By Mehmet Zorluoglu
The five remaining GOP presidential candidates were in Houston on Thursday for the final debate before the crucial Super Tuesday states vote. Many predicted Ted Cruz and Marco Rubio to go after Trump with this being their last chance to change the minds of millions who tune in to the debates before Super Tuesday. The pundits proved their worth, as both Rubio and Cruz attacked Trump to an extent that has not been seen thus far this campaign season.
Taking all of this into account, I will grade the performance of each candidate based on my perception of the effect it will have on their campaign going forward.
Marco Rubio: B+
As far as debate performance, Rubio was the big winner of the night. He was clear, concise, and successful in a few attacks against Trump, which thus far has seemed to be something each campaign has tried their best to avoid. His opening statement invoked the memory of the Reagan era, seemingly trying to paint himself as the candidate to carry those values into practice going forward. Additionally, he received a vibrant applause when he went after Trump, suggesting that he was repeating himself. However, it should be taken into consideration that each debate has seemed to have an audience that is more favorable towards the establishment candidates, with Bush, Rubio, and even Kasich sometimes receiving more than their fair share of applause. The way the live audience has reacted so far has not seemed to match the reactions of the voters at large.
Bad news for Rubio: the significant wave of positive media coverage and exposure that he was due to receive following this debate performance was stifled when Chris Christie decided to officially announce his endorsement of Donald Trump. This came as a surprise to many, and ended up dominating a lot of the discussion happening on air. Perhaps Rubio’s big win will not help him as much as he had hoped because of this significant endorsement.
Noteworthy moment: In a back and forth with Trump challenging him about what his plan is to put his proposals into action, Rubio said “Now he’s repeating himself.”
This line received a huge reaction from the crowd and was the most lasting moment of the debate.
Donald Trump: B
Trump’s campaign has proved all conventional wisdom wrong, and this debate was no different. While he does not spend much time speaking on the specifics of his policy proposals and how to implement them, it seems his personality has gotten him to this point. He already has wins in three states under his belt, and the polls suggest more to come. In the exchanges he had with Cruz and Rubio, he held his own for the most part. He did not deviate from his usual antics during the debate, and that is why he earns the B rating. Tt is beyond question at this point – what he has done has been working and will likely continue to work.
While some people may have seen Trump being attacked by Cruz and Rubio and been swayed towards Cruz or Rubio, there are many indicators that Trumps base of supporters have largely already decided that they will be voting for Trump. Because of this, it is perhaps already too late for any of the other candidates to stop Trump from getting the nomination.
Noteworthy moment: (Directed towards Ted Cruz) “Here’s a man – Robin Hood. This is Robin Hood over here. He talks about corruption. On his financial disclosure form, he didn’t even put that he’s borrowed money from Citibank and from Goldman Sachs, which is a total violation. He didn’t talk about the fact that he pays almost no interest. He just left it off, and now he’s going to protect the people from the big bad banks.
Ted Cruz: B-
Cruz was also effective, but not to the extent of the aforementioned candidates. His attacks were not as sharp or as lasting as Rubio’s, and because of that he runs the risk of looking desperate to get in on the action. He stuck to his principles; everything he said is sure to appeal to his base of support, but he did not succeed in appealing to a more broad range of voters (like Trump’s or Rubio’s support). Overall, not bad from Cruz, but he definitely needs to look to improve sooner rather than later if he hopes to challenge for the title of first place.
Noteworthy moment: “You know, I actually think Donald is right. He is promising if he’s elected he will go and cut deals in Washington. And he’s right. He has supported — he has given hundreds of thousands of dollars to Democrats. Anyone who really cared about illegal immigration wouldn’t be hiring illegal immigrants. Anyone who really cared about illegal immigration wouldn’t be funding Harry Reid and Nancy Pelosi; wouldn’t be funding the Gang of Eight. And, you know, he is right. When you stand up to Washington, when you honor the promise you made to the men and women who elected you and say enough with the corruption, enough with the cronyism, let’s actually stand for the working men and women of this country, Washington doesn’t like it.”
John Kasich: B-
Kasich was arguably the only candidate that actually stuck to his policy points all the way through instead of getting involved in attacks on other candidates (which at times even got personal). At this point in the race, Kasich is looking to win in his homestate of Ohio, and perhaps garner some more support in the north where the Republican primary voters are a bit more moderate compared with the rest of the nation. His hopes seem to be dwindling though, and with the attention that the top three (Trump, Rubio, Cruz) enjoyed during this debate, it would be very difficult to call Kasich a winner of this debate, despite successfully keeping what he said civil and about what he wants to do as president.
Some argue that Kasich is a leading candidate for Vice President for whoever the eventual nominee ends up being. That is perhaps his best bet at this point, because even his strong second place finish in New Hampshire couldn’t provide him with any real, visible momentum.
Noteworthy moment: “Look, we have a great president here, George Bush, the 41st president of the United States. He worked with Ronald Reagan to pass an effort to try to solve this problem — a path to legalization. You see, that was a time when things worked. It was a time when President Reagan and George Bush decided that we needed to make the country work.”
Ben Carson: C-
Carson did not get to talk too much, as has been the case for many debates now. He does not have a real chance at winning the nomination which invites the question: Why is he staying in the race? There have been many theories floating around, some even saying that he has enjoyed an increase in book sales, and hopes to use his campaign as a way to continue selling books. Whatever it is that is keeping him in, the soft spoken former neurosurgeon is beyond a long shot to win the nomination at this point, and on the flip side, him dropping out could be a big help to whoever most of his voters gravitate towards.
Noteworthy moment: “Can somebody attack me, please?”