The first GOP debate sets off what looks to be a wild primary ride

It was all smiles when they weren't at their microphones. (AP Photo / Andrew Harnik)

It was all smiles when they weren’t at their microphones. (AP Photo / Andrew Harnik)

Whew.

If the Republican Party’s first 2016 presidential debate last night is any indication, we are in for a rollicking, frenetic and exhausting primary campaign among a group of sharp-elbowed candidates. The opening, 30-minute quarter of the debate felt like it lasted much longer — in a good way — as the trio of Fox News hosts peppered the 10 candidates with often-stinging questions.

And, naturally, Donald Trump was the center of attention from the get-go.

The very first question was one of those raise-your-hand deals that tend toward the boring or hyperbolic. But this one instead crystallized the young election’s key dynamic at the outset. “Is there anyone on stage,” Fox’s Bret Baier asked, “who is unwilling to pledge your support to the eventual nominee of the Republican Party … and not to run an independent campaign against that person?”

Naturally, only one hand was raised: The Donald’s.

A third-party run by Trump, presumably handing the election to Hillary Clinton on a platter, is what Republicans fear far more than Trump’s quest for the GOP nomination itself, or anything brash or offensive he might say along the way. It’s the reason they have been slow to antagonize him, as they’re not yet sure he wouldn’t shoot the proverbial hostage. The crowd booed, and Rand Paul immediately pounced:

“Here’s what’s wrong. He buys and sells politicians of all stripes” — to which Trump merely gave a shrug of agreement — “he’s already hedging his bet on the Clintons, OK? So if he doesn’t run (in the general) as a Republican (nominee), maybe he supports Clinton, or maybe he runs as an independent. But I’d say he’s already hedging his bets because he’s used to buying politicians.”

Buying politicians, as in giving them campaign donations and then calling in favors for his businesses, is something Trump has talked about before and reiterated Thursday night. “You know, most of the people on this stage, I’ve given to,” he said, “just so you understand.”

“Not me,” Marco Rubio interrupted, later adding, “To be clear, he supported Charlie Crist” in their 2010 Senate race.

It was a small dig, but it wasn’t the only time Rubio used a small, well-placed fact to undermine one of Trump’s claims.

Later in the debate, when Trump was asked about — and defended — his previous statements that the Mexican government was intentionally sending criminals across the border, other candidates danced around the question in an apparent attempt to avoid riling Trump or his backers. Rubio took a different tack: “The majority of people coming across the border are not from Mexico, they are from El Salvador, Guatemala and Honduras,” he said. “I want to build a fence, but the problem is if ‘El Chapo’ builds a tunnel — and we have to be ready for that too,” a reference to the escape from prison last month of a Mexican drug lord.

In fact, Rubio did the most in my view to improve his standing during a debate that was — predictably, for a debate with so many participants trying to grab the spotlight in their limited snippets of speaking — long on zingers but short on substance.

The first-term senator had a few snappy lines, perhaps the best one coming when he was asked about Providence in politics: “I think God has blessed … the Republican Party with some very good candidates. The Democrats can’t even find one.” But he was also the most natural at shifting immediately in each answer to the message he wanted to send home, and at voicing empathy for Americans who, six years after the recession ended, are still having trouble finding work or getting ahead. “If I am our nominee, how can Hillary lecture me about living paycheck to paycheck? I was raised paycheck to paycheck. If I am our nominee, how can Hillary lecture me about student debt? Until recently, I was paying down student loans.”

If Rubio was the big winner, I was less impressed by Paul — who had a spirited exchange with Chris Christie about the Patriot Act and domestic surveillance that ended in more or less a draw, but otherwise wasn’t terribly memorable — and by Jeb Bush.

