Yeah, I know; yet another GOP presidential debate. But here’s the thing. This one was different. This one was moderated by my brethren at Fox Business and the Wall Street Journal. The moderators focused solely on business and damn, they were good. They were so good that I somehow managed to watch the entire two hours plus the earlier JV debate, if you can believe that.
Why put myself through all that? First, my wife wanted to see it and there’s no Tuesday night football … yet. Second, it’s sort of my job to comment on this sort of thing. Third, a nice Cuvee Blanc from Unti Vineyards (it’s wine) made it so much easier to take. And fourth, I did it so you didn’t have to.
Here are my candid thoughts on the candidates; winners and losers are at the end:
What the heck got into Donald Trump? He was definitely more diplomatic and deferential, actually taking the high road instead of his usual MO of attacking opponents. He was short on details and dead wrong a few times but so what? Neil Cavuto observed that Trump may have actually been trying to appear more presidential. Hmm, what a concept?
Carly Fiorina had another “mic drop” moment, expounding on the wondrous healing powers of competition in health care, meritocracy, innovation, entrepreneurship, zero-based budgeting, and actually holding big government accountable. That’s just crazy talk. She’s still a bit too intense, but her policies are pretty much on the money.
I used to like John Kasich, the last man to actually balance a federal budget. But his performance could not have been more off-putting – angrily interrupting and obnoxiously talking over candidates and moderators alike – not to mention his totally nonsensical position on bank bailouts.
Ted Cruz had a good immigration reform moment, but personally, I’ve never liked his style. Too smooth and evangelical sounding for me. Besides, we’ve just been through two terms of “amateur hour” with a junior Senator in the White House. I really can’t see taking a flyer on that sort of thing again – not with all that’s at stake.
Speaking of which, I have to be honest with you: I don’t really get the whole fascination with Marco Rubio. Yes, he’s articulate. Yes, he’s good with a sound bite. Yes, he speaks with conviction. But again, there’s the junior senator thing and I think he lacks maturity and substance. Besides, I don’t see how a $1 trillion child tax subsidy is an investment in our future. All it does is incentivize people to have more kids.
While I’d previously written off Rand Paul, I thought he scored some sanity points on energy and foreign policy. He also effectively took on Rubio’s proposed spending increases on defense and the child subsidy. And after Trump went on a long rant about China and the Trans-Pacific Partnership, Paul correctly pointed out that China’s not even in the TPP. Drop. Mic.
Ben Carson had a good night, countering recent media attacks on his credibility with quips like, “Thank you for not asking me what I said in the 10th grade, I appreciate that.” And about Hillary Clinton telling America that the Benghazi attack was over a video when she knew it was a terror attack, the doctor said, “where I came from, they called that a lie.” But he still sounds a bit befuddled when explaining his fiscal policies. Got to work on that.
Yes, I know he did better in this debate, but I still think Jeb Bush is toast. It’s sort of perplexing. He sounded lucid and commanding in a remote on-air interview I caught last week, but put him on stage and he repeatedly stutters and stammers. And his attempts at jokes are so not funny.
Meanwhile, Chris Christie knocked it out of the park in the JV debate, refusing to get down in the mud with Bobby Jindal and taking it to Hilary Clinton. If he can just get past the whole Barack Obama “hug that wasn’t a hug” thing during Hurricane Sandy in 2012, I still think he’d make a formidable candidate, but that’s just me.
Every one hit tax reform hard, which is good, but there’s no way to differentiate them until you actually sit down and compare their plans. The real question is which one actually has the cajones and leadership chops to make it happen? That’s the key.
Winners: Christie, Carson, Fiorina, and Paul, in no particular order.
Losers: Kasich, Bush, and Jindal.
No change: Trump, Cruz, Rubio, Mike Huckabee, and let’s see, who was the last guy? Oh yeah, Rick Santorum.
Keep in mind folks, there are two questions we’re trying to answer here: 1. Which candidate is capable of uniting our divided nation, fixing all that’s wrong in Washington, and winning the Republican nomination; and 2. Who can actually beat Hilary Clinton in the general election?
Who’s your choice?