Cruz And Rubio Win Debate And Foreshadow A Coming Clash

Jamie Weinstein Senior Writer
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When you combine substance and style, [crscore]Ted Cruz[/crscore] and [crscore]Marco Rubio[/crscore] are really stealing the presidential show.

Texas Sen. Cruz and Florida Sen. Rubio were the two winners of Tuesday night’s presidential debate, both proving themselves able to articulate complicated policy in a compelling way. While Donald Trump and Ben Carson continue to top most GOP primary polls, come February, it shouldn’t surprise anyone if the nomination comes down to a clash between the two Cuban-American conservative superstars.

While most of the candidates performed pretty well in a very well-run Fox Business Network debate, here’s a full breakdown of how each candidate ranked and why:

1.) Ted Cruz

Cruz probably edged out Rubio for the winner of the evening because he had two or three really memorable sound bites and humorous quips, and whether such things should matter or not, they do.

“Washington is fundamentally corrupt. There are more words in the IRS code than there are in the Bible,” Cruz said, before adding to laughter: “And not a one of them is as good.”

“You think defending this nation is expensive, try not defending it,” Cruz declared, interjecting himself into the foreign policy fight between [crscore]Rand Paul[/crscore] and Rubio at another point.

Cruz continued, foreshadowing his coming clash with Rubio. “Sugar farmers farm on roughly 0.2 percent of the farmland in America and give 40 percent of the lobbying money. That sort of corporate welfare is why we’re bankrupting our kids and grandkids,” Cruz said, attacking Rubio without mentioning his name. “I would end the subsidies to pay for defending this nation.”

Rubio has gotten a lot of support from the Fanjul family, the largest sugar family in Florida, and has backed the sugar subsidies they so passionately lobby for.

Both Cruz and Rubio have stellar conservative credentials. Nonetheless, as the two head towards a collision, Cruz is actively trying to paint Rubio as a moderate and himself as a pure conservative.

2.) Marco Rubio

Rubio is the single most talented politician in the Republican field and, like past debates, he performed marvelously.

Like he always does, he matched substance with soaring rhetoric. (RELATED: Why Rubio Is Best Positioned To Win The Republican Nomination)

“For the life of me I don’t know why we stigmatize vocational education,” Rubio said at the beginning of the debate, explaining how to raise wages in the country by using one of his best lines from his stump speech. “Welders make more money than philosophers. We need more welders than philosophers. If we do this, we will be able to increase wages for millions of Americans. We will be able to leave everyone better off without making anyone worse off.”

“We can’t even have an economy if we’re not safe,” Rubio hit back after Paul claimed he wasn’t really a conservative because he favored increasing the defense budget. “There are radical jihadists in the Middle East beheading people and crucifying Christians. The Chinese taking over the South China Sea. Yes, I believe the world is a safer. No, I don’t believe — I know the world is a safer and better place when America is the strongest military power in the world.”

Coming into the debate, Rubio was rising in the polls. Coming out of the debate, he should continue to rise in the polls.

3.) Carly Fiorina 

Carly is a great talent and she proved her debating chops once again Tuesday night.

But the question is can she maintain the momentum? Last time she had a stellar main stage debate performance, she only saw a temporary bump in the polls, before seeing her poll numbers drop dramatically.

Though she had a solid debate, she didn’t really have any super memorable moments, so it’s hard to imagine she’ll see a huge bounce in the polls this time. Her problem may be that GOP voters for some reason just don’t seem to envision her as president, even though she is well-liked.

4.) Donald Trump

We saw a much more sedate Donald Trump at the debate.

Instead of picking fights, Trump seemed to go out of his way to find common ground with some of his fellow contenders.

“We have to make our military bigger, better, stronger than ever before so that nobody messes with us, and in the long run, it’s going to save us,” Trump said at one point, noting that, “I agree with Marco, I agree with Ted.”

“We all have a different tax plan,” he went on to note. “Some I don’t totally agree with. One thing we understand, each one of those tax plans is better than the mess that we have right now.”

Trump even said after the debate during an interview on the Fox Business Network that [crscore]Lindsey Graham[/crscore] was a nice and talented guy, and that he wouldn’t rule him out as a possible running mate.

Trump didn’t have any truly memorable moments, but perhaps that’s a good thing for him at this point. He spent his time hammering home the theme of his campaign that only a businessman like him can make America great again. Most likely, Trump will remain at or near the top of the polls. He probably didn’t gain many more supporters Tuesday night, but he probably didn’t lose many either.

5.) Rand Paul 

Mitt Romney has a better chance of winning the Republican nomination than Rand Paul, but if you define a successful debate as improving your position in the polls, the Kentucky senator probably helped himself.

One of Paul’s biggest problems has been that he has tried to position himself as more interventionist than he truly is in order to appeal the large mass of Republican voters who thought his father’s foreign policy was nutty, but in so doing, he has turned off some of the more passionate supporters of his father. We may have seen an active strategy Tuesday night by Paul to abandon any notion that he can win the nomination and an attempt to win the Ron Paul Revolution back.

“I do not think we are any safer from bankruptcy court,” Paul said, engaging in a fight with Rubio over military spending. “As we go further and further into debt, we become less and less safe. This is the most important thing we’re going to talk about tonight. Can you be a conservative and be liberal on military spending? Can you be for unlimited military spending and say I’m going to make the country safe? We need a safe country, but we spend more on our military than the next ten countries combined? I want a strong national defense. But I don’t want us bankrupt.”

Factually, this is largely nonsense. America’s long-term economic problems don’t come from America’s military spending, but from the over $80 trillion dollars in unfunded liabilities embedded in our entitlement programs. But as a matter of winning back the Revolution, it might help.

So if Paul convinced some of the disaffected members of his father’s base to reconsider him, he may see a small improvement in his position in the polls in the coming weeks.

6.) Jeb Bush 

Jeb didn’t make any major mistake and substantively he was largely fine, but the former Florida governor just doesn’t have the “it” factor.

Bush came into the debate in real trouble. His poll numbers have dropped dramatically. Nothing happened in the debate to reverse that trend. (RELATED: 4 Reasons Why Bush’s Poll Numbers Are Even Worse Than Appears)

What I have previously argued remains as true as ever after the debate: It’s more likely Bush is out of the race before the Iowa caucuses than it is he will win a single primary state, much less the nomination.

7.) Ben Carson 

Ben Carson is a really nice guy, but he often seems to be on another planet.

But judging from the polls, his soft spoken demeanor seems to appeal to a large swath of the GOP electorate, at least at this point in the race. So while his performance may have appeared underwhelming, it’s hard to say whether that will have any affect whatsoever on his standing in the race.

8.) John Kasich 

Kasich came across as condescending and unlikeable. With Bush faltering, he had a real opportunity to take over Bush’s spot as the top governor in the Republican race. He dropped the ball.

The beneficiary of Bush’s downfall and Kasich’s inability to capitalize on it very well may be a candidate who wasn’t even in the main stage debate. For those who are steadfast in the belief that the presidency should only be entrusted to someone who has been a governor, Chris Christie’s stock might be rising.

Even though didn’t make the main stage debate, Christie performed well in the undercard debate. And coming into Tuesday night, he had already seen a significant rise in his poll numbers in New Hampshire. Christie’s moment in the sun may be coming.

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