I want to post some initial impressions of the first Republican debate. And the comments section below will be open to anybody who wants to offer any thoughts about that debate or the one coming up later tonight.
Rick Perry won on substance, and Carly Fiorina won on style. Given how overly concerned people usually are with style at this early stage of a presidential campaign, I expect Fiorina to be widely perceived as the winner. And she had other advantages over Perry, such as being a new candidate rather than somebody running again after a campaign that failed as badly as Perry's did in 2012.
Fiorina is a good communicator, and she had some good and memorable lines. Her critique of Donald Trump and the opening of her closing remarks (when she referred to Hillary Clinton as a liar, if I'm remembering correctly) especially stood out to me. She comes across as intelligent, serious, courageous, and aggressive, and the latter two qualities are ones that Republican presidential candidates have been lacking in recent decades. But her inexperience is a major problem. I expect her to be among the top ten candidates in the polling when the next round of debates occurs, but she shouldn't even come close to getting the nomination.
Perry has a lot of experience as a governor, and his record in Texas is impressive in a lot of ways. When he refers to the creation of so many jobs under his governorship in Texas and his firsthand experience with immigration issues (as opposed to the more theoretical approach of others), for example, that's impressive. And he had some good lines, such as when he referred to how he'd bring a big jar of white ink with him on the first day in office as president, to reverse what Obama had done, and he referred to how it would be a long day. He complimented some of his rivals and turned toward them to show interest in what they were saying when they spoke, both of which were good. But, overall, he came across as too scripted, a significantly worse communicator than Fiorina. He reminds people of George Bush too much, and people will continue to doubt him because of his failed 2012 campaign.
I don't think any of the candidates did poorly. Even these seven candidates lowest in the polls are vastly better than the Democratic field, both in terms of substance and style.
Jim Gilmore did the worst, I think, largely because he was too reserved and didn't show much awareness of what he most needed to say to connect with the audience.
I had the lowest expectations for George Pataki, but he did somewhat well, significantly better than I expected. His pro-choice stance was highlighted by one of the questions he was asked, and that will hurt him a lot. But he handled the question about as well as he could by focusing on some areas where he agrees with the pro-life side. He was impressive when referring to his long experience as governor of New York and when discussing his accomplishments on welfare, for example, but I expect him to remain near the bottom of the polling. He's not conservative enough, has been out of politics for too long, and is going up against an unusually strong field of competitors, including people with much better communication skills.
Rick Santorum had some good moments, such as when discussing the Supreme Court, his leadership in Congress in the 1990s, and how his having seven children reflects his optimism for the country. But he was too focused on issues like immigration and creating manufacturing jobs. This sort of introductory debate is one in which you ought to be more focused on broader principles and an overarching vision, and I think Santorum was often too narrowly focused. His electability is horrible, and I don't expect him to get far in the polls.
Bobby Jindal was close to Perry in terms of being substantive, and he probably was the second most aggressive, after Fiorina. But there were times when he was too evasive and/or unclear. He didn't answer some of the questions he was asked or took too long to get to the answer and didn't provide enough clarity. Like Perry, he was too scripted at times, though both got better as the debate went on. Like everybody else, going up against Fiorina highlighted the inferiority of his communication skills.
Lindsey Graham had some good moments, but was too focused on foreign policy. He needs to stop changing the subject so much. It's appropriate to do that at times, but more sparingly than Graham did.