Bush sounded defensive from the beginning, playing not to lose, even though he’s only really winning in the fund-raising department at the moment. His answer about his presidential last name — “In Florida they call me Jeb, because I earned it” — came off a little corny to some Republicans I heard from. For every good answer he gave, for instance turning a question about his support for the Common Core standards into an answer about his education reform efforts in Florida, he had others that fell flat. It’s not so much that I think Bush will lose supporters because of the debate, but more that he did little to suck up the oxygen sustaining the campaigns of folks like Christie and John Kasich. Other observers are higher on Kasich’s performance than I am (though his best line of the night — “America’s a miracle country, and we have to restore the sense that the miracle can apply to you” — was Rubio-esque). But Ohio’s governor had the benefit of the home crowd in Cleveland and certainly didn’t damage his chances.

Quickly running down the others: Scott Walker and Ted Cruz didn’t shine like I and some other folks I talked with had expected, but nor did they hurt themselves; I think they simply maintained their standing, like Kasich. Benjamin Carson and Mike Huckabee both had nice nights after early stumbles (particularly for Carson, who in his first answer almost seemed overwhelmed by the moment) but I remain skeptical that either of them can win the nomination. Christie didn’t do enough to reclaim the mantle as the GOP’s Teller of Hard Truths he used to own. And as I indicated earlier, Rubio’s up, while Paul and Bush are a little down if anything.

That brings us back to Trump, who probably looked great if you liked him before and bad if you didn’t. Those who tuned in after not paying much attention to the race until now, I suspect, were entertained by the famously coiffed one but probably don’t see him as having the temperament and demeanor that plays such a large role in our presidential contests. We may have seen “peak Trump,” although he’s defied the odds to this point and will probably mock his political obituarists once or twice more.

Finally, more of a question: From the undercard debate with the other seven candidates, the clear consensus is that Carly Fiorina won the day. Fox gave away as much by working in one of her answers to a question (as well as a line from Rick Perry that was complimentary of her). But to make it to the main stage of next month’s second debate, Fiorina would have to bump off one of the other contenders. Who would that be at this point? Kasich was 10th in the polls, but he’s also been on the ascent. Even if I’m right that Paul had a bad night on the whole, it was far from disastrous; his poll numbers ought to hold up. I guess I’d say Christie is most likely to drop down, but I’m open to being persuaded otherwise.

Reader Comments 0

100 comments
AhmirHaddad
AhmirHaddad

If Trump really did run as a third party candidate, Hillary would give him half her campaign funds and promise him an ambassadorship to any country he wants.

The Dude Abides
The Dude Abides

More than 26 million people watched last nights debate. That's more than any debate in the history of television debates.


It's fun watching the left wing kooks rip on the GOP candidates.


The democrat party's only hope, Hillary, is under federal investigation by the F B I.


Think about that, kooks. 

The Dude Abides
The Dude Abides

I hope Hillary likes the color orange. She'll be wearing it soon.

JamVet
JamVet

Don't shoot the messenger.

There is no way any of these Republicans will ever sit in the White House.

The GOP has already lost the Nov. 2016 election.

And as soon as they have a nominee I will (again) tell you within a very small margin of error the final electoral college count...

MarkVV
MarkVV

The most useful, for the Democrats, was the following exchange with Gov. Walker:

“Governor Walker, when you ran for governor of Wisconsin back in 2010, you promised that you would create 250,000 jobs in your first term, first four years. In fact, Wisconsin added barely half that and ranked 35th in the country in job growth.”

WALKER: “Well, the voters in Wisconsin elected me last year for the third time because they wanted someone who aimed high, not aimed low.”

So now, if anybody here comes up again with any promise President Obama made and supposedly broke, he/she can get the “Walker response.”

“Obama promised you could keep your health insurance plan.”

Answer: People want someone how aims high, not aims low.”

FIGMO2
FIGMO2

Kyle, I've got a response circling the airport below.

Oh, and by the way, no candidate stepped up debate night to agree that Trump's insults about women were offensive. Maybe it was the rules that kept them silent? Or maybe it was that Carly Fiorina, the only woman in the GOP field, had been offstage, relegated to the first (I-didn't-have-enough-support-to-make-it into-the-big-boy) debate?

