Call it the end of Marcomentum, the revenge of the governors, or even Chris Christie channels Donald Trump, but within the first five minutes of last night’s ABC News GOP debate Marco Rubio was a deer in the headlights and the New Jersey governor was the new GOP mean guy.
There were three overall winners of the GOP debate John Kasich, Jeb Bush, and Chris Christie . A more subdued Donald Trump may have won by not losing. Marco Rubio was the big loser, and to a lesser extent Ben Carson , andTed Cruz didn’t have his best night either.
In terms of time spoken, Cruz and Rubio dominated the night. Trump was 3rd, followed by Christie and Bush. Surprisingly based on the impression he gave at the debate, Kasich spoke for a minute and a half behind the other governors and way behind the leaders. Ben Carson was a non-factor in time spoken as well as content.
Rubio’s initial confrontation with Chris Christie was very bad for the Florida senator. Although he was strong afterwards, you never get a second chance to make a first impression and Marco Rubio’s battle with Christie about experience may have put a brick wall in front of his momentum. This first exchange between Christie and Rubio was reminiscent of an old Saturday Night Live routine where Garrett Morris played fictional NY Met Chico Escuela whose answer to every question was,” baseball been berry, berry good to me.” Marco’s stock answer was Obama knows exactly what he’s doing.
It started with a question to Rubio about some of Christie’s recent comments about his lack of experience. Rubio’s answer included:
And let’s dispel once and for all with this fiction that Barack Obama doesn’t know what he’s doing. He knows exactly what he’s doing. Barack Obama is undertaking a systematic effort to change this country, to make America more like the rest of the world.
Rubio’s line about Obama knowing what he is doing is true. During his 2008 campaign over and over Obama said, “fundamentally transforming the United States of America.” If Rubio reminded the audience of that Obama line It may have worked better. But he didn’t, and the New Jersey governor hit him back hard with a warning that electing Rubio would be as bad as the election of Obama:
And the fact is — the fact when you talk about the Hezbollah Sanctions Act that you list as one of your accomplishments you just did, you weren’t even there to vote for it. That’s not leadership, that’s truancy.
And the fact is that what we need to do — what we need to have in this country is not to make the same mistake we made eight years ago. The fact is it does matter when you have to make decisions and be held accountable for them. It does matter when the challenges don’t come on a list of a piece of paper of what to vote yes or no every day, but when the problems come in from the people that you serve.
I like Marco Rubio, and he’s a smart person and a good guy, but he simply does not have the experience to be president of the United States and make these decisions. We’ve watched it happen, everybody. For the last seven years, the people of New Hampshire are smart. Do not make the same mistake again
Marco’s response hit Christie on New Jersey’s credit rating being downgraded nine times, and if he stopped there it may have deflected the Jersey gov.’s attacks. But he continued with, “Let’s dispel with this fiction that Barack Obama doesn’t know what he’s doing. He knows exactly what he’s doing…” for the second time.
Christie slammed him again, saying in part:
You see, everybody, I want the people at home to think about this. That’s what Washington, D.C. Does. The drive-by shot at the beginning with incorrect and incomplete information and then the memorized 25-second speech that is exactly what his advisers gave him
Ouch that had to hurt, but it didn’t hurt enough because the Florida senator repeated himself for a third time. His answer included:
Here’s the bottom line. This notion that Barack Obama doesn’t know what he’s doing is just not true. He knows exactly what he’s doing.
Christie came back with, “There it is. There it is. The memorized 25-second speech. There it is, everybody.”
Not only did Rubio keep falling into the same Chris Christie trap, but he reinforced what people have attacked him for– an inability to go off message. Christie seemed mean during the exchange and may not have helped himself, but he hurt Rubio, mercilessly.
