Tuesday, December 15th, 2015, CNN hosted the 5th Republican presidential 2016 debates. The debates were held in the Venetian Theatre in Las Vegas, Nevada, moderated by Wolf Blitzer, Dana Bash, and Hugh Hewitt. The lower-polling candidates faced off in a 4-person debate early in the evening. The nine front-runner candidates debated in a later broadcast.
Below are the results as I see them in order of performance.
- PAUL Surprise come-from-behind winner of the debate. Paul was steady, rational, thoughtful, and connected those attributes to our Founding principles. Was the only candidate to mention both the U.S. Constitution and Bill of Rights. Strong explanation of the folly of nation building. Blistering attack on Rubio regarding Rubio’s open-border advocacy. Downside: Paul conflated the Geneva Convention and the dying of innocents (women and children) in a time of war.
- TRUMP Another candidate with a surprise come-from-behind; Trump has been at or near the bottom of my debate ratings (see my website listed below). For the most part Trump was more deliberate, prepared, and congenial, save several spit-screen grimaces with Bush. Trump was matter-of-fact and up-front with voters. Unlike Cruz, Trump was unafraid to bluntly answer the question “Are you willing to kill thousands of women and children in the course of pursuing ISIS?” Trump: Yes.
- CRUZ As front runner in the Iowa polls, why did CNN delay giving Cruz a question until question #4? Cruz was able to garner a lot of debate time which helped elevate his rating. Not a great night for Cruz, but he held firm—refreshingly aggressive—against Rubio’s attacks. Very focused on targeting and killing radical Islamic terrorists. Cruz comes into this debate leading the polls in Iowa; I suspect Cruz came into this debate with a cautious don’t-blow-it strategy. Very disappointed Cruz evaded the question: “Last week you proposed carpet bombing ISIS. What of the thousands of women and children who may die in those bombing attacks.”
(Here is the correct and direct answer to that question: “Innocents die in war. That’s why our Founders required the whole of Congress to authorize it, not the President. Consider this: next time ISIS attacks, it may be an American grade school. A massacre of American children. On that day, will we be debating carpet bombing ISIS?”)
- FIORINA CNN shunned Fiorina. To her credit she used her limited time wisely. I liked her stand government should “ask, not force” private companies to assist federal officials in the electronic/tech investigations of suspected terrorists. Showed solid understanding of all players in various regions of the world.
- RUBIO Was visibly shaken off his game when Cruz and Paul called Rubio out for his far-from-conservative voting record on amnesty. Cruz and Paul also confronted Rubio about his recent and controversial attacks on Cruz’s Senate bill limiting NSA metadata gathering. Rubio gave us a fine history lesson on Syria’s civil war, as well as a delightful explanation of nuclear triad. Rubio has officially traded his once-touted Tea Party credentials for “establishment Republican” campaign donors fleeing Bush.
- CARSON If the San Bernardino terrorist attack had happen this week instead of two weeks ago, Carson’s call for a moment of silence would have been appreciated. Instead, it felt gimmicky. Big plus though for proposing Congress Declare War on ISIS. Carson is one of the few candidates who believe the Constitution requires a Declaration of War prior to fighting one! And though his analogies were a bit clumsy (sounded like he was calling Trump a horse thief), he boldly and rightly stated it is sometimes more merciful a few innocents of the enemy should die than many of our own.
- KASICH More NSA metadata spying on Americans. Wants to remove Syrian President Assad, evidently without Congress declaring war. No mention how the Russians might feel about the U.S. killing their ally’s president. Kudos for supporting a pause in accepting Syrian refugees into the U.S., though he didn’t have the integrity to credit Cruz for leading this fight. Kasich, please go back to Ohio.
- CHRISTIE Getting tired of Christie’s routine acting as if he’s above the fray of bickering and arguing and politics transpiring on stage. He was a prosecutor for goodness sakes—they love arguing. He seemed distracted; I don’t think Christie was following the debate. Answered questions in generalities. The candidates in the earlier debate have a far better grasp of Islam, ISIS, Sharia, the Caliphate, and Middle East than Christie.
- BUSH Few specifics on policy; I guess we have to go to his website for specifics. Made ridiculous statement when asked about Trump’s recent proposal banning all Muslims from entering the U.S.: Banning all Muslims from entering the U.S. will be good for ISIS. What? Another lackluster performance. Who is paying CNN to keep Bush in the front-runner debates? Who loaded up the CNN debate audience with all those die-hard Bush supporters?
As for the debate itself. CNN’s moderation of the debate was suspect. CNN instigated gratuitous squabbles between Rubio/Cruz, as well as Trump/Bush. Shunned Fiorina. Hugh Hewitt deserved the ire of the audience when he asked candidates, “Are you in favor of killing thousands of innocent women and children?” To CNN’s credit they asked Rubio to explain his controversial support for the “Gang of Eight” amnesty bill, and they gave Paul a fair share of questions.
(Kenton Long is a father, writer, proud patriot, and investment professional living in Scottsdale, Arizona. Bachelor’s Degrees in Political Science and Anthropology, ASU. He is creator and owner of Constitutional conservative blog ProdigalSonsOfLiberty.com.)