- - Thursday, September 17, 2015

In terms of presenting a detailed policy agenda for her presidential candidacy, Carly Fiorina clearly won Wednesday night’s Republican debate on CNN.

The former Hewlett-Packard CEO demonstrated a full, commanding grasp of the issues, landed several punches on Donald Trump who lacked energy and often seemed unprepared to engage his opponents in a serious debate of the problems that confront America and the world.

She tackled the big issues — from foreign and defense policies, the weak Obama economy and jobs, presidential temperament, Planned Parenthood’s shocking fetus parts scandal, runaway federal spending and a monster debt.

And, unlike others on the stage, she didn’t shrink from responding to Mr. Trump’s bombastic, ugly insults aimed at his adversaries and at her in particular.

His latest personal assault against Mrs. Fiorina hit a new low, even for him: “Look at that face! Would anyone vote for that? Can you imagine that, the face of our next president?” he said in a recent interview with Rolling Stone magazine.

Mr. Trump tried to recant his insulting remarks Wednesday night, insisting he was only talking about her “persona.”

But she skillfully parried with a remark that drew blood, and explosive applause that took the wind out of his sails for the rest of the debate.

“I think women all over this country heard very clearly what Mr. Trump said,” Mrs. Fiorina shot back to loud applause.

For the first time in the debates, in large part due to Mrs. Fiorina’s feisty responses, the real estate tycoon “found himself on the defensive and his limited policy knowledge exposed,” The Washington Post said Thursday.

Carly Fiorina stood out, delivering some of the biggest applause lines and distinguishing herself with depth on issues, steeliness and agility in responding to attacks from Trump,” the Post reported.

Instead of giving Mr. Trump the respect that he thinks he deserves as the front-runner in the race, she dismissed him as nothing more than an insulting TV celebrity who can hardly be taken seriously as a presidential contender.

“I think Mr. Trump is a wonderful entertainer; he’s been terrific at that business . All of us will be revealed over time and under pressure,” she said.

Others went after Mr. Trump’s inexperience, suggesting that appearing on a TV show was not a training ground to learn the skills needed to run the country, or deal with Congress and America’s global adversaries.

“We don’t need an apprentice in the White House, we have one right now,” said Wisconsin governor Scott Walker.

For his part, Mr. Trump was repeatedly forced to fall back on the one issue that catapulted him ahead of the other contenders — illegal immigration — repeating much of the same anti-immigrant rhetoric he has said before. But this time facing increasing skepticism or flat out opposition to his proposals, from building a mountainous wall along our entire border with Mexico to deporting more than 11 million Hispanics, and changing the Constitution on citizenship.

When challenged to tell who were his chief advisers on the economy, national security or foreign affairs, Mr. Trump demurred, suggesting that it was still a work in progress.

Former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush was much more forceful this time, focusing his attack on Mr. Trump and with a great deal more energy than in the previous debate.

Arguing that Mr. Trump didn’t have the skills or judgment to deal with America’s most dangerous adversaries, he noted that the real estate mogul once said Hillary Clinton would have been the best person to negotiate a nuclear deal with the Iranians.

“The lack of judgment and the lack of understanding about how the world works is really dangerous,” Mr. Bush said.

When the debate turned to Russian President Vladimir Putin’s growing aggression in the Ukraine and elsewhere in Eastern Europe, Mrs. Fiorina was prepared to spell out her agenda in detail.

“Russia is a bad actor, but Vladimir Putin is someone we should not talk to, because the only way he will stop is to sense strength and resolve on the other side, and we have all of that within our control,” she said.

“We could rebuild the Sixth Fleet. I will. We haven’t. We could rebuild the missile defense program. We haven’t. I will,” she said.

Mr. Trump didn’t offer much in the way of specifics when the discussion turned to global national security. Some of his responses were almost laughable, and all were cast in terms of how successful he has been and the people he knew.

“I’ve dealt with people all over the world. Everything I’ve done personally has been a tremendous success,” he said.

Much of the debate was consumed by squabbling over each other’s record, and scoring points, and not enough on what all the campaign polls show is far and away the voters’ chief concern.

A recent Gallup poll asked voters what they thought the most important issues were in their daily lives.

More than 40 percent mentioned the economy, jobs, incomes, taxes, regulations and other economic topics.

Only 8 percent of the responses mentioned immigration.

At one point, some of the candidates, like Ohio Gov. John Kasich, became irritated by the course of the debate, wondering what “a 50-year-old, unemployed construction worker” was thinking about the debate that didn’t deal with his life and the problems he was facing.

“If I was sitting at home watching this back and forth, I’d be inclined to turn it off,” Mr. Kasich said. “People at home want to know what we’re going to do to fix this place.”

Donald Lambro is a syndicated columnist and contributor to The Washington Times.

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