness, to the point that Trump didn't even bother to insult him and even threw him a semi-compliment at one point. Governor Chris Christie took some serious jabs at Rubio, his competitor in the middle-stream category and something of a motormouth in this debate, but probably none did much real damage. The others barely registered.

I just finished reading a string of political pieces this morning, and they all have the same tenor: With a couple of weeks to go until the caucusing in Iowa, it looks like a two-man race: Trump and Cruz.

And after the way they opened up on each other last night, I wouldn't expect the battle between them to ease off real soon. - rs

First take

The most surprising thing about the Republican presidential debate was the questions, and how tough many of them were. Most especially the questions aimed at Donald Trump. Those were so fierce - not least the calling-out on an independent candidacy at the beginning, which ostensibly wasn't aimed at a single candidate (though it really was) - that a clear goal on the part of Fox of seriously damaging Trump was evident. If Trump's constituency were of a different kind, it might have worked, too. The questions hit home on such matters as party loyalty, violation of core party stands and more, matters that would kill off most candidates. But while the questions highlighted, they did not unearth. Trump's threat to run a third-party candidacy has been in the news, as had nearly everything else the Fox questioners brought up. Was Trump damaged by the debate? We'll find out more soon in the after-party polling, but I'd guess not. I think it's more likely Fox drove a wedge between itself and some of Trump's constituency, which may be led by the candidate to now view Fox as just another part of the establishment. And did other candidates gain? Maybe Marco Rubio, a little, since he came cross as polished at least and got some easy questions. In the kids' table debate, Carly Fiorina was described as projecting a strong presence, but she's way back in the pack to start. Jeb Bush did himself little good - he didn't crash, but he came across like a dull corporate attorney. Did the debate change the contours of the race? Probably not much. And on to round two.

In our household when we turn to "the news" on television, that has for many years meant Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert - no other regular "news" TV programming need apply, so poor has most of the quality gotten. (CSPAN is welcome, and scattered individual programming, but nothing else on a nightly basis.) So this has been a significant year: First Colbert and now Stewart, as of last night, have departed. The news won't be the same. But the future beckons. Larry Wilmore, while not yet the equal of either of those two, has been gaining some strength. And while we as yet have no idea of what job Stewart's successor will do, we do know that others can do the job well: A year ago, John Oliver did a terrific job filling in for three months, and he was promptly grabbed away to do his own program elsewhere. So good luck to the new order.