CNN's Republican Debate was probably one of the poorest managed prime time debates, with moderators having a difficult time controlling both the front-runners and those still fighting on the fringe.
The early debate was a real, thought provoking debate, but in the end it won't matter because each of these candidates is becoming more and more desperate to make headway as time passes -- and it is unlikely that any of them will make a splash on the big stage in the final debates.
The Early Debate
The early debate began much like a Thanksgiving dinner, with those at the kid's table trying to fight to get to the "big people's" table. In the end, U.S. Sen. Lindsey Graham was seen as the winner--both in substance and his well-timed jesting.
George Pataki made the first legitimate comment of the debate, when he asked the CNN moderator why the first 20 minutes of the debate had been devoted to their personal opinions of Donald Trump.
And almost like the moderator was predicting this comment, he then turned to the fact that while those on stage had a combined 7 decades of public service, the 3 front-runners -- Trump, Carson, Fiorina -- have no political experience at all. Is this the election of the outsiders?
With only 4 candidates and almost two hours to debate, a lot of ground was covered in the lower tier and the tier did an excellent job of having a substantive debate. Notable comments included:
Jindal resumed his stance that "immigration without assimilation is invasion." In particular, he noted his own parents' assimilation into American culture.
Graham accused the Republican Party of not being against illegal immigration, but against immigration itself, noting that within 20 years 2 workers will support every 1 person on Social Security.
Commenting on Strom Thurmond having 4 children after age 70, Graham jested that if everyone isn't willing to do this, we'd better get a better immigration policy.
On fighting ISIS/ISIL, Graham, Jindal, and Santorum all supported "boots on the ground," while Pataki was cut-off, but clearly against.
Both Graham and Pataki argued that public officials should be expected to uphold the rule of law, regardless of their religious beliefs.
Both Jindal and Santorum both stated that Christians, from bakers to county clerks, are being discriminated against for their beliefs, and that no one should have to follow a law that violates their religious beliefs.
Santorum stood alone in his belief that the minimum wage should be raised -- not as much as the Democrats want, but to keep pace with historical levels.
On this issue, Santorum shined, accusing Republicans of continuing to lose because they are only interested in business, not the people who work for business. He noted that while only 1% of workers earn minimum wage, a party that can't support a raise in minimum wage simply wasn't interested in workers.
"How are we going to win if 90% of Americans don’t think we care about them?" Santorum stated.
While the candidates were universally against the Iran nuclear deal, Graham warned that "we have a weak economy, declining military, and a world on fire--sound familiar?"
The back and forth on this issue continued into the next topic -- Putin building up troops in support of the Assad regime.
Putin building up forces in Syria brought out the absolute best in Jindal, who accused the president of not standing up to our enemies, yet the only thing he outmaneuvers is the congressional Republicans.
Jindal said it was time to get rid of the Republican Party if it won't stand up for what it believes in, which drew his largest applause of the night.
Pataki: You have to know how to win and be successful at governing -- noting his tenure as governor of one of the most liberal states, yet still working with Democrats in the State Assembly.
Santorum: You have to have substantive reforms.
Jindal: You have to be a doer, not a talker. The Republicans must stop being the "surrender caucus."
Graham: We have to win the war in Syria that we can't afford to lose.
All in all, this was one of the best debates seen yet, but probably only because it was limited to 4 contenders. Some of the bottom contenders of the prime time debate would have probably fared far better had they been in the lower tier, just because of the time they would have been given to express their ideas.
The Prime Time Debate
If the early debate began like a bunch of squabbling children at Thanksgiving, then the prime time debate was the equivalent of a trucker-brawl at an all-you-can-eat truck stop Thanksgiving -- completed with a total lack of control from the moderators.
The format was laughable, with candidates given only one minute to respond and a 30 second rebuttal -- how can anything really substantive be said?
And yet in this debate, Trump didn't shine with his usual non-stop barrage of criticism and insults.
