Republican presidential candidate, New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie speaks during the Fox Business Network Republican presidential debate at the North Charleston Coliseum, Thursday, Jan. 14, 2016, in North Charleston, S.C. (AP Photo/Rainier Ehrhardt)
Tonight’s debate took place in the backdrop of the Cruz victory in Iowa and three days before the New Hampshire primary. No candidate has won the nomination without winning either of the two states and no candidate has lost the nomination after winning both of them. Given Cruz’s win in Iowa and strong play for South Carolina, tonight was very much an away game for him. On the other hand, this is shaping up to be a must win for Rubio because, with Trump ahead in the polls, the Florida Senator is looking at the prospect of being shut out from the first two states and being an underdog in the even more conservative state of South Carolina.
With this context in mind, Cruz came away with a good night, Rubio had a poor showing given expectations for him, and Trump’s performance was above average – nothing disastrous occurred to deny him the likely win in New Hampshire. All the candidates seemed to make a concerted effort to avoid a direct confrontation with Trump. You can’t beat the front-runner in the state without drawing blood.
But the real story of the night was Christie completely exposing Rubio’s schtick. Even though Christie has major substance issues (continues this vapid argument about being a generic governor over a senator), he undermined the majority of Rubio’s appeal – his personal charm. Whenever Rubio speaks he always sounds electric and connects well with people. However, anyone who follows him closely will notice he tends to perform like a wind-up toy who rehearses coined lines very well. Christie demonstrated this very effectively and Rubio self-immolated by proving Christie’s point when Rubio repeated the same line four times. Later on in the debate, Rubio parachuted in with a non-sequitur line after he faced tough questions from other candidates. It was so bad even his cheerleaders in the conservative media aren’t defending his performance.
Here are some other random observations:
- According to ABC News, immigration was the most discussed issue on social media. One would think the media would learn the lesson on this issue. Unfortunately, it did not get enough air time in the debate, but most of it was consumed by Ted Cruz, which would naturally benefit him. Generally speaking, Cruz had the most substance on an array of issues and had a very strong closing statement illustrating in dramatic fashion how he is the only one, in his estimation, who has truly stood up to the special interests.
- To this day, Rubio will not denounce the Gang of Eight amnesty bill and apologize for it. Instead, he uses an innocent bystander approach for trying to make an effort and then pivots to a commentator approach predicting that the bill wouldn’t pass so we need something that will actually pass. Christie effectively called him out for it.
- Trump kept saying that Obama is incompetent, not devious. This cuts to the core of the concern many of us have with Trump – that he feels we just need an effective and competent deal maker. No, we need a principled leader who will destroy the fundamental transformation with the same rigor that Obama has enacted the fundamental transformation. Obama is devastatingly principled and we need someone who is equally principled to undo his malfeasance, not his incompetence.
- Trump was finally dealt a blow on eminent domain and healthcare thanks to good questions from the moderators. Jeb Bush deserves credit for exposing Trump’s false choice and lack of distinction between public-use eminent domain and private use confiscation. However, it was disappointing that no candidate exposed Trump’s false argument about people dying in the streets waiting for medical care. Paging Medicaid and its $350 billion a year cost.
- Cruz had a bizarre moment when he said he would not bring back waterboarding. This is the only area of national security where he sounded weak. I personally disagree and think we absolutely need to bring back waterboarding. Trump likely connected with voters when he answered “I’d do a hell of a lot worse.” Trump also performed well when vouching for the police and not giving into the false narrative about the cops being ubiquitously bad actors. Support for law and order is at the core of Trump’s resonance with the base.
- Trump keeps saying we need to make deals just like Reagan did with Tip O’Neill. What he needs to understand is that Nancy Pelosi, Harry Reid, and the entire modern Democrat Party are nothing like O’Neill. You can’t work with them and he needs to learn that.
- The responses from the GOP candidates on women in combat were an utter disgrace. Not only did Bush, Christie, and Rubio support women in all combat roles, even the absurdity of female Navy Seals, but they voiced support for a coerced draft. This, after the Marines conducted a painstaking study showing it harms their combat readiness. Nobody stood up for the Marines against Obama and the social engineering. It’s a real shame none of the other candidates chimed in. Is this what it means to be a conservative in 2016? A country that compels women into military service is a country not worth fighting for. And no, Israel does not compel military service because women can fulfill their obligation through other forms of national service and we don’t have the same man-power and security problems they have.
The mainstream media narrative coming out of Iowa was one of a Rubio victory and it started to become a self-fulfilling prophecy. Tonight’s debate appears to have reset the contours of the race to what it was before the post-Iowa media spin: a two man race between Trump and Cruz in South Carolina and the SEC states. Christie and Bush will likely get a bump out of this but they still don’t have enough support outside of New Hampshire to gain any traction, at least not enough to open a serious path to the nomination. However, they have just enough momentum to clog up the establishment lane and stymie Rubio from winning New Hampshire and could possibly drag down his second place finish. Given the strong support for Cruz and Trump in the coming states, it will be difficult for Rubio to perform better than he is now after Cruz and Trump split the first two states.
Cruz can now rest easy knowing he already won one of the first two states and can start cementing his ground game in South Carolina. A rigorous debate between Trump and Cruz will be unavoidable headed into the next few weeks.
Author: Daniel Horowitz
Daniel Horowitz is a senior editor of Conservative Review. Follow him on Twitter @RMConservative.