gop_debate2The Republican candidates for president of the United States gathered in Simi Valley, California at the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library in order to debate and give us, the voters, a chance to see where each stands on the issues. There were definitely some contentious encounters and a few solid sound bites, but what did we learn?

This time, rather than Fox News, it was CNN who played host to the candidates. I’d give them a mixed grade, and it was definitely a different feel than the Fox debate. For one thing, debate moderator Jake Tapper could have done the entire proceedings by himself. The co-moderators Hugh Hewitt and Dana Bash hardly spoke at all, and at one point, I wondered if they had gone home.

Tapper’s style was definitely a nice contrast to the Fox News “kids” and their “look at us” opening to the debate. The Fox News debate felt like it was about the moderators, while the CNN debate felt like it was about the candidates. The edge goes to CNN.

With that said, the opening round of questions was just ridiculous. Rather than ask a candidate about his or her stance on an issue. Candidates were asked questions about other candidates. It was an obvious ploy for confrontation, and the audience both at home and in the room were given plenty. However, the candidates had mere seconds to give an answer, so there was nothing really insightful to be said.

There were eleven candidates on stage, so that contributed to the lack of depth by any particular candidate as well. Donald Trump seemed more relaxed, and he started out sounding much more reserved and polished than before. Then, he inexplicably threw out a jab toward Sen. Rand Paul, and I thought, “There’s the old Trump.”

Jeb Bush was certainly more energetic than the last debate, but that doesn’t necessarily mean that anything changed substantively. However, for those grading strictly the debate performance, Bush definitely improved.

There was one moment for Bush that I thought fell particularly flat. Bush was given an opening by Tapper to address Trump’s comments about Bush’s hispanic wife. It was Bush’s opportunity to defend her and call Trump out. I don’t know if it’s just me, but it was the weakest defense of a loved one I’ve ever seen. He sounded like some aristocrat politely asking for an apology from a fellow gentleman. Geez… if you are going to step forward and defend your wife or daughter or any loved one, then be a freakin’ man about it!

Marco Rubio had a strong night and was certainly one of the top performers. Everything he said came out with conviction and passion. Again that doesn’t change the fact about where he stands on issues such as illegal immigration, but on Wednesday night, he was on his game.

For the amount of time he was given to speak, Ted Cruz was outstanding. He always is. However, his media people need to teach him some very BASIC guidelines on where to look while on television. Yes, there are times when looking directly at the camera is effective, but for the most part, during an interview or debate, a person should look at the person who asked the question. Rubio and others did well at this. He engaged his opponents and the moderator. Cruz just stared into the camera. I just hope that despite the bad technique that people listened to the message.

Carly Fiorina joined the cast at the “big kids table” this time, and she showed that she belonged there. She was absolutely outstanding and showed a very deep command of whatever issue she talked about. Her response to Donald Trump on the issue of her looks was priceless and very effective. As a candidate, Fiorina is running on her record as CEO of Hewlett-Packard, so I encourage all responsible voters to read what they can about that tenure.

Govs. Chris Christie and Mike Huckabee were very effective when they were given the microphone. Both did very well in the debate, but I don’t know if it will move them up in the polls. They certainly helped their cause, but it remains to be seen as to how much. Gov. John Kasich, Sen. Rand Paul, and Gov. Scott Walker, and Dr. Ben Carson rounded out the field and had minor impact in the debate.

So, in summary, and at the risk of offending everyone, here’s how I would rank the event and the participants:

CNN vs. Fox? I’d give the win to CNN but only because the Fox moderators were SO annoying and unprofessional. CNN’s questions at the beginning lacked any depth, but the second half was better.

The candidates? Here’s how I’d rank them… not necessarily on substance (especially Bush) but rather how they did last night and whether their performance will tend to help them.

1. Carly Fiorina — Easy Pick. She won.
2. Marco Rubio — Passionate answers and showed a grasp of the issues
3. Ted Cruz — Needs to work on his delivery, but every single answer is the best.
4. Jeb Bush — He was more energetic, and people will see it and his name, and he’ll likely move up.
5. Chris Christie — Answered everything well.
6. Mike Huckabee — Great answers, just limited time.
7. Donald Trump — He went in as the frontrunner and didn’t hurt himself. However, he’s going to need to add more substance going forward.
8. Ben Carson
9. Scott Walker
10. John Kasich
11. Rand Paul

Ok, your turn. Who do you think won, and who should drop out?

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