Top 6 observations from last night’s critical GOP debate

· December 16, 2015  
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Republican presidential candidate, businessman Donald Trump, left, speaks as Republican presidential candidate, Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, speaks during the Fox Business Network Republican presidential debate at the North Charleston Coliseum, Thursday, Jan. 14, 2016, in North Charleston, S.C. Rainier Ehrhardt | AP Photo
  1. The Winner of the Debate: the GOP electorate.  For the first time ever, the voters saw a substantive Republican debate on the most critical issues of our time.  Despite the liberal bent of some of the questions (and don’t even get me started on those Facebook questions), we now see two paths between candidates like Cruz and Rubio on mass surveillance, immigration, and foreign policy.  Rand Paul and Donald Trump agreed with Cruz on immigration and foreign policy. Rand obviously agrees with Cruz on mass surveillance.  This is the first time we’ve seen a long-form and foundational discussion on the future of the GOP on sovereignty and security.2. Ok, so who is the real winner? This debate cements Cruz’s continuing surge in both Iowa and on the national stage. Trump, however, remains on top across the board.  Trump hasn’t done particularly well in any of these recent debates, but he always has enough “endearing” moments that play to the original reasons he is resonating with the electorate.  Cruz obviously had a solid night on leadership, knowledge, and tenor.  He devastated Rubio on foreign policy and immigration.  Many inside-beltway “conservatives” will think otherwise, but Cruz clearly won those exchanges in the minds of the GOP voters.  Cruz probably spoke too long and cut in one too many times, but that is largely a footnote.3. Who is the loser?  You won’t see this anywhere on the insider “conservative” web, but Rubio was the clear loser.  It’s not that he performed particularly poorly; he never does.  It’s that he badly needed to draw blood on Cruz and open up a pathway in the early primary states in which he is currently stymied.  Instead, he got crushed by Cruz.  Moreover, Rand Paul drew a lot of blood from Rubio and had nothing to lose in doing so.  At the same time, Christie continues to turn in strong performances and, as such, will continue to divide Rubio’s establishment support in Iowa and New Hampshire.  Rubio will likely continue to poll decently on a national level, but has no path in the early states to create any momentum.

    4. Rand Paul reminded conservatives why they originally liked him.  With very little to lose, Rand was on message when it came to immigration, foreign policy, and fighting the real Islamic terror threat without infringing upon the liberties of American citizens.  Unfortunately for him, it’s too late.  Since he lacks any real campaign apparatus and campaign cash, it is unlikely Paul will be able to capitalize on this performance.  Most significantly, it will have the effect of hurting Rubio and helping Cruz.

    5. Trump got the message: Trump clearly learned the lesson that he will continue to rise by focusing on immigration and hitting other candidates from the right; not hitting Cruz from the left.

    6. It’s immigration stupid: You will see a direct correlation between the rise and fall of the candidates in their polling and the prominence of immigration in their responses.  The arc of this race will continue to result in a Trump-Cruz race for the same reason it currently stands as such.  Both candidates speak to where the base is on the most important issue of our time and they understand, as Cruz said, that national security starts with border security.  For the first time in the campaign, the moderators and the candidates (Cruz and Paul) trapped Marco on the Gang of 8 bill and demonstrated how he still supports the goals of the bill.  Being on the wrong side of immigration is toxic, and the political elites within the party and “conservative media” will be forced to learn that.  At the same time, Cruz deftly handled the question on Trump’s Muslim immigration ban by parlaying into his plan, which speaks over the false choice between an absolute ban and ignoring the mass migration from the Middle East as the central issue pertaining to our national security.


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Author: Daniel Horowitz

Daniel Horowitz is a senior editor of Conservative Review. Follow him on Twitter @RMConservative.