Thursday, September 17, 2015

Reaction around the web to the debate

The Washington Examiner has an interesting graph of what percentage of the time last night each candidate spoke matched up with where they are in the polls. They also measured how many times the following names were mentioned by each candidate: Trump, Reagan, and Hillary. The moderators asked about Trump 20 times. Wow. Right there was the problem with the debate. Too many times Jake Tapper kept asking questions that began "Mr Trump said.... Please respond." Hugh Hewitt was totally missing from the entire debate in a really embarrassing and mysterious manner. Before the debate, I'd heard him say that he was going to ask questions such as "What do you think we should do about Syria?" and let the candidates give their answers. Instead we got Jake Tapper the whole night trying to spark fights between the candidates by getting them to respond to what someone else had said.

Rich Lowry agrees that it was Carly's night.
Carly had a terrific night. Her handling of the Trump insult of her looks was pitch perfect, understated, but pointed. Her answer on Planned Parenthood was moving. She was a little too defensive on her HP record–understandably since it’s a vulnerability–but counterpunched effectively against Trump in that exchange. Her worst moment was when she made it obvious that Christie had gotten under her skin with his dig that average workers could care less about her and Trump arguing about their business records. Her concluding statement was very canned, but well done. I’d be shocked if she doesn’t keep rising in the polls.

Rubio was excellent. Everything he said was well-received. He knows the issues and is a smooth, relatable communicator. Of course, he got good reviews last time, but didn’t get a bump in the polls, perhaps because he didn’t have one signature moment. He didn’t tonight, either. But it’s clear that he is going to excel in these forums....

As for the others: Carson seemed much more like he was during most of the last debate, without the strong finish; Cruz was good, although a number of his answers got cut off at the end by Jake Tapper and I’m not sure he made a big impression; Christie was crisp and forceful; Kasich seems in a rush to occupy the Jon Huntsman space in the race; Walker was fine, but didn’t stand out; Huckabee was his fluid, folksy self, but there don’t seem to be anything transformative; Rand Paul isn’t much of a factor.

Finally, Trump. He wasn’t any better than last time, and he presumably won’t be able to spin a narrative of victimhood coming out of this debate. One hopes for his sake that there is someone around him who can approach him tomorrow and say, “Sir, I regret to inform you that you actually have to know something to run for president and that I have no choice to recommend that you read a policy briefing or two.” By the end of the three hours of his usual array of insults and airy, seat-of-the-pants answers, he felt a little tired and diminished, but who knows how it will affect his standing?

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John Podhoretz thought that Carly Fiorina made her case as to why she should belong at the top of the pack, or at least at the top of the outsider candidates.
People have been wondering for a while what event was going to slow down or reverse the rise of Donald Trump, since his candidacy appeared to glide through the potholes that have caused others like him and before him to crash and burn.

Well, the momentum shift against Trump happened all at once — when Carly Fiorina pointedly refused to complain to him directly about his remarks criticizing her face and instead suggested what he had done was an insult far broader than the shot at her.

Her cool response was “I think women all over this country heard very clearly what Mr. Trump said,” and it threw Trump on his heels. He actually blushed before seeming to think he was being a big and generous man by calling her a “beautiful woman” with a “beautiful face” — words of cringing condescension that only seemed to deepen the offense.
That was not the only moment in which Fiorina took control of the debate. At almost any moment that she managed to seize time to speak — and she was compelled by the structure of the debate to interrupt repeatedly to get that time — she knocked it out of the park.
Mary Katharine Ham also was excited by Carly Fiorina.
Much of the post-debate buzz has been about her performance, which improbably met the very high expectations set by her last performance. She also became the first candidate to make the leader, Donald Trump, blink or waver for even a second. But in the face (see what I did there?) of her short and sweet retort to his comments about her appearance, Trump responded by sheepishly backing off his comments and praising her looks, which left Fiorina understandably steely and unmoved.

Trump fans and critics alike will agree that, at this point, a key to making any headway in this race for anyone but Trump is to steal a little of his buzz from him, and Fiorina did that tonight, by the numbers. She landed the two most viral clips of the debate— one was about the “faces” comment, but the other was her substantive and passionate answer on Planned Parenthood....

thought Marco Rubio was a close second, turning in a strong, knowledgable performance and benefitting from the juxtaposition of his in-depth foreign policy answers to Trump’s blustery ones. I also very much enjoyed his answer on learning about the American dream from his grandfather, who spoke his native language of Spanish. It was personal and sweet, and added the until recently uncontroversial notion that free-market, conservative values benefit everyone and we should therefore make an effort to communicate about them to everyone. If that happens to be without the need for a translator, great....

