Given the tsunami of comments last night here at Hot Air, clearly plenty of you were watching the second GOP debate and it served the purpose of engaging public discussion of the candidates and the issues. I was there watching it along with the rest of you and somehow managed to stay up for the entire thing. (No small feat given my normal work schedule.) For those who may have missed it, Mary Katharine cranked out her own first impressions around two in the morning and I don’t take issue with much of her analysis, but there were some high and low points of the evening which I wanted to tap into and see how our readers felt about them as well.
Since I don’t want this to turn into a novel, I’m going to pretty much skip over the early debate. In short, I agree with at least parts of the analysis by James Nash at Bloomberg, who felt that Donald Trump may have won a debate he wasn’t even present for. I did go so far as to endorse Lindsey Graham’s new platform plank stating that the White House needs more drinking, though. If nothing else it would help us get through these debates.
All jokes aside and moving on to the main event, my first observation on the evening was not about the candidates, but about the moderation and the format. For the first hour in particular I am sad to say that this was something of a missed opportunity for CNN and Jake Tapper. For the record, as most long time readers know, I really like Jake and think he’s one of the best cable news journalists on the political beat, but this show was something of a let down. I don’t know where the decisions were made about how they were going to set the tone for the candidates, but at least in the initial segment (which probably had the most viewers) the event was forced into too much of a school yard recess brawl. We were promised more interaction between the candidates rather than just a dry Q&A, which was a good idea, but I thought it was going to be head to head policy arguments. To be fair, there was some of that later on, but the initial offerings were of far lower caliber. Nearly everything in the first half hour was about Trump… either questions to Trump or questions to other candidates about things Trump had said about them. Even when Tapper asked them about something Trump said regarding their policies the conversation was steered toward insults. When a candidate responded on why their policy was valid, Tapper would steer them back with a followup along the lines of, “Yes, but I asked you about Mr. Trump saying your plan for dealing with ISIS made you look like a fool. Do you think you’re a fool?”
It got a bit better as the night wore on, but that was a disappointing start. Also, while the number of candidates on the stage was always going to make it difficult for everyone to have equal time, there were several at the podiums who were left in silence for long periods while it was the All Trump Show.
As to the inevitable question of who won, as with any debate I imagine everyone will think their favorite candidate ruled the evening. This morning I heard reports that Trump was the clear favorite as the winner, but they came from… Donald Trump calling in to Morning Joe. Frankly, I thought Trump got beaten up pretty badly last night and came in on the losing side of many confrontations, but I tend to agree with Allahpundit who tweeted this in the middle of the proceedings.
Gonna be weird when Trump’s polls tick up to 40 percent after this
— Allahpundit (@allahpundit) September 17, 2015
Jeb Bush did poorly for most of the evening I thought, but he seemed to score some points when he brought up the Florida casino question. Did Trump “lose” when he allegedly tried to get casino gambling in the Sunshine State under Bush’s watch? I’ve seen one report at Bloomberg saying that he absolutely did put money and energy into the effort and wound up failing to get it. Others argue that he was barely involved personally and his attention was on other things at the time. The point of the debate format though is generally style over substance and Bush did fairly well on that engagement, but it was only one moment. For most of the night he seemed the weaker candidate.
Chris Christie had one of his best nights of the campaign in my opinion, with several strong moments where he scored points with the audience. That, however, is likely far too little and too late to make a difference for him at this point.
I thought one of the big losers of the night was Ben Carson. As always he was a soft spoken, gentle, very nice guy. But when the policy questions began being hurled at him he just seemed lost, quickly altering some of his previous answers when pressed and unwilling to take a strong stand. One of the glaring moments for him came when it was pointed out that he had suggested to George W. Bush that we not invade Afghanistan after 9/11, preferring instead to use sanctions on Arab nations and other pressures to get them to turn over bin Laden. You could feel the crowd turning against him at that point. America may have been very much divided over going into Iraq, but after the initial terror attacks the nation was ready for war and looking for the terror leader’s head on a stick. Carson lost that encounter badly.
Of course, as all the media is obsessing over this morning, the biggest pressure to perform was on Carly Fiorina. She probably had both the most to gain (by virtue of still having low name recognition) and the most to lose as the perceived interloper on the big stage. With that as the setting, Fiorina delivered. She tore through the policy questions and managed to take some severe swipes at the other candidates without coming off as nasty. Part of this seemed to be a manufactured scenario, such as when Tapper asked her about Trump’s “face” comments. (For the record, Jake, Carly Fiorina’s face is not a subject of national policy debate.) But she didn’t squander the opportunity and the crowd was obviously eating it up. That was nowhere near her peak moment, though, which came when she delivered her remarks on the relationship between Iran and Planned Parenthood. It may have been the finest moment of the evening. (You can watch the video here if you missed it.)
Finally, I’ll just say that this entire debate was too long. I don’t know what other options there were given how many candidates we had to deal with, but by the last hour most of the people on the stage were fading into the background and I’m guessing the audience was fading as well. Also, what happened to the other two moderators? Hewitt and Bash were barely part of the broadcast, or so it seemed to me. I would have liked to see them in the mix more. But all in all, the biggest winner of the night was probably Fiorina and biggest losers were Carson and CNN.