I just watched the GOP debate which took place in Greenville, South Carolina and aired on CBS. Here are my observations.
John Kasich – The Ohio Governor called for an end to negative attacks and campaign ads. When Jeb Bush took Kasich to task for expanding Medicaid he said he didn’t want to fight. If Kasich couldn’t handle Jeb then how is he going to handle the jihadis? Kasich twice invoked The Lord in his closing statements. At this point, it will take an Act of God to continue his campaign beyond next Saturday.
Jeb Bush – I’ll give him this much. He isn’t afraid to take on Donald Trump. The bad news is that he still comes out on the short end more often than not. It’s not that Bush isn’t right, but Trump is so domineering that his points get drowned out. Jeb said he wanted to channel his inner Chris Christie. But Christie is now out of the race. Jeb might have a steady hand, but he has a quivering voice. Curiously, unlike previous debates, he completely avoided Marco Rubio and went after John Kasich instead. Does he think that Rubio’s campaign is finished?
Marco Rubio – A week ago, his campaign cratered after taking a beating from Chris Christie. Tonight, Rubio rebounded. He returned to old form with a solid command of the issues and made an eloquent case in favor of expanding the child tax credit. Rubio did have a confrontation with Cruz and got the better of him in an exchange on immigration and bluntly called him a liar. He also got off a good line when Cruz claimed Rubio supported amnesty on Univision. Rubio shot back, “How you know what I said? You don’t speak Spanish.” If Rubio does well next Saturday then it will prove that a week in politics is truly a lifetime.
Donald Trump – This was his most buffoonish performance to date. When John Dickerson reminded the audience that Trump called for former President George W. Bush to be impeached, Trump blamed former President George W. Bush for 9/11 and said he lied about WMDs, drawing huge booes. Trump further aggravated the crowd by calling them donors. He also saw fit to bash Lindsey Graham. I guess Trump didn’t realize he was in South Carolina. Later in the evening, Trump said that Ted Cruz was the biggest liar on the debate stage. Getting back to Jeb, blaming W for 9/11 and claiming he lied about WMDs is something one would expect from the Bernie Sanders crowd. In all of his denunciations of American foreign policy, Bernie has never claimed Bush lied about WMDs much less blamed him for 9/11. Trump is in Noam Chomsky territory. Do we really want to nominate this guy?
Unfortunately, a lot of people say yes. Although Trump lost on substance in his exchanges with Bush and Cruz, he won on style. If Trump can drown out his opponents, he wins even if he is talking nonsense.
Speaking of nonsense, I found it very interesting when Major Garrett brought up that Trump would prevent a Ford plant from closing and if it did close and relocated outside the U.S. he would impose tariffs. Restricting the movement of capital is what you would expect of Bernie Sanders, not Ronald Reagan. Then again praising Planned Parenthood is what you expect of Hillary Clinton, not Ronald Reagan. Trump said he likes Planned Parenthood except for the abortion. That’s like saying he likes ISIS except for the beheadings.
During his closing remarks, Trump told the audience he was working for them. An hour earlier he was calling them donors and insulting them. You would think Trump would pay a price for insulting his audiences and insulting the voters. But as Trump says, he could shoot people on Fifth Avenue and not lose support. This was the case in New Hampshire and it might be the case in South Carolina if the anti-Trump vote is split.
Ted Cruz – The junior Senator from Texas had a lacklustre debate and came up on the short end in exchanges with both Donald Trump and Marco Rubio. When the crowd objected to Cruz tying Rubio to Chuck Schumer, Cruz took a page from Trump’s book and accused the audience of being donors. It really isn’t a good idea to insult your audience. You are trying to give people a reason to vote for you, not against you.
Ben Carson – At one point, the retired neurosurgeon said that he isn’t a politician and is never going to be a politician. With the way things are going for him, truer words were never spoken. As with recent debates, Carson was again a non-factor.
I wish Major Garrett and Kimberly Strassel had more opportunity to ask questions. Although John Dickerson did ask tough questions, he did a terrible job keeping control of the proceedings. I think Garrett would have done a much better job as the moderator.
South Carolina Republicans will vote one week from today. The next GOP debate is scheduled to take place on February 25th and will air on CNN. Chances are there will be at least two fewer Republicans on stage in 12 days time.