Smaller group on stage makes for a more substantive GOP debate

Ben Carson listens as Donald Trump speaks during Tuesday night's debate. I still don't think either of them will be the GOP nominee. (AP Photo / Morry Gash)

Ben Carson listens as Donald Trump speaks during Tuesday night’s debate. I still don’t think either of them will be the GOP nominee. (AP Photo / Morry Gash)

The one certain truth about last night’s debate is that no one wished two or three more people had been on stage. Maybe folks wished Candidate X had been on the stage instead of Candidate Y, but I can’t imagine anyone thinks it was better having 10 or 11 debaters than having eight. Five or six would’ve been an ever better number. Still, there was more substantive debate on more issues such as taxes, foreign policy, immigration and the economy that drew out the real differences among the candidates. (This was also in part because the moderators did a better job of asking questions designed to elicit real answers rather than drive-by attacks.)

Oddly, though, this different approach to the debate strikes me as unlikely to spur a big shift in the horse race. I would be surprised if many people changed their minds if — and this may be a big “if” — they have watched each of the debates.

Donald Trump continues to look smaller and smaller on stage with each passing debate, his shtick long since overplayed. He was booed a couple of times — most notably for criticizing Carly Fiorina for interrupting someone else. Not coincidentally, his shot at her came shortly after she had landed a hard, direct blow on him (about having a “private meeting” with Vladimir Putin, rather than a chance encounter “in a green room for a show” as Trump had just described his own experience with the Russian leader). It is painfully obvious that he almost always stays out of the meatiest exchanges. When he did engage on the recently unveiled Trans-Pacific Partnership trade deal, he blustered once again that China was winning … until Rand Paul pointed out China isn’t a party to the deal and would benefit far more if the deal fell apart. I expect his slow fade to continue.

The other leader in the polls, Ben Carson, continues to float through these debates at 30,000 feet. After floundering around a bit on issues such as the minimum wage, he seems to have mastered the standard Republican talking points on them. But wasn’t part of his appeal before his refusal to simply speak in that standard political lexicon? To be another standard politician? I sound like a broken record on this, but I have never understood his appeal as a presidential candidate, I don’t understand it now, and I can’t see how he will remain at the top of the polls. I expect I’ll be right about that last part one day, though Carson probably fared well enough to avoid an immediate slide.

For the second straight debate, I thought Marco Rubio and Ted Cruz did exactly what they needed to do. Rubio has a knack for taking a a direct but uncomfortable question and responding with a big-picture, principled answer that keeps him on message. At the same time, when he chooses to do so, he can speak with plenty of detail — such as when he followed a couple of bumbling responses by Carson and Jeb Bush about bank bailouts with a dissection of why big banks get their way in Washington and why the Democratic response to the financial meltdown, Dodd-Frank, makes matters worse. In the way he moves between those modes of speaking, he is reminiscent of the Barack Obama of 2007-08. That may not make him very popular with all Republicans, just the ones who want to win.

Cruz laid down a couple of markers for ways in which he may tangle with Rubio in the future, including a dig about sugar subsidies (a Floridian equivalent of the ethanol mandate in Iowa). But he didn’t go after Rubio by name. If you were looking for confirmation that at least one of those two campaigns thinks both are in it for the long haul, that may have been it.

John Kasich was his usual abrasive self, but more so. After last night, he is not only pro-Medicaid expansion but apparently pro-bailout as well. You can run against certain elements of your party’s dogma, but you can’t run against all of them. He might make a fine Treasury secretary, maybe even a running mate. But I can’t imagine he’s a serious contender for the top of the ticket anymore.

The presidency of George W. Bush gets brought up mainly for two things: the Iraq war and the financial crisis/bailouts. Jeb Bush now has managed to sound less than prepared, and certainly less than convincing, about both topics. He tried to be more assertive early on, surely mindful that he got little air time in the previous debate, but was overrun twice by Kasich. A good man, that Jeb. A smart man. And a lousy candidate.

