Before I grade the candidates, I need to grade my predictions. I give myself, perhaps generously, a D. It was perhaps hubristic to make predictions of this unpredictable race in the first place. I was clearly wrong on Fiorina attacking Trump and Trump attacking Carson. In fact, the only attacks were a Bush big swing and miss against Rubio’s Senate record (even if it is a valid point, Bush wound up looking petty, uncomfortable, and almost sheepish and embarrassed that he brought it up while Rubio deflected it in am impressive and statesmanlike fashion) and a seemingly coordinated fusillade of most of the candidates against the hapless CNBC crew. I was reasonably close to how Fiorina would start to fade, Rubio would acquit himself well, and Bush continuing to fail to love up to initial expectations. More specific observations on the night are as follows, ranked in order of who I thought performed well:
- If I had to declare a debate champion, it would be Chris Christie, who was impressive in his straight talk on the status of the funds for Social Security and Medicare, with strong language on how the government has robbed us of these funds and that the vault is full of IOUs, evoking imagery of Jim Carrey in Dumb and Dumber telling “Mr. Samsonite” that all the IOUs in his briefcase that him and Jeff Daniels wasted are as good as money. Christie and Huckabee sparred on how best to save entitlements and represented a range of views of whether the money is owed back to those that put the money in. I think this is an important debate to have, and I am glad it occurred last night. the discussion is worth the watch for those that missed the debate. http://www.huffingtonpost.com/entry/chris-christie-and-mike-huckabee-exchange-blows-on-social-security_55c418e8e4b0923c12bc65d0
- Ted Cruz had a strong performance, finally elevating himself to the performance worthy of the Ivy League debate champion and former Texas Attorney General. His performance was led by his ability to turn the evening into as much about the state of the media and journalism as much as about the policies. Of course, it never hurts to have a home field advantage cheering you on to accentuate the point. I can’t say that I am a fan of Cruz and his typical brusque way of delivering a message and his campaign that is as much about tearing apart his own team as much as debating policies, but I will admit that his performance was rather strong, including an ability to show a less serious side of himself (which I think was sorely needed) by making non-serious references to Colorado weed brownies (the debate was held in Boulder). http://www.realclearpolitics.com/video/2015/10/28/cruz_rips_press_at_cnbc_debate_this_debate_illustrates_why_we_can_not_trust_the_media.html
- Marco Rubio continues to appear Presidential and polished, which counts for a lot in the Presidential race these days. His defense of his Senate record made him look like a bigger person than Bush, who had a misfire trying to capitalize on this question. Rubio sounder sensible discussing tax reform as well. I would have ranked Rubio higher, and I will admit that he is my current preferred candidate, but I can’t help but feel that the revelation that he had to sell a house quickly at a loss in face of foreclosure and his inability to discuss this earnestly may harm him in the long run. More likely though, I am betting he will be able to weave this into a narrative of how he has faced hardships just like all other Americans and parlay that into a sense of trust that he is like a lot of Americans. I don’t know how this one will play out. My other more personal complaint about his debate performance was seeming pandering on the H1B visa program and indicating that companies must play by the rules and that they should wait 180 days to see if an American will take the job. The H1B visa is already severely restricted and it is aimed at the higher end of the skill scale. Trump had excellent points on this specific topic in that we should not be sending educated professionals out of the country that receive masters and PhDs at our best educational institutions. This is no doubt economically harmful, as these types of professionals tend to start companies and hire people. Rubio did have a great point on immigration reform needing to be oriented towards skills rather than familial ties. In addition, Rubio was the first to be able to call out Clinton’s blatant disregard for the truth while covering up the terrorist attack in Libya that killed four Americans. http://www.cnbc.com/2015/10/28/rubio-media-should-be-harder-on-hillary.html http://news.yahoo.com/video/bush-rubio-spar-over-rubios-010015582.html
- Donald Trump must be getting good advice that if he wants his base to grow, he has to fight off the urge to go overboard with bombastic tirades and childish attacks. Of course, this debate being focused more on economics and business rather than say, foreign policy, one might have expected him to do relatively well. In this event, Trump managed to appear cordial with those on stage while making a few sensible points. He still had some cringeworthy moments such as a ridiculous idea that Mexico will pay for a 1,000 mile wall and his typical nonsense about the U.S. losing to China and Mexico, but still, he seemed to have risen to the occasion of growing and maturing on stage.
- John Kasich is carving out a space as the sensible one on stage, and I think given the crowded field this as good of a strategy as he can take. He effectively staked out some middle ground on tax policy and entitlements that I think appeals to a good portion of the electorate. I think he wound up sounding a bit too moralizing and hectoring, which is only going to get one so far in a Primary race, however.
- Mike Huckabee always manages to seem at the very least likable, if not well past his time. His points on entitlements, while I don’t agree with them and take more of the Christie stance to the issue, I think are important ones to be made.
- I am not quite sure what to make of Dr. Carson’s performance. I don’t think he will harm himself much with his typical calm and thoughtful demeanor, but he did not exactly launch it into high gear either. A physician getting trapped into a seemingly fraudulent supplement company just seems rather odd, and with a debate focused on tax policy for much of the night I think this should have been his opportunity to come with a mastery of policy facts and how he would pull off his flat tax, what the rates would be, and how he would trim the spending specifically (targeting the old bogeyman of government waste is the easy way out. We all know it is there, but those of us who have worked in government also know how difficult it is to pull off without specific departments being targeted)
- Carly Fiorina has peaked I am afraid. She is sharp and impressive on stage, but I don’t believe she did much to move the ball forward. Without playing foil to Donald Trump and with the ongoing debate on whether her tenure at HP was an effective one, I am afraid she is topped out
- This should have been Jeb Bush’s night. This debate was focused on economics and finance. If anything, I do believe that Bush has probably more thought into sensible policies and actually delivered as Governor more than anyone else on the stage. Unfortunately, he just can’t seem to find a way to deliver on that message on a stage. He just comes across as perfunctory, aloof, and uncomfortable, almost as if he is so scripted he can’t find a way to connect. Still, I imagine he will soldier on and at the very least, I hope some of his valuable contributions to tax and entitlement reform shape the debate.
- Rand Paul is Rand Paul. He makes a couple of decent points that I tend to align with philosophically on the need for liberty and small government, but can’t seem to find the powerful lines that need to be delivered without getting too much into the weeds of arcane congressional policy. I wonder how long he will keep at this.
The CNBC team was chaotic, managed the ebb and flow poorly, opened themselves up to charges of lack of professionalism, and seemed to get many of their questions from TMZ.