Thursday night's debate was a record setter, drawing an estimated viewing audience of over 24 million people. That makes it "the highest-rated primary debate in television history as well as the highest-rated non-sports cable telecast of all time in total viewers."
I didn't get to watch the debate live, but did get to view it last night online. Overall, it was a good debate; I couldn't really pick out a clear winner. Here are my thoughts in order of poll ranking, along with the amount of speaking time each candidate got.
Donald Trump (10:31)
Trump was entertaining, as expected. Performance-wise, it was very mixed. He doesn't have a good response for much of his past liberal views and record, and has a tendency to disdain questions (and questioners). He hit the right notes at some points, but lacks depth on policy and a conservative philosophy. Do we really want a nominee who boasts that he buys politicians?
Jeb Bush (8:47)
Bush seemed a bit scattered. He stumbled over several of his answers, and came across unprepared (or perhaps rusty). So much for the "shock and awe" he was supposed to bring as front runner. He may have the money, but if he performs in future debates like he did in this one, money won't be enough to save his campaign.
Scott Walker (5:55)
Walker did well when he spoke, but it seemed to take a little bit for him to warm up. It was a good performance; not great, but he didn't hurt himself.
Mike Huckabee (6:50)
I felt that Huckabee's debate performance was strong. He's a natural on the stage, and is quicker on his feet and more articulate in his answers than just about any of the other candidates.
Ben Carson (6:36)
At some points in the debate, Carson looked like he felt out of place. At other points, he had some great moments. With his calm, soft-spoken manner, it's easy for him to get lost in the crowd, but I think he did well, overall.
Ted Cruz (6:43)
I was surprised by how slowly Cruz spoke during the debate (slowest words-per minute in the field), which kind of limited how much he could get in, and he had the largest silent spell of the candidates. Otherwise, he had a solid performance, particularly at the closing.
Marco Rubio (6:44)
Rubio probably had the best performance. He's smooth on his feet, articulate, likable, and never seemed to be searching for his answer. He also came across genuine and heartfelt. There really wasn't a bad point for him during the debate.
Rand Paul (5:00)
Paul tried a little too hard to be aggressive. He came across petulant and irritable, particularly in his exchange with Christie over NSA surveillance. It was eerily reminiscent of Rudy Giuliani's spats with Ron Paul in the 2008 debates, which is not a good thing. It's one thing to try to stand out in a crowded field, but Rand went about it the wrong way.
Chris Christie (6:11)
Christie's big moment was his tangle with Rand Paul. While he didn't come across as petty as Rand did, I don't think he necessarily emerged a clear winner out of it. He did have a bright spot in the exchange with Huckabee on entitlements; it's a major issue, but few want to even discuss it. I don't think he gets any bump out of the debate, but he didn't cause himself irreparable harm.
John Kasich (6:56)
This was Kasich's first big opportunity to introduce himself to voters, and I think he did so-so. His attempts to connect with average middle-class voters ("my dad was a mailman" comments) seemed forced and inauthentic. He didn't fall on his face, but I don't think he gained any ground, which he needed to do. In some respects, he was helped by the home-field advantage with the debate audience.
- Marco Rubio
- Mike Huckabee
- Ted Cruz
- Ben Carson
Neither helped nor hurt
- Scott Walker
- Chris Christie
- John Kasich
- Jeb Bush
- Donald Trump
- Rand Paul
With ten candidates on the stage (not even counting the seven that didn't make it on), it was difficult for most of them to be able to speak enough to make a big impact.
I thought some of the questions were dumb, and a lot of them were intended to start some on-stage squabbling, but compared to debates in previous elections, I thought this was one of the best.
Comment with your thoughts. Did you miss the debate? Watch online here, or embedded below: