CNN hosted the last Republican presidential candidate debate of 2015 on Tuesday December 15 at the Venetian Hotel in Las Vegas. The event, which offered few surprises, was middle of the spectrum in terms of moderator questioning, candidate performance, and overall theatrics. While it was a far cry from the blatantly biased CNBC debate of October, it was still light years away from the balanced substantive Fox Business News debate of November.
Here are my top five observations:
1) Nine people on the stage is too many.
The prime time debate which included candidates Donald Trump, Ted Cruz, Ben Carson, Marco Rubio, Jeb Bush, Carly Fiorina, Chris Christie, Rand Paul and John Kasich was once again another example of how difficult it is to deliver a substantive debate where every candidate gets equal talk time. Case in point, Donald Trump is the front runner. Yet there appeared to be large chunks of time where he barely said a word. Furthermore, viewers were treated to embarrassing interjections from candidates such as Carly Fiorina saying, “I hope at some point you’re going to ask me my strategy.” This comment was followed by moderator Wolf Blitzer telling the former Hewlett-Packard CEO that “We have plenty of time. We’ll get to it, Ms. Fiorina.” Again, from the viewer perspective, there was a tad too much of candidates fighting for airtime and the moderators telling them to wait their turn. The Democrat debates don’t have this problem. This all begs the question as to when candidates at the bottom of the polls should cut their losses and get out of the race. At this point, Ohio Governor John Kasich , Kentucky Senator Rand Paul and Carly Fiorina should probably exit the race.
2) The Undercard Debate needs to go.
The question of when a candidate should exit the race dovetails nicely into my next point. It is time to retire the “children’s table”. For the first five debates, the undercard debate served a purpose. After all, we saw Carly Fiorina distinguish herself in the August debate so that she was able to move to main stage. We have also seen New Jersey Governor Chris Christie who was on the main stage for the first three debates demoted to the undercard debate for the fourth debate and then elevated to the main stage for the fifth debate. However, at this point, the four candidates who participated in the December 15 undercard debate Senator Rick Santorum (PA), Former Arkansas Governor Mike Huckabee, Senator Lindsey Graham (South Carolina) and former New York Governor George Pataki do not have a snow ball’s chance in hell of earning the Republican ticket nomination. Why are they still in the race and why is air time being allocated for them to debate each other? Yes, the undercard debate still garners ratings which lead to sponsorship revenue. However, if the point of debates is to provide candidates with a vehicle to showcase their campaign platforms to the voters, if they cannot win, the showcase is nothing more than a vanity exercise.
3) Donald Trump is still the focal point
Once again, both the undercard and the main stage debates were peppered with questions where the candidates were asked to respond to something which Donald Trump said including his most recent remarks which advocated a temporary ban on the entrance of Muslims within the US. Trump who remains the front runner with some polls showing him leading at as high as 42% also called out CNN for asking other candidates to respond to “Mr. Trump said this and Mr. Trump said that” questioning. And of course, Trump was the star of several debate moments including his professing his commitment to the Republican Party by making a statement that he won’t seek a third party candidacy. And who can forget the moment when Jeb Bush referred to Donald Trump as the “Chaos Candidate” and called him out for trying to ”insult his way “to the nomination?
4) The Long-Awaited Confrontation between Ted Cruz and Marco Rubio did not disappoint
The viewers finally got to the witness the long anticipated show down between the two young firebrand candidates, Senator Ted Cruz (Texas) and Senator Marco Rubio. The candidates have often been compared to each other because Rubio has positioned himself as the Republican Party establishment candidate and Cruz has packaged himself as the evangelical outsider Tea Party candidate. In addition, they are both of Cuban ethnicity. Rubio is a Cuban-American who was born in Florida. Cruz was born in Canada to a Cuban father and an American mother. They are also similar in age. Rubio is 44 and Cruz will celebrate his 45thbirthday on December 22. During the debate the two candidates butted heads on immigration, the data monitoring of intelligence agencies and Middle East policy. The two candidates had one of their most heated moments when they both essentially accused each other of past activity and statements backing a path to legal status for illegal immigrants.
5) Chris Christie shines while Ben Carson fades.
During the debate, there was a persistent coughing sound in the background which left the viewers wondering which candidate needed a cough drop. It was eventually revealed that the cougher was Dr. Ben Carson. Perhaps, it was the combination of the coughing along with his slow deliberate style. Carson seemed out of his element and off his game. While Carson is a world-renowned neurosurgeon with an incredible personal story, he has no public office experience and no business experience. In the wake of the recent horrific terrorist incidents which have taken place, including the Bernardino shooting, the viewers were reminded that Carson would be learning on the job how to manage our country’s foreign policy and economy. By contrast, New Jersey Governor Chris Christie came across as a vibrant candidate with a no-nonsense approach to tackling any obstacle in his crosshairs. Christie has repeatedly made the point that his past experience as a prosecutor and his current experience as the Governor of New Jersey have prepared him to handle national security issues. “I’ve fought terrorists and won and when we get back in the White House we will fight terrorists and win again and America will be safe” the NJ Governor promised the American people. Christie who is currently coming in 4th in the polls in New Hampshire is still a long shot for the GOP ticket, but at least he gives off a reassuring aura of being tough on terrorism and other national and international threats and challenges.
Yes, the 5th debate was interesting. Before you know it will be time for the January 14 debate in North Charleston South Carolina hosted by Fox Business News. It will be interesting to see who drops out between now and then. After all, a lot can happen in a month.
Image: Screen Shot: http://www.cnn.com/videos/politics/2015/12/16/cnn-gop-republican-debate-90-seconds-origwx-bw.cnn