There was drama, there was excitement, Trump was taken down a peg, Carly moved up several. Jeb was energized, and Christie and Paul kept their own debate within a debate going. Before that though, was the second tier debate, the JV squad, the “happy hour” debate. The four candidates at the bottom of the polls fought in the hope they might be catapulted onto the big stage, as Carly Fiorina did in the last debate. It featured some familiar faces, and some less so.
The evening’s first debate showcased the four “second tier” candidates, former Governor George Pataki, Governor Bobby Jindal, former Senator Rick Santorum, and Senator Lindsey Graham. While no one did themselves any harm, none stood out enough to earn themselves a spot on the main stage for the next debate.
Pataki had no particularly memorable moments. We learned that he was governor of New York on September 11th, 2001 and so can claim to have lead during a time of crisis. He managed not to make the state any worse than it was than the day he took office. If there is an issue that he feels particularly passionate, it didn’t show.
Rick Santorum had a good debate and gave the social conservatives and evangelicals in the crowd some morsels of red meat. Without the much larger audience he’d of had if he were in the prime time debate, his impact was limited. Mike Huckabee, by virtue of the fact that he had a larger audience and acquitted himself well, probably will maintain his lead among the religious right. Santorum can expect to remain in Huckabee’s rear-view mirror for the time being.
Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal kept up his purebred conservative message. Despite a laudable performance, he really did not do much to move the dial with regards to primary voters. Many of those conservative voters were waiting to see Rubio and Cruz later in the evening.
For Senator Lindsey Graham, it was sink or swim. He swam, not well, not fast, but swam. Though he managed to answer some questions without coming back to his pet cause of defeating ISIL, he remains very much a one issue candidate. If his goal then was show he was qualified to be Secretary of Defense in a Republican administration, mission accomplished. If he is truly aiming for the Commander in Chief job, not so much. He was arguably, the most interesting person on the stage at the time, If he doesn’t make the next debate, his presence will be oddly missed.
The first debate of the evening saw no one really hurt themselves, but more than that was required to earn a spot in prime time. As long as the money holds out, they have a chance, but only a chance.