The first Republican presidential debates of 2016 lived up to all the hype. It is impossible to encapsulate last evening’s debates into one column and the analysis will continue for coming days.
Ten candidates participated in the main event battle royal last evening in Cleveland and seven candidates were in the undercard debate two hours earlier.
Seventeen candidates appeared in two debates, which lasted over three hours. The questions were tough and the tempo of the debates was speedy.
The biggest winner of the night was a candidate who did not appear in the top debate: Carly Fiorina.
The Californian and former Hewlett Packard CEO did not qualify for the prime-time debate featuring the top candidates due to her standing in recent polls.
Fiorina responses to questions were sharp and her communications and debate skills were no match for the other candidates who appeared on the stage with her in Cleveland.
There was no audience for the first debate, while almost 5,000 people attended the main debate which was held two hours after the first debate ended. Fiorina would have received the biggest cheers of the night had she been included in the top debate.
Republicans would be wise to include Fiorina on the main stage in the upcoming debates, as she showed last evening that she has the potential to be one of the top contenders for the Republican nomination for president.
Donald Trump, who was booed more than once during last evening’s debate, had a performance that would doom the candidacy of a traditional presidential candidate.
What makes Trump’s candidacy such a nightmare for Republicans is the traditional rules of politics do not apply to him. Much like Jesse Ventura, who “shocked the world” with his unconventional, yet successful campaign for governor of Minnesota in 1998, Trump is trying to shock his way into 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue.
The biggest difference between the candidacy of Ventura and Trump was shown in the first question of the title card debate. In response to a question about running as an independent candidate against the Republican nominee for president, Trump was the only candidate to refuse to rule out a possible run.
While Ventura ran against the political system dominated by Republicans and Democrats, Trump is currently seeking the nomination of one of the political parties targeted by Ventura.
Trump is no Ventura and his answer to a possible third-party challenge against the Republican nominee hurts Trump’s candidacy.
But Trump’s response to a question about his past remarks, which included calling women “fat pigs, dogs, slobs, and disgusting animals,” should be the most troubling to Republicans.
Fox News moderator Megyn Kelly hit Trump with the question about his comments about women, which included him telling a contestant on his show “Celebrity Apprentice” that it would be “a pretty picture to see her on her knees.”
Kelly asked Trump about his temperament to serve as president and if the likely Democratic nominee for president, Hillary Clinton, could consider him part of the “war on women.”
Trump did not directly address Kelly’s question and lamented about how being “politically correct” is a big problem facing this country.
As the Republican Party attempts to build a broad political tent, which will appeal to women and minorities, Trump’s misogynistic attitude will be a major distraction and undermine these efforts.
Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker, who picked up a key endorsement from Speaker of the Minnesota House of Representatives Kurt Daudt on Thursday, was surprisingly timid during the debate.
Ohio Governor John Kasich, who benefited from the friendly crowd who attended last evening’s debate in Cleveland, outshined Walker.
New Jersey Governor Chris Christie, who was considered the front-runner for the Republican nomination until Bridgegate tripped up his candidacy, sparred with U.S. Senator Rand Paul over NSA surveillance.
Christie’s response to Paul will be a boost to his campaign and it will give Christie’s presidential candidacy a much-needed second look by many inside the Republican Party
Finally, in the battle of the candidates from Florida, U.S. Senator Marco Rubio bested former Florida Governor Jeb Bush.
Rubio, the youngest of the presidential candidates in the main debate, was composed and offered some of toughest contrast with Hillary Clinton in his answers to questions.
Rubio’s performance was stronger than Bush’s, who at times seemed uncomfortable on the stage with the other candidates. Bush has raised the most money of any presidential candidate, but his lackluster showing last evening will provide an opportunity for the other candidates to show Bush is not the right candidate for Republicans in 2016.
Picture source: Andrew Harnik, Associated Press