With the Iowa caucuses just a few days away, the final GOP Presidential debate before Hawkeye state voters cast their first-in-the-nation votes took place Thursday night in Des Moines. Sponsored by Fox News and Google, the debate was very different than any others because of the noticeable absence of GOP front-runner Donald Trump.
Here is a roundup of thoughts from various California politicos.
Arnold Steinberg, GOP Strategist and Pollster
Roger Ailes wants Megyn Kelly to be the Barbara Walters of Fox. But Kelly was more “Foxy” before her studious hair makeover. It remains painful to watch Jeb Bush again say “My father is the greatest man alive,” and “I adore my fantastic brother.” What a waste of $120 million. But not as painful, incidentally, as watching Sarah Palin’s recent endorsement of Donald Trump. Rubio may have gained a higher third place in the caucus vote. Huckabee and Santorum, by attending Trump’s event, show they are against Cruz. What matters is the effect of Trump’s gambit: does it assure him or Ted Cruz victory on Monday?
Katy Grimes, Senior Correspondent, The FlashReport
The Media has proven it is the biggest obstacle presidential candidates have to overcome in order to be viable. Fox News made this debate about Fox News. Again. And that’s evidence these aren’t debates. Fox moderators wouldn’t let the GOP candidates focus on the real opponent: Hillary Clinton and progressive liberalism. And sadly, it was a side-show without frontrunner Donald Trump. The question from the pro-Socialist Muslim Millennial, invited by Fox News to ask a question at a GOP debate, was odd and unprofessional.
James Lacy, Publisher, California Political Review
Cruz walked into a buzz saw tonight in Trump’s absence, not only taking repeated shots from all the other candidates but also attorney/moderator Megyn Kelly’s over-the-top “demonstrative evidence” film used in her “question” to Cruz on immigration. He seemed a bit off balance as a result and probably lost ground. Rubio again showed his great oratorical skills; Rand Paul gave an excellent answer on why Bill Clinton’s indiscretions were still relevant in 2016. I think they both gained ground.
Bruce Bialosky, Columnist and founder of the Republican Jewish Coalition of CA
Trump was the big loser of the debate by denying the voters of Iowa the opportunity to hear his ideas four days before the caucuses. Everyone else won by the debate becoming more substantive. Fox moderators did a great job. Rubio came out on top, despite tough questions on immigration. He shined above all others the remainder of the time. Jeb was at his best right before the first votes are counted. The person on stage who looked the worst was Cruz, who acted petulant at times.
Celeste Greig, Grassroots Conservative Leader, Publisher GreigReport
The GOP debate did not produce any winners this time. In fact it was kind of boring, with nothing new to learn from the candidates. Mr. Trump not being there added more to the insipid two hours of “what is this all about.”–staring with FOX moderator Megyn Kelly’s opening question to Sen. Ted Cruz about his opinion as to why Mr. Trump was not there (how stupid and redundant question). Sen. Cruz, Sen. Rubio, and Gov. Bush waffled on illegal immigration…Gov. Chris Christie was more persuasive about the duties, responses and results of a governor’s office. Perhaps the winner was Gov. Bush, for finally admitting that he IS “establishment.” Of course I reluctantly watched the debate, but was simultaneously watching another TV set broadcasting the Trump Rally at Drake University, honoring and raising more than $6,000,000 for our heroes, the veterans. So overall the WINNERS were the Wounded Warriors, the losers FOX News.
Joel Pollak, Editor-in-Chief, Breitbart California
The debate yielded little new information about the candidates. Given that Fox News seems to think moderators should attack the candidates, Trump did well to avoid the debate, and Cruz suffered for attending. The veterans’ event offered Trump a chance to look presidential. Cruz will have to mount a huge organizational effort to win.
Thomas Hudson, Chairman, California Republican Assembly
Ted Cruz really looked like the front-runner in the debate. I hope conservatives were paying attention. I think swapping Donald Trump for Rand Paul was a good trade that improved the quality of the debate, and allowed our conservative candidates to shine.
Kevin Spillane, Republican Political Consultant
This debate showed how much better off the Republican Party would be without Trump’s candidacy of destructiveness, distraction and drama. The debate was smart and substantive. Rubio won. Rand Paul and Jeb Bush had their best debates yet. It was only a so-so debate performance by Ted Cruz.
Hon. Diane Harkey, Member, California State Board of Equalization
I thought Rubio was on point and hit some home runs. Cruz did very well but seemed a bit thin-skinned at times. Loved Christie–he tells it like it is, and just like in My Fair Lady, we all survived very well without you. You can guess about that one.
Randall Jordan, Tea Party California Caucus Chairman
Trump’s absence was a “non-issue.” Cruz was ineffective as Bush has been all along. Rubio got hammered on immigration. Rand Paul’s line of “giving up liberty for security” was the best of the debate, which clearly was a Rand Paul night.
Shawn Steel, Republican National Committeeman from California
After about three minutes I stopped missing Trump. The night belonged to the Cubans–Cruz rightfully dominated from the first podium, commanding and comprehensive. He acts more human but there is a seething anger behind his smile. Rubio, when not stinking on other Republicans, soars above everyone when his bold Americana vision begins to sing. Jeb lamely defended his closest political soul mate, the notorious political hack Mike Murphy (infamous for ruining countless clients) and Murphy’s $100 million spent attacking Rubio. The governors are grasping for air, hoping to place a distant 2nd in New Hampshire–praying Cruz and Rubio disengage, so one of the governors can lead a consolidation against Trump. Everyone should love Ben Carson.
Sam Sorbo, Actress and Conservative Talk Show Host
Trump totally missed the ball–he should’ve shown up for the undercard debate. It would’ve shown his humility: no Megyn, and fewer candidates for him to debate! Plus, he still could’ve made his fundraiser!
Linda Ackerman, Republican National Committeewoman for California
I missed the entertainment Trump provided in past debates. The debate questions are becoming repetitive, as are some of the answers. Christie had some of the better answers and “zinger” statements. Cruz lost points for threatening to walk off the stage…sooo Trump-like.
Jon Fleischman is the Politics Editor of Breitbart California. A longtime participant, observer and chronicler of California politics, Jon is also the publisher at www.flashreport.org. His column appears weekly on this page. You can reach Jon at firstname.lastname@example.org.