There are certainly a number of take-aways from the second prime time Republican 2016 Presidential Debate which aired September 16 on CNN from the Reagan Library in Simi Valley California. First of all, the American people clearly care about electing the next president. Over 22.1 million people tuned into CNN’s prime time debate featuring eleven of the sixteen candidates vying for the 2016 GOP nomination, making the viewership slightly lower than the August 6 GOP debut debate on Fox News which brought in 24 million viewers. Even the earlier 6 pm debate featuring the Tier 2 candidates generated strong ratings with an audience of 6.3 million viewers.
Furthermore, apparently, if you sell enough advertising you can expand the duration of program. That’s how we ended up with a three hour debate. And boy did CNN sell advertising. Plus they substantially increased their rates from approximately $5000 to $200,000 for a 30 second spot during the prime time debate and between $50,000 and $60,000 for a spot during the earlier debate. I guess that’s good news for the Super Bowl and the Oscars. We can make those programs longer too if the networks rake in the ad dollars. Well, maybe not the Oscars as they are already long enough.
We have also learned that the media’s interest in front-runner Donald Trump is showing no signs of abating. Not only did The Donald have the most talking time of all the candidates at 18.24 minutes, the three moderators Jake Tapper, Dana Bash and Hugh Hewitt also posed a number of questions to the other candidates where they were asked to respond to the comments, actions or policies of Trump. This situation happened in both the “A” Team and “B” Team debates. By contrast, some of the candidates had so little airtime that you wondered if they were still on the stage. Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker, who is now claiming that CNN was biased against him, had the least amount of airtime with a paltry 8.24 minutes. Former Arkansas Governor Mike Huckabee was a close second to Walker with only 9.15 minutes. For his part, Huckabee has claimed that of the three questions he received, two of them could be attributed to his inserting himself into a conversation. Governor Huckabee has also speculated that the moderators were avoiding him because he used to host a highly successful program on competing network Fox News.
We saw that contrary to popular perception, Jeb Bush does have a backbone and a sense of humor. The former governor of Florida, who has often been described as stiff and a poor communicator, had several great moments including his response to Donald Trump’s comment, ”Your brother [former President George W. Bush] and your brother’s administration gave us Barack Obama because it was such a disaster those last three months that Abraham Lincoln couldn’t have been elected”. Bush silenced the room by saying, “As it relates to my brother, there’s one thing I know for sure: He kept us safe”. On a lighter note, when asked what Secret Service code name Bush would choose for himself, he selected the word “ever ready” and then quipped to Trump, “It’s very high energy, Donald”. This remark, which was made in response to Trump’s comments on the stump that Bush is low energy, created a bonding moment for the two candidates when they palm-slapped each other.
We also witnessed the ease with which Carly Fiorina fielded the questions directed her way. She had several great moments including her passionate comments against partial birth abortions where she described the harvesting for profit of a fetus with “a heart beating and legs kicking”. Apparently her push to secure her position on the CNN main stage paid off. According to a Morning Consult poll of Republicans who watched the debate, 29% view Fiorina as having won the debate. Furthermore, her participation in the debate gave her a boost in polls from 3% to 10%. While she is still behind Trump at 36% and retired neurosurgeon Ben Carson at 12%, Fiorina’s star is burning brighter than ever.
But the flipside to this is that now that the spotlight is upon her, she will be under greater scrutiny, especially her tenure as the CEO of Hewlett-Packard, a position she was dismissed from. The media and her competitors will be pulling out all stops to depict her as an incompetent leader who brought down the company she was charged with stewarding.
Finally, perhaps the most important lesson of the evening came from New Jersey Governor Chris Christie who basically called a timeout on the public fight taking place between Trump and Fiorina by saying that the 55 year old construction worker trying to feed his family and educate his children doesn’t care that Trump and Fiorina are successful people. They want solutions towards improving the quality of their lives. After all, isn’t that the point? We all need to remember that the individual who becomes the president will ultimately be elected to serve the people, not their own self-interests. So while it is entertaining to watch the political theater, at the end of day, the American people are just looking for the leader who will help them put more food on their table, more money in their pockets, and a better life for their children in their horizon.