5 Takeaways From The Second GOP Debate

REUTERS/Lucy Nicholson)

Jamie Weinstein Senior Writer
Font Size:

SIMI VALLEY, Calif. — Another Republican debate is in the books.

Wednesday night’s nearly three-hour marathon debate — ably moderated by CNN’s Jake Tapper, with excellent cameos by radio talk show host Hugh Hewitt to pose questions of his own — provided many highlights and just as many takeaways. Here are five.

1.) Carly Fiorina Won The Debate — But Marco Rubio Was A Close Second 

The best female presidential candidate in the 2016 White House race just happens to be on the Republican side.

Carly Fiorina and Marco Rubio are the most naturally gifted political talents in the Republican presidential primary. But you have to give a slight edge to Fiorina in Wednesday night’s debate because she seemed to have a couple more key moments.

Fiorina not only mixed substance with flair, she had vision.

“Iran and Planned Parenthood,” she said at one point, are both “incredibly important.”

“One has something to do with the defense of security of this nation,” she went on, tying together these two seemingly distinct issues. “The other has something to do with the defense of the character of this nation.”

She was also understated when she needed to be, especially when she delivered the dagger of the evening. Asked by moderator Jake Tapper how she responds to Donald Trump’s comment that he couldn’t imagine someone with her face being elected president and whether she accepts Trump’s subsequent explanation that he was talking about her personality, Fiorina delivered a perfectly succinct answer.

“I think women all over this country heard very clearly what Mr. Trump said,” she stated, allowing The Donald’s own words to damn him.

Rubio performed tremendously as well. His grasp of foreign policy is far and away the best on stage. And as always, he was optimistic and inspiring.

It’s hard to say how Rubio’s poll numbers will be affected by the debate, but it would be shocking if Fiorina didn’t ride her performance into the very top-tier of candidates.

2.) Peak Trump?

One is loath to say this since predictions of Trump’s political demise have repeatedly been wrong, but there is a very good chance we’ve seen peak Trump.

Trump was outclassed Wednesday night, plain and simple. While other candidates were substantive, diving into the issues, Trump spoke in generalities. It was evident — or should have been — to anyone who was watching that the man just hadn’t done the necessary preparation.

He was also a boor. So far that hasn’t hurt him, but it seemed especially out of place Wednesday night.

“Well first of all, Rand Paul shouldn’t even be on this stage,” he said out of nowhere in his first answer after his opening statement. “He’s number 11 and has 1 percent in the polls and how he got up here there is far too many people anyway.”

When Paul responded by chastising Trump for always attacking candidates for their looks, Trump replied, “I never attacked him on looks and believe me, there is plenty of subject matter there, that I can tell you.”

Trump has been impervious to gaffes and boorishness so far, but one just gets the feeling that we will look at Wednesday night’s debate as the beginning of Trump’s political fall. Time will tell.

3.) If Trump Goes Down, He May Very Well Bring Jeb Bush Down With Him

In August, New York magazine’s Gabriel Sherman reported that Donald Trump told a close friend, “If I’m going down, then Bush is going down with me. He’s not going to be president of the United States.”

Trump denies saying this and Sherman’s source is anonymous. But Trump does seem as interested in winning the GOP nomination as bringing down Bush.

Trump and Bush went at it Wednesday night a great deal and during the first half of the debate, it did seem like Trump was getting the better of the fights. During one back and forth, Trump seemed to impose himself as Jeb was trying to mount an attack.

“More energy tonight — I like that,” Trump cuttingly said, referring to his constant attacks on Bush as “low-energy,” as he stole the floor from Bush.

Bush was left to complain, “I was asked the question.”

Bush just didn’t look strong.

But as the debate went on, Bush seemed to get his footing. After Trump attacked Bush’s brother, former President George W. Bush, the younger Bush stood up for him.

“You know what? As it relates to my brother, there is one thing I know for sure, he kept us safe,” Bush said to applause.

Jeb had a few other good exchanges with Trump, at least ones where Trump didn’t clearly win. To even Trump’s delight, Bush joked at the end of the debate that his Secret Service code name would be “Ever Ready” if he won the White House.

“Very high energy, Donald,” Bush quipped.

But even though Bush performed better in the second half of the debate in his interactions with Trump, the fact he had to engage in so many confrontations with The Donald distracted from his message. It’s hard to imagine he will skyrocket back to the top of the polls after Wednesday’s debate. One suspects the Trump-Bush battles will only end up benefiting some of the other candidates, at least in the short run.

4.) Rand Paul And Donald Trump Have Similar Foreign Policies 

You kind of forget about it because Trump and Paul have been so at odds, but the two contenders actually have similar foreign policies that stand out from the rest of the field. Certainly their foreign policy world views are more similar to each others than they are to the rest of the field.

When Trump claimed he was the only one on stage that opposed the Iraq war, Paul butted in to point out that he did too.

“The remark was there wasn’t anyone else on the podium against the Iraq war,” Paul said. “I made my career as being against the Iraq war.”

Echoing Trump’s refrain that American leaders are constantly being taken advantage on the world stage, Paul asked why the U.S. always seems to be the world’s patsy.

“Why are we always the world’s patsies that we have to go over there and fight their wars for them?” Paul said. “They need to fight their wars, we need to defend American interests.”

The two are not perfectly in-sync on foreign policy, but in essence, both don’t believe America should be as engaged in the world as it is — or, as they would both probably say, America shouldn’t be the policeman of the world.

If you are a GOP voter interested in a less interventionist foreign policy, Paul and Trump are far and away your best options.

5.) There Were Just Too Many People On Stage 

Eleven people is far too many people to have on the debate stage. It’s time to whittle down the number of people who get to participate in these shindigs.

The candidates have had plenty of time to campaign and get their message across. If they can’t poll in the top eight at this point, they just shouldn’t be invited to the debate. Hopefully CNBC will reduce the number of candidates allowed on stage when they host the next GOP debate at the end of next month in Colorado.

Follow Jamie on Twitter