Analyzing the winners and losers of Thursday night’s first 2016 Republican primary debate could take many different forms, but clearly one measure of a candidate winning is raising his or her profile in a positive way.
With that measure in mind, there were some clear winners and losers. First, it must be noted that Donald Trump came into the debate with all the momentum and the most to lose. How did he fare? By many measures, pretty well. Drudge Report ran an online, unscientific poll afterwards, with 38 percent voting for the billionaire candidate as the winner. Furthermore, the Washington Post noted that Trump outstripped the other candidates for the highest Google search interest by minute.
Was he a winner? In the sense that he did not suffer any candidacy-ending or crippling blows, one would have to say yes. Did he raise his profile further in a positive way? Not as much. His refusal to rule out a third party run certainly will not win him friends among the Republican faithful, as evidenced by the loud boos in the arena. The focus group conducted by GOP pollster Frank Luntz with voters afterwards revealed similar sentiment. Overall, Trump’s status probably remains unchanged in the Republican field.
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Who were three of the clear winners last night?
Ted Cruz: The Texas senator’s answers regarding illegal immigration, ISIS, and ending Obama’s unlawful executive action (the last of which he incorporated in a powerful close) resonated well with the crowd and apparently across the nation. Cruz said, “If I’m elected president, let me tell you about my first day in office. The first thing I intend to do is to rescind every illegal and unconstitutional executive action taken by Barack Obama…” He went into the debate registering 5.5 percent in the Real Clear Average of polls and came out with 15.5 percent, saying he had won the debate in the Drudge survey. He also received the highest Google search interest of any candidate overall.
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Marco Rubio: The Florida senator delivered one of the best one-liners of the night: “Well, first, let me say I think God has blessed us. He has blessed the Republican Party with some very good candidates. The Democrats can’t even find one.” Rubio also showed himself strong on a range of topics from business to social issues to foreign policy. He came into the night with similar support to Cruz at 5.3 percent; and according to Drudge, 10 percent thought he won. Again, Google shows him as one of the most searched candidates of the night.
Ben Carson: The good Dr. Carson appeared to start off slower, but had solid answers on race, foreign policy, and the sanctity of life. Lawyers are taught the power of primacy and recency for influencing a jury: those who are able to frame the argument and those who get to end it. On the latter, Carson delivered a powerful blow in his closing employing humor. He said: “Well, I haven’t said anything about me being the only one to do anything, so let me try that. I’m the only one to separate Siamese twins…the only one to operate on babies while they were still in mother’s womb, the only one to take out half of a brain, although you would think, if you go to Washington, that someone had beat me to it.” Carson scored 10 percent in the Drudge survey and received a strong Google search interest, peeking multiple times throughout the evening.
Who were three losers last night in the sense that they did not advance their candidacy?
Jeb Bush: The current GOP runner-up continued to struggle to answer whether the U.S. should have gone to war in Iraq, and had a weak closing. Like Trump, he made no major errors, but had no memorable moments. The former governor of Florida did generate some solid interest online, but fared poorly in the online poll, coming in second from last at 2.5 percent.
Chris Christie: The bombastic governor of New Jersey had a difficult time defending his poor economic record in New Jersey, offering: “If you think it’s bad now, you should’ve seen it when I got there.” He came in last in the Drudge online poll, registering lower than his RCP average coming into the debate.
Rand Paul: Senator Rand Paul got into dust-ups with Donald Trump and Chris Christie that made him look more sour than a fighter. Despite his combativeness, he managed to garner the least time addressing the crowd of any of the candidates at 4 minutes and 51 seconds. However, he does have a faithful following and scored well in the Drudge poll, garnering 9.3 percent.
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Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker did not turn in a particularly strong performance, but delivered a line the audience loved: “Well first off, for the cyber attack with Russia the other day, it’s sad to think right now, but probably the Russian and Chinese government know more about Hillary Clinton’s e-mail server than do the members of the United States Congress.”
Commendation must go out to Gov. Mike Huckabee, who offered up one of the most crowd-pleasing moments of the evening when he engaged in some misdirection, before delivering a wonderful punchline: “It seems like this election has been a whole lot about a person who’s very high in the polls, that doesn’t have a clue about how to govern. A person who has been filled with scandals, and who could not lead, and, of course, I’m talking about…”(Watch the video above.)
Finally, Carly Fiorina may well be on her way to prime time after her performance last night in the early GOP debate. She continued the fun afterwards with this interview with Chris Matthews. Well done!
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