Second Republican Debate: My Analysis

2nd GOP Debate Undercard ABC

Left-Right: George Pataki, RIck Santorum, Bobby Jindal, Lindsay Graham. (Source: ABC News)

The Under-Card

George Pataki, Rick Santorum, Bobby Jindal, and Lindsay Graham faced off. As far as debates go, this was a pretty good one. They all got a chance to speak and make their positions clear.

If George Pataki was trying to get make it out of the second group, he failed miserably. He’s actually not a bad candidate, but he was completely unmemorable. His introductory speech was all about President Reagan, for example, with a bit tacked on the end saying he had the same principles.

Bobby Jindal in my opinion is completely irrational and unreasonable. He thinks shutting the government down in order to de-fund Planned Parenthood is a good strategy for example. There are several other candidates who feel the same, including Rick Santorum and Ted Cruz. They’re what’s wrong with US politics today – their complete failure to compromise, their inability to work together to make good legislation for their country, and their belief that compromise is a sign of weakness.

Rick Santorum has reasonable policies when it comes to manufacturing and he’s almost the only candidate who recognizes that an increase in the minimum wage is a good thing. However, he’s another whose extreme religiosity affects his judgment – he compared Kim Davis favourably to Martin Luther King and thinks the US Supreme Court ruling on same-sex marriage can be ignored because God’s law is more important.

Lindsay Graham is a good candidate except in one area, and that’s both the area he focuses on as his point of difference and the area that disqualifies him from deserving a vote in my opinion. His primary objective is to put boots on the ground in Iraq and Syria and he thinks 20,000 is enough of them to defeat DAESH. More war and killing will not solve the problem, and even if it would, 20,000 troops is a serious under-estimate of DAESH’s capabilities. He also thinks bombing Iranian nuclear sites is a policy that should be seriously considered. To be fair, the other three agreed on this one.

All in all, we’re lucky none of these men will be president.

The Main Event

I don’t know if I’m a good person to judge a GOP debate. The things I think are positives tend to be considered negatives by Republican voters and vice versa. Several of them did what annoys me about every GOP debate, and that’s invoke the name of Ronald Reagan. Apparently mentioning Reagan’s name tests quite well in focus groups though.

The debate was three hours long. Now I’m a weirdo who enjoys political debates, but I thought this was too long. Having eleven people on stage meant that if the debate was much shorter, it would have been a waste of time, but 2.5 hours would’ve been enough. The questions were designed to pit the candidates against one another, and they did that well, but it also meant it got a bit messy at times. Ben Carson whined about the format afterwards, which I think was because he recognized it wasn’t the best format for him to shine. None of the candidates actually did badly, but some had more successful nights than others.

2nd GOP Debate Main Event

Left to right: Rand Paul, Mike Huckabee, Marco Rubio, Ben Carson, Donald Trump, Jeb Bush, Scott Walker, Carly Fiorina, John Kasich, Chris Christie. (Source: CNN)

Ranked seventh entering the debate, Carly Fiorina was outstanding, and I’d expect to see her rise three or four places at least in the polls on her performance. She also received the greatest applause, including for her final statement, which is the best time to get the notice. In that she talked of the examples of Lady Liberty and Lady Justice. She was one of the few that actually provided specifics (even down to the number of ships, planes and troops required), ideas, and solutions to problems, and not just talking points. She also provided the best answer on who should be on the $10 bill – that it shouldn’t be changed and the whole episode is just pandering. Whether you agree with her or not, it was a lot better than a whole lot of nausea-inducing talk about daughters, mothers, wives, and even Mother Teresa.

For the first time, we got to see Trump back down too. Fiorina was given the opportunity to comment on Trump’s remarks about her looks. All she said was, partly referring to something Trump had said to Bush, that all women “… had heard exactly what he said.” She got enormous applause for that. Trump came back saying she had a beautiful face and was a beautiful person. There was silence, apart from a few groans. He looked like he was going to say more, but had the savvy to recognize the audience wasn’t with him. I don’t think he gets why though. So here it is: Mr Trump, the problem isn’t that you spoke negatively of Ms Fiorina’s appearance, it’s that you spoke of it at all. Female candidates want to be judged on the same criteria as male candidates – their ability to do the job. Physical attractiveness is irrelevant.

Just about everything that came out of the mouth of Ted Cruz was a lie or at least an exaggeration, and when it wasn’t he was sucking up to Trump. (Jeb Bush managed to call him out on one of his lies, and another was caught in CNN’s fact check after the debate.) His inability to work with others or to compromise means he does not have the qualities to be a leader in my opinion. He probably appealed to his audience, but I expect he has lost a place or two in the polls. The less said about him the better.

