These are my impressions, without a detailed policy analysis.
First, the moderators were unintrusive, so they were not part of the story. Therefore, an excellent job – about as well as any moderators could do, and certainly better than most.
Let’s take the candidates in alphabetical order.
Bush: I feel for him. His eyes seem anxious and overly polite, his smile unsure, and such is his demeanor. It’s a pity, for his governorship in Florida was sound enough. But his campaign is slowly dying.
Carson: He was very strong this time, but he still comes across as an uninformed and inexperienced outsider. People believe that Washington is the problem, but I submit that it is one man in Washington who’s the problem: Obama. If Romney were president, there would be no problem as people describe it today. Thus, Carson’s inexperience disqualifies him over the long haul. He may win Iowa because of his genuine faith and ground game, but he won’t last long after that. Yet his performance was sound enough to keep him in until Iowa and will not let him be disqualified just yet.
Cruz: I have always admitted up front that I don’t like his messianic style and his eyebrows cocked upwards – much as Obama does, except Obama doesn’t have a high, tinny voice, though they match in super-pious tones. I can’t imagine the selfie-voters going towards him. I must concede, however, that he is intelligent and a great debater. He knows a lot about the issues (unlike Carson). He only helped himself among his supporters and will likely make this a two-way race between Rubio and him. However, his “strong conservatism,” as seen in his losing shutdown strategy, would cost the GOP in November 2016. Obama won Florida in 2012, and Rubio can take it from Hillary more easily than Cruz can. So how can Cruz take the nomination from Rubio if GOP primary voters think it through?
Fiorina: A strong, strong debater, but I can’t see this debate changing the numbers. Her outsider status is hurting her. Sorry, but I believe that people will eventually wake up and look for Washington “insider” experience. It’s baffling to me that a CEO who was fired and then lost an election in CA by a lot would run for president. Baffling? Maybe I admire the chutzpah on some level, but come on. She won’t be the nominee; maybe she’s angling for a cabinet position or a top spot in the gigantic bureaucracy.
Kasich: much better; his eyes didn’t seem as if he spent too much time in a chlorinated pool, and in our shallow culture, appearances matter. But he still speaks off-key, and his gestures are awkward and not “presidential.” Low-information voters need to fall in love with a “cool” president, and I can’t see how they will with him. But he helped himself after a fashion–his own fashion, though how his performance shows up by shifting primary voters his way is doubtful.
Paul: Like Kasich, he was much, much stronger. But his “strong conservatism” would scare people away in the generals. People still like big government, and his statement that he wants Washington so thin that people can barely see it is out of touch with where people are after eighty-five years of government growth. His shut down strategy is also a loser. Big change must come about slowly and graciously; if not, the GOP will lose the Senate in 2018 and possibly the House.
Rubio: For me, he was the winner, but his main competitors were also strong, so they detracted from him a little. But his poise and articulate presentation and cool demeanor afforded him the win. He was right to speak of a new generation of politicians to lead the way. And as for Hillary’s years of experience, what good are they when those years were really bad? That’s how Rubio should have handled the question. He seemed momentarily flustered, but soon regained his poise.
Trump: He was much quieter this time. It’s becoming clearer that he doesn’t know the issues – not just the details, but even a few key points beyond his tough talk and bluster. His outsider status and inexperience hurt him. He’s still harping on deporting millions of people. His opponents, particularly Kasich, were right to hammer him on t/his lunacy. Bush was right that Hillary’s camp are high-fiving each other. The well-deserved groans at his expense may wake up some of his distant followers. He will gradually fall in the polls, but he will stay in. He’s got too much pride at stake.
Update on Trump: pundits are pointing out that his “wages are too high” comment will work like Romney’s 47% comment. The DNC will play that line throughout the battleground states.
Overall, the GOP can rightly feel proud of the field. Cruz, Rubio, Fiorina, and, yes, even Paul shone, but Rubio will inch away from the pack as the weeks drag on.
This post appeared on American Thinker on Nov. 11, 2015, but has been updated and expanded here.