Security was heavy and the large room filled to capacity. For most of the debate the audience, with many family members of the candidates present, was relatively muted with polite applause for all the candidates, but here were several notable exchanges that produced a more excited outburst, including two moments where a few in the audience booed but for the most part the CNN debates took place in front of people who conducted themselves with decorum.
The moderator, Wolf Blitzer, did a fair job at maintaining a meaningful pace and giving all the participants at least some opportunity to make their “pitches” when answering the questions, some of which came from CNN and some from the public gathered by CNN via the Internet. However, it became clear to everyone in the room that the front runners were given preferred time for what proved to be the key exchanges of the day. The exception was Jeb Bush, who despite a very lackluster performance was given far more time than his standings in the polls warranted. Many observers noted after the debates that it was obvious he was used as a foil in an attempt to discredit Donald Trump. The media, by making such large post debate coverage of Bush’s “You can’t insult your way to the Presidency,” made the comment appear staged. Trump did not insult anyone during the debate and even when he responded to Bush, it was to point out his lack of poll standings; a factual matter well-known to the media and anyone following the contest.
Perhaps the most heated and sure to be controversial exchange came over the differences between Ted Cruz and Marco Rubio involving their respective stances on immigration. It is hard to dispute that Cruz’s record on immigration is much stronger than Rubio’s. Rubio’s support for the so-called “gang of eight” bill in would have provided a form of amnesty with paths to citizenship for people in the country illegally. Cruz has consistently opposed any form of amnesty for illegals. The media, since the debate, has been trying to seize on Rubio’s position at the exchange that Cruz did, at least once, support a bill that would have included a path to citizenship. What they are not elaborating upon is that during the Senate debates on that particular bill, Cruz said he would leave open a key provision that provided a potential path to citizenship but only to get the border genuinely secured. That version was never passed. Suffice it to say, that while the media has made a big “to do” over this point the differences between Cruz and Rubio remain substantial. Rubio is a moderate career Republican who has often supported open borders, amnesty and more immigration, illegal or otherwise while voting against bills that would have seriously addressed securing the border and deporting those here illegally. Cruz has consistently opposed amnesty and insists the borders must be secured. This difference was clearly on display on the stage at the debates.
There were several candidates that appeared uncomfortable on the stage and the tenor of their voices and strength of their responses exacerbated this point. Carson in particular came off as weak and at one point actually refused to comment on a Rubio-Cruz exchange when offered the chance to do so. It seemed particularly strange because just moments before he told Wolf Blitzer that felt he was not being given the same amount of time as the others. For some strange reason Carson coughed a lot and overall appeared very nervous. His answers to questions were not as responsive as they could have been and most of the time he used his background as a physician to “explain’ his positon on political issues; once comparing ISIS to a “Cancer that needed to be excised.”
New Jersey Governor Chris Christie, who barely made the cut to get off the undercard debated with Huckabee, Pataki, Santorum and Graham, also seemed unable to break out of his “one trick pony” approach to answering the questions. We counted the number of times he opened with “As a former prosecutor” and found he used it seven times to differentiate himself from the field by saying that is how he learned how to be “tough” and how that toughness would translate into him being a more effective commander in chief and better able to deal with terrorism and U.S. security – the focus of the debates.
Rand Paul seemed relaxed and focused and did distinguish himself from the crowded field but, despite his convictions and reasoned responses, never seemed to gain any traction. He insisted that the greatest threat facing America is overspending and financial irresponsibility in Washington by federal lawmakers. His most pointed and well-taken comment was when he said that both Republicans and Democrats were joined together by a “secret handshake” when it came to constantly increasing spending and passing bills that drain the American coffers. Paul was direct and to his points but perhaps his lack of war posturing was not well taken. He remains a sidelined candidate with great ideas and the ability to articulate them.
Ohio governor John Kasich needed to make a moment and just couldn't seem to put it together. Refreshingly, he abandoned the "mad as hell and not going to take it anymore" persona he used in the last debate and to establish the credentials he has earned, a committed pragmatist with an impressive record of results in Ohio. Yet, his biggest claim for credibility at the debate was the way he used his 18 years of service on the House Armed Services Committee to establish he knew what he was talking about when it comes to national security matters. But this election cycle, no Republican voter wants to back someone who touts his two decades spent inside the Washington machine; this is not a race that will be won by touting longevity in politics as Bush and Clinton are finding out.
Former Hewlett Packard CEO Carly Fiorina was not as composed as she had been in prior debates, although she made a great point when she said it strained credibility to believe our law enforcement and intelligence communities wouldn’t check social media when investigating Islamic extremism and terrorist links to ISIS. She was referring to the recent San Bernardino attacks and the failure to get strong measures passed to enable law enforcement to study social media contacts like the ones used by the shooters in California. It is has been made clear as the investigation continues that social media played a big part bringing the American Muslim – Syed Rizwan Farook and his foreign born wife, Tashfeen Malik together to commit jihadi motivated violence in the name of ISIS in the U.S. Fiorina said if elected she’d enlist the aid of the “private sector” to bring more sophistication and tech savvy to the war on terrorism.
