The second Fox Business News 2016 Republican presidential primary debate which took place on January 14 in North Charleston, South Carolina proved to be another mega-ratings program for the network. Moderated by Fox Business News’s Neil Cavuto and Maria Bartiromo, the first GOP debate of 2016 was the number one program for all of cable news for the evening, generating 11 million total viewers including 3 million viewers in the highly desired advertising demographic of adults aged 25-54 and 1.165 million peak concurrent online streams. The first Fox Business News Debate last November earned a record breaking 13.5 million viewers and 1.4 million concurrent streams. The network’s 6 pm “Undercard” debate moderated by FBN anchors Sandra Smith and Trish Regan also generated 2 million viewers including 289,000 in the 25-54 age bracket.
Like the November FBN Republican Debate the January debate was strong on substance. The presence of only seven main stage candidates also made for more equity in air time for the candidates, front-runner real estate magnate Donald Trump, Senator Ted Cruz (Texas), Senator Marco Rubio (Florida), Dr. Ben Carson, Former Florida Governor Jeb Bush, New Jersey Governor Chris Christie, and Ohio Governor John Kasich. The evening had its memorable moments. Here are my five take-aways.
1. The love-affair between Ted Cruz and Donald Trump is over:
The two candidates at the top of the pack have clearly taken the gloves off in their “fight” for the GOP ticket. While Trump continues to lead the national polls at 34.5% with Cruz coming in second at 19.3%, Cruz is leading Iowa at 25% vs. Trump at 22%. Given that the February 1 Iowa race is quickly approaching, Trump is pulling out all the stops to steal away some of Cruz’s support in Iowa. To that end, Trump has repeatedly questioned whether Cruz, who was born in Canada to a Cuban-born father and an American born mother, is a natural born citizen. Cruz fought back hard on this issue, citing that if you accept the theory that someone can only become president if both parents were born in the United States, Donald Trump would be ineligible to run for the presidency because his mother was born in Scotland. Cruz also mentioned that back in September, Trump said that his lawyers had researched Cruz’s birth location and that the birther argument didn’t hold water. However, due to Cruz’s current lead in Iowa, Trump is suddenly resurfacing the issue. Cruz said “Since September, the Constitution hasn’t changed. But the poll numbers have.”
While Cruz clearly won the “birther” argument, Trump had an incredibly emotional moment when he addressed Cruz’s accusations that Trump “embodies New York Values”. When New York born moderator Maria Bartiromo asked Cruz to clarify what he meant by “New York values”, Cruz responded that New Yorkers hold “socially liberal values” and that “Not a lot of conservatives come out of Manhattan.” Trump responded by speaking of how New Yorkers came together in the wake of September 11, 2001 when the World Trade Centers collapsed at the hands of terrorists who hijacked planes and flew them into the towers, killing close to 3,000 people. Using a much slower cadence than usual, Trump recalled that fateful day, “I saw something that no place on Earth could have handled more beautifully, more humanely than New York.” He added, “We rebuilt downtown Manhattan and everybody in the world watched and everybody in the world loved New York and loved New Yorkers. And I have to tell you that was a very insulting statement that Ted made.” Trump so enraptured the audience that you could have heard a pin drop.
2. The face-off between Ted Cruz and Marco Rubio is gaining steam:
Ted Cruz and Senator Marco Rubio are continuing to face off in debates. Rubio who is currently polling third at 11.8% accused Cruz of not being a “consistent conservative” and for switching positions on a laundry list of topics including immigration and ethanol subsidies. Cruz swung right back at Rubio accusing him of dumping his opposition research on the debate stage.
3. Jeb Bush is hanging in there:
Jeb Bush, who is currently coming in fifth in the national polls at 4.8%, does not appear to be leaving the race any time soon. Bush had several strong debate moments particularly when he addressed Trump’s recommendation that we ban all Muslims from entering the United States, “All Muslims? Seriously? What kind of signal does that send to the rest of the world?”, Bush said. Bush also came on tough when discussing Hillary Clinton who he described as, if elected, spending her time between “The White House and the court house”. Many say that this was Bush’s best debate yet and that given his financial war chest, it is still too soon to count him out.
4. Chris Christie is looking like a vice president choice:
Chris Christie, who is currently at sixth place in the national polls at 3.5% and performing well in New Hampshire, also had a good debate night. He held his own against attacks from Rubio who accused him of being in lockstep with President Obama on gun control, abortion, Planned Parenthood and the appointment of liberal Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor. He has had repeatedly strong moments when discussing the importance of defeating Hillary Clinton. Christie also received applause when he addressed President Barack Obama by saying, “We are going to kick your rear end out of the White House this fall.” However, some saw the statement as disrespectful.
Many like Christie’s action-oriented speech and past experience as a tough prosecutor, but given that he is still below 4% in the national polls, he is clearly the dark horse in the race. And his record as New Jersey Governor has also been questioned, particularly on the economic front as the state has faced multiple credit downgrades. Yet Christie still resonates and would certainly be an East Coast voter draw. Consequently, pundits are starting to suggest that he might be a vice president choice.
5. Ben Carson has a sense of humor
Dr. Ben Carson’s campaign is clearly struggling. While he is still number four in the polls, his campaign is losing momentum. There have been several recent organizational changes on his campaign and rumors of dwindling money are surfacing. More importantly, with the recent heightened concerns about national security and the economy, the Doctor’s “outsider” background is not resonating as well as it did a month or two ago. During the debate, Carson did little to convince the voters that he should be their choice. However, he did demonstrate that he has a sense of humor. He began his opening statement by thanking the moderators for letting him speak so early in the evening. He said that he was going to ask them to wake him up when it was his time to speak. But again, while humor is a great way to engage with the voters, it is not enough to convince them to vote for you.
Yes, it was an informative, substantive debate. Now there are less than two weeks until the January 28th Fox News Republican Primary Debate in Des Moines Iowa, four days before the Iowa Caucus. Stay-tuned as the race to Super Tuesday heats up!
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