At the University of Colorado in Boulder, ten of the Republican candidates for President gathered to thrash it out in order to gain favour with the party faithful. The debate was run by CNBC and the moderators were Carl Quintilla, Becky Quick and John Harwood, who I shall get back to at the end.
When I have analysed the previous performances of the GOP candidates in these debates I have painstakingly gone into copious detail talking about every time they lied, went against the Constitution, said something inane etc., but I’m not going to do that this time because to do so repeatedly would be maddening. These debates all throw up the same kinds of questions and the candidates all give their pre-prepared statements that are often witty quips or criticisms of the Democrats. Therefore the following is a look at the ‘highlights’ of the debate and who I believe won and lost.
One of the main aspects of the debate that I found incredibly interesting was that the candidates took turns laying into the mainstream media in order to improve the approval with the Republican audience. On numerous occasions the candidates came out swinging against the moderators at what they see as the ‘liberal media establishment’. Some of the biggest applause lines of the night came as a result of criticising the media such as Ted Cruz’s complaint about the media’s focus on political gossip, which is a legitimate criticism, and Marco Rubio’s right-wing gem of claiming the mainstream media was “the Democrats’ ultimate Super PAC”.
What was most interesting about this was that the criticisms being levelled at the media were either total bullshit or incredibly legitimate. For example Cruz talking about political gossip is a fair criticism, however claiming that the entire mainstream media, as Rubio did, is essentially a tool of propaganda for the Democratic Party is obviously ridiculous. However it must also be pointed out that these candidates also criticise the media for not asking serious question as a dodge so they don’t have to answer substantive questions that are asked.
In terms of who won I would say that three candidates came out significantly better as a result of the debate. The first was Marco Rubio. Although I do not think he said anything much of substance and often spoke in platitudes, he presented himself well enough to garner votes from establishment Republicans whilst also firing up the base with attacks on Hillary Clinton and the mainstream media.
The second was Ted Cruz. I loathe Ted Cruz because I think he is the archetypal sleazy politician, much like Rubio. Cruz’s performance in the debate wasn’t memorable in its details, but his attacks at the media consolidated his position as one of the candidates on the Right of the GOP that could be a threat to the establishment. Considering that this election has shown itself to be driven by outsiders this can only be good for him.
Finally I believe that other candidate that came out best during the debate was Donald Trump. He didn’t perform as well as he did in the other debates, but it is undeniable that he was memorable. He still remained hesitant to give specific details in certain policy areas but at this point the GOP base is looking for a leader they believe in and it appears that Trump could well be their man.
The more interesting aspect, however, was who lost the debate. Two candidates stuck out as performing badly: Ben Carson and Jeb Bush. Despite his position as vying for the lead in the polls, Carson was completely forgettable and the policies he suggested were totally insane. I honestly don’t know if his policies would be popular with the Republican base but irrespective of this I don’t think his numbers will improve much as he was overshadowed by the louder characters on the stage and the success of the other candidates. Bush’s performance was also incredible in its awfulness. He was totally forgettable, he gave no substantive answers, and was outshone by other candidates who were successfully able to either talk over him or to make his answers seem irrelevant.
Another notable loser of the debate was CNBC, specifically the moderators. I have previously pointed out that CNN, the network that staged the second debate, staged the debate in front of an aeroplane because they weren’t self-aware enough to realise that people mock them for only being watched in airports. CNBC, on the other hand were just plain bad. Unlike the Republicans who have come out in opposition to the questions of the moderators, my criticism of CNBC was the lack of structure the debate had. At points three or more candidates talked over each other, the moderators shied away from going after the candidates or maintaining order, and some of the questions were purely designed to make the candidates fight with each other in order to make good television.
To conclude, I am profoundly worried by this latest debate because the ‘reasonable’ Republicans, which I do believe is an oxymoron, were all disregarded by the GOP’s base as not ideologically pure enough. The continued success of Trump isn’t the thing that worries me as I honestly don’t believe that Trump has the support of a majority of the electorate, especially given his unpopularity among women and ethnic minorities.What was most worrying was the success of Rubio and Cruz. Cruz will not be able to win a majority of the electorate as his positions are too extreme and his way of talking is incredibly condescending. However Rubio speaks with enough passion to overcome his politician mannerisms, as well as being conservative enough not to split the Republican vote, which Cruz would do as the establishment GOP wouldn’t ever vote for a Ted Cruz presidential ticket.
If Rubio continues to solidify his position as the establishment candidate, whilst being conservative enough to appeal to the base, he has a genuine chance to become the next president, provided that Hillary Clinton is the candidate.The reason that Rubio could beat Clinton is that Clinton is seen as dishonest, and Rubio could play on his personal story of being the son of immigrants to appeal to blue-collar workers and ethnic minorities. This debate was incredibly annoying to watch due to its chaotic nature and often illogical answers from the candidates but the impact will be felt in the next few days as I believe that one or two candidates may drop out, to the surprise of many pundits in the mainstream media.