Bad news, everyone. I got relegated to the matinee debate. Unlike Christie and Huckabee, who found themselves at the kiddie table due to insufficient polling numbers, the factors behind my relegation were the main debate’s 9:00 EST start, today’s 5:00 alarm to get up for my real job, and the fatigue of fledgling fatherhood. Not complaining, just explaining.
Therefore, I’ll leave the main debate breakdown for all the news sites. Peruse them at your leisure, but remember: Don’t. Trust. Any of them.
However, since I was able to catch the 7:00 EST debate, I thought I’d share some quick debate grades from its four candidates.
The Non-Factor—Rick Santorum: I think the only thing left for Santorum to do is set his hair on fire. He raised his voice on several occasions — rare for debaters in this day and age — but it won’t matter. He’s incredibly frustrated about being stuck at 0 to 2 points nationally and in Iowa after his big run four years ago, and it’s starting to show. He keeps screaming about helping the American worker and promoting the American family, but no one’s listening anymore. Grade: C-
The Petty Politician—Bobby Jindal: When did Bobby Jindal become an attack dog? He went hard after the relegated governors last night. He correctly claimed that he’s the only governor in the presidential field who actually cut spending and reduced the size of government. Christie and Huckabee indeed have shaky economic records when it comes to that, though both have excuses of varying legitimacy lined up to defend themselves. Jindal’s angle has become that it’s not enough just to beat Hillary Clinton, since some Republican presidents have increased spending and exploded the debt (he’s looking at you, Bush and Reagan). Instead, voters need to elect a Republican who stands for fiscally conservative values and has proven he could do it at the state level. It’s a decent argument, but the problem is the messenger. Jindal sounded pretty whiny last night as he repeatedly broke Reagan’s 11th Commandment, especially in contrast to Chris Christie, who absorbed all criticisms before finding things to promote about his own record without ever returning fire. Jindal responded by firing again. It resembled a little dog nipping at the heals of an overweight, pacifistic postman. We love that postman! That being said, Jindal needed to try something. Still, is “using substance” that thing in a primary that sees Ben Carson climbing to the top of the polls? I’m not so sure. Grade: C+
The Gregarious Governor–Mike Huckabee: Maybe it was the sight of two big fish dropping down to a small pond, or maybe it was their experience with dense debate fields that allowed them to let their hair down for one half the size, but the two strongest performances last night came from the relegated Huckabee and Christie. Huckabee was a good sport, even when Jindal went after the former Arkansas governor’s admittedly un-conservative fiscal record. He had his typical Huckster humor, smile, and obfuscation. He survived. Now after two debates about the economy, he has to be excited about getting back to talking about gays and prostitutes. Grade: B
The Comeback Kid—Chris Christie: “Don’t worry about Huckabee or Jindal. Worry about her.” That sums up Christie’s night. Christie refused to debase himself by arguing with Jindal, who was itching for a fight to stimulate his poll numbers. He also made Jindal seem small. “Don’t worry about him.” Instead, Christie mentioned Hillary Clinton’s name more times than all other Republican candidates’ names put together. (And, to be honest, it got a little old by the end of the hour.) It’s clear he wants voters to ask themselves, “Who has the best shot at beating Clinton in November?” and he’s boasting that his prosecutorial background and political success in a blue state (re-elected with 60 percent of the vote!) means it’s him. While Jindal lowered himself to attacking fellow Republicans, Christie seemed like the leader of the party. That’s how a presidential candidate needs to look. Every question he received he seemed to make the room laugh before looking into the camera and smoothly delivering an answer. He continues to be the most charismatic candidate in the field. While I thought he was strong in the last three debates, he never actually won them. Fiorina, Rubio, and Cruz each did equally well or better. But last night, he dominated a debate like we haven’t seen since Fiorina in the first matinee debate, which permanently promoted her into the main field. I expect the same thing will happen to Christie. We might look back at his relegation as the turning point of his campaign. Grade: A-
As for my relegation, I assure you it’s not a turning point for this blog.