I received two emails from Simpson students wanting my perspective on last week’s GOP debate to use in an assignment. I was surprised that they asked, but with my newly minted badge as Vice Chair of our College Republicans group, I shouldn’t have been.
So I thought I should just get my thoughts out there. My disclaimer is that I am an adolescent, white, female, politically active student at a small private college who was wearing a Jeb Bush 2016 shirt during the debate. With all those in mind, lets begin:
The happy hour debate was largely a waste. Lindsey Graham was the only candidate that I felt belonged in a debate, but wasn’t yet ready for the prime time debate. I had never paid much attention to Jindal, but I am now purposefully avoiding his campaign. In the library of the president remembered for his optimism, the take away from Jindal’s speech was that he feels America is its worst era. A more successful way to go about it would have instead been to taut solutions to problems (other than just the messy immigration topic) and to use improvement to greatness as the vocabulary rather than his rhetoric that suggested we work on slowing down mediocrity.
Like most who watched it, my friends and I thought the prime time debate was way too long. We expected it to be two hours long. When it passed that, we thought it would surely end at the two-and-a-half hour mark.
In my opinion, no one really failed on the stage. All were much improved from the last debate and knew how to interact with each other, taking notable awkwardness and replacing it with substantial poise. Because of that, there were no real losers. Rather, there were candidates that fell off the all-important radar of the electorate. There were times when those on the fringes of the stage would chime in and someone on the couch with me would make the inevitable “I forgot they were there” comment. That group, for us, included Walker, Cruz, Paul, Kasich, Carson, and Huckabee.
So that leaves the others.
Trump was a lot more casual. It was a response to being called out for supporting himself and not the party, so his high fives with Carson and Bush were a little showy. That said, I was happy with his performance. Toning it down made him appear a lot more electable, even if it was obviously an act.
Carson was quiet and largely forgettable, like I said before. He said in the spin room afterward that he wasn’t happy with the debate set-up, though I think it may have been more function of not being sure where to go and when to chime in. Similar to when policy discussions came up and Trump remained quiet (for over THIRTY FIVE MINUTES!).
Bush scored. He was aggressive enough to shrug off his criticisms of being too soft and low energy. You could see in his grin after he did something aggressive that he knew he did what his advisors told him, and it worked. I thought he finished in a strong 2nd place, behind Fiorina. Most pundits have him pegged as “most improved”, which I completely agree with. I loved his answer to the marijuana question/accusation (see title for joke). He reflects what young conservatives (ie, my Republican friends and I) want to see in the future of the party- pro-same sex marriage and pro- marijuana legalization/decriminalization. Bush does this by inaction. While his conservative rivals consistently say they’ll fight to change the tide, he is not saying he would fight what is already happening, which is good enough for me.
Carly Fiorina was expected to do well and fulfilled the expectations. Her knack for making off the cuff answers sound practiced, while also delivering measured “zingers”, is bringing her plenty of success. I’d like to see more policy from her, but it’s hard to say no when she’s done so well. My personal worry is that I don’t know if she could walk into negotiations with the Russians, the Iranians, or the Saudis and be respected. I would love to see her in Congress, but I still get cold feet when I think about voting for her in the presidency.
Rubio seemed flustered. He tends to look frustrated and nervous instead of comfortable and natural. I didn’t notice it with any other candidates, but I definitely noticed that as the debate wore on, Rubio started to sweat and look restless at his podium. I don’t blame him for being a little fidgity, but it looks bad when he’s the only one.
Christie was fighting for speaking time, which was pretty clearly a function of not wanting to stand on the edge of the stage anymore. It looked a little desperate, but it worked. Speaking time is speaking time, I suppose. Chris Christie is one candidate deserves more attention than he is getting. A completely legitimate, smart, qualified candidate that is lost in the cacophony of Trump, Carson, and Fiorina in the top three slots with half of the electorate on their collective sides.
That’s the one downside of this campaign cycle. There are so many qualified (and unqualified) candidates. I tend to side with the logic that being an “insider” just means they have experience and will be at least somewhat prepared for what the presidency brings. I also tend to think governors are especially qualified because they’ve already done a small scale executive office.
With Walker dropping out of the race today it’s so hard to qualify the balance between polls at this point having no influence (Herman Cain was first in the polls last cycle at this point) and having a ton of influence (two totally qualified governors being forced out of the race so early).
The road to the presidency is full of shaking hands and kissing babies, speed bumps, and crowded debates. Only one thing is certain: that nothing is inevitable until it happens.