The Republican field is ready for prime time. That is my conclusion after Tuesday night’s knock-down, drag-out debate in Las Vegas, which showed once again that unlike in the all-but-decided Democratic field, competition and ideological diversity does produce a better political product.
The free-for-all we witnessed illustrated clearly for voters on edge about the critical issues of our time the benefit of a long and arduous primary process as a proving ground that draws out serious contrasts between candidates. Plus, such a robust debate will prepare the victorious candidate well for a bare-knuckle battle with presumed Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton.
GOP fight night at Sheldon Adelson’s Venetian palace packed more punches than all of the previous debates combined, with candidates giving and receiving some of the harshest body blows of the 2016 campaign to date. Despite moments of ugliness, the fight still deserves better ratings than any boxing pay-per-view.
The much-anticipated brawl between Senate colleagues Marco Rubio and Ted Cruz was on full display on issues from foreign policy to immigration, with Rubio drawing first blood and Cruz counter-punching as the debate unfolded.
Senator Rand Paul took audacious shots at Chris Christie, arguing that the New Jersey governor was America’s man if the nation wants to start World War III over the civil war in Syria.
Businessman Donald Trump and Florida Governor Jeb Bush continued to trade barbs, with Trump flippant over a candidate he casts as “low energy” and Bush seething over what he perceives as an unserious contender.
Moderator Wolf Blitzer found himself dodging shrapnel the whole night.
We also observed in the heat of battle a détente between the frontrunner Trump and Senator Cruz, whose bromance appears to have been rekindled. Many anticipated a fight with election-altering consequences, based on Trump’s cajoling of Cruz as a “maniac” after Cruz challenged Trump’s judgment and, in private remarks, argued his campaign would ultimately collapse. But the so-called “Outsiders” appeared to put aside their differences, a blow to the GOP Establishment, which remains divided.
As the war on ISIS specifically and terrorism more broadly moved to center stage, the styles of each leader became more evident to voters going into the post-Christmas political season.
Trump took his lumps on the nuclear triad, and while articulating a populist message on the Middle East and oil, he was challenged on particulars vis-à-vis ISIS and Syria by others on stage.
Ted Cruz billed himself as the representative of America’s national interest, arguing for destroying defined enemies as opposed to democratizing dictatorships, and that border security was national security.
Marco Rubio commanded the facts well about the nature of our enemies and the multifaceted threats they pose, and continued to argue for a more active Bush-ian foreign policy.
Jeb Bush and Chris Christie sought to portray themselves as serious executives who would take the war to the enemy with moral clarity.
Rand Paul, playing the skeptic, questioned the premises of America’s large-scale interventions over the last 15 years broadly.
Carly Fiorina and Dr. Ben Carson delved deeply into policy, with the latter articulating a greater depth of knowledge than he has shown in the past in what may have been a make-or-break debate given his precipitous fall in recent polling in Iowa and beyond.
Governor John Kasich sought to argue that as a winner and reformer in Ohio, he ought to be the one to lead the party.
While many will rank the candidates in terms of their individual performances, collectively it is the American people who were the real winners of the Vegas debate. On issues from the Fourth Amendment to border security to American policy in the Middle East and the fight against the global jihad more broadly, we were given a real boxing match, showing that there is a credible candidate for every season.
Primaries are by their very nature grueling vetting processes. Tuesday night, interested voters finally got the chance to see GOP candidates put in real ring time on vital matters of national security that impact us all.