The campaign for 2016 has begun with the first GOP debate and it was a good one.
Being in Cleveland in the debate hall was exciting â?? too bad Democrats are avoiding the same excitement by failing to schedule prompt debates. Hillary is being protected by the elites in her party from a potential meltdown at the hands of Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT), former Maryland Gov. Martin Oâ??Malley or former Sen. Jim Webb (D-VA).
Carly Fiorina fired the first shots in the fight for the GOP nomination during the early Fox Debate. She dropped the gloves and put a beating on the Clintons and former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush. Politico and Fox News declared her an early winner.
Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal hammered Jeb Bush for his now-infamous statement that he was willing to â??lose the primary to win the general election.â?ť This day was not a good one for Jeb.
The real excitement was held for the main event debate.
Make no mistake; this debate was about one man â?? Donald Trump. The media obsession with Donald Trump was deafening leading up to the debate. Was he going to attack Jeb Bush? Was he going to machine gun down all of his opponents on stage? Or would he sit on his big lead and be a kinder, gentler Trump?
Trump didnâ??t disappoint. Right out of the gate he refused to pledge to support a Republican nominee not named Trump and failed to rule out a run as an independent candidate. This may hurt him if Republicans sense disloyalty.
The establishment has been chomping at the bit to take down Trump in favor of Jeb Bush or any of the other non-Tea Party top ten candidates. They hate him because they are threatened by his straight talk, sharp tongue and take no prisoners attitude. He needed to make the point during the debate, so voters understood that his fight was with the establishment and he wanted to be treated fairly. Trump saved this explanation for a post debate interview with Sean Hannity.
Sen. Rand Paul (R-KY) showed that he is not afraid of any of the tough talking candidates. Paul took on Trump right out of the gate, and then went at New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, who evidently believes that supporting President Obamaâ??s NSA Spying program is a good campaign issue. Paul dug in defending the Bill of Rights and scored some points with individuals who treasure privacy.
Former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee also invoked the Bill of Rights in his pledge to defend the right to life. Huck provided specifics and was very clear in his explanation on why the Iran deal is a bad one.
The pundits thought that Huck was a star of this debate and he has clearly proven that he is an excellent in this debate format with his vast knowledge of the issues. The job in these debates is to act presidential and Huck passed that test with high grades.
One can look at the performances of Sens. Marco Rubio (R-FL), Ted Cruz (R-TX) and see two candidates who are exceptional communicators. Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker and Jeb seemed a bit flat and tentative. Maybe a smart move after Trumpâ??s repeated fights with the moderators and they both seemed to want to stay out of Trumpâ??s crosshairs.
The eyes were trained on The Donald from the moment the first question was asked. He walked into this debate with 26 percent of the vote according to the latest Fox News poll. That number is the high point for any Republican.
Now the pundits will declare winners and losers. Next come the post debate polls indicating if Trumpâ??s debate performance helped or hurt him. Also, the media will be measuring momentum in the next round of polls to see if any candidate drops or has a big bump.
Another question that can be answered in post debate polls is if the repeated verbal beatings administered to Hillary in this debate will impact her poll numbers. The strategic move for Democrats to not debate until the fall may hurt Hillaryâ??s chances in a general election, and if her poll numbers suffer, Vice President Joe Biden may do more than float a trial balloon.
Cleveland was a very exciting venue for this debate â?? the town was buzzing. These two debates showed that Republican Party is loaded with well rounded and thoughtful candidates, while the Democrats are having a hard time protecting Hillary from her scandals, isolation from the voters and the perception that she is not honest.
The real race for the White House has finally begun.
Brian Darling is former staffer for Sen. Rand Paul and currently Sr. Vice President for Third Dimension Strategies. Follow him on Twitter @BrianHDarling