I have to say that CNN did a OK job with the questions and keeping the flow going and giving everyone a chance. But how they figured out how to spend three hours and not ask anyone about Obamacare, The VA scandal, Hillary Clinton’s e-mail debacle and the IRS scandal is beyond me. Nevertheless, here are my ratings from top to bottom:
Carly Fiorina: Had the strongest night of all by far. The way she handled the Trump “face comment” issue was strong. It will be interesting to see where she takes this from here, as (at least in my view) she comes across as a little hot for TV. There’s no doubt she’s poised and intelligent, can she translate that into likeability and voters?
Chris Christie: I liked the way he kind of spoke as the working-class candidate. He was especially strong on Hillary Clinton, which I think conservatives will like. I think he did himself a lot of good.
Donald Trump: No major gaffes. He obviously chose to just suck it up with the Fiorina comeback – that’s as close to an apology as Trump’s ever gonna give. Personally, I like the way he just talks differently than the politicians. His comments about North Korea were spot on, and his take on autism, rightly or wrongly, is going to resonate with everyday voters. He’s absolutely right – there is an epidemic of autism in this country, and Trump spoke to the suspicion that the FDA guidelines have something to do with it. The pundits will say that Trump is through, but they’ve been consistently wrong about Trump all along, and they will continue to do so.
Ted Cruz: I didn’t like the way he kept looking at the camera when he answered his questions – he just came across as too polished – but there’s no doubt of his conservative bona fides and he wasn’t afraid to let them show. I don’t think he’s electable in a general election, but for now he didn’t do himself any harm.
Marco Rubio: He’s a mystery to me, I’ll admit. He ought to be the shining star of the GOP field, but there’s just something too slick and too robotic about him. He knows stuff for sure, but I don’t think he speaks to the average voter in a way that touches them. Still, I think he did himself some good tonight.
The rest of field I don’t think did themselves any good:
Ben Carson: Lost a major opportunity to force himself into the race. He’s a soft-spoken, humble guy, but on a stage with ten other candidates you’ve got to find a way to work yourself into the discussion. He got kind of steam-rollered tonight.
Scott Walker: He might be a great governor, but he’s not ready for the national stage. Maybe see ya in another four to eight years, Scott.
John Kasich: He started off the debate absolutely lunatic wild-eyed, then settled into a kind of “can’t we all just get along” kind of schtick. His comments about the Iran nuclear deal were absolutely ridiculous, and the rest of the field pretty much let him know it. He’s not going anywhere.
Rand Paul: There’s no doubt the guy is smart but I don’t see him going anywhere. I see him dropping out in the next month.
Mike Huckabee: Shouldn’t even be on the stage. Say goodnight, Huckleberry.
Jeb Bush: Hopefully tonight is the end of the most pathetic candidate on the stage. Sure, he was more animated tonight but I don’t think he did himself any favors with his big $ GOP establishment donors. He’s got this kind of odd look and cadence whenever he answers questions that reminds you of some junior-high science teacher. His comments about Chief Justice John Roberts doing a good job after having upheld Obamacare (twice!) is gonna haunt him. And how stupid was his answer about putting Margaret Thatcher on U.S. currency – talk about a nitwit! I’m guessing his financial support starts drying up big-time. One can only hope.
My guess is you’ll see after this debate The Donald staying pretty much right where he is, Carly Fiorina moving up in the pack, Ben Carson dropping into the middle of the pack, and everyone else still fighting for air. Ron Paul and Scott Walker are in danger of dropping out entirely. The rest – who cares? How Fiorina handles being under the hot spotlight will be interesting to see. I certainly wouldn’t underestimate her, but I refuse to underestimate Donald Trump’s staying power, either.