Rubio rebounded a bit in the second half of the GOP debate when it turned to foreign policy, and gave an answer on abortion sure to appeal to the Republican base:
Here’s what I find outrageous. There has been five Democratic debates. The media has not asked them a single question on abortion and on abortion, the Democrats are extremists. Why doesn’t the media ask Hillary Clinton why she believes that all abortion should be legal, even on the due date of that unborn child.
Why don’t they ask Hillary Clinton why she believe that partial- birth abortion, which is a gruesome procedure that has been outlawed in this country, she thinks that’s a fundamental right. They are the extremists when it comes to the issue of abortion and I can’t wait to expose them in a general election.
The question is, did Rubio’s strong second half make up for the dreadful exchange with Christie, the answer here is—doubtful.
If Jeb Bush was as strong at the beginning of the campaign as he was last night, he might have a chance at the nomination. He appeared knowledgeable and likable. His story about the guy the VA said died (but continues to be much alive and is voting for Bush) was delightfully funny.
Bush was the only one on the stage who attacked Trump. That attack based on eminent domain was excellent.
Bush: The difference — the difference between eminent domain for public purpose — as Donald said, roads and infrastructure, pipelines and all that — that’s for public purpose. But what Donald Trump did was use eminent domain to try to take the property of an elderly woman on the strip in Atlantic City. That is not public purpose, that is down right wrong. And here’s the problem with that. The problem was, it was to tear down — it was to tear down — it was to tear down the house…
Trump: Jeb wants to be — he wants to be a tough guy tonight. I didn’t take the property.
Bush: And the net result was — you tried.
Trump: I didn’t take the property.
Bush: And you lost in the court.
Trump: The woman ultimately didn’t want to do that. I walked away.
Bush: That is not true. And the simple fact is to turn this into a limousine parking lot for his casinos is a not public use. And in Florida, based on what we did, we made that impossible. It is part of our Constitution. That’s the better approach. That is the conservative approach.
When Bush tried to interrupt Trump’s response, the billionaire told him to shut up, drawing boos from the crowd.
Eminent domain is a big issue in New Hampshire, and showing Trump as bullying an old lady was effective. Bush may have helped himself in the debate, but in the end in a year where people are angry at the establishment, Jeb Bush’s campaign is still weighed down by his last name and the fact that he is the most establishment candidate in the GOP field.
The Ohio governor John Kasich has been growing in the New Hampshire polls (but still only at 12%) and the fact he had his best GOP debate, had to help.
Kaisch tried to set himself up as the best equipped to bring people together, “We have to solve problems in America by coming together, Republicans and Democrats, Americans first, party and ideology second.”
He also presented himself as someone who had the knowledge of how to get things done fast:
So, anybody who is here tonight, if I get elected president, head out tomorrow and buy a seat belt, because there’s going to be so much happening in the first 100 days, it’s going to make your head spin. We’re going to move America forward. I promise you. We’re going to move us forward.
Kashich gave answers that would certainly appeal to Granite State Republicans, but will they play elsewhere. The fact that he expanded Medicaid may be a nonstarter especially after New Hampshire when the primaries move to the southern states.
Ted Cruz’s effort was mixed. He spoke the longest (18:13) but in many cases seemed absent. His answer about the “Carson dropped out” mini-scandal was a lie (CNN never said the doctor was dropping out in Iowa and they said so specifically within two minutes of the first post which the Cruz people “misinterpreted’). Cruz answer on waterboarding seemed hesitant, making him look either weak of indecisive. Which was strange because some of his other answers were so decisive.
“I have pledged, on day one, I will rescind every single illegal and unconstitutional executive action Barack Obama has done.”
“What should we do on health care? If I’m elected president, we will repeal every word of Obama care.”
“We’re going to build a wall. We’re going to triple the border patrol. We’re going to increase — and actually, since Donald enjoyed that, I will simply say, I’ve got somebody in mind to build it.”