Here's hoping Fiorina gets to take a shot next go 'round.

Although it wouldn't have been appropriate for a panelist to respond, I doubt Kimberly Guilfoyle would have let it pass as Kelly did. Guilfoyle has a way of hitting men below the belt.

Dman
Dman

I really like Trump because he says what he thinks instead of what his advisors tell him to say like ALL of the other politicians. It would be nice to have a person that is not a politician in the whitehouse. He has developed several successful businesses and he doesn't take crap from anyone. I think he would be a great candidate to turn this nation around and get us out of debt. He did a great job handling all of the difficult questions pointed at him to try and make him look bad and I think he will make Hilliary look like the amature she is.

AlwaysReady
AlwaysReady

                                  The people's choice is Trump and the media can't stand it.

Visual_Cortex
Visual_Cortex

@AlwaysReady

What a silly thing to say. Trump's presence in the primary race is the greatest thing the media could've wished for. It's viewership, listenership, click-throughs, and the attendant ad dollars galore.

Do you not know how this for-profit business stuff works?

Hedley_Lammar
Hedley_Lammar

@AlwaysReady Some people yes


But when 60 percent of the country say they will not vote for Trump under ANY circumstances he cant be considered the people's choice.

MarkVV
MarkVV

What struck me, a somewhat disinterested observer, was one similarity between the debate and this blog – how the conservatives can say anything insulting about people like President Obama or Hillary Clinton, without a need for substantiating it. I suppose it is true of a debate in any party, but this is the one we deal with now. Of course, they made false claims about all kinds of things as well, as already revealed by the fact-checkers.

RafeHollister
RafeHollister

@MarkVV The world must be pretty behind those rose colored glasses.  Where is your outrage at Obama for comparing the GOP to the "hardliners in Iran".  He didn't even acknowledge that many in his own party also oppose the deal, like Schumer and Steve israel.  Is that not dishonest?

MarkVV
MarkVV

@RafeHollister @MarkVV If you want to argue, at least you should think of writing something that makes sense. GOP  ARE hardliners on Iran, I doubt that any of them would even want to deny it - they are proud of it. And what has that got to do with people of his party opposing the deal?

Hedley_Lammar
Hedley_Lammar

@RafeHollister @MarkVV Where is your outrage at Obama for comparing the GOP to the "hardliners in Iran".


Why should that provoke outrage. ?


They both have a similar goal To scuttle the deal. Strange bed partners yes but they both want the same thing. 

LilBarryBailout
LilBarryBailout

@MarkVV

I guess you missed Obama's equating the Republican Party with the Iranian terrorists.

You have no credibility.

The Dude Abides
The Dude Abides

@MarkVV


"how the conservatives can say anything insulting about people like President Obama or Hillary Clinton"

Awe, does someone need a tissue? It's called politics. If you don't like it, get out of here and go over to the AJC cooking class blog.

JackClemens
JackClemens

You really expected Cruz and Walker to shine? They seem dim at their core to me.

Jefferson1776
Jefferson1776

@JackClemens  Walker will be great Sat Night Live material,  he has that dufuss look on his face and they will nail it. Cruz has zero chance.

HDB0329
HDB0329

Fox softballed everyone but Trump........


I asked this on Jay's site; I ask this here!!


