Commentary: CNN 2016 Republican Presidential Debate, round one

The first round of the CNN Republican Presidential debate featured 4 candidates. Gov. Bobby Jindal of Louisiana (prior to the debate at .5% national polling average), Senator Lindsey Graham of South Carolina (.3%), former Gov. George Pataki of New York (no average available), and former Senator Rick Santorum of Pennsylvania (.8%). The debate was only an hour and 17 minutes, but was a fierce display competition and Republican values. The goal was to make the cut as the candidates for the Republican nominee get fewer and fewer. Two succeeded in this effort.

There is no question that all four candidate brought their A-game. There is no question that each is acutely aware that failing at this debate is almost an assured sign that they will be joining former Gov. Rick Perry on the sidelines of this political battle to win the presidency in 2016. The spoils of a win means more donations, more air-time and interviews, and potentially a shot against the Democratic nominee (presumably still Hillary Clinton).

Senator Lindsey Graham of South Carolina
The win, in my somewhat humble opinion, goes to Sen. Graham. He had the most demonstrable turn around since the August Fox News debate. He moved himself from a single statement – we must beat ISIS – to a more well-rounded candidate. He still is full locked into fighting ISIS and threats to America in the Middle East, but at least this time he addressed the other issues and questions in a manner that didn’t end with what felt like the phrase, ‘I will beat ISIS if you elect me,’ which is how he seemed to come off in the first debate.

There were several notable quotes in the first round of the CNN debate from Sen. Graham. The following are the statements that I believe were the most worthy of remembering and signatures of the type of candidate that Sen. Graham may be.

“Here’s my problem with Secretary Clinton. Where the hell were you on the night of the Benghazi attack? How did you let it become a deathtrap to begin with; and why did you lie about what happened to these people?”

“If you are a waitress out there wanting more money, I’m not going to increase the minimum wage. I’m going to try to create an environment where somebody else will open a restaurant across the street to hire you away. At a higher rate. Or they will have to pay you more to keep you.”

“The tax code is a complete mess, but nobody has talked about the elephant in the room which is debt. Not one more penny to the federal government until we come up with a plan to get out of debt.”

“A weak economy. A military in decline. The world on fire. Does that sound familiar to you?”

“Bobby [Gov. Jindal], we’re running to be the President of the United States. The most important job in the free world. With it comes a certain amount of honesty. I’m tired of telling people things they want to hear that I know we can’t do.”

“I get my foreign policy from being on the ground. I’ve been to Iraq and Afghanistan, the Mid East, 35 times in the last decade trying to understand how we got in this mess. Our leading candidate gets his policy from watching television. What I heard last night is a cartoon network. ‘Oh I’m big, I’m strong, I’m going to hit ’em in the head. That’s not foreign policy. That’s a cartoon character.”

LA Gov. Bobby Jindal
Winning the second place prize, and likely to make the cut to the main stage for the next debate, is Gov. Jindal. While Gov. Jindal was far less of a single issue candidate than Sen. Graham, he was not as polished in addressing each issue. While he had several good comments and quotes, many were honestly throw away comments that every candidate in the Republican field made to some degree or another. Gov. Jindal did not mince his words, and stood his ground on his opinion of Donald Trump, the apparent passivity of Senate Republicans, and the potential ills of a Clinton Presidency.

“He’s [President Obama] declared war on trans-fats and truce with Iran. Think about that. He’s more worried about Twinkees than he is about the Ayatollah having a nuclear weapon.”
“It’s not that he [Chief Justice Roberts] got a minor ruling wrong, this is twice he re-wrote the law.”

We’ve [Republicans] got the majority, what good has it done us. You see they say they’re going to stop amnesty, they say they are going to repeal Obamacare, they didn’t do either. Now they aren’t even willing to fight to defund Planned Parenthood. [Senate Majority Leader] McConnell’s already waived the white flag of defeat. They’re not willing to stand up to fight for the issues that count. I think it is time to have term limits. I think it’s time to have part-time citizen legislators.”

Across the world dictators walk all over this President [Obama]. He treats our friends like dirt, he lets our enemies walk all over us. The only group he is able to out-negotiate are the Senate Republicans.”

From here on are the 2 candidates that won’t make the cut in my opinion. It may not happen immediately, but after 2 debates they have been so lackluster that I am sure the campaign financing woes that plagued Gov. Perry will soon be dogging them. Unless there is a substantial and dramatic event, very very soon, these two men will not be around for long. But it should also be said that this is not a reflection on their ideas or passion. It’s just the reality that campaign donations will not flow everywhere, and media attention is like a moth to a flame – the brightest lights get the most moths.

Rick Santorum
Former Sen. Santorum, is passionate. There is no doubt that he hopes to see America as a manufacturing giant of the world again. It is clear he wants to help the middle class. But beyond that, he gets a bit more fuzzy and the notches drop noticeably on the other issues of the day. It’s not that he can’t lead, he just doesn’t feel like the best choice. Two presidential election cycles have taken their toll on him, and his drive as well as his proclamation as a political outsider feel dated and behind the times.

“When people say, ‘You’re going to start a war,’ my response is, NO I’m going to stop a war. Because a nuclear Iran is the end.”

former Governor George Pataki of New York
Lastly, there is former Gov. Pataki. Again, the question is not the resume, intelligence, or capability of these candidates. It’s their appeal as a President, as a leader of the world. The vision of Gov. Pataki feels worn. Like someone who has missed his time. He gets the issues, he is relevant in his answers, but he feels just a step behind the pack. In fact, his presentation was such that while he had notable comments, there wasn’t one thing he said that I felt necessary or impressive enough to quote. There is no greater death knell in politics than being unquotable. He was far better than in the FOX debate, but CNN may be the last time we see him on any debate stage.

Other hopefuls for the race, like Gov. Gilmore, failed to make an impression on the FOX debate and have done nothing worth mentioning since. They didn’t clear the hurdle for CNN, or in the case of Gov. Perry, have left the race. They are not factors, I believe, under any circumstance.

As for a quick overview of my thoughts (after only the first viewing) of the second round of the CNN 2016 Republican debate, I present my response I offered on a Facebook comment. I will have a more detailed commentary soon.

“Well in the second debate, in my opinion Trump jumped the shark. Gov Kasich lost ground. Sen. Paul confirmed his isolationist view and is weak. Gov. Huckabee was ok, but broke no new ground. Gov. Christie came off mostly bull headed. Sen. Cruz was very preachy and Presidential but not powerful. Dr. Carson improved on his last performance but is not a commanding presence and perhaps too dependent on intellectual options over all else. Carly Fiori justified being on the stage and was strong but balanced with good clear positions. Gov. Bush mostly distanced himself from his family, without insult to them, took on Trump well (low hanging fruit in my opinion) and defended being the most centrist – left person on the stage. But these are my opinions after one watching. On YouTube watching first debate now.” – Michael “Vass” Vasquez, September 17, 2015 @ 1:20am

About the Author

Michael Vass
Born in 1968, a political commentator for over a decade. Has traveled the U.S. and lived in Moscow and Tsblisi, A former stockbroker and 2014 Congressional candidate. Passionate about politics with emphasis on 1st and 2nd Amendments.

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