Grace Segers explains the US Election, reporting on the latest Republican Debate
The Republican candidates for the American presidency had their third televised debate on Wednesday, 28 October. In the United States, leadership debates are traditional election events, and have been since Kennedy and Nixon were featured in the first televised presidential debate in 1960. Each party has multiple debates between the potential nominees before and after the primary elections . Then there are the debates between the two final candidates for president.
The Debate Structure
Because there are so many Republican candidates in this election cycle, each Republican debate has been broken into two: one for candidates with little support among the American populace, and one for those with stronger poll numbers. On 28 October, the first debate featured Senators Lindsay Graham and Rick Santorum, and Governors Bobby Jindal and George Pataki. These candidates are all polling at less than 1% support amongst Republican voters, and are long shots for the nomination. The more important debate occurred at 8:00 pm on that same night, featuring the other eleven Republican candidates for the presidency. It’s likely that the Republican nominee for president will come from this pool of candidates, and so it’s this debate we should focus on.
Personally, I thought the clear winner of the debate was Senator Marco Rubio. The forty-four year old senator from Florida was stylistically reminiscent of President Obama during the 2008 election cycle. Rubio was eloquent, concise, and brought a youthful energy to the debate unmatched by any other candidate. Furthermore, he was the winner of a verbal tussle with the former establishment front-runner, Governor Jeb Bush. This occurred when Bush questioned Rubio’s voting record in the Senate: since becoming a candidate for president, the senator has faced criticism for missing key votes. Rubio fired back immediately, noting that Bush was basing his campaign on Senator John McCain’s 2008 presidential bid.
“I don’t remember you ever complaining about John McCain’s vote record,” Rubio said, referring to the fact that McCain missed many votes in the Senate when he was running for president. “The only reason you’re doing it now is because we’re running for the same position. Someone convinced you attacking me is going to help you.”
This was a devastating blow, making Bush look pretty petty . It also showcased Rubio’s quick thinking, and ability to take command of a situation. Rubio was able to explain his own policy plans in this debate, and also show that he could easily take down his rivals.
Senator Ted Cruz of Texas had a good night on the debate stage as well. His strongest moment occurred when he accused the debate moderators of taking an unfair line of questioning. He accused the moderators, who were all anchors for the television network CNBC, of treating the debate like a “cage match” and pitting candidates against each other instead of talking about issues. This was a smart move by Cruz, because many Republican voters are suspicious of the media, and so the candidate sounded like he was standing up for party values. Throughout the debate, Cruz was able to articulate his views well, and cement his appeal as a radically conservative candidate.
The most obvious loser of last Wednesday’s debate was Jeb Bush. Bush has led an underwhelming campaign thus far. He and Rubio have similar platforms, but Bush lacks the charisma and natural political skill of his fellow Floridian. Bush needed to perform well in Wednesday’s debate to prove that he was still a viable candidate for the presidency, and would make a better nominee than Rubio. But after being crushed by Rubio early in the debate, the former governor faded into the background. Bush didn’t make a solid impression on the debate stage, and there’s a good chance that voters who were once backing him will now move on to other, stronger candidates.
Surprisingly, the anti-establishment candidates also didn’t fare as well in the debate. Ben Carson tended to ramble, and was unable to credibly defend his tax plan. Furthermore, unlike in the first two Republican debates, Trump wasn’t a focal point in this one. The real estate mogul didn’t have any memorable moments, except perhaps for when he accused fellow nominee Governor John Kasich of lagging in the polls. It wasn’t necessarily a bad night for Trump or Carson, but in my opinion, they are losers merely by virtue of not making a serious impact.
The third Republican debate proved that Rubio and Cruz are key players in the presidential race, and underscored the weaknesses of Trump, Carson, and especially Bush. A possible implication is that Trump and Carson’s time as serious contenders may be coming to an end, as the focus of the debate was not on third party candidates but instead on their more established counterparts. As Bush is an establishment candidate, he needed to connect with voters—and donors—but he was ultimately overshadowed by Rubio.
While the third debate was interesting to watch and may have some short term influence on the race, it may be difficult to see many long-term implications. There is another Republican debate in less than two weeks, on 10 November. Now that the first primary is less than one hundred days away, the presidential campaign is beginning to speed up, and the next Republican debate may be a strong indicator of which candidates will make it to the end of the race.
Featured image credit: DonkeyHotey