Speaking of Bush, I find him entirely underwhelming. I thought most of the candidates on stage improved their performances over last time, and Bush did improve, but the punches don’t land and the diction is too hesitant and Romney-an. Unlike Fiorina, he did nothing to deflate Trump but he also did nothing that might hurt him terribly. It was a miscalculation to ask Trump to apologize to his wife. Of course Trump’s not going to do that, it makes Bush seem tattle-taley (even if Bush is right about bringing Columba into a political fight), and he ended up having to move on without an apology. His best moment probably came when defending the legacy of his brother, which while sincere and strong, doesn’t help with the part where everyone associates him with his brother.

Carson does not impress in a traditional debate scenario and probably won’t. He still comes across as kind, rational, calm and occasionally charming, which is what people like about him. His knowledge seemed very shallow on some of the subjects tonight, and his style of speaking suffers in a pugilist arena like this. He didn’t have one dynamite answer, as he did in the last debate, and he was once again fairly quiet, but that doesn’t mean the people on the ground who like him in Iowa are going to stop liking him. He may drop a bit, but after the reaction to a pretty similar performance in the first debate, I wouldn’t bet on it. I missed it, but Charles Krauthammer mentioned he called Trump an “okay doctor” during the vaccine discussion, which is pretty darn funny.

Christie, on the other hand, is a man who can get plenty pugilistic and did tonight. I thought his performance was most improved, but many of his moments came in the second half of the debate when no one’s watching. At one point, he blew a whistle on the bickering about business records between Trump and Fiorina, turning focus back to the middle class from the two CEOs going after each other. It was an answer that started out with real heart (and tested well in the Luntz focus group, for what it’s worth), but took a wrong turn at some point and got a little too harsh to let the heart shine. Frankly, I don’t think he’ll likely benefit, but it was a better performance.

Ramesh Ponnuru thought that Donald Trump was "just...boring."
The Trump of the second debate was a much more conventional figure than he has been during his spectacular rise. He was the center of the last one; this time, it was possible for long stretches to forget he was there. He has won a lot of fans by offending people and then refusing to apologize. At this debate, he seemed cowed by Carly Fiorina. She was the one who brought electricity to the stage.

Trump’s theatrics have benefited him by drawing attention and denying it to the other candidates, who have often been reduced to seeking some by talking about him. Within hours of a performance at the first debate that was mediocre, at best, he seized command of the media cycle by going after Kelly. After this second debate, on the other hand, he was anodyne: All the candidates had done well, he said.

Maybe Trump's new sobriety will overcome the doubts of many Republicans about him. The risk to him, though, is that he becomes just another Republican candidate, and both the media and the voters start to lose interest.

Another candidate, though, may have suffered a more serious blow by being boring: Scott Walker. He has been losing support in the polls. He needed to make Republican voters sit up and take notice, and to make Republican donors get out their checkbooks. He did neither. He said nothing memorable; he barely said anything at all.

Fiorina and Marco Rubio were the winners, at least according to the people I follow on Twitter. But they were the winners of the Aug. 6 debate, too, and only Fiorina’s polls improved. She had a misstep, too, letting her exchange with Trump over their business bona fides go on a bit too long and getting called on it by Chris Christie. She returned to his criticism later, showing that it bothered her.

David Freddoso has a report card of winners and losers.
Trump was the debate's second-biggest loser. He opened with the usual personal insults for two of his fellow candidates (Rand Paul and...George Pataki?), but then never quite regained his balance after the first attack from Scott Walker.

Trump would be on the receiving end for the rest of the evening, shrinking in stature whenever issues were discussed in any detail. Carly Fiorina, the debate's best performer, delivered him the sharpest jab of the night. He appeared to be somewhat humbled afterward — when asked immediately after the debate who had done best, he failed to deliver the obvious Donald Trump answer, "Me."

Ben Carson was the biggest loser. For being the number-two guy in the polls, he was strangely non-existent throughout. He had one good opportunity, on the issue of vaccinations, to slap Trump hard without even coming off as negative. Instead, he only gently contradicted Trump's belief that there is a link between vaccines and autism.

Fiorina, who won the debate, resisted the temptation to attack Trump right out of the gate. But she was more than prepared to do it when the right moment came. She offered a plausible defense of her tenure at Hewlett Packard and showed she knew what she was talking about with respect to foreign and national security policy. She clearly belonged on that stage and was right to fight for inclusion in the big kids' debate.

