Fox News’ Primetime first Republican Presidential Debate ended and I’ve had a few hours sleep to consider what I didn’t consider last night through emotion so here is my final analysis of the debate. It was a real shootout!
Before ranking the candidates, let me say that I thought the Fox Moderators – Megyn Kelly especially – were cringe-worthy. It was clear from the outset they were out to get Donald Trump. The first four questions he got were gotcha, hit piece questions. They were not focused on issues facing the nation. They tried to make news instead of giving all the GOP candidates a chance to deal with the great issues facing the nation. I think it was one of the most poorly moderated debates I have ever seen – and that is saying something.
With that said, here’s my take on how the candidates stacked up tonight:
1. Ted Cruz – Got shorted on time, even disappearing it seemed for 30-40 minutes. But when he had a chance to talk, he was strong and drove home his consistent conservative record. He helped himself.
2. Donald Trump – Despite being totally ganged up on by the moderators, Trump held his own. He didn’t get specific on issues, but he kept hammering the themes that put him on top of the polls. I suspect the way he was treated by the moderators will actually help him in the polls. I could be wrong, but I don’t think his poll numbers will be hurt by tonight. He survived his first ever debate, and he did so under some tough circumstances.
3. Ben Carson – Got shorted on time, but finished very strong. Carson is not a fast, smooth talker. But what he says is meaningful. He helped himself with his performance.
4. John Kasich – He was very strong, touting his very successful record in Ohio and the hometown crowd didn’t hurt him either and America saw that. You can see him being President.
5. Chris Christie – Very strong tonight. He destroyed Rand Paul in a very contentious back and forth. He was not nervous and did a great job throughout. People might not like him because of the Obama hug but when he’s put up on the stage along with everyone else, he didn’t back down and he didn’t waver on his conservative values.
6. Mike Huckabee – He didn’t get as much time as other candidates, but he did a great job every time he was up. He hit it out of the park on the Iran Deal, saying Obama’s motto is “Trust but vilify – Trust our enemies and vilify our allies like Israel.” Mike Huckabee helped himself tonight. Look for his numbers to improve in Iowa.
7. Marco Rubio – nothing really stood out from Marco tonight. He wasn’t bad. In fact, he had some good moments. But I don’t think he did anything to make him break out of the pack.
8. Jeb Bush – Seemed uncomfortable a lot of the time. He was halting and seemed to have a hard time with several questions. This was not a strong performance. I don’t think he helped himself.
9. Scott Walker – I just don’t think Walker made a strong impression tonight. I’m not sure Walker is really ready to fill the moment, particularly on Foreign Policy. I like Walker, but was not impressed by this performance.
10. Rand Paul – By far, the worst performance of the night. He kept trying to attack people, and got slapped down by both Christie and Trump. Not a good night at all.
It’s going to be fascinating to see how tonight’s debates – both of them – impact the next round of polls. My guess is that Trump will still be on top, although by a smaller margin, with Huckabee, Cruz, Christie, Kasich and Fiorina moving up. We’ll see! The race is on!