Carly Fiorina, who was in the second-tier in the last debate, rose to the occasion, by both giving very timely and well thought out answers, and also showing her own leadership skills by duping the moderators into giving her more than her fair share of time.
Jeb Bush came out fighting, but by the end was high-fiving Trump at his own joke. He had the opportunity to keep the pressure up, yet still didn't perform.
Carson was unchanged -- if one thing that can be respected about Carson is his ability to remain consistent, polite, and cool under pressure.
Trump struggled, at some point he's going to have to have real plans with real numbers, and his goodwill on promising "great people to do great things" is starting to fade.
Chris Christie and John Kasich made a solid attempt to get out of the "dog-house," but it probably wasn't enough when compared to the other front-runners.
A run-down on the memorable comments of the front-runners:
Once again, CNN wasted the first 15 minutes of the debate on the "he said/she said" about Donald Trump's antics. While this may drive ratings, it definitely has little substance pertaining to the race.
Kasich chimed in that if he were watching the debate, he'd be inclined to turn it off, because of the wasted time and lack of real topics during the opening hour.
Trump accused Bush of being a $100 million puppet to his PAC funds, and once again he pledged not to accept outside money for his campaign.
After a long rant by the other candidates, Trump pointed out that not one person was mentioning North Korea, a country run by a madman that already has nuclear weapons and says on a daily basis he's ready to use them. Trump inferred this was just another case of politicians only interested in what was in the current political spotlight.
Trump also emphatically declared that immigration wouldn't even be such a big issue had he not made his comments in his campaign launch address.
He also sharply criticized Bush for speaking Spanish on the campaign trail, signaling an "English-only" belief in assimilation.
Surprisingly, Ted Cruz came to Trump's aid and acknowledged his part in making sure that immigration was a main issue in this campaign.
Trumps biggest problem isn't his catty comments, but his failure to deliver real plans with real numbers, and not just promising that "great people will do great things." Until Trump can deliver some plans, the voters are only buying in to hype.
Ben Carson shines because he can get the audience's attention using half the words and half the volume of the other candidates.
Carson noted that we need a comprehensive immigration policy because there are simply too many jobs that Americans are unwilling to do, jobs like agriculture. A mass deportation would only cripple a large sector of our economy.
During the minimum wage debate, Carson noted that we have failed on minimum wage in that we haven't set a realistic minimum wage and then pegged it to increase with inflation so we never have to have this discussion again.
Carson departed from the other front-runners by taking the stance that he would not have invaded Afghanistan or Iraq after 9/11, but would have instead used smarter ways to have countries in the region turn Osama bin Laden over to us.
Bush just can't shake the Bush name, and it seemed like all topics were an instant bull-bait to the failures of his father and brother on the same issues.
At one point, Trump accused George W. Bush of being the sole cause of Barack Obama, to which Jeb attacked back that his brother kept our nation safe.
Jeb did concede that when looking to the great Republican thinkers of the past three decades, he is going to have to be associated with many of the names that his brother and father were associated with, but added that this wasn't just making a carbon-copy administration.
Fiorina captured the audience's applause and favor when she forcefully put to rest Trump's comments against her as a slight against all women.
Fiorina was active and took control during the debate, often taking time that wasn't hers to express her ideas.
This was probably the best plan she could have: to show Americans her leadership ability, and when it came to this debate she showed off how to get things done politically.
One of the unique questions given in the prime time debate was the issue of state decriminalization of marijuana.
Rand Paul had his one very noticeable moment when he stated that fellow Republicans like to say we like the 10th Amendment until we start talking about drugs -- that this was and is still a state's issue, one the federal government shouldn't be in.
The rest of the field squirmed for attention, and at times both Christie and Kasich really got their points across. But the reality of this debate is that the primary 4 contenders are going to be locked down pretty quickly, and considering the limited time the media is giving the marginal candidates, they will be eliminated soon enough.Once the new polls start coming out, we should start seeing a trimming of the Republican field, and that will be the true rundown of the CNN debate.
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