Well, that was one of the stranger things I’ve ever seen. The room was empty because the debate was “closed to the public,” the opening questions were unserious, and many of the candidates looked flat. Nevertheless, I’ll try to answer the following question: How did the “JV squad” fair?
Below is my personal and quick reaction to the best and worst performances of the evening. Here we go.
-- Rick Perry started off a bit shaky. And stayed shaky. Lingering questions about his preparedness and fitness for another campaign have dogged him for months. His infamous “oops” moment has followed him around like the bubonic plague. Tonight, however, he didn’t seem anymore comfortable, or better prepared, than he was in 2012. Bottom line: I’m not convinced he’s ready to be president. Is anyone else?
-- Rick Santorum gave a fantastic answer to a question about the issue of immigration. Specifically, asked whether he could live with himself, as a conservative, by supporting a policy that breaks up illegal immigrant families, he explained that his father’s family was separated for seven years when they first came to America. He recalled his grandfather later saying: “America was worth the wait.” This blended personal hardship with empathy and I thought it was a good response. In any case, he didn’t get to really weigh in on any specific social issues (his bread and butter) although he did rip the recent gay marriage decision. Overall, a strong performance.
-- Bobby Jindal looked solid on stage all night, delivering smart and thoughtful responses to every question he faced. His closing statement was particularly memorable. He also burnished his resume as a conservative, government-cutting governor. He therefore seemed fluent, and as Guy said, wonky on difficult policy questions. However, his demeanor didn’t impress me; it seems to me he lacks both style and charisma.
-- Lindsey Graham as expected waged his verbal battles against Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama. Yet he seemed robotic and scripted in his deliveries. He didn’t seem comfortable in his own skin, to be honest. Which is strange because he’s usually pretty good on television. I don’t think he had a terrific night. Consequently, his polling numbers are unlikely to get a boost.
-- Carly Fiorina was the star of the evening. She was eloquent, prepared, convincing, and passionate. Moreover, her point that if Jimmy Carter, Ronald Reagan, Bill Clinton, or Barack Obama were vying for the nomination today they too would be trailing badly in the polls. Great answer. She also pivoted nicely several times to her personal biography and successful private sector career. I wouldn’t say this was a rout, but I’ll pose the question anyway: Who performed better than Carly Fiorina tonight?
-- George Pataki didn’t do poorly. But as expected, he was grilled for being pro-choice. He tried to distance himself from the issue by saying he opposes taxpayer subsidies for abortion providers and late-term abortion. But how convincing was that? He did indeed stick out like a sore thumb, although his answers on other issues (namely foreign policy) were quite strong.
-- Jim Gilmore was the ghost on stage. Though he did what was required of him by getting his name out there. During his first response he essentially regurgitated his resume, which under normal circumstances, might seem strange. But when literally no one knows who you are, that probably wasn't the worst strategy. I do wonder, though, was anyone watching? The seats were literally empty. Were people tuning in at home?
Anyway. Agree or disagree? Feel free to leave your thoughts and analysis in the comments section below. Also, be sure to read Guy’s wrap-up post of Trump-a-palooza later tonight. Let’s hope it’s a lot better than the spectacle we just witnessed.
UPDATE: The viewers have spoken.