On Thursday evening, the 7 GOP candidates trailing in national polls met in Cleveland in the first-ever “undercard” political debate. The 7 candidates participating in the early event, prior to the main debate, each poll at just 2% or less in the crowded primary field.
Former Hewlett-Packard CEO Carly Fiorina clearly won the debate, likely earning herself a fresh look by Republican voters and likely a podium at the next Republican debate. LA Gov. Bobby Jindal and former TX Gov. Rick Perry also did well, and should benefit from a bump in the polls.
In the interest of historical archives, Sen. Lindsey Graham, former NY Gov. George Pataki, former VA Gov. Jim Gilmore and former PA Sen. Rick Santorum also participated. Each will likely fade in their own particular way.
Carly dominated the debate. Not only did she best articulate the critical “vision” necessary to run for office, she also handled herself very well on a wide range of issues. Her command of national security and foreign policy, detailing a specific list where the Obama Administration has failed our allies in the Middle East, was particularly impressive.
Carly was also very adept at skillfully critiquing opponents without rancor or spite. She artfully drew points against frontrunner Donald Trump by noting his recent phone conversation with Bill Clinton and his donations to the Clinton Foundation and Hillary’s campaign for Senate in New York. She also reminded viewers that Trump has changed his position on many issues important to conservatives.
Gov. Perry, as has been a feature of his campaign, criticized Trump more directly. He said Trump was basing his campaign on his “celebrity” rather than his “conservatism.” Perry also described the 2016 election as a “show me” election, saying that voters would opt for a candidate who had a record on issues, rather than just talk on issues.
Perry was also forceful on the issue of illegal immigration, detailing many actions he had taken as Governor. His best anecdote was recalling his publicized exchange with President Obama where Perry said Texas would police its border if the federal government didn’t.
Gov. Jindal, as expected, impressed with a deep knowledge of several policy issues. He spoke eloquently on the need for assimilation as a component of immigration. His dismissal of the notion hyphenated Americans resonated in a unique way, coming as it was from on American of Indian descent with a Southern drawl.
He was also among the most forceful criticizing Republican leadership in Washington for not standing up to the Obama Administration. Frustration with Republicans in Washington is the clear undercurrent among Republican voters this primary.
Fiorina touched on this frustration but spoke almost above it in a very interesting way. She said, in the end, the election was about conservatism versus progressivism. That is certainly true in the general election, but it is also to an extent true in the Republican primary.
With a great many Republican politicians, one can’t help feeling that their words are often a second language to themselves. They will use catch-phrases and words that intimate a conservative view but in such a way that they don’t seem entirely comfortable with those views. The classic example, in 2012, was when Mitt Romney said he was a “severe conservative.” A conservative would never use that adjective.
The problem with many Republicans in Washington isn’t simply the fact that they are in Washington. It’s that they campaign using the language of conservatives but govern using the metrics of progressives. After vouching for their conservative views, they ordinarily will list a few things they or the government will “do” to impact the economy or society.
Conservatives aren’t looking for the government to “do” anything. They primarily want the government to stop doing things so that Americans can get on with their lives. I think Fiorina won, because she understands that far better than anyone else on the stage.