Quote of the Day:
It was a fun Republican debate Thursday night, definitely the most spirited, with some of the best interchanges since Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf?, but, sadly, the candidates must have missed the new memo about who their adversary is supposed to be, giving the whole event a decidedly retro feel.
—Roger L. Simon at PJ Media
Simon posits that "Our Lady of Chappaqua" will not be the candidate and the GOP candidates have yet to grasp that. Interesting idea, but not going there yet.
Most of the commentary this morning has the debate as a two man show starring Ted Cruz and Donald Trump, with Marco Rubio engaging in some highly effective pyrotechnics at the end of the evening.
Scott McKay gave a nice summary of the Trump and Cruz performances:
Ted Cruz: Cruz opened the debate knocking the issue of the loan he took out to fund his 2012 Senate campaign out of the park, and he went toe-to-toe, and won decisively, with Donald Trump on the birther question. For the first hour, when the majority of the audience was paying most attention, he commanded the stage. Later, he got a bit more competition as we’ll discuss below.
Donald Trump: Trump lost badly on the birther fight with Cruz, who as it turns out is just as glib as Trump is, and he bogged himself down a bit on the question of tariffs on Chinese goods. But he also recalibrated his rhetoric brilliantly on Cruz’s risky “New York values” gambit, bringing up the heroic aftermath of the 9/11 attacks and overall offered a much more presentable image befitting a plausible frontrunner. Asked about statements by South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley (who was in the audience) decrying “angry voices,” Trump leaned in and explained, very reasonably, why he’s angry, and won on the question.
Jonathan Last at the Weekly Standard gave Marco Rubio a win, but agreed that it was a three-man event (Cruz and Trump of course are the other two). Last wrote:
The Charleston debate may have been more consequential than it looked at first glance. For starters, neither Jeb Bush nor John Kasich nor Ben Carson registered. (Except for Bush’s bizarre decision to make his most impassioned argument of the campaign in service of the rights of Muslim citizens from foreign countries. This was political malpractice.) The night further underscored the extent to which the race has really drilled down to four plausible candidates, who are competing in two very different races.
In the Christie vs. Rubio war, you saw a gotcha fight over Christie's past transgressions on conservative policy orthodoxy. Some of the charges Rubio made against Christie were stretches (like Christie's support of Common Core, which he clearly and decisively changed policy on). Others were pretty clean hits—like his pointing to Christie's support of the nomination of Sonia Sotomayor, Planned Parenthood, and desire to restrict gun rights. This is the normal order of battle in a Republican primary and the fight might determine which of these candidates advances out of New Hampshire.
. . .
A final note on Trump: Tonight's debate showcased a new side of Trump. We'll call it Low-Energy Trump, but the truth is, he was calm and (relatively) serious. He looked like an entrenched front-runner with a secured base who is pivoting to talk to undecided voters. His best moment of the night—maybe in any debate so far—was actually a counterpunch, when he went sentimental and low-key responding to Cruz's not-at-all clumsy "New York values" jab. This was a pitch Trump hasn't shown before. And it suggests that he's still improving as a candidate.
Voting in the Iowa caucus is February 1.
That will tell us more about the state of the race than the opinions of pundits.