Seven Republican candidates (minus the now-banished Carly Fiorina) debated Saturday night in New Hampshire, three days in advance of that state’s primary. Here’s my take:
— Really, Marco Rubio? Really? I was out last night so I taped the debate. And when I got back to watch it, I figured there was something wrong with my DVR. That it kept repeating what Rubio said, over and over and over. I sat there without blinking; I was astonished by his performance. Everyone knew Chris Christie was going to go after him — he had the big target on his back after his strong showing in Iowa. There was no mystery to it. But to give the same robotic answers about Obama, even when the questions had nothing to do with that? I couldn’t believe it. Did he not know all eyes were going to be on him? Whatever bounce he may have gotten out of Iowa may have disappeared on that stage last night.
— Does Christie benefit? I don’t see why. He did expose the chinks in the new “establishment favorite’s” armor, and he does make a good case for his candidacy without sounding like he’s reading his lines. But Christie remains a bully and proved himself to be the most ferocious candidate on the stage (taking the honor away from a more Xanax-ed Donald Trump). He is also somehow convinced his record as governor, with its repeated credit downgrades, has been a positive one. My knees no longer buckle when he stares into the camera giving his answers. I don’t see how a Republican gets rewarded by ripping apart a fellow Republican … even if Rubio was a stunningly ripe target.
— For the most part, Donald Trump toned down his meanness. Maybe he doesn’t want to jeopardize what still seems to be a lead in the N.H. polls. But when he “shushed” Jeb Bush for daring to question the propriety of Trump bullying an elderly woman in some property squabble, the audience booed. In fact, Trump was booed more than once.
— Poor Ben Carson. He was in a great position to win over voters (or at least get their sympathy) by pointing out Ted Cruz’s underhanded tactics in Iowa. But he did it in the typically soft-spoken Ben Carson way, which didn’t have the effect it could have. Actually, Carson was doomed from the beginning, when he didn’t hear his name called out and he just stood there, backstage, just waiting. Oh my, did that not feel like a Saturday Night Live script? He was Admiral James “Who Am I?/What Am I Doing Here?” Stockdale, but in silence. Oops.
— And for Cruz to pin the blame on CNN for the rumors his campaign spread about Carson dropping out in Iowa was a bit disingenuous. It reminded people why they say Cruz is one of the least-liked senators on Capitol Hill. If it weren’t for being called out on the Carson caper, it probably would have been a good night for him.
— Were the first 750 questions from ABC debate moderator David Muir (I lost count) attempts to pit one Republican against another? I was surprised no one called him out on that. Maybe everyone was too stunned at watching Rubio.
— The winners? Who knows what that means anymore. But I thought both Jeb Bush and John Kasich gave solid performances. I expected Bush to repeat his assaults on Rubio, but there was no reason for him to do so; Christie did it for him. He was respectful and more sure of himself than we’ve seen in other debates. Kasich is still campaigning like it’s the general election, seemingly forgetting that he has to win over a Republican electorate that hasn’t shown it can be as tolerant as he. But this may have been his best showing, when it mattered the most. Will Kasich and Bush get second looks on Tuesday?
There are so many questions. But right now I’m still reeling in the wake of the Rubio performance.