By all accounts, the Fox GOP debate was a success. It pulled the largest cable TV audience ever for a non-sporting event. Now is the time when pundits try to shape the voters perception of who won it.
The star of the day was clearly billionaire Donald Trump. He dominated the speaking time and the Fox hosts were out for his blood.
Trump was (and is) playing with fire when he refused to pledge to support the nominee. Ruling out a run as an independent if he loses the Republican nod is political dynamite.
If Trump is perceived to be disloyal, then he is in deep, deep trouble already. If he can convince voters that forces in the party have targeted him, then he can play this as an outsider versus Washington insider fight.
Former Florida Governor Jeb Bush barely showed up for the debate. In response to a question about how he responds to the argument (according to a Time transcript) ???the last thing the country needs is another Bush in the Oval Office,??? Jeb responded ???I???m gonna have to earn this. Maybe the barrier ??? the bar???s even higher for me. That???s fine. I???ve got a record in Florida. I???m proud of my dad, and I???m certainly proud of my brother. In Florida, they called me Jeb, because I earned it.??? One would think that Jeb would have prepped a bit more for the most obvious question the voters have.
Why would Republicans nominate a man who represents the 4th term of Bush family control of the White House that brought us a ???read my lips moment,??? a presidency that lead to Bill Clinton, big government No Child Left Behind, NSA Spying on American citizens, endless nation building wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, Wall Street bailouts, and a failed presidency that lead us into the open arms of President Barack Obama?
Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker was another no show at this debate and he didn???t seem to bring the energy. He had no real memorable moments.
Former Arkansas Governor Mike Huckabee did the best out of the top five in the debate by far. Huck invoked the Bill of Rights to defend the unborn ???I think the next president ought to invoke the Fifth, and Fourteenth Amendments to the constitution now that we clearly know that that baby inside the mother???s womb is a person at the moment of conception.??? This is strong messaging for Iowa???s socially conservative caucus goers.
Huck also invoked a Wall Street to Washington access to power and explained, ???the donor class feeds the political class who does the dance that the donor class wants.??? He also discussed his fair tax plan that would abolish the IRS and gave a detailed discussion of the Obama-Iran deal.
Dr. Ben Carson, a neurosurgeon, sounded not like a politician but a ???. neurosurgeon. He was slow in getting out points and seemed more suited for a Harvard v. Yale debate club battle than a forum where you had to get your point out in a minute or less.
The Senate freshman Tea Party insurgents all did very well. For all the talk of Governors being superior candidates to Senators did far better than the Governors as a class in the art of debating.
Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX) showed why he was one of Princeton???s famed debaters. Cruz has a strong talking point when he bashes ???the Washington Cartel??? and he ripped Republican leadership when he pointed out ???we got a Republican House, we???ve got a Republican Senate, and we don???t have leaders who honor their commitments.??? Beating up on weak party leaders is a popular message and it drew cheers.
Florida Senator Marco Rubio argued that if he was the nominee, then Republicans will represent the future, not the past ??? an obvious not so veiled shot at Jeb. Rubio continued ???if I???m our nominee, how is Hillary Clinton gonna lecture me about living paycheck to paycheck? I was raised paycheck to paycheck.??? Hillary was making about $300K per speech and the Clinton family has done as much as they can to increase income inequality between the political elites who use government to enrich themselves and the rest of us.
And then there was Sen. Rand Paul (R-KY). First, he showed that he was the only one willing to take on Trump when Trump said he might run as an independent. Then he slapped around bully Chris Christie who defended Obama???s NSA Spying program.
When Christie defended the collection of all Americans??? data, Paul responded, ???the Fourth Amendment was what we fought the Revolution over! John Adams said it was the spark that led to our war for independence, and I???m proud of standing for the Bill of Rights.??? Moments like these are when liberty-loving voters get up and cheer for Sen. Paul.
Governor Chris Christie of New Jersey was terrible. He lied when he claimed, ???I was appointed U.S. attorney by President Bush on September 10th, 2001.??? He was actually appointed months later.
Ohio Governor John Kasich is just waiting in the wings to be the establishment pick. Moderates inside the beltway are falling all over themselves to declare him the winner and a perfect candidate to win a swing state. Too bad his answers to questions showed that he is a bit of a squish.
When asked about his expansion of Medicare, he said, ???President Reagan expanded Medicaid three or four times.??? So because Reagan expanded Medicare, it is ok for him to?
Americans who watched the debate know who won and who lost, now we will all wait for the post-debate polls to start the process of figuring out who is going to win this thing.
Brian Darling is a former staffer for Sen. Rand Paul and currently Sr. Vice President for Third Dimension Strategies. Follow him on Twitter @BrianHDarling