Rand Paul gave his best effort yet in this campaign at sounding like the atypical Republican he has always been branded, criticizing his rivals for their tax and foreign policies. But I’m not sure there are enough votes out there in the Republican primary for someone so far outside the GOP mainstream on such central issues.

Carly Fiorina had another strong performance after a comparatively weak one the last time out. She continues to hone in on the Democrats’ presumptive nominee, Hillary Clinton. Though she frames that as a reason to put her atop the ticket, it almost makes her seem like she’s overtly auditioning to be No. 2, given the running mate’s traditional role as the one who attacks the other party’s presidential nominee. And she would be very, very good at that.

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22 comments
lvg
lvg

Kyle doesn't understand Carson's popularity.  


Unfortunately the more irrational the Black Lives Matter folks  get and the more people feel threatened by Black violence and rampant crime traceable to black teens, the better Carson looks to many people. Seeing Bernie and Hillary disrupted by the BLM folks unless they promise to give in to their nonsensical demands (along with a University president resigning for similar reasons) tells me the Black community is no longer buying the Obama is our savior argument and the street thugs are in control.Now Carson is gaining street creds claiming he was former Black thug. 


Question not asked is what  exactly is his message to the  black community? Being pro gun rights and anti food stamps or any entitlements  does not tell me he really  could do any more than Obama. Where is the substance?  

ssinf
ssinf

Millionaires and billionaires to explain why a minimum wage is a bad thing. Talk about substantive!


Kyle_Wingfield
Kyle_Wingfield moderator

@ssinf More substantive than suggesting "millionaires and billionaires" couldn't possibly say anything worthwhile about the topic ...

Kyle_Wingfield
Kyle_Wingfield moderator

@ssinf Ben Carson's a millionaire. He also grew up poor. As unlikely as I am to vote for him, I'd rather hear what he has to say about the minimum wage than Hillary.

ssinf
ssinf


@Kyle_Wingfield @ssinf  That's where we are different....He grew up poor? Good for him. He also benefitted from public assistance and affirmative action while later declaring both should go. He's a bundle of contradictions wrapped up in a soft spoken package... when people who don't work for wages say that people who do work for wages should work for fewer wages, I stop listening. And yes, Trump said that, and again on MSNBC. Wages are too high in this country, that's why the U.S. can't compete. If that isn't tone deaf, I don't know what is.


Kyle_Wingfield
Kyle_Wingfield moderator

@ssinf And when people suggest Trump's off-the-cuff remarks in a debate represent mainstream conservative thinking on a topic, I stop listening ...

You will not find another candidate saying people's wages are too high, and I suspect Trump will be walking that back at some point, too.

As for Carson, my point was that you're ignoring that Hillary is even further removed from the apparent authenticity you demand before someone's opinions "count." If you're going to apply that kind of test, Carson gets more credence than Clinton, and it's not even close.

ssinf
ssinf

@Kyle_Wingfield @ssinf  Trump repeated the statement again today. I'll tell you what, let the GOP run on the slogan "wages are too high!" Let me know how that works for you. As for the rest, who needs authenticity? The point is that men who are worth millions and millions of dollars are standing around giving reasons why people who work for wages should receive less. I can see why Trump and Carson would miss the irony there, but you too? It's like you guys can't learn from the past. You claim that it isn't a mainstream idea. Really? What happened to Mitt last election? He tied himself up into rhetorical knots pulling to the right to win the nomination, then back to the left for the election. I can't wait to see whomever is the nominee explain why the GOP don't in fact believe that wages are too high.




Kyle_Wingfield
Kyle_Wingfield moderator

@ssinf "I'll tell you what, let the GOP run on the slogan "wages are too high!" Let me know how that works for you."

