Grading the candidates—the Iowa GOP debate
Seven candidates on-stage—one notable candidate absent-by-choice. How did they do? What are their grades?
Jeb Bush…getting better as the debates go on. Had a lot to gain without Trump on the stage and did well in his exchanges with Rubio. His banter didn’t come across as memorized or staged. Didn’t look like he was trying to win the “zinger” race. He answered the questions. Still needs to talk specifics about his success as governor in Florida. (B-)
Ben Carson….good debate until he decided to spew off the Preamble to the US Constitution. I was cringing with each line as he got ‘em right—but struggled to remember it by heart. Dr. Carson has a good message—but unfortunately for him, the debate format is not where it comes across very well. He’s just a very calculated speaker—which isn’t necessarily a bad thing. It’s just not good when you’re in a debate and precious seconds count. (C-)
Chris Christie…I thought he had the most to benefit from the notable absence of Mr. Trump. I think he scored well showing the difference between a Governor and a sitting member of the US Congress. He was straight-forward and looked and talked to the people. His best debate. (A-)
Ted Cruz…well-prepared opening line about Mr. Trump’s absence. I think it set the tone for not referring much to the missing candidate. Was attacked and handled the flip-flopping accusations pretty well. Got into it enough with Rubio to show inconsistencies of his own and the Florida Senator on immigration reform. Looked petty though when arguing with moderators about time and ultimately, losing those battles. (C)
John Kasich…continues to come across as a well-prepared moderate. I think he planted positive seeds for New Hampshire since this was the last debate before that primary as well as the last chance to speak to the people of Iowa before their caucus. He always has a positive message and that stands out at times. Good performance for him. Will it make him a factor in this race? Not likely in Iowa–but yes, in New Hampshire. (A-)
Rand Paul…nice to have him back on the main-event stage. He belongs there. Interesting back-and-forth about whether he’s capitalized or wasted his chance with his father’s massive popularity in previous election cycles. Comes across as honest and didn’t seem as desperate in this debate. More relaxed and easier to listen to. Good performance. (B+)
Marco Rubio….always well-prepared on the issues. Always has a great command of foreign policy and the ability to frame his answers in sound-byte form for a debate. That requires skill. He repeated a few phrases too often in the debate and didn’t shine during the battle with Cruz and Bush on his “Gang of 8″ involvement on immigration. (B-)
Donald Trump…No-show. I would have loved him there—he’s entertaining and unpredictable. We’ll see in Iowa if his absence offended the people of Iowa or if he’s just far enough ahead that it won’t matter. (incomplete grade)
Overall, I think Christie had a great debate and stood out the most. Will it be enough to get him into that upper-echelon of candidates? Not likely in Iowa—but he could get more momentum in New Hampshire. If he doesn’t do well in New Hampshire, it’s over for him. Rubio and Cruz did nothing to really hurt themselves….Bush and Kasich helped a little bit and Paul will need the younger voters to turn out in the first few primary contests or he’s done.