Thursday, August 06, 2015

Reactions To The Republican Debates

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.


  1. And I thought Jindal's decision to criticize Jeb Bush was a good idea, especially since nobody else was doing it. Not only did he go after Bush, but he did so on a point where Bush is especially weak (his tendency to be too critical of the base of his own party). Jindal wasn't as effective in going after Bush as Fiorina was in going after Trump and Clinton, but it was a good move on Jindal's part.

  2. Donald Trump did the worst of any of the seventeen candidates, but most of his supporters probably either don't realize it or don't care. His refusal to commit to supporting the Republican nominee is enough to disqualify him. The reporters who asked him questions gave us some other reasons to consider him unqualified, like his remarkably inconsistent positions on the issues over the years. He was often vague and unresponsive. Judging by what I saw of Frank Luntz's focus group after the debate, Trump should drop in the polls. But I doubt that he'll drop much in the near future. The bigger drop he deserves will probably take longer and require more than his poor performance in tonight's debate.

    Mike Huckabee is the best communicator among the seventeen candidates. He had a lot of good lines, and he delivered them well. But he has some electability problems, such as fitting too much into the Democrats' religious right stereotype. And like Jeb Bush, he's probably upset people in his own party too much to win the nomination (e.g., how much he's opposed by some of the biggest names in conservative talk radio).

    Bush and Scott Walker were mostly mediocre. But Walker's closing statement was somewhat good, so he finished better than he started. He made some good points about how successful he was in Wisconsin and said that he wanted to do the same for the nation. That should resonate with a lot of Republicans, who are impressed with his record in Wisconsin.

    Ben Carson started poorly. The first question he was asked was devastating, his response was inadequate, and nothing he did for the rest of the debate overcame that poor start. He shouldn't be running for president, as the opening question illustrated. He had some good lines toward the end of the debate, but how could anybody thinking much about the debate as a whole conclude that those good lines were enough to outweigh his poor start? He's not as bad as Trump, but Carson ought to leave the race.

    Ted Cruz came across as intelligent and aggressive, but he has some significant electability problems. He's similar to Sarah Palin in that he'd probably motivate higher turnout among the Democrats. His unusual voice and facial expressions hurt him as well, especially when going up against such good communicators as Mike Huckabee, Marco Rubio, and Carly Fiorina. He's good in a lot of contexts, but he shouldn't be a presidential candidate.

    (continued below)

  3. (continued from above)

    Rand Paul came across as too angry and contentious. Voters, rightly or wrongly, tend to want a candidate who's more positive. I think most of the people who watched his exchange with Chris Christie probably came away with the impression that Christie had the better of it.

    My impression is that the question about how poorly New Jersey is doing hurt Christie significantly, and his response (that the state was even worse off when he took office) wasn't enough. When he's going up against governors as successful as Perry, Bush, Walker, and John Kasich, it's not enough to give people the impression that you merely made a bad state somewhat less bad. And like Bush and Huckabee, Christie now has a long history of alienating people in his own party too much.

    Kasich was mostly good, and it helped to have the home field advantage in this debate. The crowd thought highly of him. But he was often unresponsive and evasive, and his answer on homosexuality and same-sex marriage was terrible. It illustrates why conservatives have been losing so many debates on such issues. He didn't even attempt to make a rational case for his position. Kasich has done a lot of good things, and Ohio is an important state for winning the presidency, but I don't think Kasich should be president or vice president. He's too weak in too many contexts, despite his strengths.

    Rubio was the second best communicator, though he had too many rough edges. Huckabee is older and more experienced, and it showed. But Rubio has much less baggage than Huckabee, and I'd expect Rubio's communication skills to improve over time. He had a lot of good lines, especially when going after Hillary Clinton.

    Looking at the two debates together, I'd say that Huckabee performed best, followed by Fiorina, then Rubio. But more than debate performance has to be taken into account, and I still think Rubio is the most promising candidate overall.