Once more: Trump does not equal the whole GOP. Get back to me when someone else is saying this.

bu2
bu2

Carson is easy to understand.  He's very likable and appeals to the values voters.  Unlike Rubio, when he puts up feel good non-specific comments, there is a sincerity about him.  He's not towing out some line to avoid saying anything, he's saying what he really feels.  He's getting those people who supported Santorum and Huckabee before along with people who are just sick of the nastiness lead by the Divider in Chief in the White House.

bu2
bu2

Kyle, you're wrong, just like the Fox commentator after the debate.  Bush and Kasich were the only ones who understood the bank question.  They offered a clear, sound approach.  Make the big banks have higher capital requirements and (although Jeb didn't specifically say this-he implied it) make those requirements even higher for risky investments.  Banks don't like that because it means they can make fewer loans with the same amount of capital.  Jeb pointed out the regulatory costs for the community banks.  Rubio was just a lot of hot air and no solutions.  I find his empty feel good comments more and more annoying everytime I see him.  He seems artificial and evasive.  Cruz and the questioner didn't even seem to understand that there is deposit insurance of 250k to protect depositors.

bu2
bu2

@Kyle_Wingfield Since he lived in Texas in the 80s, its hard to understand why Cruz doesn't know about the FDIC.  Virtually every S&L and most banks failed in Texas during the 80s oil bust.

Kyle_Wingfield
Kyle_Wingfield moderator

@bu2 "Cruz and the questioner didn't even seem to understand that there is deposit insurance of 250k to protect depositors"

Neither did Kasich, who kept talking about them losing their savings as if the FDIC didn't exist.

Bush's answer was better upon a review of the transcript than it sounded live. What I (and I suspect most viewers) remembered from the answer was his sounding like he could guarantee no more crises, then eventually acknowledging he couldn't guarantee that.

bu2
bu2

@Kyle_Wingfield @bu2 You're right.  I knew someone else didn't seem to understand the FDIC but forgot who it was.  It was Kasich.

lvg
lvg

@bu2 @Kyle_Wingfield  so now Cruz is the Bernie Sanders of the GOP claiming to be against rich folks getting government privileges. He has learned well the  Gingrich art of putting enough hot air out to make it sound like he is genuine

LilBarryBailout
LilBarryBailout

Fox News has run better debates than any of the other networks. It's no wonder Democrats fear having them host a debate...Dems want to talk about people, not ideas.

RoadScholar
RoadScholar

Kasich, while abrasive (your words), still seems to grasp most topics more comprehensively than the front runners. Do not like his abortion and other arch conservative positions, but he seems more realistic than others. Would probably be a good No 2/running mate who could deliver Ohio to the repub side. He knows how to run Congress/Senate.


Every time I hear Fiorina I feel that I'm being talked down to. She'd make a good school enforcement officer.


Would Trump's ego fit into the White House?


Carson, while more forceful last night does not grasp the well thought out , comprehensive views and knowledge that the others have displayed at times. He scares me...isn't he Obama lite? No government experience? While a fine surgeon, what has he ever organized or strategized that was a success.

FIGMO2
FIGMO2

@RoadScholar

I don't get the sense that Fiorina is talking down to ME. Could be because I'm female.

Obama lite?

Did you just say "Obama lite?"

You're in trouble NOW, Road!

J/K.

At the risk of offending Carson supporters, he could probably do a little corrective surgery on their brains.

RoadScholar
RoadScholar

@FIGMO2 @RoadScholar Good Morning Fig! 

Wasn't one of the "Complaints" about President Obama was that he had no experience in running anything, or at least running something the cons liked?

FIGMO2
FIGMO2

I'm with you on Carson, Kyle. I'm not lookin' for Mr. Nice on steroids...Mr. Roberts in a suit and tie.

I missed Christie in the top tier debate. 

My shopping approach has always been to eliminate that which I don't need. I never go for the latest trend. I'm looking for quality at a reasonable price.


Kyle_Wingfield
Kyle_Wingfield moderator

@FIGMO2 It will be interesting to see if next time, assuming the same number of people on stage, someone like Kasich moves down and Christie moves up.

FIGMO2
FIGMO2

@Kyle_Wingfield @FIGMO2

Although I appreciate wonks, Kasich's a bit too wonky for the average American.

Christie, on the other hand, brings out the best and worst from his fellow candidates. Can't put my finger on exactly why that is.

His presence puts the others in clearer view?

There's just something about Christie.