Posted: 3:33 am Friday, August 7th, 2015
By Jamie Dupree
From Cleveland, Ohio
From the very start, the first main Republican debate for 2016 revolved around Donald Trump, as the real estate mogul touted his business and leadership abilities, refused to guarantee his support for the eventual Republican nominee and warded off attacks from other GOP candidates during a sometimes chippy two hour forum.
Here’s a quick review on how the candidates did:
Donald Trump was Donald Trump. If you thought he would collapse on stage, he did not. If you thought he would go overboard, he didn’t take that extra step. He zapped critics with one liners and jabs. He gave the moderators a hard time about their questions. He drew big laughs and applause from the debate crowd in Cleveland. But Trump also drew boos and catcalls when he refused to pledge that he would support the Republican nominee for President, holding open the possibility of a third party bid.
The former Florida Governor stuck to his game plan, emphasizing his record, and touting his conservative bona fides. “As Governor, I de-funded Planned Parenthood,” he said at one point. Bush did not go after Trump, but did chide his verbosity when prompted by the moderators. “Mr. Trump’s language is divisive.” Bush also refused to be goaded by the Fox News hosts into starting a fight with Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL).
After starting his day back in the Badger State in order to open the Wisconsin State Fair, Walker used the debate to offer up criticism of Hillary Clinton and the Obama Administration, but he was not overly involved in the important stages of the debate. The Wisconsin Governor at times seemed a bit tentative, not using his full allotment of time. He made no mistakes, but there were no moments, no sound bites to remember.
Like Jeb Bush, Rubio stuck to his game plan, making points about crafting this an election that is about the future and not the past. Rubio wouldn’t let himself be dragged into a fight with Jeb Bush on Common Core or other issues. Rubio also sidestepped any fight with Donald Trump, though he did point out that Trump gave money to former Florida Governor Charlie Crist, whom Rubio defeated in a race for U.S. Senate six years ago.
Cruz did exactly what he said he would, using his debate performance to attack leading Republicans in the Congress, and to argue for a more aggressive GOP in general. While conservatives liked what they saw, the reaction in the actual debate hall seemed tepid, with Cruz getting light applause at times. The main problem for Cruz right now is that Donald Trump is taking up a lot of the oxygen that Cruz needs for his own GOP bid.
From the outset, Rand Paul was ready to rumble with Donald Trump, accusing Trump of basically being a closet liberal when Trump refused to rule out a third party bid, and then going after him when Trump defended his past political donations to Hillary Clinton, the Clinton Foundation and other Democrats. Paul also tangled with Chris Christie over the bulk collection of telephone records by the NSA. Some observers though wondered if the attacks smacked of a candidate trying to jump start his campaign.
After just barely making it into the debate, Kasich seemed to have a good performance, using his time to stay out of the battle over Donald Trump, while at the same time making the case for his resume. Kasich advisers wanted him to introduce himself to a national audience, and he was able to do just that, as Ohio political reporters smiled when the Governor spoke about how his father was a mailman and more. When Kasich left the building shortly before 2 am, he had a big smile on his face.
It was not the best of nights for Ben Carson. The first question to him by Megyn Kelly put him on the defensive, and then he was not called on for almost another 35 minutes. If you were a conservative looking for an aggressive Tea Party type candidate, Carson did not exactly fit that bill on the debate stage. His soft spoken style might work in small groups, but he might also be the GOP version of Paul Tsongas in terms of excitement on the stump.
Like Carson, Huckabee also wasn’t called on much during the early stages of the debate, but he worked his way back into the rhythm of the event in questions about abortion and more. But Huckabee wasn’t really central to any of the big arguments in the debate. He has held steady in the polls for weeks, but has not been a threat in the top tier so far.
There was no breakout moment for Chris Christie. He did not tangle with Donald Trump at all. His exchange with Rand Paul, while interesting, was not on an issue of electric importance. Christie made his arguments well but he did not really play an integral role in the debate. He will need to change that in coming weeks.