Stanley Kurtz also thinks that Trump was not a winner last night.
“The world will respect us like never before?” Do you respect Donald Trump tonight like never before?

The personal attacks that have worked so well for Donald Trump these past few weeks fell flat tonight. Trump didn’t get this at first, and even threw out a gratuitous insult or two mid-debate. Gradually, however, Trump woke up to the fact that crass wasn’t working anymore. By the time Carly Fiorina took him down, we’d crossed into new territory. Trump looked small and ugly.

Is this the guy who’s going to make America great again?

I’m sympathetic to the frustration with the GOP establishment, and with the overall direction of the country, that are feeding the Trump phenomenon. But I don’t think Trump is the answer. After this debate, I don’t think voters are going to see him as the answer either.

Will Trump’s poll numbers go south right away? Quite possibly. In any case, I don’t think he’s got the staying power it began to look like he was building in the days before this debate. There’s no there there, and the hollowness is turning more visible.

Wonderful as she is, I’m not sure Fiorina has the experience necessary to assume the presidency in 2017. Even so, Fiorina took down Trump with something more than her deft attacks. She showed what a non-politician who actually does intimate potential greatness might look like. Trump was diminished by comparison.

Eliana Johnson explains how last night's debate demonstrated why debates matter.
It’s true. Success on the debate stage doesn’t require passing a test of ideological purity or managerial competence; it demands qualities that are easy to identify and hard to define: charisma, stage presence, self-possession. Underlying these “winning” traits is usually some even-more-elusive mix of appearance, body language, voice control, eye contact, style, humor, temperament, and message.

Why did Rubio and Fiorina best their challengers? On matters of substance, says a top Republican strategist, succeeding on the debate stage — and, for that matter, on the campaign trail — is partly a matter of integrating personal narrative and political message.
She contrasts how Rubio worked his personal narrative into the question about speaking Spanish to Jeb Bush's rather weak answer to the same question.

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The WSJ agrees that it was Carly's night writing that "Carly Trumps Donald."
The 2016 presidential race has been notable for its surprises, and Wednesday night’s debate at the Reagan library in California may reshuffle the candidate polling order again. Our guess is that Carly Fiorina, Chris Christie and Marco Rubio helped themselves the most in a race that will see many more turns before a nominee is chosen.

Ms. Fiorina made it to the big debate stage for the first time and didn’t waste the opportunity. The former Hewlett-Packard CEO showed off her policy chops and skill in delivering a message. She does her homework.

She notably outshone the other two “outsiders” who haven’t held elected office— Donald Trump and Ben Carson. The retired pediatric neurosurgeon can be endearing but he suffered from vagueness and looked smaller than he did in the first debate. Mr. Trump was full of his usual bluster and bragging but seemed out of his depth when the debate turned toward specifics....

But the more telling exchange for presidential qualifications concerned Russia’s recent military moves in Syria. Mr. Trump offered his usual fierce generalities, saying, “Syria’s a mess. You look at what’s going on with ISIS in there, now think of this: We’re fighting ISIS. ISIS wants to fight Syria. Why are we fighting ISIS in Syria? Let them fight each other and pick up the remnants.”

He meant that as a criticism of President Obama’s strategy, but letting them fight each other is Mr. Obama’s strategy. Mr. Trump also said “I would talk to him. I would get along with him [ Vladimir Putin], I believe, and I may be wrong, in which case I’d probably have to take a different path.” So he’d get along with the Russian unless he didn’t.

Mr. Rubio then gave a far more specific analysis of Vladimir Putin’s strategy: “Well, first of all, I have an understanding of exactly what it is Russia and Putin are doing, and it’s pretty straightforward. He wants to reposition Russia, once again, as a geopolitical force. . . . He’s trying to destroy NATO . . . He is trying to replace us as the most important power broker in the Middle East.” Exactly right.

Then came Ms. Fiorina, who said she wouldn’t talk to Mr. Putin at all because “we’ve talked to him way too much.” That is unrealistic, but she then ripped off an informed list of policy choices that the Obama Administration has resisted: “We could rebuild the Sixth Fleet. I will. We haven’t. We could rebuild the missile defense program. We haven’t. I will. We could also, to Senator Rubio’s point, give the Egyptians what they’ve asked for, which is intelligence.” And more.

The difference here is that two of the three had clearly thought hard about an issue that will be a major challenge to the next Commander in Chief. Mr. Trump merely indulged his instincts, which can be useful but can only carry a President so far. It will be fascinating to see if Republicans who like Mr. Trump’s attitude begin to wonder about his lack of depth.

