The second Republican debate this week was seriously flawed by the heavy-handed and unprofessional moderating by CNN's Jake Tapper. He showed himself to be more interested in the silliest and pettiest kind of goading the candidates into personal sparring rather than addressing issues and challenges faced by the nation with the seriousness that they warrant. His rudeness to his so-called co-hosts, Hugh Hewitt and Dana Bash, by virtually eliminating their roles, was even more prideful and egocentric than Donald Trump. However, conclusions can still be drawn about the candidates and their performances.
Donald Trump's woeful lack of understanding and depth on almost every issue, and his dearth of solutions to the problems he so melodramatically describes in the most negative, hopeless terms, was only minimally exposed — but any serious and careful observer saw it anyway. His repetitive recitation of poll results showing him on top must come from a terrible insecurity underneath his bluster — and an insecure President who constantly requires affirmation of his strength and prowess could easily pose a major security risk to our nation, both economically and militarily.
As someone who has served on a board with Carly Fiorina prior to her decision to enter the Presidential race, and thus has seen her in an executive capacity outside the context of a political campaign, I was confident that she would show herself to be fully worthy of inclusion in the main stage debate — but even I didn't expect her to be quite as good as she was. She overwhelmingly won the so-called undercard debate in Cleveland last month, and I think she won the main stage Reagan Library as well, although more narrowly. She was informed, factual, precise, commanding and witty. The way she tied the Iran and Planned Parenthood issues together as examples of how America should lead — or get "back in the leadership business," as she put it — was utterly brilliant and sparked maybe the second greatest applause and expression of support of the evening. When the inevitable question came up about what she thought of Trump's demeaning references to her face, her response was a home run that could not have been scripted, because it was based on a Donald Trump remark about Jeb Bush's unfortunate comment a couple of months ago about women's health — for which Bush apologized the next day. Trump was unrelenting, and dismissive about the apology. "Why did you say it?" he said, and then repeated "I heard it myself. Why did you say it?" Fiorina responded to the face comment by saying, very coolly, "It's interesting to me, Mr. Trump said that he heard Mr. Bush very clearly and what Mr. Bush said. I think women all over this country heard very clearly what Mr. Trump said."
And that retort produced what was clearly the loudest applause and most positive reaction of the entire three hour debate. A deft touch indeed.
In my opinion, the second best performance was turned in by Senator Marco Rubio. He showed real command of the issues with detail and nuances, especially with regard to foreign policy, military policy and diplomatic relations. He can shift more quickly into nearly spell-binding rhetoric than anyone else in national politics today, and he showed that talent again in this debate. He also subtly toned down his ready smile and sense of humor, and in so doing, displayed a seriousness that was probably calculated but looked perfectly natural. Since he is both blessed and cursed with youthful good looks, many folks still consider him to be too young and inexperienced to be a presidential candidate this cycle, and his more serious projection may have partially dispelled that concern.
As for the other candidates, they all did rather well. Walker and Bush were much stronger than in the first debate, Christie was forceful if a little corny, Carson was the same gentle and thoughtful man that he showed himself to be in the Cleveland debate, Paul was analytical, but also a little quirky. Cruz was stronger and more forceful and returned to the form people have come to expect from him. Kasich was constantly trying to reach for the eloquence he showed in his gay marriage answer, but fell short, even though his overall performance was rather good.
The strength and depth of the full Republican field was another debate take-away. With an African-American, two Hispanics, a woman and two candidates in their 40's, the contrast with the top three Democrats was palpable. The top three Democrats are uniformly white and either septuagenarians or close to it. The Democrats will have a hard time holding onto the impression that theirs is the party of diversity and youth. All in all, the Reagan Library was a good night for Republicans on the national stage.
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Colin Hanna is the President of Let Freedom Ring, USA.