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Who won the first GOP presidential debate?

Caricature of SteveLike many of you I watched Friday night’s Happy Hour and Prime Time Debates on Fox News starring the 17 Republican presidential candidates.

Who won?  Everyone and no one.

It’s subjective, of course, and we all have a list of winners and losers. The usual pundits already have staked out their opinions and as usual they disagree.

–Some observers liked Donald Trump; others didn’t.

–Scott Walker, Mike Huckabee and Rand Paul were winners for some; losers for others.

–Marco Rubio was either polished, smart and attractive or too inexperienced.

–John Kasich elevated his chances or didn’t improve his standings.

If there is a consensus it’s that former CEO Carly Fiorina was the most impressive of the seven Republicans in the early Happy Hour Debate. And former Florida Governor Jeb Bush failed to stand out among the Prime Time contenders.

What does it all mean?

I have always argued that it’s wise to ignore the so-called experts and make up your own mind. After reading several post-debate commentaries and analyses, I am even more strongly convinced.

CNN’s roundup of pundits illustrates the wide range of opinions.

The Washington Post’s Dan Balz claims the debates resolved nothing.

Frank Bruni of The New York Times did a masterly job of evaluating the Fox News moderators and their tough questions.  His colleague Michael Barbaro, however, is someone who obviously didn’t watch the same debates I did.

Political consultant Frank Luntz handed electronic dials to potential voters to  record their reactions during the debate.  Many were turned off by Donald Trump.

On the other hand,  a Drudge Report poll this morning found strong support for Donald Trump and Ted Cruz.

Here are my picks.

Happy Hour Debate pix

Happy Hour 

1– Carly Fiorina did a good a job.  She used the questions to segue effectively, smoothly and intelligently into her talking points. Her stock just rose.

2–Rick Perry showed enthusiasm and good command of the facts he has cited often.  He’s improved as a candidate in four years.

3–Rick Santorum was surprisingly energetic and cited some specific accomplishments during his Senate career.  But where has he been in recent years? It’s hard to see his candidacy progressing.

4–Gov. Bobby Jindal was in command of his talking points, but he doesn’t look presidential.  I know it shouldn’t matter, but in the TV age it does.

5–Sen. Lyndsey Graham is fluent but he’s a one-trick pony–defense, defense and more defense.  He’ll fade.

6–Gov. George Pataki was surprisingly articulate.  Were he younger and a more recent governor, he would be a contender.

7–Gov. Jim Gilmore was okay.  But he doesn’t project energy and–like Pataki–his time has passed.

Prime Time GOP photo

Prime Time Debate

1—Donald Trump didn’t hurt his case among his most rabid supporters. But his personality-driven campaign is wearing thin and female voters were probably turned off by his sexist comments.

2—Scott Walker didn’t talk enough to expand beyond his well rehearsed stump speech or to persuade voters that his record in Wisconsin can be replicated in Washington. Why he is popular among some conservatives remains a mystery.

3—Jeb Bush was not forceful and never will be as articulate or charismatic as other GOP hopefuls. I don’t think he damaged his prospects but he did little to enhance them.  Either way he has enough money to outlast the rest of the field.

4—John Kasich helped himself with his intelligent and persuasive description of his record and a compassionate defense of his beliefs. He should move up in future polls.

5—Ted Cruz is articulate and steadfast in his convictions. He has introduced proposals in the Senate to bolster his conservative bona fides. But he’s alienated many on Capitol Hill in courting the extreme fringe of the Republican Party.

6—I have always liked Marco Rubio and believe he will be a major national political force. But contrary to several other observers I thought he failed to demonstrate that he has more experience than did a novice Barack Obama at this stage.  Still he has compelling qualities.

7—Chris Christie was combative at moments, which helped him. But his record is not as strong as some others in the race.

8—Rand Paul clearly has carved out his niche as a “different kind of Republican.” But he is too different to capture the nomination.

9—Ben Carson is extremely bright. But his political inexperience plus his mild demeanor are liabilities that eclipse his message no matter how intelligent he is.

10—Mike Huckabee’s gift for adlibbing and his usual articulate defense of his conservative views were absent last night. And it’s difficult to see how he can attract enough conservative Americans away from Ted Cruz and Scott Walker to find a path to the nomination.

Based on what I saw in the first Republican Presidential Debates, I predict Jeb Bush, Marco Rubio or John Kasich will be the GOP nominee a year from now.

But with at least ten more scheduled debates, my guess is no better than yours.


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