The fourth Republican presidential debate showcased a vastly different economic vision for America than President Obama and the Democrats striving to succeed him on everything from taxes and the minimum wage to immigration and job training. And it produced some clear winners and losers.
Marco Rubio: He provided another strong performance, consistently offering an optimistic vision for America drawn from his own personal story, making substantive policy digestable with folksy answers and carefully straddling the conservative divide between fiscal discipline and strong national security. His ability to fend off Rand Paul’s efforts to portray him as a neocon whose $1 trillion expenditure to strengthen national security would sink the budget showcased his ability to adapt on his feet when under fire.
Ted Cruz: His second straight effective debate of delivering passionate storytelling with substance as he made the case that conservative values are better than Obama values in solving the nation’s ills. His challenge remains subduing some of his intensity about what’s wrong with America, which at times risks pigeon-holing him as a dour pessimist.
Ben Carson: This was his most policy-substantive debate to date, a performance in which he managed to maintain the congenial, optimistic persona that has fueled his rise in the polls while effectively fighting back against media scrutiny he argued was unfair and skewed. His line skewering the media and Hillary Clinton in one fell swoop was one of the night’s more memorable moments. And his answer on how to reboot the Iraq/Islamic State military strategy answer likely resonated with everyday Americans: “Our goal is not to contain them but to destroy them before they destroy us.”
Chris Christie: He was hands-down the star of the undercard debate, positioning himself as a moderate, pro-business GOP governor who could overtake Jeb Bush and John Kasich in that category if he can get back on the main stage. As Rupert Murdoch aptly noted in a tweet: “Chris Christie seemed in different class. Possible to see as Chief Executive.”
The American People: Those who watched the debate got a healthy dose of substantive policy that drew clear distinctions between the Republican and Democratic agendas and the differences between the candidates on stages on issues ranging from tax policy to immigration and foreign policy and military strategy.
The Fox Business Network Moderators: They showed specific policy questions can spark an entertaining and informative debate without having to stoop to manufacturing personality disputes with baited questions. Lead inquisitor Neil Cavuto showed the sort of professionalism Americans deserve from the media.
HELD THEIR OWN
Donald Trump: He was the same brash Donald, entertaining and insulting and drawing distinctions while continuing to demonstrate his growing policy command. But he lacked a major stand-out moment that voters will remember from Tuesday night.
Rand Paul: He finished in our loser’s category in each of the first three debates, but Tuesday night he managed to be relevant and more engaged while clearly distinguishing his more libertarian vision for America from the others on stage. His injection into an animated debate over the new Asian trade deal likely struck a common-sense chord: “Gerard, we might want to point out China is not part of this deal.” His problem is he needs a knockout punch to get him out of the single digits in polls and that didn’t happen Tuesday night.
Carly Fiorina: She remained a substantive issues candidate with crisp answers but she lacked the optimism, humility and likability valued by the party that nominated Ronald Reagan. Her solution isn’t more forced smiles but rather a rewiring of her delivery to stop sounding like every answer is rooted in winning a corporate boardroom clash.
John Kasich: His strategy of claiming to be the lone truth-speaker on stage is wearing thin, turning his substantial command of policy into a liability as he becomes the dour policy wonk capable of souring the essential optimism of the American dream.
Jeb Bush: He’s got a resume worthy of the presidency but his delivery and timing pales in comparison to most everyone else on stage. He needed some knockout moments to stop his free fall, and they didn’t happen Tuesday night.