The Texas Senator’s answer on drug abuse, was powerful and genuine and especially effective in a state with a horrible heroine problem:
My older sister, Myriam, who was my half- sister, struggled her whole life with drug and alcohol addiction. My father and her mom divorced when she was a little girl and she was angry her whole life, and she ended up marrying a man who had been in and out of jail. She then became a single mom and she herself went to jail several times and she ended up spending some time in a crack house. I still remember my father and me driving up to get Myriam out of that crack house to try to convince her she needed to be a mom to — to my nephew Joey.
She wasn’t willing to listen. She was not willing to change the path she was on. She was angry. I was — had just gotten my first job coming out of law school. I took a $20,000 loan on a credit card to put my nephew, Joey, in Valley Forge Military Academy — he was in sixth grade at the time, to pay his way through that.
And about five, six years ago, Miriam died of an overdose. It was — the coroner ruled it accidental. We don’t know. She went to one night, had taken too many pills, and Joey walked in and found her dead.
The bottom line here is that Cruz did not help himself last night, but he didn’t hurt himself either.
There was a different Donald Trump at the ABC debate, for the most part he was more subdued than usual. This was not by accident he has a YUGE lead in New Hampshire and didn’t want to do anything to screw it up. Trump lost the eminent domain argument, and he twice referred to Cruz stealing Iowa which seemed like childish sour grapes.
He also attacked the audience at the debate, something that may have been appealing to his supporters but not transferable to other voters.
He drew boos from the crowd when he first sought to shut up Jeb Bush on the issue of eminent domain suggested the negative reaction occurred because the audience was largely comprised of “donors, special interests, the people who are putting up the money.”
On the other hand, Trump’s answer about health care was appealing to New Hampshire voters and the more liberal Republicans. “There will be a certain number of people that will be on the street dying. As a Republican I don’t want that to happen,” he said. “We’re going to take care of people dying on the street … You’re not gonna let people die sitting in the middle of a street in any city in this country.”
Trump was strong on waterboarding, “I would bring back waterboarding and I would bring back a hell of a lot worse than waterboarding,” on police, “The police are absolutely mistreated and misunderstood…the police in this country have done an unbelievable job of keeping law and order.” and on generating consensus:
“With Congress you have to get everybody in a room. You have to get them to agree with what you want. You have to get people in. Grab em, hug em, kiss em, and get the deal done. But it’s got to be the deal that you want.”
And then there was Dr. Ben Carson. He was there although you might not know it. The good doctor is a decent man but once again proved that he could not compete in a debate. His performance last night was reminiscent of a character from the musical Chicago:
I tell ya Cellophane
Should have been my name
’cause you can look right through me, walk right by me
And never know I’m there. . .
The moderators were a mixed bag; David Muir was capable but Martha Raddatz performed like the GOP hater she was. It was strange that the RNC allowed her to moderate after her clearly biased performance in the 2012 Vice Presidential debate. Raddatz spent much of the night arguing with the candidates about the answers she thought she heard but they didn’t give. It was like she was listening to a different debate.
Hot Air and Fox News’ Mary Katherine Ham asked great questions which left the candidates with little wiggle room. Her best question was her “too many deals, or too few” deals question.
WMUR Political Director Josh McElveen represented the local New Hampshire interests with tough questions about drug abuse and whether or not families should be allowed to raise ransom money for their family members who where kidnapped by terrorists. He also asked the eminent domain question.
The GOP debate on ABC did nothing to separate the candidates underneath Trump before the New Hampshire primary in two days. If anything, some Rubio supporters may have moved to the three governors, allowing Ted Cruz to move into second and a tightening the race between the next four Rubio and the 3 governors. However, keep in mind that the primary is imminent (Tuesday) and New Hampshire is a strange primary, people tend to make their decisions last minute and independents get to pick a party and vote. In other words like so much of this political season, what would happen in a normal campaign simply doesn’t.
Want some more excellent analysis? Check out what Jazz Shaw wrote at Hot Air. Some of his conclusions were similar to mine but he came at them a totally different way. So click on “Throwing rocks in the Granite State,” for a different angle on the debate proceedings.