GOP Debate Night 2016: Round 2

Last night, 11 Republican candidates for President of the United States participated in the second primetime GOP debate hosted by CNN at the Reagan Library in Simi Valley, California. The 3-hour long debate, one of the longest in decades, was a battle of physical and mental will. Here is Forum Magazine’s Assistant Lead Writer Dylan McAuley’s analysis of the debate:

Winners:
Carly Fiorina: The little-known former Hewlett-Packard CEO managed to make the jump from the so-called “kids table” debate in August to the primetime debate last night. Facing high expectations to prove she belonged, Fiorina excelled and won the debate, according to Fox News and CNN focus groups. Thus far, she is the only candidate who has been able to go head-to-head with Donald Trump and win- which is something that could secure her place far into the race. Among her most effective comments was her response to Donald Trump’s criticism of her appearance when she remarked, “I think women all over this country heard very clearly what Mr. Trump said.” She also scored points by calling the efforts to put a woman on the $10 bill a [meaningless] gesture when asked whom she would choose. Fiorina also had one of the most emotionally charged moments of the debate when she told her story of burying her stepdaughter after she succumbed to drug addiction, which led to some of the loudest applause of the evening. If one thing was made clear last night, it’s that Carly Fiorina is here to stay.

Marco Rubio: Once again, Senator Rubio gave a strong performance on the debate stage. He managed to indirectly attack Donald Trump, who has spoken out against politicians speaking Spanish. He defended Spanish speakers by saying “my grandfather instilled in me the belief that I was blessed to live [in America] but he taught me that in Spanish.” He never faced a question that he couldn’t answer with facts and statistics. Rubio took a different path from other candidates by intertwining his compelling life story as the son of two Cuban immigrants who would one day run for President, with an inspiring new vision for the next American century. Rubio showed his impressive ability to connect with people and made clear that he is a candidate worthy of becoming a frontrunner.

Chris Christie: Governor Chris Christie appeared presidential last night. He managed to remain calm, but stern on many different policy issues. The highlight of the debate for him was definitely his reminder to Donald Trump and Carly Fiorina that while they argue over the details of their personal business records, the American people are concerned about their own careers and do not care about details of the two CEOs’ tenures. Christie also took a more hardline approach to abortion than he normally does by accusing Hillary Clinton of believing in “the systematic murder of children in the womb to preserve their body parts…in the way that maximizes their value for sale for profit.” The New Jersey Governor has been suffering in the polls and his campaign appeared near death, but last night may have marked the start of the Christie revival.

Jeb Bush: Governor Bush had a far better night than the last time around. Bush came ready to fight with Donald Trump and he came prepared. He was focused on policy, especially immigration, which is an important issue to the entire Bush family. Perhaps, Bush’s most interesting pattern of the evening was his ability to defend his family. “To subject my wife into the middle of a raucous political conversation is completely inappropriate, and I hope you apologize for that, Donald,” he said to the billionaire real estate developer before demanding an apology on live television. Trump, as he has always promised to do, did not apologize. Bush’s main concern should probably be that he didn’t press Trump harder to do so. The most impressive moment though, was Bush’s ability to defend his highly disliked brother, former President George W. Bush. Bush reminded the nation that his brother kept the nation safe by invoking the powerful images of the September 11th attacks, which drew tremendous applause. Bush didn’t have any standout moments, but he did exactly what he needed to do last night.

OK:
John Kasich: The beloved Governor of Ohio appears to be losing momentum. Last night, Kasich did very little stand out among the 11 candidates on stage and he simply lacked the energy he had in the first debate. He has focused his efforts mostly in New Hampshire, where he is doing relatively well, but he missed a big opportunity to expand his support in the other states. Kasich did have one relatable moment last night when he pointed out, “If I were sitting at home watching this back and forth, I would be inclined to turn it off.” Kasich is by no means done, but he made the campaign harder for himself last night.

Ted Cruz: Senator Cruz appealed to the voters he already had, but did little to expand his base of support. It’s pretty unlikely that Cruz managed to convince any new people to vote for him, which is fine for now, but he will need to do just that very soon. Cruz’s biggest flop of the evening was his support for Donald Trump. He defended him a couple of times, which simply appeared as though he was pandering to the billionaire and his supporters. Cruz remained on point, had a command of the facts, and probably rallied his supporters, but it was just an ok night for him.

Donald Trump: Donald Trump is one of the most talked about men in America right now and he knows it. The former host of The Apprentice faced far more attacks than the last time around which kept him more subdued than usual. He faltered in response to Carly Fiorina’s remark about his comments describing her face and he failed to win a fight with Jeb Bush about the legacy of his brother. However, Trump managed to get a few attacks in, which his supporters love, even deciding to go on the offensive against Rand Paul by almost insulting his appearance, for whatever reason, by saying, “I never attacked him on his appearance, and believe me, there’s plenty of subject matter right there.” Trump didn’t have any highly embarrassing moments, but his odds of winning the nomination dropped last night, which may be the beginning of the end of the Summer of Trump.

Ben Carson: Dr. Carson has been rising rapidly in the polls and last night was his opportunity to show the American people why, but he didn’t do so very effectively. Carson stuck to his calm, kind persona and refused to attack anyone on stage, even Donald Trump. This would have been fine, because it is a big reason why his supporters like him, however, he needed a few standout moments that didn’t happen. Carson appeared very intelligent on a range of issues, and his knowledge on foreign policy and federal spending was far more impressive than it was in the last debate. Carson’s best moment of the evening came in response to a comment Donald Trump made about vaccines in which Dr. Carson said, “He’s an OK doctor,” in reference to a comment made by Trump several days prior. Ben Carson didn’t take any damage, but he missed some opportunities to stand out, although his position should hold steady for now.

Losers:
Mike Huckabee: Former Arkansas Governor Mike Huckabee has been fading in the polls and was banking that his support of Kim Davis, the infamous Rowan County Clerk of Court who won’t issue gay marriage licenses, would lift him in the polls. It didn’t. Huckabee was forgettable, both in speech and in presence and the debate made him look somewhat foolish. Because he has a solid base of voters and financial supporters, Huckabee is probably here to stay, but the question is: for how long?

Scott Walker: Governor Walker was widely considered the biggest loser of the first debate and he probably will be considered as such again. The Wisconsin Governor came out swinging against Donald Trump at the start of the debate telling him, “Mr. Trump, we don’t need an apprentice in the White House. We have one right now.” However, he then imploded rapidly. Walker said little and faded into the background. The former frontrunner will probably continue for a while, but if his poll numbers don’t improve his next concern will be making it into the next debate.

Rand Paul: Senator Paul has essentially lost all support in the polls, but, due to CNN’s ranking system, he managed to keep his spot on the main stage. He continued to focus on his brand of politics by declaring; “I’m not sending our sons and daughters back to Iraq. The war didn’t work…There will always be a Bush or Clinton for you if you want to go back to war in Iraq.” Paul had a very forgettable debate and it would be quite a surprise if he appears in any other primetime debates during this election season.

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