Her sentiment was echoed by businessman Donald Trump, the clear front-runner in the field of candidates. He also said he would “call on Silicon Valley” to “gather the finest and best minds in America to bring down ISIS.” This was the point when it appeared CNN tried to ambush Trump by asking him if he’s “shut down the Internet” to defeat ISIS. When he said he would prefer not to do that but that he would “shut down the Internet in ISIS controlled or utilized territory” if it was “doable” after consulting with the experts. At this point Jeb Bush started attacking Trump saying you couldn’t just “shut down the Internet” which was not what Trump had said. When Trump called Bush on this, Bush replied with the phrase – “You can’t insult your way to the Presidency.” This phrase has been repeatedly ad naseum on the media following the exchange giving further credence to the contention of voters that the media is being used to attack Trump at every turn.
For his part, Trump stuck with the same talking points he has maintained since he launched his Presidential bid: secure the border and build a wall to help keep out illegals ; renegotiate trade bills that he says are not good for America or American workers; deport anyone illegal and require them to come back legally; destroy ISIS and radical Islamic terrorism with all means at our disposal and stop legal immigration from areas of the world associated with radical Islam until we can put procedures in place to properly vet any applicants for admission to America.
There was another winner at the debates last night - Ayla Brown: The former "American Idol" contestant and daughter of former Massachusetts Sen. Scott Brown who sang the national anthem at the opening Tuesday night. Her voice filled the Venetian theater with beauty and clearly moved those in the audience. She was great!
The following comments were taken from the audience outside the debate immediately after its conclusion.
- There is something I noticed and it calls out the "establishment" as the people who are established as career politicians that are in conflict with Trump. The real debate is between the established Republican Party that is hinging on major reform if Trump wins. Or maybe more to the point losing their "milk cow" way of life. Trump is rocking the boat in more ways than anyone saw on this stage tonight. The stage is just the window dressing to what is happening in the back room politics with party leaders.
- The question for me is who is more responsible to run a trillion dollar nation and who is more responsible to run the world most powerful military. Yes, voters are sick & tired of the old bull from political leaders but when it comes down to it who can be more responsible the only two people who can represent the establishment of America is Hillary Clinton or Jeb Bush.
- Cruz says climate change science is a hoax but look at this: Arctic temperatures rise to hottest in 115 years. The Arctic has heated up to its hottest since records began in 1900, according to the 2015 Arctic Report Card, a global scientific report released Tuesday. Air temperatures in the region, now 2.3 degrees F above normal, are rising at more than twice the rate of the rest of the world, melting ice sheets. Cruz ignores facts. He is a liar.
- It's about time the boring and repetitive media learned that Americans have woke up. The Republican Party is working overtime to bring Donald down. Why? Because he isn't part of the "network" that's why. It was apparent on the stage tonight that CNN tried to set Trump up but he wasn’t biting. He isn't owned by anyone and there are a lot of people who think he will do what is best for American citizens, not just the establishment. I was lucky to get into the debates tonight and I’m sure many who were here are far more establishment than I am but I do believe that President Trump will undo a lot of the damage Obama has accomplished in his two terms. Personally, I can’t wait to get someone back in the White House that actually seems to care what the people think.
- Jeb Bush looked like the clown that thinks he should be handed the White House just because his daddy and brother were presidents! It’s pretty clear why he should just quit.
- Jeb came off as frustrated, annoyed and defensive last night. It's like he's got to jump in and tell everyone how it should be but his ideas aren't any better. I doubt he has any chance of winning this election.
- Rand Paul seemed to be the most reasoned person on the stage. I was surprised that Trump didn’t sound more strident but then again he seems to be calming down as the campaign goes on. The person I though sounded the most like a professional politician was Rubio. He’s just a bit too smooth for me.
- Cruz did well and l liked what Chris Christy had to say but he did repeat himself a lot. Overall, I still think Trump is the one to beat in this race and Cruz is a close second.
- What happened to Ben Carson?
- I was embarrassed for Bush and the way he behaved. He is not cut out for the type of slash and burn style of debate CNN put on tonight. It seemed like he was making a desperate, childish attempt at being the tough guy and that’s a style that doesn’t fit him.
- I found there were too many questions against or using Trump as a ploy to garner excitement, by the board. To me, it was done in very poor taste. They are supposed to ask questions that garner intent and information from the candidates...not start a bar room fight. Poor taste plain and simple. Not to mention that the media panel made a mockery of poor Jeb Bush. He was there to be vetted, not used as a puppet against Trump.
- Bush says you can't insult your way to the WH. Sadly, in today's social and political climate that seems to be the norm.
- I want to see Trump debate Hillary. So does the rest of America.