Where US gets Oil

This graph is from 2012, but the figures have been roughly the same since the 1980s.

Ben Carson made a fool of himself for his lack of knowledge, especially on foreign policy, despite being one of the most intelligent people on the dais. He said he believes DAESH is an existential threat to the United States. He said that he “suggested to President Bush” that he not go to war in Afghanistan, and Bush should have been Kennedy-esque about the problem. What did he mean by that? His theory is that if Bush had declared that within five years the US would be independent of foreign oil, “the Arab states would have been so concerned about that, they would have turned over Osama bin Laden and anybody else you wanted … within two weeks.” Carson is clearly unaware where the US actually gets its oil from. Many of his foreign policies come from uniformed positions. Another example is his idea that all foreign aid should be cut because the US can’t afford it. Carson considers his intelligence will always be the answer, but as Huckabee pointed out, someone without government experience, “doesn’t know what he doesn’t know,” and contrasted Carson negatively with Obama. He also described his tax policy: a 10% flat tax based on the Biblical tithe. He thinks that’s fairer, displayed a lack of understanding when it comes to economics too. As I said above, this format didn’t help Carson. He may retain second position, but if he does, it’ll be by the skin of his teeth.

Marco Rubio on the other hand, proved that he has an excellent understanding of foreign affairs, and did well in his answers, although he has the Republican tendency to hawkishness. He made it clear that he opposes all attempts to put policies in place to mitigate climate change and considers that these oppress economic activity, which is a stance popular with the wider Republican Party. I think he’ll be a genuine contender in 2020, and by then I think the business community will have recognized the need to take account of climate change in their policies, as the best ones already do, so he’s going to need to “evolve” there. He didn’t get much air-time, but he made good use of what he did have. His performance was solid

Donald Trump did not do as well. There were several attacks on him in the first hour from the other candidates which hit their mark. He was lucky that his bad moments were mostly early on. My initial assessment was that I had no doubt his poll results would finally drop, but it’s possible that the debate went on for so long that viewers may have forgotten how things looked at the beginning. Jeb Bush made the charge that Trump had given $1 million to his (Bush’s) campaign in the past in order to try and get casinos in Florida, which Bush wouldn’t give him. Trump, red-faced, denied this several times. A CNN fact check at the end of the debate confirmed Bush’s charge. His final statement included what I thought was one of the best goals of all the candidates – that at the end of his presidency we’d be living in a friendlier world. Whether he would be capable of doing that is another question. Trump is so far ahead, he’ll probably still be number one after this debate, but I expect his lead to be cut significantly. I think (hope?) we’re seeing the beginning of the end of Trump’s supremacy.

In the first debate, John Kasich had hometown advantage, which worked for him. He was fairly flat in this debate, and I suspect an analysis of the time candidates got to speak would see him near the bottom. He was thoroughly unmemorable and didn’t do himself justice. I’ve always considered him one of the better candidates, but I lost any respect I had for him when he said he’d like to put Mother Teresa on the $10 bill. That type of pandering is weak and won’t help him if he makes it the presidential election. He won’t have done his poll numbers any good last night.

2nd GOP Debate Trump Bush

Donald Trump and Jeb Bush share a moment. (Source: AP/Mark Terrill via

Jeb Bush had a good night overall, and did enough to not only stay in the top tier, but probably to move his numbers back into double figures. He looked strong and confident, and the point he made about Trump’s claims to effectively try and bribe him was a high point. He also ended well when he said he’d like his Secret Service code name to be “Eveready” and pointed out to Trump that was high energy. (That was when the picture to the left was taken.) It was Trump’s turn next – he chose “Humble.”

Thankfully, we didn’t have to listen to Mike Huckabee much. He threw a lot of red meat to his constituency, and nothing else. For example, when it came to outlining the main goals for his presidency, he included making abortion as much a part of history as slavery. His choice for who to put on the $10 bill was his wife. Really imaginative dude. His only new thing is his proposition of a flat tax, which he calls a fair tax, as he considers it fairer to the poor. He clearly has no understanding of even basic economics if he thinks a flat tax is fairer to the poor. He’ll keep his place in the top ten, but he’ll never make it to the top tier.

Chris Christie did well, and might finally get some support in the polls. He didn’t make any missteps and appeared strong and in control – qualities generally admired by Republicans. He offered more specifics than any other candidate except Fiorina. In what was assuredly a deliberate tactic, he made a point of expressing his conservative credentials with examples of tax increases blocked, his de-funding of Planned Parenthood, and opposition to the legalization of marijuana. Christie has been barely registering in the polls despite his popularity four years ago when he chose not to run. I expect his performance last night to give him a lift and make his place in the top ten secure.