Here's what SHOULD have been asked:


1. Why do Republicans hate minorities and refuse to allow them to vote……since the Texas Voter ID law has been viewed as unconstitutional by the Federal Courts…and similar laws are on the books in states like North Carolina and Indiana?
2. To all of the candidates….and specifically to John Kasich: Why hasn’t the GOP championed the launch of investigations into police killings of unarmed black people…..and particularly in Ohio….because of Tamir Rice, John Crawford and Samuel DuBose?
3. Why are you Republicans ready to spend trillions of dollars to bomb and rebuilt a foreign nation and persist in ignoring the infrastructure needs of this nation and putting Americans back to work?
4. Why are you Republicans afraid of increasing taxes on the wealthy in order to affect the necessary changes in Social Security…..specifically, eliminating the $118,000 ceiling on income?
5. Why are you Republicans afraid of passing a tax increase in order to pay for the TWO UNFUNDED WARS that occurred when the nation was BUSHwhacked?
6. Why are you Republicans afraid of negotiations with Iran….since Ronald Reagan had secret negotiations with Iran in the 80s and SOLD THEM ARMS in order to finance Oliver North and the Iran-Contra affair?
7. Why are you Republicans afraid to support UNIVERSAL HEALTH CARE proposals since it was first envisioned by Theodore Roosevelt?
8. Why are you Republicans against increasing the minimum wage since CEOs are making 200 TIMES what an average worker makes?


If they asked Trump about his finances......why didn't they ask these?


9. To Marco Rubio: How did you finance your boat house with campaign funds?

10. To Carly Fiorino: How can we trust you with the nation's finances when HP FIRED you for depressing the company's stock value and adding debt to the bottom line??


I was waiting for some substantive questions.....and I got nothing but Foxbots and parrots feeding red meat to the lions......

HDB0329
HDB0329

@Kyle_Wingfield @HDB0329  OK....how about the BOAT be bought..an $80K speedboat he bought....it was stated that he bought the boat with campaign funds........and where would he keep an $80k boat if he doesn't have a BOAT HOUSE???

RafeHollister
RafeHollister

@HDB0329


HDB, we know you cheat on your taxes, so tell the audience when you started and how much have you saved by doing so.  This is similar to the framework of your above questions.

Kyle_Wingfield
Kyle_Wingfield moderator

@HDB0329 Picked at random to answer from your screed: Rubio doesn't have a boathouse, or a houseboat.

HDB0329
HDB0329

@RafeHollister One: Can't afford to cheat on my taxes....I'm not wealthy as you are!!

Two: The questions ARE questions that need to be asked since most of what I've queried about is the result of Republican ACTIONS (or INACTIONS) that have been reported in the media!!

Just shows you how an INFORMED electorate questions its political figures..........

HDB0329
HDB0329

@RafeHollister.......sorry if you don't like the questions....but I think most are truly afraid of the ANSWERS!! The true answers would show what the GOP REALLY stands for.......

Dman
Dman

W@e are not afraid of the answers, the questions just show how uninformed you are. That's why no one is taking the time to respond to these questions. Here's an example of an answer to the question about unarmed black men getting shot by police. If these unarmed black men would learn not to BREAK the LAW, they wouldn't put themselves in a position to get shot by the police. Do we really need to answer the rest of these uninformed questions?

HDB0329
HDB0329

@Dman ....if the COPS didn't have a SHOOT FIRST mentality and treated black men like they do white men....then there wouldn't be an issue!! Why is it that white men WITH GUNS don't get shot by the cops when they break the law....but UNARMED BLACK MEN get shot by the cops??


The questions are feasible....and too many on your side refuse to acknowledge the fact!!


You REALLY do need to answer the questions....and they are FAR from uninformed.....in fact, they have been corroborated by your response!!

Dman
Dman

Any man black or white who commits a crime puts themselves in a situation to get shot by the police. You are ignoring the main problem as to why they are getting shot in the first place. Again, don't put yourself in that situation and you won't get shot. Problem solved...

