Tonight’s debate took place in the backdrop of the Cruz victory in Iowa and three days before the New Hampshire primary. No candidate has won the nomination without winning either of the two states and no candidate has lost the nomination after winning both of them. Given Cruz’s win in Iowa and strong play for South Carolina, tonight was very much an away game for him. On the other hand, this is shaping up to be a must win for Rubio because, with Trump ahead in the polls, the Florida Senator is looking at the prospect of being shut out from the first two states and being an underdog in the even more conservative state of South Carolina.
With this context in mind, Cruz came away with a good night, Rubio had a poor showing given expectations for him, and Trump’s performance was above average – nothing disastrous occurred to deny him the likely win in New Hampshire. All the candidates seemed to make a concerted effort to avoid a direct confrontation with Trump. You can’t beat the front-runner in the state without drawing blood.
But the real story of the night was Christie completely exposing Rubio’s schtick. Even though Christie has major substance issues (continues this vapid argument about being a generic governor over a senator), he undermined the majority of Rubio’s appeal – his personal charm. Whenever Rubio speaks he always sounds electric and connects well with people. However, anyone who follows him closely will notice he tends to perform like a wind-up toy who rehearses coined lines very well. Christie demonstrated this very effectively and Rubio self-immolated by proving Christie’s point when Rubio repeated the same line four times. Later on in the debate, Rubio parachuted in with a non-sequitur line after he faced tough questions from other candidates. It was so bad even his cheerleaders in the conservative media aren’t defending his performance.
Here are some other random observations:
– According to ABC News, immigration was the most discussed issue on social media. One would think the media would learn the lesson on this issue. Unfortunately, it did not get enough air time in the debate, but most of it was consumed by Ted Cruz, which would naturally benefit him. Generally speaking, Cruz had the most substance on an array of issues and had a very strong closing statement illustrating in dramatic fashion how he is the only one, in his estimation, who has truly stood up to the special interests.
– To this day, Rubio will not denounce the Gang of Eight amnesty bill and apologize for it. Instead, he uses an innocent bystander approach for trying to make an effort and then pivots to a commentator approach predicting that the bill wouldn’t pass so we need something that will actually pass. Christie effectively called him out for it.
– Trump kept saying that Obama is incompetent, not devious. This cuts to the core of the concern many of us have with Trump – that he feels we just need an effective and competent deal maker. No, we need a principled leader who will destroy the fundamental transformation with the same rigor that Obama has enacted the fundamental transformation. Obama is devastatingly principled and we need someone who is equally principled to undo his malfeasance, not his incompetence.
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