The 17 candidates had the opportunity to make a first impression on voters last night and here are my first impressions of them.
The Winners-The Main Event
It was difficult to pick a clear winner in the main debate (as contrasted to Carly Fiorina in the early debate) but I thought Marco Rubio stood out for his presence and his articulate answers. I also thought that Jeb Bush definitely suffers when he is on the same stage with his protege. I continue to believe that Rubio is the best candidate the Republicans can put on the ballot this year.
Mike Huckabee proved again why he rose to the top eight years ago. He had several of the best lines of the evening and surely helped his cause.
Ben Carson started slowly but finished strong. I thought he had a golden opportunity when the first question asked of him was whether he had the knowledge and command of the issues to be a viable candidate. I thought he should have said "that fixing our country's problems is not brain surgery. Sure. there are things I am still learning. However. if I can learn and excel at brain surgery I can certainly do this." A missed opportunity but he covered that with his strong closing.
Ted Cruz also had a good night and, based on last night, he could have positioned himself to be the most attractive option for those in the GOP who have found Donald Trump appealing.
The Loser-The Main Event
Donald Trump was the only loser. His bluster and bite seemed completely out of place on that stage. He simply was not ready for prime time last night.
The Also Rans-The Main Event
I thought all of the candidates other than Trump did a good job last night. Rubio was correct when he stated that the GOP has a deep group to select from while the Democrats are struggling to find one. Jeb Bush did not hurt himself but he also did not stand out. John Kasich definitely helped himself. Christie got the better of Rand Paul and might have moved himself up. Rand Paul has a warmth problem. He needs to smile more.
The Winners-JV Debate
In the first debate of the evening (also known as the JV debate or Happy Hour debate) I thought Carly Fiorina was the clear winner. She exhibited strong command and was concise and in control with her answers. Carly has run the best campaign to this point and she carried through with a great debate performance. She should move up in the polls and into the Main Event for the next debate.
Carly's challenge going forward is that she does not seem to radiate the necessary warmth that is necessary in a political candidate. She needs to smile more. Successful candidates have to be able to be competent and strong but also connect with voters. She needs to work on this if she is going to have staying power.
I thought Bobby Jindal was the best of the rest. He was strong in his delivery and did it in a warmer manner than Carly. Jindal helped himself last night.
Rick Santorum rose to the top in the last Presidential race through his debate performances and he carried that into last night's debate. His experience from four years ago definitely helped him. There was nothing that stood out in the debate last night from Santorum but I thought he was solid.
The Losers-JV Debate
There was only one big loser in the first debate last night-Lindsay Graham. He came across as interested in only one thing-the fight against ISIS. However, he calls it ISIL. From my perspective, anyone who calls these guys ISIL has lost my vote before they even begin. See my blog post, Why ISIL, Not ISIS to see why.
Also Rans- JV Debate
Nothing else of note from the other candidates other than to ask why George Pataki and Jim Gilmore are even in the race? They have both been out of the political arena for over a decade.