Last night the top ten Republican candidates for president participated in the third primary debate hosted by CNBC at the University of Colorado-Boulder. The debate was not quite the spectacle that the first two were, but it was a chance for the candidates to show their knowledge on economic and financial policy. While the field has yet to narrow significantly, the debate made clear that more than one of the remaining candidates is likely on their way out. Here is Forum Magazine’s Assistant Lead Writer Dylan McAuley’s analysis of the debate:
Marco Rubio: There is no question that the night belonged to the young Florida Senator. Rubio was polished on every topic he discussed and had several breakthrough moments including his calling the mainstream media the “ultimate super-PAC” for Democrats. Perhaps the highlight of his performance was his interaction with once-front runner, and Rubio’s former mentor, Jeb Bush. Gov. Bush attacked Rubio for not attending Senate votes to which Rubio eloquently responded by attacking bias toward Republican Senators who run for president and by telling Bush that the only reason the governor would attack him is because “someone has convinced you that attacking me is going to help you.” This crushed Bush and he did not come back from it. Rubio appeared truly presidential and he could have a serious shot at overtaking the candidates currently at the top.
Ted Cruz: The firebrand Texas Senator had the best moments of his campaign yet last night. While he generally seems too combative, Cruz appeared more likeable during the debate and even got in a few laughs. He then proceeded to launch a vicious attack on the CNBC moderators that not only highlighted the frustration that voters hold with the media, but that will also go down in history as one of the greatest ever primary debate moments. His leading of this charge and a genuine willingness to talk about the issues shows why Cruz has been gaining momentum and that his gains are unlikely to stop anytime soon.
Carly Fiorina: The former Hewlett-Packard CEO had several excellent debate moments, but was more reserved than she had been in the past two debates. She appeared well educated on the issues brought before her and was clearly trying to shed the image of her being too angry and harsh. The former CEO is clearly one of the best debaters and communicators in the field and it showed every time she answered a question. Mrs. Fiorina did very well, however she was unable to beat Rubio and Cruz. Her momentum has been lagging significantly since the last debate and last night will probably stabilize her position, but she will need to do more if she wants to rise up.
Chris Christie: The New Jersey governor was the biggest surprise of the evening. Thus far, Christie has been contained in the bottom half of the top tier unable to break through. Last night might just have been his break through. Gov. Christie seemed like the adult in the room, especially when he called out the moderators for asking about fantasy football. “We have $19 trillion in debt. We have people out of work. We have ISIS and al Qaeda attacking us. And we’re talking about fantasy football? Can we stop?” This brought the biggest applause of the evening and continued the trend of disgust with CNBC. It is late in the game, but Christie might be able to seize on his performance and the decline of other governors in the field in order to become a contender.
Ben Carson: Dr. Carson has managed to do something that everyone in the Republican field has been dreaming of for the past 100 plus days: overtake Donald Trump in national polling. Needless to say, all eyes were on him. Regardless of the fact that Carson should be the target of his fellow candidates who are seeking to rise in the polls, he suffered no major attacks. His best moment was his explanation that just because one believes in “traditional marriage” does not mean that he is a homophobe. This was Dr. Carson’s biggest test of his campaign and he passed. He had no major blunders, but also did nothing to improve his standing. Overall, it was a good night for Carson, but not a great one.
Donald Trump: The billionaire real estate developer is finally losing some momentum after the long summer of Trump. He broke from his traditional role and did not dominate the debate in any capacity. He got in a couple of strong attacks against Kasich, but it is hard to imagine how this could possibly help him. Trump did not embarrass himself too much, although he did not seem to know his position on immigration even though he has made it the center point of his campaign. Trump did not have a bad night, but for once the event was not all about him. It may be too early to tell, but perhaps the long-predicted collapse of Trump is finally on its way.
Jeb Bush: The former Florida governor has declined severely in the polls even though he was once thought to be the ultimate frontrunner. Last night needed to be a big success for Bush and he fell flat on his face and, as a result, received the least amount of speaking time of all the candidates on stage. He tried to get a shining moment by attacking Marco Rubio, but Senator Rubio fired back and won by a landslide. In an embarrassing turn of events, Bush was taken down by his protégé. Bush keeps reminding the nation that he has the money and the endorsement to win in the long term, but if he continues on his current path, all the money in the world may not be enough to help him.
Mike Huckabee: The former Arkansas governor is perhaps the most forgettable candidate in the field and the debate was really no exception. Huckabee’s most notable moments involved his plan to revitalize the nation by funding treatment for Alzheimer’s disease and for announcing that he was wearing a Trump-brand tie. The governor spoke about him not wanting to walk with his grandchildren through the charred ruins of America that would exist without a Huckabee administration, which won him the award for the most depressing, hyperbolic moment of the night.
John Kasich: The Ohio governor has made news recently because of his declaration that he was done being nice. Knowing last night was probably his last chance to make a strong impression, he came out swinging by attacking Donald Trump and Ben Carson for their “fantasy” plans. This was effective until Trump completely shut it down and Kasich returned to the oblivion that was the far end of the stage. This could very well be his last debate of the season.
CNBC: For the first time it seems truly necessary to rank a non-candidate in our rankings. CNBC was universally panned for their moderation of the debate. The moderators were disorganized, rude, and did not seem interested in the candidates actually answering questions. There was a lot of concern about CNBC hosting a debate in general due to the difference in their style of journalism from other networks and it seems that the concerns were valid. While railing against the media is common for Republicans, disappointment with CNBC transcended party lines. Last night was a tremendous embarrassment for the network and for the moderators.
Rand Paul: Once again, the biggest loser of the debate was the Kentucky Senator. Paul barely said anything, which makes his performance difficult to analyze. He has been lagging behind in every poll for months and has many people calling on him to drop out so that he can focus on his Senate re-election campaign. There was no breakthrough moment and it was really easy to forget that he was even there. Last night was yet another terrible performance for Paul.
While there are several more debates to come and many candidates left in the field, last night may have tremendous implications for more than a few of the campaigns. Several candidates released weak fundraising reports at the beginning of the month and were banking on a strong performance that did not happen. Be on the lookout for a potentially smaller debate stage next time, and maybe even a smaller field.