I’m of the mind that most TV “debate” shows are a joke. They’re not really debates, they’re joint press conferences, and the stars are always the debate moderators. So why TV news personalities are debate moderators is a puzzle. They don’t know how to moderate or control the flow of questions, and being TV people, they always want to make it about themselves, as Megyn Kelly and Candy Crowley demonstrated when they had their turn at bat.
So when I heard Jake Tapper’s pre debate explanation of how the debate was going to run; they were going to ask questions of candidates about what the other (read Trump) candidates said, I thought that for CNN, this was only about trying to start fights for ratings, and certainly the CNN radio ads I heard promoting the debate sounded nothing if not like Wrestling Promos. And it apparently worked. The debate was the highest rated event in CNN history, garnering 20 million viewers.
The format worked on the viewer level too. It was one of the more freewheeling political debates I’ve seen. The candidates actually engaged with each other, rather than simply answering the moderator’s questions. That being said, I had a few observations about the debate:
No real losers to the debate, but Jeb once again failed to live up to donor expectations. On a scale from one to ten, he went from a two to a four. That’s due to taking Trump’s advice and start displaying more energy.
I rarely agree with the conventional wisdom, but this time I agree that best performance was by Carly Fiorina. One good performance could be a fluke, but two in a row look like a trend.
Chris Christie also did well. When he gets airtime, he can put on a good show. Under this debate he got enough airtime, 13 minutes, to make a good impression.
Ignore whatever the media says about who won. For the last debate, they declared Kasich the winner based solely on preferring his positions on immigration and gay marriage.
Carson and Huckabee are vying for the slot of evangelical candidate, and Carson is running far ahead. Huckabee is trying to go over the top in supporting Kentucky County Clerk Kim Davis, who is trying to cloak herself in religion to keep her from doing her job. How invested evangelicals are in Davis may be what makes a difference for Huckabee.
There were of course the others, who made little impression (at least on me).
And then there’s Trump… (sung to the tune of the Maude theme song)
Jake Tapper tried to slip the noose of the anti vax truther aroundTrump, a situation he was able to slip out of rather easily. But he didn’t out and out deny the autism-vaccination link, a weakness which allowed Salon and Slate to declare Trump as still harping the anti vaccination line. Of course your average Slate or Salon reader will be predisposed to hate Trump anyway. But journalists read Slate and Salon, so expect further anti-vax questions in the future.
Trump was also weak on policy, specifically foreign policy. I expected him to change tactics this debate to “keep’em guessing”, and he did; he cooled the slapstick and insults and tried to be agreeable, but I expected he would bring some foreign policy zingers to the table to show gravitas for the talking heads. He didn’t do that.
Trump can’t wait until he’s President to bone up on these issues or he’s never going to be President. He needs to bone up now and start demonstrating how much detail he knows about our various foreign policy issues. It can be done. Marco Rubio, as a first term senator, already has shown a command of foreign policy issues and has been able to stay ahead of journalists trying to trip him up.
This is not the end of Trump, but if doesn’t start showing that he can discuss policy particulars, rather than just say this will be great, this could be the beginning of the end of Trump.