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The first GOP debate just wrapped up — not the one with Jeb! and The Donald, but the B-team. These are the seven candidates who didn’t have enough juice in the polls to make the main debate coming at 9 p.m. ET. All of them entered this JV debate hoping to make enough of an impact to enter the top tier the next time around. I wish Fox News had set it up so the winner of this contest immediately reported to the prime time debate, but alas, this is politics, not “Top Chef.”
It is a bit of a misnomer for the RNC to call these proceedings a “debate.” None of the candidates interacted, but rather held a low-energy Q-and-A with two Fox reporters. Questions were asked; each candidate had 60 seconds to respond. So how did they do? Here’s how I rank the performances:
1. Carly Fiorina
The former Hewlett-Packard CEO easily won the contest. She was poised, prepared, and tough. Looking at her calm command of the stage reminded many social media types of Margaret Thatcher. Every answer was concise, compelling, and left viewers wanting the other candidates to be quiet so they could hear her more.
Standout quote: “On day one in the Oval Office, I would make two phone calls. The first one would be to my good friend, Bibi Netanyahu, to reassure him we will stand with the State of Israel. The second will be to the supreme leader of Iran. He might not take my phone call, but he would get the message, and the message is this: Until you open every nuclear and every military facility to full, open, anytime/anywhere, for real, inspections, we are going to make it as difficult as possible for you to move money around the global financial system… As important as those two phone calls are, they are also very important because they say this: America is back in the leadership business. And when America does not lead, the world is a dangerous and a tragic place. This is a bad deal. Obama broke every rule of negotiation. Yes, our allies are not perfect. But Iran is at the heart of most of the evil that is going on in the Middle East through their proxies.”
2. Rick Perry
Many wanted to see the Texas governor exorcise his debate demons from 2012. Tonight he stumbled out of the gate but got better with each answer, offering detailed and strong responses on a variety of issues. Early on, he seemed like the playoff quarterback with first-quarter jitters, wanting to do too much, too fast. He soon calmed down, getting back some of that Perry swagger, tempered with the intellectual gravitas of his hipster glasses. (He’s the opposite of Superman; he puts on the specs to gain superpowers.)
Standout quote: “The American people are never going to trust Washington, D.C., [on illegal immigration] and for good reason. We hear all this discussion about, well, ‘I would do this,’ or ‘I would do that,’ when the fact is, the border is still porous. Until we have a President of the United States that gets up every day and goes to the Oval Office with the intent purpose of securing that border, and there’s not anybody on either one of these stages that has the experience of dealing with this as I have for over 14 years with that 1,200-mile border… [T]hen Americans will believe that Washington is up to a conversation to deal with the millions of people that are here illegally, but not until. If you elect me president of the United States, I will secure that southern border.”
3. Bobby Jindal
Gov. Jindal was fine, but just that — fine. He was steady and solid, smart and prepared, but offered nothing memorable enough to launch him to the next level. A competent performance is better than a bad one, but he needs a couple of grand slams if he wants to stay in this thing.
Standout quote: “[U]nlike President Obama, I’ll actually name the enemy that we confront. We’ve got a president who cannot bring himself to say the words ‘radical Islamic terrorism.’ Now, Bill, he loves to criticize America, apologize for us, criticize medieval Christians. How can we beat an enemy if our commander-in-chief doesn’t have the moral honesty and clarity to say that Islam has a problem, and that problem is radical Islam, to say they’ve got to condemn not generic acts of violence, but the individual murderers who are committing these acts of violence.”
4. Rick Santorum
Like Jindal, former Sen. Santorum was competent, but wasn’t able to separate himself from the pack. As in 2012, Santorum often got bogged down by listing his decades-old legislative victories which bore more than inform. The average voter doesn’t care about Senate procedure, as President John Kerry can tell you.
Standout quote: “We’re a country of laws, not of men, not of people who do whatever they want to do. I know we have a President who wants to do whatever he wants to do, and take his pen and his phone and just tell everybody what he thinks is best. But the reason America is a great country, the reason is because our compassion is in our laws. And when we live by those laws and we treat everybody equally under the law, that’s when people feel good about being Americans.”
5. George Pataki and Jim Gilmore (tie)
Jim Pataki and George Gilmore — sorry, George Pataki and Jim Gilmore — won the Adm. Stockdale award for “who am I and what am I doing here?” Both were governors a very long time ago and spent most the debate reminding viewers that they are actual candidates. They would have been better served just reading their LinkedIn profiles.
Standout quote: I don’t remember any. For Pataki, I spent most the time trying to figure out his odd mannerisms. He seems to have extra facial muscles and all of them twitch. That — and the fact he always looks like he just smelled something bad — was very distracting. For Gilmore, I closed my eyes and thought Rosco P. Coltrane was promising to get ISIS along with them Duke boys. (Seriously, RNC, send these two back to the locker room.)
7. Lindsey Graham
If Rick Perry downed too many Red Bulls coming into the debate, Sen. Graham must have popped several Ambien. He was slow, dreary, and pivoted every question back to invading some Middle Eastern country. In each response, it seemed like he was reading some arcane Senate rule into the official record. One time he tried to summon anger but looked more like he was going to cry.
Standout quote: “Do we all agree that ISIL is not the JV team? If I have to monitor a mosque, I’ll monitor a mosque. If I have to take down a cyber wall, I’ll take it. If I have to send more American troops to protect us here, I will do it. [Hillary Clinton] will not. She has empowered a failed agenda. She is going to empower a failed solution to an American economy dying to grow.” (Yes, this was in response to a question on how to fix the economy.)