Well, it looks like it's debate season again. Fox News hosted two Republican debates in Cleveland, Ohio last night. Technically, it was supposed to be considered one debate, but it was broken up into two parts, with the second-tier candidates debating at 5 PM and the main debate happening at 9 PM.
I was disappointed that Rick Perry (who IMHO actually has the best record to run on) wasn't included in the primetime debate, but I thought the more easygoing pace of the less crowded 5 PM debate served him well; whether Perry can do well enough in a debate to stop the grumbling of people still sore at him for his lackluster 2012 debate performance remains to be seen.
The consensus seems to be that Carly Fiorina was the winner of the 5 PM debate; Perry practically endorsed her himself in the middle of his answer to a question about Iran. Fiorina has a lot of great moments but my favorite was the shot she took at Trump--the kind of shot that Perry should've taken but didn't. I only wish I could've seen the look on Trump's face when she did it.
Bobby Jindal may look good on paper to a lot of people, but I don't
think he's a very good at talking about his record; he keeps switching
back and forth between speaking too fast and trying not to sound like
he's speaking too fast, and it sometimes makes it hard to follow what
George Pataki, Rick Santorum, and Lindsey Graham all left me cold; none of these three really felt to me like they even belonged there. I don't remember much of what Jim Gilmore said, but I don't remember actively disliking him or feeling like he was somehow out of place.
I'm not sure if there was a clear winner of the primetime debate, but the biggest loser was definitely Donald Trump. Right off the bat he refused to pledge not to run as a third party candidate if someone else won the GOP nomination. Later in the debate Trump hurt himself again by giving a strange answer to a question about single payer healthcare in which he praised the healthcare systems in Canada and Scotland, said some stuff about buying insurance across state lines here in the US, and seemed careful to not entirely rule out wanting single payer as part of a replacement for Obamacare. All throughout the debate most of Trump's answers were really not much better than word salad, and often he would be given an extra thirty seconds to clarify his garbled answers. (And of course after the debate was over he blamed Fox News for his pathetic performance because nothing is ever his fault.)
Marco Rubio seemed to make the best use of his time overall and had a very strong close; I tend to prefer executive experience in a candidate, but I have to admit he's very good at speaking without sounding like he's speechifying. (There will always be those who write Rubio off as an amnesty shill, but even Donald Trump for all his ranting and raving about border security always manages to leave the door open to some sort of amnesty whenever directly asked about it.)
Jeb Bush went into this debate being known by most people as the Establishment guy or the default not-Trump pick, and I don't think he really did much to convince people that he was anything more than those things. I didn't find him very inspiring and not much of anything he said really stuck with me after the debate was over. There was an awkward moment where he declined to take credit for calling Trump an asshole, and then Trump called him a gentleman afterward, which probably made a few heads explode on both sides.
Ted Cruz has a reputation for being an excellent debater but he sounded a bit too rehearsed to me, and most of his answers felt like little speeches. He also has a tendency to sound like he's speaking only to the base even when he's trying not to, which could be a problem for him in the general election if he ever manages to win the nomination.
Rand Paul tried to stand out by getting into a few shouting matches but his shrill voice always makes him sound like he's desperately flailing even when he actually has the better argument. I don't think he did himself any favors.
Ben Carson did a good job of using humor to try to connect with people, but he didn't really offer any substance along with that humor; his answers tended to meander all over the place without ever finding any specifics. He's put more thought into his positions than Trump, I'll give him that, but that's not saying much. Someone who's only running for president because he made Obama uncomfortable for a few minutes at a prayer breakfast really needs to do better than this.
Mike Huckabee is also very good at using humor but I don't think people will ever get over the fact that he's Mike Huckabee. His record as governor is not a good one, so he only gets so much benefit from saying he has executive experience. The show he had on Fox may give him a base of support but most people will always think of him as Rick Santorum with a bass guitar and a better sense of humor.
Chris Christie did well for himself. He had a skirmish with Rand Paul that fans of Paul probably won't forgive him for, but for the most part Christie came across as a serious guy. I'm still skeptical that someone from a blue state with his temperament and tendency to lash out at his own party can win the nomination.
Scott Walker didn't really stand out, but he didn't make any blunders either. If he made a mistake at all it was in playing it too safe; it seemed like his answers were shorter than they needed to be at times. He's really not known as a foreign policy guy but one of his best moments came when he quoted Ronald Reagan while talking about Vladimir Putin.
John Kasich got a lot of praise for doing better than people expected, but that was only because the audience was filled with Ohioans cheering him on and our expectations were so low. Next time will be a lot harder for him to get that kind of praise, I think, and it will be tough for him to escape being thought of as a more genial version of Jon Huntsman.