The top 10 Republicans running for their party's presidential nomination have debated for the first time. It was amazing in every sense of the word and I loved every minute of it. I jotted down some notes during the two-hour event — I could have watched for at least another hour! — and picked some of the winners and losers from the night. Enjoy!
Natural talent tends to shine through in big moments when the bright lights turn on. The Florida Senator, who had dipped in polls following a bump in the wake of his announcement, was terrific on Thursday night. He was poised, on message and seemingly entirely at ease — even when pressed on immigration, which could have been a problem for him. Rubio's response on his inexperience — “This election cannot be a resume competition” — was a good one. Most importantly for Rubio, he looked the part of a president. Hurdle cleared.
Megyn Kelly/Bret Baier/Chris Wallace
Moderating a 10-person debate that includes Donald Trump is no easy task. The Fox trio managed the back and forth very well and, more importantly, asked good, challenging questions without venturing into “gotcha” territory. With the exception of the weirdness that happened between 8:50 pm and the start of the debate (more on that below), they were outstanding.
John Kasich's first hour
The Ohio governor came across as reasonable, conservative and just different enough in the first 60 (or so) minutes of the debate. It helped him that the crowd in Cleveland was ready to jump out of their chairs at his every utterance but Kasich still did well — particularly in the agile way he avoided attacking or praising Trump. Kasich faded from sight a bit in the second half of the debate although his same-sex marriage answer was personal and effective.
Ben Carson's second hour
The acclaimed neurosurgeon was nowhere to be found through the first half of the debate. But in the second hour and, in particular, the final 15 minutes or, Carson was outstanding. His closing statement was among the best — if not the best of the group. Carson's math is simple: The more he talks about being a brain surgeon, the better.
As always, Trump is the hardest candidate to judge. His unwillingness to commit to supporting the Republican nominee if he isn't it should hurt him among Republicans. His general cluelessness about foreign policy specifics won't help either. But, what I've learned about Trump is that his brashness and boisterousness have an appeal with a not-small part of the GOP electorate. And, Trump did Trump — unapologetic and dismissive at every turn. “I think the big problem this country has is being politically correct,” Trump told Kelly at one point early in the debate. People clapped — and the Trump message (such as it is) seemed vindicated. I've been wrong on Trump before. I think he may be beyond normal political predictions.
Yes, she was in the “kids table” debate at 5 pm. But, the former HP executive stood out — big time. She was relaxed and well versed on domestic and foreign policy. She looked the part too. My guess is that by the time the next debate comes around, she will be more central to the conversation.
The crowd: THANK YOU to Fox for not telling the audience to avoid applauding, booing or otherwise reacting. This isn't golf! It's politics! Let people cheer! And boo! Well done, Cleveland!
Primary debate season: Oh how I have missed you. Let's never break up again.
The Kentucky Senator didn't get a whole lot of time to talk — the least of the 10 candidates — but he didn't do much when he did. Paul's “different kind of a Republican” riff is a good one but he didn't hit it well until his closing statement. Too late. Paul did nothing to restore the momentum he has lost in the race to date.
The Wisconsin governor wasn't bad. He was just overly scripted. He hit all the notes he wanted to — union fighter, elected three times in four years, proven conservative — but it felt like he was rushing to get his talking points out rather than focusing on the actual policies behind the words. Not terrible. Just not great.
Presidential prowess? Republican candidates in televised debate
Presidential prowess? Republican candidates in televised debate
1/10 DONALD TRUMP - MOGUL AND PRESENTER
Most likely to say: “You other guys are just a bunch of stiffs. I LOVE Mexico. I will make America great again!”Least likely to say: “I invited Hillary Clinton to my wedding. Which wedding? I forget. Pass me a comb.”
2/10 JEB BUSH - FORMER FLORIDA GOVERNOR
Most likely to say: “I am the only one with a proven record as a conservative governor.” He will always add at least one sentence in Spanish.Least likely to say: “I know how to campaign. The last time I ran for office? 2003.”
3/10 SCOTT WALKER - GOVERNOR OF WISCONSIN
Most likely to say: “I took on the unions and beat them. I won two elections in a Democrat state and a recall election too.”Least likely to say: “Put a guy without a college degree in the White House. I won’t tell you why I dropped out.”
4/10 MIKE HUCKABEE - FORMER GOVERNOR OF ARKANSAS
Most likely to say: “I will fight to end gay marriage and reverse the Supreme Court on Obamacare.”Least likely to say: “You over there, Fox News guy. Keep my seat warm in the studio, because I’ll be back soon!”
AP Photo/John Locher, File
5/10 BEN CARSON - FORMER SURGEON
Most likely to say: “Barack Obama has been a disaster for America and I am the only to have called him out consistently.”Least likely to say: “I have never ever held elected office or even run for one. But I have a great life story!”
6/10 TED CRUZ - SENATOR FROM TEXAS
Most likely to say: “I will end big government and slash Washington to ribbons. Bye-bye gay marriage and Obamacare.”Least likely to say: “Hey, Mr Trump, if you want to play the ‘birther’ game again, I was born in Calgary, Canada!”
7/10 MARCO RUBIO - SENATOR FROM FLORIDA
Most likely to say: “President Obama is wrong on Iran and wrong on Cuba. I won’t chum about with tyrants.”Least likely to say: “I look like a puppy, but bring it on Putin. Yes, Jeb Bush was my mentor. Who cares?”
8/10 RAND PAUL - SENATOR FROM KENTUCKY
Most likely to say: “Everyone else on this stage is war crazy. I will not send your children to fight pointless wars abroad.”Least likely to say: “Time Magazine called me ‘the most interesting man in politics’ last year. Why y’all yawning?”
9/10 CHRIS CHRISTIE - GOVERNOR OF NEW JERSEY
Most likely to say: “I am a two-term governor in a Democrat state with a record of reaching across the aisle.” Least likely to say:“Any bridges in Cleveland I can foul up? Don’t ask me about New Jersey’s economy.”
10/10 JOHN KASICH - GOVERNOR OF OHIO
Most likely to say: “Welcome to my state, where jobs are growing and spending is down. You want to win Ohio, don’t you?”Least likely to say: “Don’t send me any foreign policy questions, because I’m more or less clueless. I might ramble. Again.”
8:50 pm to 9 pm on Fox: What the heck was that? Did Bill O'Reilly throw to the debate too soon? It sure felt like something odd had happened. First Megyn Kelly asked the candidates to come out. Then they didn't. Then they did. Then they just sort of stood there as the moderators made awkward small talk with them. Super weird. It felt like I was watching myself at a junior high school dance all over again.
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