A special, post-debates column from Clark Judge:
Scoring the Fox Thursday Night Debate
by Clark S. Judge: managing director, White House Writers Group, Inc.; chairman, Pacific Research Institute
ESPN has its Friday Night Fight. Last night Fox had the Thursday Night GOP Debate. Here is how I scored the contenders.
Overall: Most watchable debate I have ever seen. Fast paced. Sharp language. Minimum of meaningless bombast, even from the bombastic media mirage at center stage.
Trump: He went into the debate as the voice of everyman — ready to sweep away all that we the people hate about Washington. But on stage he as much as bragged of buying politicians, making them debase themselves for his money. The one politician he called out by name was Hillary Clinton, who, get this, he compelled to attend his wedding. His message of the evening came down to I’m corrupt in a corrupt world… and proud of it. Trump was the evening’s biggest loser.
Jeb Bush: Each of the governors in the race has a remarkable record in office, but Bush more than anyone. Yes, he has the dynasty problem. Is it really good for our political system to have three presidents in two decades from the same nuclear family? But his record of, for example, calling five back-to-back special sessions of his legislature until they passed entitlement reform –that record is incredibly compelling, particularly when matched against the needs of the moment. The candidate himself still needs work. In most presidential debates of yesteryear, Bush would have come out the clear winner. But last night he sounded like yesteryear’s candidate — not as to the point as others, using more phrases that sounded like those we have heard before. He wasn’t a big loser. He wasn’t a big winner either.
Scott Walker. On the surface, Walker was not a big winner or loser either, except, perhaps, for his rejection of a life of the mother exception to abortion. We will see how that plays out. The answer struck me as, at the very least, unreflective. The legal rationale for restricting abortion comes down to standards of justice when there is a taking of life. Planned Parenthood has just given the country an unplanned lesson of the consequences of sweeping those standards aside. But it is another matter when one of two lives will be lost one and one saved, a distinction that seemed lost, or at least unaddressed, in Walker’s response. The Wisconsin governor needed to keep the focus on the story of his tenure in office and its application to the nation. He ended the debate with his message of achievement not the prime focus, and he failed effectively to address its application to the country’s challenges.
Ben Carson: Smart. Sweet. Charming. I imagine he left every viewer feeling at ease – not a bad quality for a president in times such as these. He handled policy questions effortlessly. I could see Carson picking up steam after last night.
Mike Huckabee: The most quotable man of the evening, including his sly closing zinger indirectly directed at Trump: “We’ve been talking about a person high in the polls but doesn’t know how to lead, a person who has scandals. I’m talking about Hillary Clinton.” Huckabee’s defense of the fair tax (a consumption-based substitute for the income tax) as sweeping up the earnings of such “freeloaders off the system” including pimps and prostitutes struck me as weird. Still, not a bad night for Huck.
Ted Cruz: Focused. Compelling. A bit harsh in his manner. A record of standing up against bad thing but not, in contrast to the governors, of getting things done. But if Trump collapses, he should be one of the winners.
Marco Rubio: Also focused and compelling. Unlike Cruz, no harshness. All hope. He struck me as a touch callow. Another winner.
Rand Paul versus Chris Christie: Their exchange over pursuit of terrorists within our borders was the evening’s great dust up. While Paul had a point, Christie (with nearly a decade of going after terrorists in a state that is reputed to have become a staging area for Islamist bad actors) won the exchange. Paul came out of the evening damaged, Christie enhanced.
John Kasich: A major winner. It helped that he was on home turf. But he presented his story – as House Ways and Means chairman as well as Ohio governor – in a highly compelling and focused manner, making it highly relevant to the nation’s immediate challenges. He was also the only one on the stage to display foreign policy credentials. As others drop, he moves up.
Biggest winner (or winners) of the evening: Carly Fiorina and maybe Rick Perry. Fiorina’s performance in that early evening debate that no one but commentators watched had all the commentators talking. Then, during the big show, Fox played a clip of her and Perry in an exchange that had both of them looking good. It will be no surprise if both of them end up in the big show next time. Certainly Fiorina.