A star shines brighter, a dark horse emerges….
On Thursday, Fox News Channel and Facebook hosted the first Republican debate for the 2015-16 election season. On stage for the main event were the current top ten presidential hopefuls on the Republican side. All eyes of course were on current front-runner Donald Trump. He’s been fearless and outspoken to a fault, and was the same in the debate, also to a fault. Jeb Bush is still the establishment’s man, the unofficial rules say it’s his turn. The conservatives, especially Mike Huckabee, and Ted Cruz showed themselves to be his equals and had something to say about that. Marco Rubio’s star shown just a little brighter during the debate than did the rest, and he emerged, arguably, the victor.
Earlier in the day, the seven candidates lower in the polls had a debate on the same stage. The question of who would emerge as the ‘dark horse’ candidate was answered. Her name is Carly Fiorina, and her attacks on the two respective front-runners, Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump landed like precision-guided bombs on their targets. She openly questioned Trumps bona fides as a Republican and a conservative with impunity. She called Hillary a liar with regards to Benghazi and her emails then challenged her on Planned Parenthood. Governor Bobby Jindal also scored some points and solidified his identity as a conservative. Former Governor Rick Perry was much more prepared for the debates than he was four years ago and it helped. No doubt he saw himself as a big fish in a small pond, but he would rather have been swimming in the ocean with the sharks in primetime.
In an earlier post, each of the top-ten candidates was identified as having their own distinct challenge, a goal which they had to meet in order to progress toward the nomination. Here’s how they did:
Donald Trump: Everyone has seen the celebrity Trump, the bomb throwing Trump. Those watching will want to see if there is also a presidential Trump that they can see themselves pulling the lever for. Had Trump been able to tone down his aggressiveness a notch or two, say to Chris Christie levels, he might have come off as formidable and presidential. When push came to shove, he shoved back. Some of his retorts were fair, but others seemed mean-spirited. If he doesn’t like the way the Fox moderators treated him, what does he think will happen when he faces ones that really don’t like Republicans?
Jeb Bush: Jeb has to show conservatives that he is willing to work with and respect them. Those candidates too afraid of Trump will have no trouble taking shots at him, he needs to be ready. The fist rule for any front-runner is to do no harm. He did that, but not much more. He had good moments, but so did everybody else.
Scott Walker: Walker needs to show us that he is just as tough as we think he is. He also needs to look credible on foreign policy. He did just enough to stay in the top four, and he did show that he can be presidential.
Dr. Ben Carson: He has to show that he is more than just an intellectual, that he can lead and even be forceful. Being Mr. Nice-guy is good if you’re running for mayor, not leader of the free world. This was his first real test, and he passed. He scored points with his common sense and dry wit, but needs to build upon his performance.
Mike Huckabee: Governor Huckabee needs to show how Christian ethics can be applied to running a nation, but not in a way that will alienate the more secular voters. He did this and more. He managed to launch some strong attacks against Obama and Hillary but was also able to call upon his folksy, Mark-Twain like sense of humor when the occasion allowed.
Ted Cruz: He needs to do what Jeb Bush needs to do, only from the other direction. He needs to show that he can appeal to Republicans that think the party is fine just the way it is, or prove to them why it isn’t. Cruz picked apart both Republican and Democratic leadership and was able to look presidential doing it. He was the strongest conservative on the stage.
Marco Rubio: Senator Rubio has to show where he’s lead on the issues. He has wide appeal, he needs to sell himself as someone who can beat Hillary. On a stage where most everyone was trying to channel Reagan, he was channeling Kennedy– fresh, poised, and energetic. His comment asking how Hillary was going to lecture him on living paycheck to paycheck, or paying off student loans made for a blistering, preempted attack on her ‘champion for the middle class’ assertions.
Rand Paul: He needs to do the same thing that Ted Cruz needs to do, plus prove that his is not an isolationist when it comes to foreign policy. His plan of attack was to attack. It was the presidential debate equivalent of Pickett’s charge, brave, gallant, and ultimately unfruitful.
Chris Christie: Needs not to scare off any voters, especially Libertarians. He, more than any of the other candidates, can afford duel with Trump. He managed to stay on offence without seeming offensive. His highlight reel duel with Rand Paul over security versus liberty may help him gain against the establishment front-runners, but will cost him those from the libertarian wing.