Question 4 about increasing taxes for social security - we don't want to raise any taxes and here is why. Everyone who earns an income and buys products are already paying between 56 - 66 cents of every dollar we earn to the government in taxes. Every product you purchase has 22% imbedded taxes in the cost of the product on the average. Add the sales tax of 6 or 7 % and then the 28 - 38% that the government takes out of your paycheck and that's what you are really paying after all of the double and triple taxation. That alone is a good reason not to raise taxes on SS but I will go farther. Social security I was told when I was a young man at age 14 when they started taking it out of my pay check 37 years ago was a savings account that the government set up for me and anyone who invested in it. Over the years the government has taken money out of the SS account to pay for entitlement programs and other programs that have nothing to do with SS. If they removed those programs and used the money for just SS there would not be a problem with SS. Again problem solved with SS.

Dman
Dman

I'll tackle one more and then I need to run. I'm trying to stay open minded so I can understand your logic here but I really do believe you are uninformed and I don't say that to be mean. The last question about minimum wage is common sense why we don't wan to raise it to $15 per hour. If it were raised to $15 what would happen? Answer, the cost of all products would increase to cover the cost and small businesses would fail because they would not be able to afford the help because the cost of their products would have to increase an amount that the consumer would not want to purchase the goods. Therefore, bad for the economy, the consumer, for you and for me. Do you want to pay $10 for a Big Mac? Of course you and everyone does not and that is why minimum wage cannot be raised that much.

Bhorsoft
Bhorsoft

Carson came across as timid.  I liked him, but he would be the person I would guess would be replaced by Fiorina in the next debate.  She really shone in the early debate.  I think the rest of the early debaters should think about quitting as I saw nothing from them, including Rick Perry.  Save your money, folks.


Rand Paul came across as a bomb thrower to me.  I don't see his numbers going up.


Kasich had home field advantage which helped, but he also staked out his credentials as the compassionate conservative.  That would probably help him in a general election with moderates and undecideds, but doesn't get him the nomination.  I thinks he makes the next debate as a favorite of moderates along with Jeb!.


I think Christie did well enough to keep him in the next debate.


Rubio did fine, but I couldn't help keep thinking about "Alpha House" when I saw him.  I was waiting for a stage light to fall next to him.  And is he part Vulcan?


Huckabee, Walker, Cruz -- meh.

Visual_Cortex
Visual_Cortex

@Bhorsoft

[Carson] would be the person I would guess would be replaced by Fiorina in the next debate

Not the best optics, is all I'd say about that decision, were the GOP to make it.

FIGMO2
FIGMO2

The panel would have been better served WITHOUT Megan Kelly. She's too silly for what could've been a serious venue. 

foo2u
foo2u

@FIGMO2 Silly?


Her fake eyelashes were kinda silly, but her questions were not. She went after them.

FIGMO2
FIGMO2

@foo2u

It was the in-between silliness I was addressing.

I would have preferred Monica Crowley or Kimberly Guilfoyle.

Visual_Cortex
Visual_Cortex

His answer about his presidential last name — “In Florida they call me Jeb, because I earned it” — came off a little corny to some Republicans I heard from.

Corny? I thought it downright bizarre.

Wascatlady
Wascatlady

Kasch most impressed me. I am going to keep an eye on him.


If you want a bombastic a**,  Trump is your guy.


Bush cannot skate into this one.


The others are non-runners.

RafeHollister
RafeHollister

I'm thinking Loretta Lynch can do more to do decide who the next President is, than anyone else in America.   Something tells me that she just might want to restore some respect for the DOJ, after seeing it act as a shill for the Obama regime for six years.

LilBarryBailout
LilBarryBailout

@RafeHollister

While I do believe that a significant segment of the Democrat party doesn't like Hillary and wishes she would go away, I suspect this FBI investigation is a sham of a fig leaf.

And Obama wouldn't have nominated her if he though she was going to restore respect for the DOJ.

RafeHollister
RafeHollister

@LilBarryBailout @RafeHollister I think that she respects the office and the law, due to how she handled herself as a US Attorney.  Holder never acted like any law that didn't read like something he wrote was not worth enforcing.  I think she has enforced the law and held criminals accountable before, and will do a better job than Holder.  That should scare the beejesus out of Clinton.