Rand Paul, on the other hand, was a bit of an also ran. He got onto the stage in 11th position, and was attacked a couple of times by Trump because of that. Paul managed to get a jibe in about Trump’s suitability to run the country when his instinct was always to attacked people’s appearance in some way when he’s criticized. Trump responded by saying Paul shouldn’t attack him because he’d never made negative comments about Paul’s appearance, even though there was plenty to work with. Thus proving Paul’s point. Because none of the other candidates had a bad debate, it’s hard to see how Paul will make it into the top ten. His only chance really is for someone to make a big gaffe, or attrition.

Last and almost least, we have Scott Walker. He continues to be a one-trick pony, who managed to say little beyond the fact he won a recall election in a blue state. He’s popular in the Republican Party, but I’ve never been able to work out why. I think he’s a weak candidate and a weak person too for that matter. He’s currently ahead of Carly Fiorina in the polls, but I bet he won’t be in the next one.

The ghastly Ann Coulter was tweeting throughout the debate. For the first time ever I think, I actually agreed with one of her tweets:

2nd GOP Debate Coulter pandering

But with this one she got Republicans upset with her as well as Democrats:

2nd GOP Debate Coulter Jews

I haven’t watched anything on Fox News yet today, but she’ll have an excuse. Probably she’ll say it was part of her annoyance at pandering. I don’t like her at all, but her excuses will probably be true, just like those of Richard Dawkins. (Many find it had to believe that smart people with good writing skills can’t cope with Twitter, but there are several of them.)

The best tweet, which unfortunately got a lot less coverage, came from one of our very own readers. I’ll leave you with this:

2nd GOP Debate Tweet

22 Responses to “Second Republican Debate: My Analysis”

  1. Diane G. says:

    Thanks for the detailed & helpful recap, Heather, esp. as I avoided the debate itself. And LOL @ Dennis Mitton!!

  2. paxton marshall says:

    Excellent analysis Heather. I’d just like to point out two egregious lies. Jeb Bush claimed that his brother kept us safe, when 9/11 occurred on GW Bush’s watch and he had plenty of intelligence to have prevented it. To make matters worse, he invaded a country that had nothing to do with 9/11 at a cost of 5,000 Americans and over 100,000 Iraqis. To claim his brother kept us safe, should disqualify Jeb from any further consideration.

    Carly Fiorina’s claims about the gruesome procedures revealed in the clandestine videos of Planned Parenthood were also untrue. No such procedures were seen, and his was a blatant attempt to smear an organization that does much good for poor women.

    There were other lies and distortions of course and some of them are identified here:

    • I agree with you – this isn’t the first time Fiorina’s made misleading statements about Planned Parenthood, and that’s the reason why I stopped liking her after initially thinking she was OK. She also opposes same-sex marriage.

      And yeah, Bush’s statement about keeping the US safe – his invasion of Iraq is the reason Al-Qaeda and later DAESH are even in the region, and the reason for almost all the Islamist terrorism incidents since.

      • rickflick says:

        “I stopped liking her after initially thinking she was OK -”
        I think all the republican candidates hold basically the same position and utter many of the same lies. So, I’ve never liked any of them, ever.

        • I probably should stipulate that if I was a US citizen, I would never have voted for her, even if I thought she was wonderful and hadn’t revealed how conservative she was. The dangers of a Republican in the White House when there is likely at least one SCOTUS appointment coming up worries me.

          • Diane G. says:

            I’m beginning to fear that Fiorina’s the one we might really have to worry about! I was fine with the idea of a clown like Trump continuing to get all the attention because I can’t imagine a better gift to the Dems. But with Fiorina’s new stature, I could see her as a serious threat to the ultimate Democratic nominee. I can’t even imagine how a Clinton/Fiorina debate might go, but possibly disastrously for Democrats.

          • I think you could be right! Trump was no worry, but she’s a genuine threat I think. 🙁

  3. rose says:

    Leave a reply thats the problem i got nothing to say.Politics makes me want to puk ok enough said.

  4. Mark R. says:

    Thanks for the break down Heather. Good analysis.

    I will say that once people start looking deeper into Fiorina’s past, they’ll realize what a horrible leader she is. She attacks those who try to give her constructive criticism, is deeply disrespected by the business world, and since being fired from HP hasn’t held one lofty position in any company- no one will hire her. It will also be pointed out by any opponents (like Barbara Boxer did in their Senate contention) that she made others poor (laid off 30,000 people) and made herself rich- bought a million dollar yacht and gave herself 3 raises. She is rapacious. Plus her diatribe on PP is a fabricated lie. There is no citation to the video she claims is from PP for example. It comes from a fanatical anti-abortion organization…who knows where they got it.

