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The First Debate is in the Can!

Update: I am glad to say, I was wrong with my post debate predictions for Rubio, Fiorina and Carson. Congrats all three!

7 Aug 15

It wasn’t easy to avoid turning on the TV this morning to watch the fallout from last night. But now, the chores are done, workout finished and I can sit and discuss people, points and performance in the debate marathon last night.

Before critiquing the candidates, I have a few words for Fox News. Between the clear animus for Trump and the ham-handed start to the debate, I have to say that the overall performance by the host network was pretty poor. Kelly and Wallace demonstrated a clear animus toward Trump and Wallace’s handling of Trump was evident throughout the evening. Baer remained a gentleman as always. This is not to say that I felt sorry for Trump. He knew it was coming and still seemed to have not prepared for the setups.

Also, the opening moments were painful. They awkwardly bring out the candidates while announcing their names, then banter a bit while the candidates stand there with their faces hanging out. Then they read the rules and re-announce the candidates. Bad performance.

The take-away:

No one candidate had a real meltdown in either debate. It is my contention that as a party, Republicans vindicated themselves well and that is always a good thing. With what I am told is the largest debate audience in history, the country got to see what adults (mostly) look like in contested discourse.

I will also say, feigning no modesty whatsoever, the candidates validated the principal points set out in my book. Sadly, while one point was demonstrated by one candidate (Trump: get loud, lean in) another point would be another (Fiorina: think twice about what you are going to say and then say it). The one standout, putting most of the principal points in play was Rubio. He was a joy to watch.

Trump: I expected to see Trump’s boardroom face last night. Contentious would have been fine, and he was that. But he looked like he was facing an impromptu press conference, not a debate he had weeks to prepare for. He gave Wallace a well-deserved slap on the bankruptcy question and the childish I-didn’t-get-enough follow up. But overall he was flailing.  If you were looking for hard evidence that Trump is not a Dem shill, a fly in the ointment, you were sadly disappointed. He has yet to prove that he is anything more than loud.

Prediction: Slight drop in the polls.

Bush: Bush really hurt himself last night. As I have said, he is too business-as-usual and risk averse to really mix it up. If Fox had the kind of turnout that most early primary debates have, Bush would have come through without much damage. Bush also has a tell. In a previous post, I talked about Jay Carney’s tell; how he curls his lip and tilts his head when he is lying. When Bush is facing the least challenge, his shoulders go up to his ears. It might not indicate lying, but it belies confidence in himself and in hos own message. To see it all you have to do is turn on a camera or ask a slightly challenging question. W did it occasionally, but Jeb can’t control it. He will look bad before any Democrat if he can’t get it in check.

Prediction: Up to five points lost in the polls.

Huckabee: The surprise of the night. For the second time in as three weeks he came across as completely composed. That he had little to loose and a whole primary season ahead of him, he has positioned himself well. He won’t peak from this. But he show real staying power. For the record, he is also a business-as-usual politician in his social Security blather. Even when facing a candidate who says they have no interest in taking grandma’s SS check from her (Christie), Huck uses a Obama-like straw argument that the other want to take grandma’a SS check away from her.

Prediction: A few points up. (Perhaps at Bush’s expense)

Fiorina: Factually assertive and poised. She still needs to ratchet up the sparks several notches. Still, an impressive performance.

Prediction: Despite doing so well, position will remain static to maybe a point or two up.

Kasich: Good resume on display. Looked like he was suffering spasms while taking the first question. Whoever comes out on top among Dems, the only thing they’ll have to go on in the election is socialism, emotionalism and/or outright bullshit. But it will be delivered with real flourish. Kasich lacks fire I his belly and his delivery to stand against that. Bush shares that problem.

Prediction: Flat or down in the polls.

Rubio: Star of the late debate. Hard without being mean. Loud without shouting. Prepared and confident. 100% in the moment. He looked great. Now he must follow up. If he doesn’t become the distraction for the next several weeks, he will loose this bump quickly.

Prediction: Big bump and probably improved cashflow.

Carson: Also a standout performance. And a BIG finish. He is very likable and very bright. The clear winner in the “be yourself” category.

Prediction: A bump up in the polls.

Cruz: Good command of the facts. Well-prepared. the thing that troubled me was that standing next to the others he came off as an actor, playing the role of a politician. He was a slightly effete and snooty caricature of himself. Overall good, but a little creepy.

Prediction: flat to a small bump up

Jindal: another good resume. He was in the moment and appeared to enjoy the experience. Best of the governors performances, if not as forceful. Like Fiorina, needs to get much more demonstrative.

Prediction: Up a few points, likely taking a share from Christie, Bush and Walker.

Walker: Bush lite. Excellent pun if I do say so myself. He won’t loose followers based on last night, but he certainly didn’t gain any. Like most of the marginal performances, If other candidates pull big percentages in the polls, Walker stands to come out looking very bad in the polls. Damn shame. He is an excellent governor.

Graham: This man is not in to become president. He is in to make a case for war. So be it. But taking an abortion question and turning into an ISIS issue was so ham-handed that it hurt his primary mission.

Prediction: He will remain near the bottom.

Perry:  Strong in the Happy Hour Debate. He’ll take some of the few points Pataki, Graham and Gilmore might share. No headlines from his performance.

Prediction: Flatline.

Santorum: Howdy dootie.

Prediction: Flatline.

Remaining candidates and Graham need to go home.

Things to remember:  The polls are a bit skewed right now. As Hume pointed out on Wednesday, the bigs are polling likely primary voters. Being at 25 points, especially this early, doesn’t translate into big numbers among all likely voters. And there is such a thing as peaking too early. If Trump doesn’t bring a real game soon he’ll slide to the middle of the pack.

My new book is available here.

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