Philip Klein thinks that Trump gets shown up when they candidates are forced to talk about substance.
Trump, who is number one in the Washington Examiner's presidential power rankings, displayed his cluelessness on foreign policy, seeming to not know what the Syrian red line referred to. He came off like yesterday's news, desperately trying to regurgitate lines from his announcement speech from June about the criminal element among Mexican immigrants.

His lack of knowledge was a sharp contrast to Sen. Marco Rubio, who demonstrated a clear understanding of the issues and he continues to hold steady, putting him in position if voters move away from the non-office holders in the race (Trump, Fiorina, and Ben Carson) but don't want to settle for Jeb Bush.In the first Republican debate, Donald Trump was able to command the conversation through his unorthodox style that many candidates didn't know how to respond to, but on Wednesday night, as the debate turned to more substance, the billionaire provocateur seemed lost.

Paul Mirengoff was struck by Ben Carson's weak performance. On actual policy questions, he seems to be willing to consider whatever others have said, which is a an acceptable approach for a leader, but gives us no indication where he really understands.
Dr. Ben Carson delivered what I thought was the worst performance in tonight’s GOP presidential debate. Make that debates. He performed more poorly in the main event than even George Pataki did in the preliminary one.

Pataki was listless. Carson was lame.

Let’s start with his most egregious answer. It turns out that Carson opposed going to war in Afghanistan after 9/11. Called on to explain this position, he said that he didn’t advocate doing nothing, but thought President Bush should use “the bully pulpit.”

Use the bully pulpit in response to 9/11? Carson has got to be kidding. As Marco Rubio patiently explained, Afghanistan was al Qaeda’s “operating space.” And the Taliban government flatly refused to do anything to change this even after its ally Pakistan tried to persuade it to (not that we should have relied on the Taliban in any case).

Carson defended his view by saying that we need to be “smart,” not just “muscular.” This sounds like the Democrats and their “smart power” mantra — an excuse for inaction that has proved ruinous....

Carson was also lame on immigration. Previously, he has said that deporting all illegal immigrants isn’t practical. Asked about this sensible position tonight, he said he doubts that it’s practical but will listen to those who say it can be done.

Carson has been in this race for a good while now, and immigration has been a major issue throughout the campaign. Carson should know by now whether it’s practical to deport all illegal immigrants....

On the economy too, Carson doesn’t seem to have thought things through to the extent one would expect from a candidate at this stage of the campaign. In the past, he has said he favors a flat tax, which he compares to tithing. Tonight, if I heard him correctly, he said that Mike Huckabee’s “fair tax” (a tax only on consumption) is interesting. Aren’t we past the point where this is an acceptable response?

Rick Klein at ABC thought that Carly Fiorina was the clear winner, but that the other candidates were able to chip away at Donald Trump's self-proclaimed awesomeness.
Since nothing seems to have worked in attempts to stop Donald Trump, his rivals tried a new strategy at the second Republican debate: everything.

It didn’t make Trump go away, and nothing is likely to have happened that would make his growing support suddenly crater.

But Trump faded for long stretches -– and seemed more vulnerable than he did at the first debate, in front of a far-more raucous crowd. A tuned-in public saw a frontrunner with limitations in sharp view -– and who seemed to meet his match in the only female candidate in the field....

But Trump also continued to not fully answer foreign policy questions, and he was forced into policy debates where his lack of depth was put on uncomfortable display. (Trump: “Arab name, Arab name...”)

The attacks may have been too diffuse -– and dotted over too many hours -- to be effective by themselves. Others played another game entirely -– Marco Rubio seeking a stride on foreign policy, John Kasich appealing to those who don’t want “all the fighting.”

Chris Christie chided Trump and Fiorina for a “childish back and forth,” arguing that voters who are struggling “could care less about your careers.”

But after a public tussle with the female moderator at the last debate, Fiorina got the better of Trump.

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Paula Bolyard at PJ Media has the same winners and losers as other analysts, but is smack on about CNN.
Add CNN to the list of losers. The debate format was terrible. Some candidates disappeared for 15-20 minutes at a time — as did moderators Dana Bash and Hugh Hewitt. A disproportionate number of questions focused on Donald Trump — who said what about whom and what did Donald Trump think about that? Granted, viewers were tuned in to watch the Trump sideshow, but one would hope to see some civic responsibility on CNN’s part (I know, I’m dreaming). Instead, they chose to pour gas on the Trump bonfire — burn, baby, burn. Dana Lash played the role of debate partisan Candy Crowley, injecting Planned Parenthood’s agenda into her questions, and Hugh Hewitt had an odd, flirty Trump swoon that was disappointing.

