By Richard E. Vatz
What a difference a new debate panel of questioners makes.
Tuesday night’s debate, moderated by Fox anchors Maria Bartiromo and Neil Cavuto and Wall Street Journal editor-in-chief Gerard Baker, was everything the now infamous CNBC was not: it was well moderated; it comprised critical issues; and there were not the conflicting dramas of tension among the candidates and tension with the moderators. And repeatedly, clear policy recommendations and clashes were articulately, if not eloquently, argued.
I did not see a representative amount of the “undercard,” but what I did see revealed substantive questioners and substantive respondents.
The Hillary-focused Chris Christie was prepared and controlled but strategically angry. And all of the candidates were effective, with the possible exception of Bobby Jindal, but only Christie has a possibility realistic chance to be a viable 2016 candidate among Rick Santorum, Mike Huckabee, Jindal, and himself.
The moderators’ follow-up questions were also substantive — variations on “give specifics relating to your general points,” and the candidates did in both debates.
The main card
Jeb Bush did better. He was not affected as he was in the CNBC debate when his false outrage against fellow Floridian Marco Rubio fell so flat. Prototypical Bush line, apropos of noting that Hillary Clinton gave Barack Obama an “A” on the economy: “Hillary Clinton gives Obama an ‘A?’ That may be the best he can do, but it’s not the best we can do.”
His attack on Hillary’s and President Obama’s accepting low expectations and ensuring minimal growth was equally effective.
John Kasich insisted on debating Trump on the deporting of 11 million illegal immigrants. He was correct, but as he and Trump took time by fiat — and then followed, believe it or not, by Bush — they compromised briefly the fairness of the debate.
Fair to all
But it was not devastating. Most of the debate seemed utterly fair to all.
Every time Marco Rubio spoke, he sounded with his substantive optimism like the GOP’s John F. Kennedy. His consistency on the economy while relating it to his pro-family tax code, and his defense of it and response to the “isolationist” Rand Paul’s objection about costs for military superiority were rhetorical victories for Rubio and devastating for Paul, who took the role of the unserious foil.
When Cruz cut in to argue the lack of mutual exclusivity of military strength with fiscal responsibility, it was game, set and match, at least against Paul.
Rubio’s argument regarding the fact that the Obama administration rewards enemies and punishes friends in foreign policy was impressive as well. Finally, his implication — aided by Cruz — that it is time for a new generation of Americans to lead, an echo of Kennedy, was a powerful answer to Bartiromo’s challenge of Hillary’s hyper-experience.
Trump added his two cents with non-specific support of the goals of Rubio and Cruz. His insistence that the United States consistenty bargains from a position of weakness found telling support from the audience.
Carly Fiorina’s informed tirade on our fecklessness throughout the Middle East and Persian Gulf was impressive, and if she were more of a qualified candidate, her understanding of issue complexity and foreign policy would more than recommend her as a possible candidate.
Fiorina’s articulate attack on national Obamacare and comparing it unfavorably to more localized policies was impressive. She also summarized the “bank bailing out” dispute between Cruz and Kasich as reflecting what happens when government creates a problem and then requires a socialistic solution.
Ben Carson’s flat tax and moral tithing recommendations are optimistic and make some people feel good but are completely irrelevant to tax policy….they are not going to happen. Ben Carson’s wealth of idealism is good for bull sessions but utterly a pipe dream pertaining to likely legislation. Carson sounded like an intelligent man but inexperienced politician, particularly on foreign policy.
Ditto Trump who simply said everybody ought to go in against ISIS.
Rubio, Kasich and Bush
A friend of mine argues that there are three candidates who meet the plausibility test to become the Republican nominee: Rubio, Kasich and Bush.I agree, but pursuant to this debate I would assert: in that order.
This was an excellent debate with only a few untidy moments, but that cannot be avoided.
Those Republicans who want to win should support one of the three candidates, Rubio, Kasich or Bush, with perhaps only the first two as possible winners.
Richard E. Vatz, Ph.D., is professor of political persuasion at Towson University
Editor’s Note: I didn’t have time to write up my reaction, but I think Professor Vatz is too dismissive of Trump and Carson, since he has already written that they are unqualified to be president. I don’t disagree with that, but their support has shown no sign of lagging, and neither did themselves any harm at Tuesday’s debate. In fact, Carson was a lot stronger than in previous debates. Trump and Carson are confounding the pundit class, including me. But Rubio is the coming on guy, no doubt. Len Lazarick