It seems fitting Las Vegas was selected for the next installment of the Donald Trump show, aka the fifth round of the GOP Presidential Debates hosted by CNN. The network went to great lengths to buildup the show, often referring to it as the Cruz-Trump “Cage Match.” They reminded us Marco Rubio has to begin to make his move now, that there are just seven shopping weeks until the Iowa Caucuses, whether Chris Christy can maintain his momentum in New Hampshire, how everyone will attack Trump for suggesting a temporary ban on Muslims entering the United States, and whether Trump’s substantial dominance in the polls can be sustained. Frankly, it sounded like another episode of “As the Stomach Turns,” a never ending soap opera.
Again, as with all of the other GOP debates, there would be no spectacle without Trump. Love him or hate him, he is causing more people to think about the election. According to a recent study by the Pew Research Center, “Nearly seven-in-ten (69%) say they have watched at least some of the televised debates between the candidates. In December 2007 – the most recent election in which there were contested nominations in both parties – just 43% reported watching any of the debates.” Without Trump, the debates would have garnered considerably fewer viewers. This also suggests we may witness one of the highest turnouts in election history come November.
Just prior to the debates, Rasmussen produced their latest report stating only “24% Say U.S. Heading in Right Direction.” This means the American people are still unhappy with the current state of their government, even angry, which politicians such as Trump have tapped into.
The debates have also been a ratings bonanza for the media, setting records for Fox, CNN, and MSNBC. CNN’s Wolf Blitzer moderated this round, with CNN’s Dana Bash joining Hugh Hewitt of the Salem Radio Network, as questioners. In the first debate, all treated this with more dignity than past GOP debates this year. In the second section, they baited the candidates to attack Trump; some dodged the bait, others took it, such as Bush. The CNN talking heads before or after the debates revealed their pedigree as liberals.
The theme for the evening was primarily concerned with terrorism and international relations, timely subjects considering recent events in Paris and San Bernardino.
The early debate included former Gov. Mike Huckabee, former Sen. Rick Santorum, Sen. Lindsey Graham, and former Gov. George Pataki. It was particularly painful to watch these four politicians making desperate last ditch efforts to save their campaigns. They may be nice guys with good intentions, but the party is over and somebody needs to tell them so. In particular, Sen. Graham’s histrionics of looking bored while the other candidates spoke didn’t serve him well, and his verbal tirades made him look more like a curmudgeon as opposed to a viable presidential candidate. The only adult at the table was Gov. Mike Huckabee who remained calm and collected in his answers.
The “Main Event” included Donald Trump, Sen. Ted Cruz, Ben Carson, Sen. Marco Rubio, former Gov. Jeb Bush, Carly Fiorina, Gov. Chris Christie, Gov. John Kasich, and Sen. Rand Paul. In terms of decorum, they basically treated each other in a dignified manner, but CNN’s baiting of candidates caused them to be distracted from criticizing President Obama and Hillary Clinton, except for a few jabs here and there. The real objective of CNN was not so much to attack Trump, as opposed to causing Senators Rubio and Cruz to attack each other, with Rand Paul occasionally jumping in.
In terms of the performance of each candidate:
Donald Trump – CNN’s first question tried to pin him down as an isolationist; he countered he is more concerned with security of the country. After the initial attacks, as orchestrated by CNN, Trump basically sat on the sidelines and watched the senators attack each other. His biggest detractor was Bush, but Trump exuded confidence and took him to task. Trump eventually pushed back against the moderators about baiting Bush to attack him. Whatever bad blood was between Trump and Cruz was quickly brushed aside by Trump.
Sen. Ted Cruz – started by making the observation that any of the candidates on the stage were more qualified to be president than Obama or Clinton. It was obvious CNN was interested in creating a confrontation between Cruz and Rubio. Cruz also had trouble observing the speaker time limits which seemed to turn people off.
Ben Carson – began with a moment of silence for San Bernardino victims. He asked Congress to declare war on ISIS. Both Carson and Fiorina complained to the moderator they weren’t being given enough time to respond to issues.
Sen. Marco Rubio – CNN baited him regarding Trump and Cruz. Although he balked at attacking Trump, he went heartily after Cruz. Cruz fought back, by basically calling him a liar. Rand Paul also accused Rubio of being the weakest on immigration. Marco looked slick, was articulate, but his arguments were pushed back by the other senators present.
Former Gov. Jeb Bush – appeared to be truly desperate. He was the first to attack Trump, calling him a “chaos candidate.” Trump of course fought back. Jeb is a nice guy and was a good governor for Florida, but he appears to be incredibly naive about international affairs, thereby hurting his credibility.
Carly Fiorina – was less confrontational this time. She spent less time attacking and more time being analytical. She talked tough, and was irritated by her limited time to talk. Nonetheless, it seems her time has come and gone.
Gov. Chris Christie – began by attacking Obama and Clinton. However, he didn’t introduce anything new. Instead, he went back to his canned talk of being a former federal prosecutor and claimed to be the only one qualified to defend the country against terrorism. This discussion is getting old.
Gov. John Kasich – In his introduction, he called for unity amongst the group. He faded after that.
Sen. Rand Paul – renewed his call not to trample on the U.S. Constitution, but his campaign is floundering.
By the way, I wish the candidates would stop using the expression “Meta Data,” which literally means “data about data.” As someone who has been in the I.T. industry for 40 years, “Meta Data” refers to the attributes of data, such as its length, default values, editing rules, etc. What they are actually describing is “information.”
Following the Iowa Caucuses on February 1st and the New Hampshire primary on February 9th, it is hoped the Republican field will be finally slimmed down to a handful of legitimate candidates.
SO WHO WON?
There was no clear winner. Inevitably, the press will claim anyone but Trump won the debate, but the true test will be the next few polls. If Trump’s numbers hold up or continue to rise, then he will be the winner. The candidates who enjoyed the highest profile in the debate were Trump, Cruz, and Rubio. All three were engineered by CNN.
One thing is for sure, we are witnessing history. 2016 will represent my eleventh consecutive presidential election, and this is the most unorthodox campaign I have ever seen. So much so, the press has been stymied by Trump and Carson who refuse to play by the media’s rules.
NEXT UP: “MAD AS HELL” – Midnight, New Year’s Eve – see you then.
Keep the Faith!
Tim Bryce is a freelance writer in the Tampa Bay area of Florida. timbryce.com
Copyright © 2015 by Tim Bryce. All rights reserved.