The First Debate; Initial Analysis: Trump’s serious candidacy blew up! Observations about the other candidates.
Trump was the long-run loser. I stress long-run because I’m not at all sure what percentage of his field-leading twenty six percent, or so, of the pre-debate supporters he had are true believers. As everyone knows, true believers by definition will not easily let a little thing such as reality change their beliefs. But, for mainstream Americans, and the mainstream Republicans who are concerned in what the rest of America are thinking—and perhaps voting, Trump looked most unpresidential. He was bombastic, insulting to Mexico and most Mexican-Americans, and women in particular. His changed positions made him, despite his lame protestations otherwise, look more like the pandering politicians he vilifies so often. He is thin-skinned and clearly let his angry self show up, front and center. His nasty response to Fox moderator Megyn Kelly will only exacerbate his mainstream image as a nasty man, if not personally repugnant to many Americans, not likely to be one that would have a chance in a general election. I also don’t think it will be very long before the lie he put forth that no one would be talking about illegal immigration if he hadn’t, will tear at the fabric of his believability. It has been one of the most discussed, and divisive, subjects in the partisan political divide for some time. Additionally, very old-line politician-like, he gave vague and uninformative answers throughout the evening. When asked by Kelly about his misogynist past Donaldisms describing women, he was down on as ‘fat pigs’, ‘dogs,’ ‘slobs’ and ‘disgusting animals,’ Trump replied, in a wholly unsatisfactory manner, “Only Rosie O’Donnell.” A poor attempt at humor, that only reinforced the misogyny charge. The image was hardly what most Americans want from an American president. His true-believing supporters are unlikely to be swayed by negative reactions from even the conservative media to his performance. But, long run, if not immediately, he will disgust most conservatives who want to win the White House, to say nothing of the unseasonably large nonaligned voters. His refusal to commit to support the Republican nominee, if it isn’t himself, can’t play well to party loyalists. The moderators, who somewhat unexpectedly made the candidates own up to their own historical words and actions, pointed out his former support for the liberal-supported single-payer health system, and his four bankruptcies that left those that loaned him money stuck with the tab. His reply to the latter charge, by the way, seemed petty and irresponsible as he tried to shift the blame to the bankers and others that trusted in him. Hardly honest, and lacking in Republican virtues.
As you can surmise from all of the above, and the space in this blog post, as well as other debate analyses devoted to him, Trump did keep himself at the center of the very early Republican nomination discussion. I don’t think it possible that he will wear well with voters whose support he doesn’t now have, and must get.
Jeb Bush played it cool and did his best not to alienate Trump supporters. He took the Republican religiously couched “loyalty oath” of strong opposition to abortion and support for defunding Planned Parenthood. The argument can be made that most of those who will take umbrage to those positions strongly enough to affect their votes are already committed to Hillary. The danger for Republicans is that “most” is not “all.” And it is equally true that voters for whom support for those two positions are already committed to vote Republican. A couple of percentage points might well swing the national election, so there is danger, for the Republicans, in their strategy on those two issues. Given the influence in today’s Republican Party by the religious right, they probably didn’t have any choice in the matter. It is much less certain how, what surely will be perceived by many as anti-women stances, will play with the non-religiously conservative independents. Finding an answer to this query may well prove decisive in general election strategies. Bush, to my view, neither helped himself, or hurt himself mortally by what was an attempt to look presidential and stay above the Republican in-fighting. If anything, he was too cautious and stumbled enough over some of his responses to remind one, more than he’d like, of his brother. His attempt to separate himself from the image of, “Oh, no. Not another Bush,” by seemingly criticizing the Iraq war that occurred on DoubleYou’s watch, came across…well, didn’t really come across.
Rubio looked like a fairly articulate social conservative who can point to his humble, son-of-Cuban immigrants origin. He should garner some support as others fade from the main stage. Unstated but obvious from his name, would be the hope that he’d get at least some of the large Hispanic vote that Democrats are counting on. Mainstream Republican media seem to have anointed him King of last night’s debate; well, maybe not King, but at least he elevated himself to Prince status. We’ll see. It’s difficult to imagine more than one Floridian will be left standing when it comes down to the final two candidates. If former Governor Bush should prove one of those two, likely Senator Rubio won’t be the other no matter what help he got from last night’s debate performance.
Walker reinforced his anti-labor, social conservative image among his supporters, and probably got a first notice from others. But he didn’t look very presidential to me. For lack of a better description, he seemed sort of twerpy. He could be a beneficiary of some of the almost-sure-to-come down the road Trump fall off.
Huckabee was fairly comfortable in articulating his very religiously based social conservative values, with just a hint of a populist streak. He might pick up a few percentage points off his performance–buttressed by his decent name recognition. He didn’t do himself any harm last night.
Cruz spoke to a combination of Trump-like stances and Huckabee-like religious conservatism. He had positioned himself to gain expected Trump support erosion by being the only viable Republican candidate not to criticize Trump or some of his Donaldisms. Whether that works will be his big early campaign question. His name recognition was so low going in to the debate that Cruz can hardly do anything but benefit by his participation, if not his performance.
Dr. Carson looked like, well, a bright, well-honored neurosurgeon, who happens to be black. For a good part of the early debate, he was ignored by the moderators. However, when he did get to speak, he didn’t come across as very knowledgeable about some of the facts that one expects from a president. But his final statement, with it’s humor and upbeat message, was well delivered and probably saved what otherwise would have to have been graded a “C” performance. With a tongue-in-cheek dig at the textbook self-praise by the other candidates, Dr. Carson noted that he was differentiated by the rest in having been the only one who had separated siamese twins. For some, he will be a fall back candidate, if their choice doesn’t make it. He probably retained that status, though not in very impressive fashion. Because of that, the bar likely will be raised for him by most Republicans. He needs better prepping going into the next debate.
Governor Kasich came across fairly well in-front of a home audience. He had a lot of supporters in the crowd, which shouldn’t be a surprise given the Cleveland locale for the debate. His national name recognition was low going in, so I expect his moderate stances will make him the recipient of some of Bush’s support should the latter fall off. I suspect his poll numbers will rise because of his overall performance, and the middle-of-the-road positioning that he carved out for himself in the debate.
Christie both helped and hurt himself. The former front-runner in the polls, who fell off precipitously following the “bridge slowdown” scandal, came off as someone not to dismiss very lightly until, and because, of his confrontation with Rand Paul. At one level he won that exchange, but his temperament, always his weak point in early polling wasn’t helped by that. Christie’s New Jersey background also worked two-ways for him. Things were bad in Jersey, the moderator noted, but look how much I improved a bad situation, was the essence of his reply. Childishly, his hugging Obama after the latter’s strong efforts in support of New Jersey, following hurricane Sandy, was jabbed at by Paul. But I thought his rejoinder alluding that the only hugs he remembered were for those New Jerseyians who suffered because of 9-11 and Sandy was effective.
Rand Paul always was more of a pure Libertarian than a Republican and it showed in the debate. To his disadvantage, I suspect. He also came across a bit too testy. I couldn’t imagine him winning the Republican nomination, and his performance in the debate only reinforced that belief. He has his support base and that isn’t likely to erode–or grow, at least as a Republican.