From Boulder, Colorado
In a CNBC debate that focused mainly on economic problems in America, the major Republican Party candidates drew as many cheers for their attacks on the news media as for their jabs at each other, as the GOP hopefuls leveled more broadsides against Hillary Clinton, trying to find ways to rise above each other in the race for the GOP nomination.
Let’s take a look at each of the Republican candidates on the main stage on Wednesday night.
Donald Trump – Trump took flak as soon as the debate opened from John Kasich and immediately gave the Ohio Governor the back of the hand. Trump did not dominate this debate in any way, but he didn’t make any mistakes either, as he joined fellow Republicans in their criticism of the CNBC moderators, talking about “nasty and ridiculous questions.” Trump had a few good one liners but may not be seen as one of the possible “winners” – in fact, he spoke for only a little over five minutes, a bit player in this debate.
Ben Carson – Carson made clear early in the debate that he was not going to get involved in any angry exchanges; Carson got a lot of support from the crowd at the end of the second segment, as the CNBC moderators were heckled during one exchange with the retired neurosurgeon. That type of anti-media clash won’t hurt Carson one bit with Republican voters, and only may accelerate his surge in the polls.
Jeb Bush – There was talk that Jeb Bush would go after Marco Rubio and Bush did not disappoint, as he used his first opportunity to chastise Rubio for missing votes in the Senate. But like his attacks in earlier debates on Trump, this gambit by Bush seemed to fall short. Bush also tried again to highlight his record as Governor of Florida, arguing that he is a conservative with results. There was no electric moment for the former Florida Governor.
Marco Rubio – Rubio was obviously ready for attacks on his missed votes in the Senate, as he rattled off a list of statistics and attacked the news media for being biased against Republicans. Rubio again stayed away from attacks on Trump and Carson, instead taking shots at Hillary Clinton and the news media, which drew big cheers from the debate crowd. This seemed to be another good debate night for Rubio.
Ted Cruz – Cruz drew huge cheers early in the debate when he denounced the questions of the CNBC moderators; “The questions asked so far in this debate illustrate why the American people don’t trust the media,” Cruz said. Cruz did not really engage any other Republicans, sticking to the script that he has followed so far in these GOP debates, a strategy that has left him in a strong position in this race.
Mike Huckabee – Huckabee seemed frustrated at times, irked that he was getting questions that didn’t give him much of a chance for a good debate moment, as several times he chided the moderators for cutting him off. Given a chance to slam Trump over his values or lack thereof, Huckabee turned it into an attack on Hillary Clinton. Huckabee did have a funny moment when he talked about the runaway blimp, comparing it to troubles in the federal government.
Chris Christie – Christie started off with a joke about the three remaining Democrats in the race, getting a big laugh from the crowd as he talked about the socialist, isolationist and a pessimist. Christie later scored with the debate audience by ridiculing Jeb Bush for talking about how well his fantasy football team was doing. Christie also had his own anti-media moment, rebuking CNBC moderator John Harwood; “Even in New Jersey what you’re doing is called rude,” Christie said to laughs. This was Christie’s best debate yet.
John Kasich – From the outset, Kasich tried to be more aggressive, immediately going after both Ben Carson and Donald Trump. Like Jeb Bush, Kasich repeatedly sought to emphasize his record as a member of Congress and Governor of Ohio, arguing that he has followed a conservative road map for years. While Kasich was more active in this debate, he struggled at times to smoothly fuse his arguments into a snappy sound bite that would be remembered for weeks to come.
Rand Paul – Senator Paul had talked about mixing it up more with the other Republicans, but he seemed to spend more of his debate time talking about his own policy ideas, as he also ridiculed both parties in Congress. Paul vowed to filibuster a two year budget deal that was approved in the House on Wednesday, and he may have to fly right back to Washington, D.C. to do that, with a procedural vote set for Friday. Paul did not seem to have any big breakthrough moment, and that was obvious on the internet, as there were few highlights of the Kentucky Senator from last night.
Carly Fiorina – Fiorina had a very good first pre-debate debate, then did well at the Reagan Library in September. While there was nothing wrong with her performance here in Boulder, she did not seem like she was able to outflank some of her GOP colleagues. Forced to defend her time running HP, Fiorina also took after Hillary Clinton, as many other Republicans did on Wednesday night, saying she was “Hillary Clinton’s worst nightmare.” It wasn’t clear that Fiorina found a way to reverse what has been a slow slide in the polls.