This past week’s Fox News aired the first Republican Presidential Debates, including a wide range of candidates1:
- Donald Trump
- Jeb Bush
- Scott Walker
- Mike Huckabee
- Ben Carson
- Ted Cruz
- Marco Rubio
- Rand Paul
- Chris Christie
- John Kasich
Much of the debates’ content was published online by Fox News across mediums including YouTube. Regardless of personal politics, it remains worth watching if only to gauge the strengths and weaknesses apparent in a potential world leader. Also especially worth noting is that despite some unruly responses from candidates on stage, Fox News managed to largely keep control and actually delve into individual politician’s positions and beliefs.
Perhaps the most explosive takeaway from these debates, though, came when the candidates as an entire pool were asked if they would commit to supporting the eventual Republican nominee, regardless of who that was. One voice of dissent stepped forward: Donald Trump. Trump, perhaps best known for his business acumen and blunt manner of speech, admitted that he couldn’t commit to that – hinting at the belief that he would simply be a better option, even as an Independent, than any other person on stage would be as a Republican. Perhaps even more surprising was the crowd’s divided reaction. Some seem appalled at the lack of commitment to the party, while others admired the honesty and self confidence of Trump’s admission.
Trump also faced questions about his conservative credentials, which he responded to surprisingly well with a favorable comparison to the likes of Reagan. He played the card of being a political outsider with determination and adaptability, and delivered the points with a natural ease.
Trump didn’t leave the debate happy, though. Trump took to Twitter in the aftermath of the debates and took aim at the moderators2:
“@FoxNews you should be ashamed of yourself…”
“I really enjoyed the debate tonight even though the @FoxNews trio, especially @megynkelly, was not very good or professional!”
Still – we’ll be waiting for stabilized polling numbers following the debate for a bit longer. Trump’s annoyance aside, it remains difficult to dismiss him even in light of the debate challenges he faced. He can’t be credited with fielding the questions with particular skill or charisma, but his honesty and direct nature still play well with many audiences. That, coupled with his financial clout, may still act as a winning ticket.
Trump, of course, wasn’t the only candidate with interesting moments in the debates – but given his prominent position in most recent polling figures he does seem to command the attention.
Jeb Bush was, perhaps most notably, challenged on his brother’s decision regarding Iraq. Jeb was faced with his own avoidance of questions about Iraq previously, but responded with a passionate, sincere explanation. He outlined that he was disappointed by intelligence failures and security failures with regards to the war with Iraq, but that he couldn’t feel personally that those deaths were in vain. He also pushed back with the view that Obama was more to blame for ISIS’s growth than anyone. While this was well received, it remains worth noting that the it was President George W. Bush, Jeb’s brother, that actually initiated the arranged withdrawal from Iraq prior to leaving the White House – leaving the question of how Obama was to blame for an arranged withdrawal signed before his administration officially existed unanswered. Jeb Bush also defended his Pro-Life views with inspired vigor and dedication.
Scott Walker faced questions about his effectiveness on economic issues. This is especially noteworthy given the challenges his state has faced regarding budgetary issues and economic growth. However, Walker responded strongly – defending his conservative credentials and limited results in the face of daunting challenges. Walker managed to also claim ground on international political territory – voicing a commitment to countering Putin’s rumored (though strongly likely, as implied via various documentation and new sources, such as Vices News3) actions in Ukraine.
Mike Huckabee spoke with flair about his support of military growth and resistance to social policies he viewed in opposition to military necessities. Huckabee also spoke in defense of his stance on entitlement reform. Specifically, Huckabee has objected to the idea of increasing the general requirements & standards of entitlement programs – feeling that these are commitments that cannot be abandoned. Chris Christie, for example, disagrees – indicating changes are the uncomfortable-but-logical response to increasing burdens on the government from these entitlement programs. Huckabee’s defense of his views on entitlement reform, though, was exceptionally passionate and well delivered.
Dr. Ben Carson faced questions about his lack of international affairs experience and knowledge, and responded tolerably but without particularly potent counterpoints. In truth, his response felt somewhat rehearsed and prepared. That certainly doesn’t make it dishonest, but inability to speak effectively to an audience can be a dire trait for a Presidential candidate, and his/her team, to recover from. Dr. Carson sounded off repeatedly, though, about his commitment to growth of the military and his concerns about the lack of military investment and growth under the current administration. His views in this matter were echoed by others, as one would expect, but still met with a receptive audience.
Ted Cruz hit on several points, but one especially impressive moment was regarding cyberwarfare. In response to questions about a headline-capturing story about the Office of Personnel Management being hacked – Cruz confirmed his belief that this amounted to an act of cyberware and that it confirmed the lack of respect of the international community for Obama. Cruz also addressed his uncomfortable reputation among his own Party’s leadership. Cruz’s response? That Americans need and sought someone who could simply deliver truth. It was a message he presented with skill and passion, and it seemed to engross the audience.
Marco Rubio voiced his Pro-Life commitment and dedication to business growth (particularly small business growth). Rubio’s messages appeared largely well received, but his delivery and command of stage felt lacking.
Rand Paul and Chris Christie battled it out over the topic of the NSA, too. Christie’s argument of patriotism and necessity played well, but Paul’s commitment to individual liberty and protection from government intrusion countered quite well, too. Neither left the argument as a clear victor, both instead scoring points but not commanding an authoritative victory.
Rand Paul found strong highlight moments, as well. This may just be Rand’s greatest strength compared to his father, Ron Paul. Ron Paul had an enormous dedication from a small group and was passionate and dedicated to his beliefs and base. Rand, however, seems far more charismatic and at home in front of a group. He can speak in a powerful way, and adapt his message well to the position at hand. Now, by saying this I in no way mean to imply that Rand Paul alters his views on a whim or based on polling. Instead, I simply highlight that he is exceptionally careful about word choice in most instances. He remains articulate and, with his charismatic presence and effective delivery, seems to always offer a particular presentation of his views. He always presents the same image, but adjusts the angle from which it is viewed – if that makes sense. It’s a fine distinction between the effective use of rhetoric and misleading, but it is one Rand Paul manages to command with skill.
Rand Paul also offered further detail to his views on and support for religious liberties, and even clarified his views on Israel. This clarification indicated that he believed in supporting our allies, but questioned the logic of going into further debt to China in order to provide funds to Israel. In essence he was stressing a desire to focus on prioritizing spending on crucial expenditures in light of our sizable federal debt. Paul was direct in his assertion and emphasized his support for Israel, while still voicing fears about our own financial stability – and this seemed very well received by those in attendance.
Chris Christie perhaps most notably faced a challenge on his record as a conservative leader in a state of liberals. To this he responded with unequivocal strength, though – stressing that he was able to accomplish things by working with others but remained committed to conservative values to his core.
John Kasich’s core message seemed focused on economic growth as the crucial basis for any secondary concerns. For a candidate with less name recognition and polling strength, he managed to engage the crowd effectively with his message that America’s unique appeal and strength was tied to our economic strength.
It always feels necessary to close by mentioning that until votes are actually in, anything could change and anything is possible. No candidate is above being unseated, and no candidate is beyond winning over the masses. Still – it seems unlikely that Trump will be removed from his lead, but he may have lost some footing. If nothing else, the forthcoming polling data will be quite interesting.