So the first debate of the 2016 Presidential race is done, and it comes with mixed reviews and mixed results. Granted, it is not easy to squeeze ten people into two hours (including commercial breaks), and follow up on every issue or chase down every rabbit rail, HOWEVER, there was seemingly an agenda at play that became more obvious as time went on.
Right out of the gate, the moderators looked like they were trying to cripple Donald Trump. The first question about not running third party was ALL about Trump. As he declined to promise not to run third party if he lost, there was a mixed reaction from the crowd of cheers and boos. Then they tried to pit Jeb & Trump against each other to start a skirmish, and later Megan Kelly fed into the "war on women" narrative by bringing up public arguments he had in the past with women. To be fair, Trump hits back hard when he is attacked and disrespected, regardless of gender, race, religion or political affiliation, so in that sense, he is an equal-opportunity offender.
The questions addressed to each candidate were disparate, and obviously favored Bush. Out of all the questions asked, Bush received the most attention (in addition to asking Trump to address Bush directly), with 8 questions directed at him specifically. Walker came in second with 7, then Carson/Kasich?/Rubio/Trump with 6, Cruz/Huckabee/Paul with 5, and finally, Christie with 4.
Even the answers that Bush gave were not challenged, and allowed most of his assertions to remain standing with no rebuttals. That he didn't know of the millions of dollars that went to PP from an organization that he sat on the board for either makes him incompetent or dishonest. Same with his relationship with Pearson, the single largest benefactor of Common Core, as they administer all the mandated testing. He also skirted his criticism of parents who object to Common Core as it is having the opposite effect of what it's proponents claim it does.
As far as total talk-time, Trump came out ahead, arguably because the moderators were trying to paint him in a bad light. It just gave him more exposure, which is the opposite of what they wanted, I think. The NYT chart below shows the actual time each candidate had to speak, and Trump dominated because of all the attacks, and Bush came in second because he was pushed by the moderators into the limelight. You are free to make of that what you will.
Looking at the opportunities that Ted Cruz had in last night's debate, he made the most of what was given to him. Cruz didn't engage in any attacks on anyone on stage, but he succinctly answered the questions put to him and was able to get his points across in an intelligible manner. The first question Wallace put to him was laced with disdain, calling his relationship with Republican leadership "toxic" and parroting attacks that Cruz has a narrow appeal, and summed up by calling Cruz a "divisive figure." The crowd cheered when Wallace touched on the fact that Cruz had called McConnell a liar, which I don't think helped Wallace out in making Cruz look like a poor candidate.
The applause Cruz received in his answer was raucous. The crowd obviously approved of his pledge to tell the truth, and when he pointed out that electing Republican majorities hasn't changed anything in Washington because the leadership refuses to keep their commitments. (Looking at you, Boehner & McConnell)
It was around this time that Cruz received the highest amount of searches on Google at 100%, more than any other candidate the entire night:
In his second question on immigration, Cruz was able to point out that he is the only candidate that has never supported amnesty, and that McConnell blocked a vote on Kate's law which Cruz proposed just last week, that would have mandated prison time for illegals who return after having been deported.
The third question for Cruz was on Isis, which he handled brilliantly. The money quote: "If you join Isis to wage jihad on America, you are signing your death warrant." The crowd agreed, and he went on to point out he had fought to remove the citizenship of Americans who travelled to the Middle East to fight for Isis. He also squeezed in a shout-out to el-Sisi, the leader of Egypt, who as a muslim was willing to call Isis radical islamic terrorists.
The strength Cruz showed on the Isis question was one of his best moments of the night. He was firm and showed a good grasp of the facts, which touched on what many conservatives see as the next great threat to America, radical Islamic terrorism. It was one of the highlights of the night, as was his closing argument about his first day in office: Repeal Obama's unconstitutional executive orders, investigate Planned Parenthood, tell the IRS and DOJ to stop persecuting religious liberty, cancel the Iran deal, and move the US embassy to Jerusalem. GREAT top five, just for the first day in office.
The fallout from the debates, even though I felt they gave Cruz a short shrift, was that Ted Cruz was able to show himself as a capable candidate and a strong leader. Frank Luntz's focus group had an amazingly positive response to Cruz's performance, describing him with words like, "focused," "next president," "tough," & "impassioned." But the real payoff came from a majority of those in the group who were convinced to switch their support moving over to Ted Cruz. Watch:
Based on the focus group feedback and Google's search results, Ted Cruz obviously gained ground in this forum. It wasn't really a debate, because the candidates didn't get to answer the same questions, and weren't consistently allowed to respond to things they disagreed with. All in all, there was no clear single winner, but with all the drawbacks Team Cruz still pulled out a victory for their campaign.
Drudge this morning showed Cruz winning with 2nd place at 14.35% to Trumps 44.74%. The next closest was Carson at 8.9%. This puts Cruz in a very good position for when Trump eventually flames out, which he will. No one can take that much bravado for an entire year.
We feel very strongly that the more America is exposed to Cruz's message, the more they will be drawn to his vision and leadership. A good start, even though the format was unwieldy.