The Sixth GOP Debate must have been easy for the moderators, since most of it was candidates either fighting each other or fighting existential crises. Let’s take a look:
Trump vs. Cruz: The Main Event
You just can’t keep a good birther down. Trump’s been hitting Cruz hard on whether or not he’s a natural-born citizen – an argument which probably doesn’t hold water but which Trump continues to raise, both because Cruz’s American mother was in Canada when she gave birth to him and because Cruz has become a threat to him in Iowa. Cruz was ready for this line of questioning as soon as the moderators raised it, and he came out, guns blazing. As with many of his debate answers, the bullets didn’t always make sense, but he sounded very confident shooting them. There was a back-and-forth between the two, and while Trump didn’t exactly back down, Cruz appeared to get the better of him.
If you want to know how to completely and totally screw up an attack, watch Cruz attack Trump for his “New York values,” implying that New Yorkers (specifically Manhattanites) are too liberal to be true Republicans. After coming out of nowhere with some Manhattan conservative name-dropping, Trump did the most predictable thing ever: He invoked 9/11. The Giuliani Gambit paid off, as did one of the conservative moderators taking offense, since she was also from New York.
Cruz vs. Rubio: The Anti-Senator Takes on the Random Rubio Generator
If Rubio is known for constantly changing his views on his own bills in the Senate, then Cruz is known for doing everything he can to stop the Senate from passing bills at all. The two senators squared off on the debate stage in a classic battle of overpreparation (Rubio) versus overconfidence (Cruz). “New York values” may have been a costly turnover for Cruz, but it was actually his second of the debate. His first was accidentally bailing out Rubio. When asked a question about illegal immigration, Rubio’s answer was basically, “Something something something ISIS.” Cruz pounced, and his counterattack about Rubio trying to deflect attention from his inconsistent immigration stance at first seemed to work. Unfortunately for Cruz, Rubio’s counter-counterattack about inconsistencies in Cruz’s own record worked even better. To make matters worse, Cruz’s counter-counter-counterattack trying to link Rubio to people Cruz didn’t like completely fizzled. As with the New York Trump moment, Cruz proved to be a one-counterattack pony. The other major fight between Cruz and Rubio started with an entitlement question, then devolved into technical tax talk. In this case, Christie took advantage of the situation and interrupted both of them, getting off a zinger about senators arguing forever about things that have nothing to do with what they’re supposed to be talking about.
Winner: Tie (Rubio and Christie)
Rubio vs. Christie: The Battle of New Hampshire, in South Carolina, right before Iowa
Whether because he’s been losing ground to Christie and others in New Hampshire or for some other reason, Rubio was less at ease in this debate than in past ones. Most of his good moments came against Cruz, but outside of those, he seemed too scripted. He did show some adeptness at subject-changing, but Christie beat him on zingers and getting away with saying blatantly untrue things. Rubio may have gotten the better of Cruz, but Christie got the better of Rubio.
Bush vs. Trump: The Formerly Inevitable vs. The Future Unelectable
This brief battle brought back memories of the first few debates, before Bush’s poll numbers were in the hundredths and before Trump had gotten used to debates. Bush made more sense, came off as more presidential, and made you wonder why he hadn’t done better in prior debates. Trump was Trump. For every Muslim ban Trump defended, Bush pointed out why it would be counterproductive, and for each tariff argument Trump presented, Bush pointed out why it would be counterproductive. By the way, if you ever play Trump in poker, he raises if he’s holding a Full Muslim Ban or better, but if all he’s got is a Pair of Tariffs, you can probably scare him away from the pot.
Kasich vs. Kasich
If there’s one candidate who’s been consistent throughout the debates, it’s Kasich. A lot of what he says makes sense, but his demeanor, responses, and interruptions never seem to change. This is why you don’t ever see that he won a debate, but you don’t ever see that he lost one, either. In this debate, Kasich didn’t disappoint, but he didn’t not disappoint, either. Honestly, the moderators could probably just get a Kasich 5000 and push the appropriate buttons when he’s asked questions. Of course, the Kasich 5000 also comes with an argument interrupt button, so you never miss one of those patented, this-is-why-people-don’t-like-politicians responses to when two other candidates are going at it.
Winner: Makers of the Kasich 5000
Ben Carson vs. Naptime
I hope no one was planning on using Carson as a sleep aid last night, because shockingly, he was a 2/10 on the excitometer – That’s 5 points higher than he’s ever been before! Carson delivered a joke or two that were somehow funny, and his answers were so unrealistic, they came off more as action movie plots than policy proposals. Still, this is Carson we’re talking about. For the most part, he stuck to his way-too-calm demeanor, although he occasionally interrupted the moderators to address how his ideas compared to whoever had just spoken. It came off like he was trying to remind everyone he was still there, which is never a good thing to have to do in a presidential debate. Some of those policy proposals sounded pretty awesome, though…
Winner: Ben “Yipee-Ki-Yay-Motherpresident” Carson
Moderators vs. Actual Moderating
If you thought the previous debate moderators were bad about letting candidates go way over time, way off topic, or after each other for the lamest of reasons, I’d like you to meet Neil Cavuto and Maria Bartilomo. Something obviously happened between the last debate they moderated and this one, because they interacted with the candidates only slightly less than people watching at home. And, who could blame them? When Donfirmation Bias, Ted “Reigning Subject Changing Champion” Cruz, Marco “Round and Round And Round He Goes – What Are His Positions? Nobody Knows” Rubio, Chris “Exaggeration Schmexaggeration” Christie, and Jeb “Don’t Forget About Me” Bush are at each other’s throats, it’s just too entertaining to pass up. Unless they actually injure each other, in which case Carson might have to get more involved. And, really, who wants that?
Undercard Debate: Mike “My Predictable Jokes Are Hilarious” Huckabee, Carly “Did I Mention That I Come From the Private Sector?” Fiorina, and Rick “Please Forget That I Said to Look My Name Up on Google” Santorum vs. Barack “Antichrist” Obama and Hillary “Antichrister” Clinton
Considering this was the debate for candidates barely registering in polls, it was surprising to see how much the candidates talked about how confident they were they could beat Hillary Clinton. Although, I’m pretty sure Mike Huckabee was just trying out material for a new show, since he bafflingly left his recent TV show to run for president again. Fiorina may as well have put on a recording of her previous debate talking points (Did she?), and Santorum made a big deal about how he’d defeated people the Clintons had backed and about how religious he was.
Winner: Me, for missing part of it
Rand Paul vs. Not Pouting
The main debate criteria was just narrow enough that it kept Paul out (If a poll carried out before the deadline but released just after it had been included, he would have made it on), and he probably should have been let on the main stage. But, since he wasn’t, he refused to take part in the undercard debate. This was a weird choice, since A) Paul loves to talk, B) Fiorina performed well enough in the undercard to make it to the main debate a few times, and C) Christie actually fell into the undercard and performed well enough to make it BACK to the main debate. There was literally nothing for Paul to gain by skipping the undercard debate. Unless you count Santorum’s joke about using some of Paul’s time when his answer went over…