Josh Greenman at the NY Daily News thought that Donald Trump looked small in the debate.
Trump, true to form, delivered entertainment value if nothing else — demeaning other contenders like a professional wrestler and making fifth-grader faces when his temperament was challenged (perfectly proving critics' point).

When the topic was foreign policy, he reveled in ignorance that should have embarrassed the hell out of anyone vying to be commander in chief.

He spun wildly irresponsible anti-vaccine theories based on anecdote, then pretended he was basically just a guy talking to the bartender.

He continued to spout his fantasyland rhetoric about how he'd roll through neighborhoods, uproot 11 million people, send them back to their home countries and then let the right ones back in. It's the type of insane and heartless task the Soviet Union might have tried to manage, with all that that implies.

Roger Simon gives his evaluation.
WINNERS: Carly Fiorina and Marco Rubio. They both sounded smart and authoritative, assuming that matters. (It should.) Carly got in some zingers and I think by the time the third debate comes along, she may have expectation problems, the bar will be so high. (Cruz is supposed to be the hot-shot debater, but he looks fairly ineffectual by comparison.) Rubio — although I know this freaks out some commenters — is likely the future of the Republican Party, either now or in 2020. Fellas, get used to it.

SECOND PLACE: Chris Christie — more energy than even Trump himself. He’s fun. Not always sure he has that much interesting to say, however. And enough of … “This election isn’t about me. It’s about you” nonsense. Oh, come on. You’re a politician, Chris.

PUSH (meaning neutral performance): Frontrunners Trump and Carson didn’t hurt themselves. They seemed to be in a holding pattern. (Carson’s not a born debater anyway.) When you’re ahead, that’s okay to a degree, but be warned — it only works for so long. As sports fans know, playing not to lose eventually creates trouble. But for now, it’s full Trump Steam ahead! After all, he won the Drudge poll on the night by his usual landslide. (CAVEAT: So did RON Paul almost every time.) Cruz and Huckabee probably didn’t hurt themselves either.

UNDERACHIEVERS: Jeb — still struggling. Showed some energy (to coin a term) when Trump attacked his brother. Maybe Jeb should join the Mafia. He could use a little Corleone. Walker too is having trouble breaking through. It-s hard to remember what he said.

DOWN MARKET: Kasich and Rand Paul really hurt themselves tonight. It’s not so serious for Rand who is barely clinging to his poll position anyway, but Kasich had scored at the previous debate. This time he seemed like some old-line State Department guy in his response on Iran. Earth to Kasich: Old-line State Department guys are part of the problem, not part of the solution. And working with our allies on Iran means China and Russia. How’s that working out? Later, looking very nervous, Kasich tried to dig his way out of the hole while being interviewed by Hannity. It didn’t work. John’s in trouble.

And speaking of trouble, wouldn’t it be great if three or four of these folks, not to mention the four in the second-tier debate, dropped out already? I mean there’s a lot of money being wasted here, not to mention our time. These ten men and one woman debates are rather tedious. How about 6 or even 5 men and a woman? Twelve, count ‘em, twelve Republican debates. Let’s make them real debates. And who knows — Hugh Hewitt might even get to ask a question or two this time.

The Frank Luntz's focus group liked Chris Christie's chastisement of Fiorina and Trump about talking so much about their personal records instead of talking about the middle class. I agree that that was a good moment for Christie, but rather hypocritical since he talks about his own record a lot. And afterwards Christie took it a bit too far and looked nasty. The group didn't think much of Ben Carson's performance. Interesting that the group still hasn't made up their minds on whom to vote for. That's a good reminder of how fluid things still are in September.

The fact checkers just can't keep up with Donald Trump's false assertions.
For RedState contributor Leon Wolf, the problem isn't so much that Trump has a penchant for stretching the truth. It's that he does it with such regularity, and that the volume of questionable comments is so great, that fact checking everything becomes a nearly impossible task.

"When a homing missile locks in on a target, one of the best ways to defeat it is to release a bunch of chaff so the missile gets confused and doesn't know what to lock on to," RedState contributor Leon Wolf wrote, marveling at Trump's freewheeling oratory style.

"When a politician goofs once, it's easy for that to get stuck in the feedback loop of the media and other candidates. Watching Donald Trump speak and answer questions, though, is like watching a billion targets appear in the sky all at once, for a political opponent. Each thing he says is so bizarre, or ill informed, or demonstrably false, or unpresidential in tone or character, that it becomes impossible to know which target to lock on to or focus on," he added.