Analysis on Last Debate before NH

Posted: 2:26 PM, Feb 08, 2016
Updated: 2016-02-08 14:26:41-05

On what would have been President Ronald Reagan’s 105th birthday, the remaining GOP candidates everyone in the race for the GOP nomination except Carly Fiorina  gathered together to debate one more time before the first primary of the 2016 election.

Donald Trump, who returned to the debate stage at his center podium, was mostly subdued and didn’t give too many insults except when he told Jeb Bush “Quiet”, who obediently listened. He was given some tough conservative litmus test questions such as his support for eminent domain and gave some strong, reasonable answers. Over all, he didn’t do anything to hurt himself and probably maintained his lead.

Ted Cruz, in his first debate since his Iowa win and the Carson scandal, gave his usual solid performance showing his calm but authoritative grasp on the issues.  Like Trump, he did nothing exceptionally bad or good for himself; the two front-runners have been pretty consistent in their performances and clearly the voters approve, as they’ve been front and center throughout the season.

The Carson scandal was brought up in the beginning and despite whatever happened, Cruz gave a polite apology to Carson, probably the best he can do at this point whether he is fully guilty or not.

Marco-mentum? Yikes. All eyes were on Rubio who was the most Reagan-esque in how he handled his 3rd place win in Iowa earlier in the week by giving a short, positive and inspiring speech and acted like the winner of the night. He was expected to carry this into the debate and build upon it into Tuesday's vote. However, not only did he not have any shining moments, he looked as if he were exposed as a broken record when Gov. Christie repeatedly asked him to answer his question without repeating a familiar talking point that was off-topic. Rubio, looking nervous and sweaty, word-for-word repeated the same sentence 3 times. Even Christie looked like he couldn’t believe how well his strategy worked. It may not help Christie, but maybe he is willing to take himself out if he can also take the Boy Wonder with him. Rubio did have one good line. When accused of having a short career in the Senate without many accomplishments to name, he countered that Joe Biden has been in the Senate forever with a long list of legislative actions that Republicans hate.

Ben Carson was of course first asked about accusing the Cruz campaign of caucus shenanigans. Cruz apologized on the spot, though he had already apologized earlier in the week. Carson said he accepted it but then went on to talk about how the reports and timing of the tweets still seemed fishy, and clearly laid blame at the feet of Cruz’s campaign, not CNN. Otherwise, it seems Carson uses his free time to think of funny one-liners about the fact that he gets the least talking time of all the candidates.

Christie – with Rand Paul out, Christie turned his full guns on Rubio successfully, as detailed above. What’s interesting is that Christie never attacks Cruz or Trump, why wouldn’t he want to attack the front-runners? Given, Rubio is now considered top 3 but he hasn’t always been up there, yet Christie has consistently focused on Paul or Rubio and pretty much ignored everyone else. Could there possibly be an agreement in place or just that he is hoping to be asked to jump on a Trump or Cruz ticket in which he can later say, “Hey, I never attacked you during the primary….”

Against his past selves in the debates, Jeb Bush does great. Against everyone else, he still is unable to even have a star dazzling moment, much less command the stage. He did seem more confidence coming off his Trump-less debate. Even when Trump allowed him to have the floor and he attempted to make a passionate, strong, high-energy point, he stumbled, miss-spoke or stuttered. Not that he must speak perfectly to be a good president, but unfortunately in today’s world, he does.

Kasich – Kasich continues to be in his own world on the left side of the stage. He repeatedly claimed at the debate and in other interviews over the weekend that he will and deserves to win because he’s held more town halls in New Hampshire than anyone else. That’s pretty much the only interesting new thing he had to say all night but if the polls are correct, the time he put into NH will probably pay off. Though whether it will help him in the long-run remains to be seen.

Rand Paul – Ok this was the first debate he was out of the race for, though not the first debate he was missing from. Though I should have been ready for it, I missed the eye rolls, they are hilarious and always well-placed.

Also, about that opening confusion. All the candidates, especially Carson, have been mocked for being too dumb to walk when they heard their name. But having been part of many broadcast productions, it is clear that none of them could hear their cues clearly. They were not being sent out at the right time, there was either a delay or the names were being called too soon. While the video made great fodder for mocking, it’s doubtful a world-renowned brain surgeon was too dumb to walk when his name was called. However, Jeb did get a moment over Trump which is hilarious.

Despite all the polls, predictions and political analysis you will hear, the state of New Hampshire is a wild card. All of this will probably be out the window Tuesday night’s results. But for politico’s, this is the stuff we love to analyze for weeks on end.