    I still have a gut feel that Jeb will get the nod as he seems the least crazy with the most experience. People also like to vote for ex-governors. Even though Jeb’s track record in Florida isn’t anything to jump for joy about.

    Did you hear about Trump’s New Hampshire town hall where someone said Obama is not American, is a Muslim, and we have to do “something” to get the Muslims outta here. Trump’s response: yeah, we’ll be looking into all of that. His moral courage is entirely lacking for a job like the President.

    All in all, I’m pretty nauseated by the entire bunch of candidates. I liked your even hand at describing their positions, and you weren’t overly negative like I would have been. I think this is important for an objective analyses. I think being an atheist progressive living in the US makes me all the more subjective and emotional.

    Ultimately, the scariest reveal (though it wasn’t really a reveal) was the simple fact that the GOP really wants continued war in the middle east and a world of instability where unchecked climate change just stays the course to…who knows? They sure don’t seem to give a shit. *shiver*

    • I basically agree with you. My prediction about two months ago was Bush will win, and Fiorina will run as his vice-president. She will be his nod to the conservative wing. More of her past will come out now she’s a leading candidate, but I’m not sure it’ll make that much difference in the primary. It will in the presidential race thank goodness.

      It’s only about an hour since I heard about what Trump did with the Muslim/non-American question, and I heard about it on Fox. Most of them agree it’s pretty bad, although his supporters, as always, are making excuses for him. I strongly suspect the question was a plant, probably by the Clinton camp, and they better hope no-one finds out it was them. That doesn’t make Trump’s appalling response any better, but it’ll take away the moral high ground from the left, which Clinton has already made very shaky. As well as showing Trump doesn’t have the moral courage to be a leader, his answer had the implication that to be a Muslim is an insult, which few seem to to noticing.

      There’s also this ridiculous idea Trump is also now pushing (several others have been already of course) that Obama is waging a war on Christians. The majority of Christians, who are not bigots, or who are at least OK with same-sex marriages even if they don’t approve themselves, have no feeling that their religion is under siege. The only ones who do are those who want to force their religion on others, like the Kim Davis crowd who are supported by politicians like Huckabee, Cruz, and Walker.

      And yes, if the GOP gets back in, there will likely be war in the Middle East. Putin is there now and about to go at it. If he sticks to fighting DAESH combatants I could live with it (but not like it), but he won’t. He will attack all of Assad’s enemies, not just DAESH/Al-Qaeda/Al-Nusra/the Khorasan group etc. and there will be massive collateral damage besides. The problem of 4 million internally displaced Syrians could be solved by Putin bombing them.

      • Mary Sheumaker says:

        I really never thought of the questioner as a Clinton plant- I thought many of Trump’s supporters would be likely to hold fringe/irrational views.

        • Actually, since then I’ve seen different footage of the question and questioner, and I’m now less likely to think he was a plant. I now think he was probably for real. I never had any doubt that Trump’s supporters held some pretty irrational views though – I agree there too. There’s a poll out there somewhere that somewhere between 50% and 60% (can’t remember exactly) think Obama is Muslim.

  5. Mark R. says:

    Hmpf…I left a long comment, but it didn’t take. ?

    • I’ve been getting a lot of comments caught by the spam filter for reasons I can’t fathom. Even one of my own got caught and I had to release it! Anyway, your comment is there now – sorry about the delay – you made your comment at 3.51 am NZ time, and even once I’m awake, Saturday morning I’m rarely at my computer.

      • Mark R. says:

        I know it wasn’t you Heather, after posting I thought “did that sound too harsh?” Anyway, I thought it was because I wrote a profanity. I also noticed the time stamp and knew you were visiting the sandman. 🙂 Thanks again for your time and talk.

        • Cheers. 🙂 It’s probably the profanity that did it. The spam filter has gone extremely g-rated. I think what blocked mine was I wrote “same-sex marriage” and it stopped it because of the “sex.”

  6. Great recap Heather. I watched the laughfest for about an hour. I thought that within two minutes Trump owned the entire building. His comandeering eroded a bit but not much. I’m sure that Ben Carson is a fine man but I haven’t a clue what he’s doing running for president. I don’t think he does either. Walker, Cruz, and Huckabee just plain bother me. But hey – good entertainment. I don’t worry much. I’ve settled nicely into the philosophy that history is moved by unstoppable cultural forces and that at best presidents make nice chapter headings for authors. Events that occur today are the result of decades or centuries of brewing. My two bits!

    And thanks for adding my little tweet there. I had a good laugh over that one.

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