The first debate got off to a bit of a rocky start with the FOX production feeling quite unpolished. With the candidates on stage, the fireworks started immediately with Donald Trump, shockingly, being the catalyst. Sen. Rand Paul accused Mr. Trump of hedging his bets when refusing to take a pledge that would have him support whoever the Republican nominee was. The situation felt a bit forced by FOX, knowing who was participating, but it was entertaining to say the least.
Opening questions and remarks were focused on “drawbacks” that each candidate are associated with. Ben Carson struggled with his response to the questions posed about his experience. His response moved away from the question and focused on some of his campaign slogans. Gov. Christie, on the other hand, was presented with a laundry list of issues in NJ, but was able to make them sound like minor issues relative to where his state could have been without his help. The other candidates answered with varying levels of success.
Christie v Paul Exchange
Sen. Paul came to fight early (though his fire died down over the course of the debate) and it is a testament to his experience over the last 5-6 years in DC. First it was with Trump and then it was with Gov. Christie on the funding of the NSA and support for bulk data collection programs. Gov. Christie presented his case from an emotional angle by invoking memories of 9/11 which was well-presented, but lacked some depth. Sen. Paul, who has made a stand against these programs in the Senate, came off a bit smug in his responses while trumpeting his position. The exchange didn’t teach voters too much new about either candidate, but the quality of the debate was very good. There was more content in Paul’s response, but the presentation gives this exchange to Gov. Christie.
Gov. Bush was given a significant amount of airtime over the course of the debate, which was expected as he is currently a front runner for the nomination. While he had his moments, he struggled with his consistency and delivery. During the closing statements, the former Governor started strong, but fumbled with the ending; a perfect summary of his entire night. He will need to be more consistent and do a better job of showing who he actually is in future debates.
Trump Pressed, Performs Well
Donald trump’s perspectives on healthcare could have been better presented. As a CEO of a large, cross-state corporation, his experiences are very relevant and there was a great story about state borders causing issues that he failed to tell clearly. Altogether, Trump’s performance was not bad given his noted lack of preparation. The question still remains: is he seriously running? If so, why is he not taking advantage of this situation? Trump will need to perform better or more polished debaters will pass him by.
Focus on Hillary
Overall, the debate stayed away from Hillary Clinton (and 100% avoided Bernie Sanders), but when the Democratic candidate did come up, the focus went to her issues with emails and her charity. Hillary, as a topic, will certainly be a focal point in future debates. The candidates feel like they have a lot of ammo.
Christie and Kasich Perform Well
NJ Gov. Chris Christie reminded the nation why he belongs in these debates. If it wasn’t for a forgettable closing statement, he may have won the night outright. He brought concrete ideas to the debate and had intelligent, crafty responses for questions about the issues in New Jersey. If he is not named the nominee, it would be expected that the Governor to be on the short list for VP candidates.
Hometown Governor John Kasich also had a very strong debate which should help increase his national exposure. He noted his background in DC with the budget and the military while also detailing the good that he has overseen in Ohio as the Governor. His responses to the questions posed about marriage equality will not win him votes with more socially conservative voters, but his stance should resonate with moderate/independent voters that are not looking for their President to push religious ideology while in office.
Iran Gets Big Time
Iran, like in the Happy Hour Debate, was a topic that the GOP candidates universally agreed upon. It was actually unfortunate that so much time was allocated toward Iran given that all 17 candidates believe a deal should not be made with the country. Only Sen. Paul took a more complicated position, noting that he would make a deal, but only if the US were negotiating from a position of power. Sen. Paul showed that he has a complex way of thinking and depth to his opinions. What he will need to do to be successful is to discover the best way to sell those positions to the average American voter.
Along with the position of being firm with Iran, the candidates each agreed that spending on the military should be increased. The line of the night on the topic came from Gov. Huckabee who stated:
The military exists to kill people and break things.
Probably not the complete message that the Governor wants to send, but it was very memorable.
The FOX Broadcast started rocky and never really improved. While there were good questions that challenged the candidates, having 10 individuals on stage and 2 hours of speaking time didn’t work. Ben Carson showed that he has a very likable personality, but with only about 3 minutes left in the production. The field needs to be trimmed down to two flights of 6 going forward.
The winners of the night were John Kasich, Chris Christie, and Ted Cruz. All presented very well and showed they were primetime. Bush, Rubio, Paul, Trump, and Huckabee all showed well, but were inconsistent. Walker was very forgettable and Carson has a story to tell, but his lack of experience showed.
Image Credit: NBC News