New Hampshire Debate Awards

The Fifth Democratic Debate was Thursday, followed two days later by the Eighth Republican Debate. There were some standout performances, and I’d like to recognize them while the candidates are still in the race…

The Broken Record Award Goes to…
Marco Rubio
Rubio came into Saturday’s debate having finished strong in Iowa and rising in the polls. Clearly, that would not do, and he knew he somehow had to stop this pesky momentum. Luckily, Chris Christie was there to help. Rubio was a true talking point ATM, and when Christie pointed this out, Rubio responded by giving almost the exact same talking point he’d just been criticized for. It turns out there is a limit to how much mileage a GOP candidate can get out of vaguely bashing Obama, and Rubio hit that limit…over and over again.

Best Use of a Tangent
Bernie Sanders
Sanders has the income inequality thing down, but the way he talks about other topics brings him dangerously close to being a one-issue candidate. Clearly, Sanders has become more aware of this, as he’s added a sort of Democratic Socialist Democratic Segue to his rhetorical arsenal. Is that a question about foreign policy? Well, the real problem is the billionaires. Why talk about national security when we could talk about Social Security?

Most Innovative Fact Changer
Ted Cruz
Cruz is a bit of an expert when it comes to answering questions by not answering them, but this time he was forced to put his money where his misleading was. Right before the Iowa Caucuses, Ben Carson left Iowa, and there was brief speculation he’d left the race. Not one to let facts get in the way of a win, Cruz’s campaign said Carson had dropped out. When asked about this at the debate, Cruz went to his most reliable punching bag – the media – and said CNN had tweeted that Carson dropped out and didn’t correct themselves until hours later. What actually happened was that someone at CNN tweeted that it was strange Carson was leaving Iowa, then almost immediately followed it up with a tweet saying he was still in the race. Carson corrected Cruz, but since he doesn’t really criticize other candidates, he pretty much let it go. But, Cruz was no fact-shifting one hit wonder. Later in the debate, he was asked about his idea to carpet bomb ISIS, since ISIS members are mixed in with the local population, and carpet bombing would inevitably result in mass civilian casualties. Cruz really outdid himself when he explained that the carpet bombing would be TARGETED, so civilians would be safe. Because, when you’re Ted Cruz, the only limit to a word’s definition is your imagination…

Most Relieved
Donald Trump

Speaking of bombing, Trump did way worse than expected in Iowa. Luckily for him, there was a YUGE silver lining: Rubio did very well in Iowa. Since Rubio is running as an establishment-friendly candidate and three other establishment candidates (Kasich, Bush, and Christie) are relying on New Hampshire to give their campaigns a boost, everyone’s attention was focused on Rubio. Add to this that Cruz and Rubio already hate each other, and you have a particularly harsh episode of Inside the Actor’s Rubio. Everyone was too busy attacking Rubio to bother repeating their anti-Trump lines, and other than when he basically attacked the audience, Trump pretty much got off scot-free. Which is kind of weird, when you consider how far ahead of everyone he is in New Hampshire polling. Of course, as Iowa showed, polling – like Donald Trump – doesn’t always reflect reality…

Most Improved After a Precipitous Drop in the Polls
Jeb Bush

In the first few debates, the Charismometer ranked Bush somewhere between a park bench and an expired battery. But, as his poll numbers have fallen into the gutter’s gutter’s gutter, he’s really come alive. He’s answered questions like someone who’s actually had the experience of answering questions before, and he held his own against Trump and Rubio. It remains to be seen if this will translate into votes, but it’s interesting to see someone so far behind acting like a frontrunner…

Most Hampshiry
John Kasich

It’s not often you learn things about language in primary debates, so I’d like to thank John Kasich for teaching me about “New Hampshire.” Here I was, thinking it was just a regular proper noun, but he mentioned it so much, there’s no way that’s all it New Hampshired. I know he needs to win the state to keep going, but the debate was in New Hampshire, so he probably didn’t need to mention it by name so many times. Still, he’s been climbing in recent polls, so if he does well, I can’t wait to see how he South Carolinas and Nevadas the next few states.

Most Likely to Hate Rubio
Chris Christie

Move over, Cruz – There’s a new anti-Rubio sheriff in town. One of the main reasons Rubio did so poorly in the debate was because he was constantly being hammered by Christie. However, while Rubio vaguely attacked everything about Obama, Christie very specifically attacked everything about Rubio: his (thin) record in the Senate, his lack of specific policy proposals, his use of talking points to power his campaign. Still, not all the credit can go to Christie: Rubio literally responded to accusations of repeating talking points by…repeating talking points. At times, it was almost like Rubio was in a commercial and Christie was talking to the TV.

Most Likely to Turn a Touchdown into a Fumble
Hillary Clinton

I’m starting to wonder if there’s some confusion in the Clinton campaign. Do they know that learning from mistakes means not making them again, or do they think mistakes are like great schoolteachers, and you’re supposed to emulate them? In Thursday’s debate, Clinton had some pretty strong answers, but she also had some answers that took those answers out back and did terrible things to them. It’s like she thought she was Cam Newton and she was so awesome that mistakes didn’t apply to her, but since the debate was before the Superbowl, she didn’t foresee how that could be costly…

Most Likely to Make People Ask, “Is He Still Running?”
Ben Carson

Cruz’s campaign was pretty underhanded with the whole claiming Carson dropped out thing, but the fact they thought they could get away with it might say more about Carson than anything else. While candidates like Bush and Christie have changed their presentations to try and reverse falling poll numbers, Carson hasn’t really changed anything. He never goes on the attack, doesn’t seem to be interested in learning about foreign policy, and makes the same jokes about not getting called on he’s made in almost every debate. In this debate, he said the media has tried to knock him out of the running, but he’s done far more to knock himself out of the running than the media ever could.

Most Outsized Role in Choosing a Candidate
Tie: Iowa and New Hampshire

With a combined population of less than 1% of the country – most of which doesn’t caucus or vote in the nominating process – the defending champs will continue to dominate this category for years to come. Iowa kind of muddied the field a bit this year, so hopefully New Hampshire will whittle it down, and we won’t have so many candidates to choose from…

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