1. Jeb is dead.
There are three sub-primaries happening simultaneously within the Republican Party. The first is the race to be the champion of the establishment. I’ve said for months Jeb Bush was dead. This debate confirmed the coroner’s report. When his best answer was defending his support for the loathsome Common Core that tells you all you need to know. Then to say in a GOP primary “it doesn’t matter” that he directed a charity that awarded millions to Planned Parenthood amounts to self-immolation. His rambling and bumbling closing statement was symptomatic of the realization he knows his goose is cooked.
Chris Christie, on the other hand, likely resurrected his candidacy. He got the best of Mike Huckabee in a debate on entitlement reform and flat-out embarrassed Rand Paulon civil liberties versus national security. Ohio Governor John Kasich clearly fed off the energy of the home crowd to come across as likable and engaging, even if his answers were often what you’d hear in a Democrat debate. Then there’s Marco Rubio, who shined on every question he was given. He truly is one of the most talented politicians in the party. All three of these guys proved they’re stronger candidates for the establishment than Jeb.
2. Rand Paul is on life support.
He posted disappointed fundraising numbers, his base is demoralized, and then his top political operative was indicted for a pay-for-endorsement scandal by the Feds. So the last thing Paul needed was a further beat down in the debate, but that’s just what happened. First he tried picking on Donald Trump, who made him look silly. And then he managed to lose a civil liberties debate to Christie, despite the fact on substance he was right. Yet when you petulantly smirk on national television while Christie is talking about hugging the victims of 9/11, it’s obvious you’re just not ready for prime time.
That whittles the battle to be the conservative movement candidate down to Ted Cruz, Huckabee, and Scott Walker. Each had highlights and lowlights, and probably didn’t do enough to separate themselves, although Cruz and Huckabee were the two darlings of pollster Frank Luntz’s focus group afterwards.” Therefore that conservative primary rages on.
The clown car that was the “kiddie table” debate of those polling outside the top 10 only helped one candidate — former Fortune 500 executive Carly Fiorina. She stole the show and clearly deserves a spot in the main event. She will now battle Trump and Carson to see who will be the outsider candidate.
As for Trump, he started strong but then faded fast. He did nothing to grow his momentum, but probably didn’t do anything to cost himself, either. Carson, meanwhile, came across as exactly what he is – the type of good and honorable man a lot of Americans would like to see be president. However, he still needs to find a base of support among Republican primary voters.
4. Fuming at Fox.
Many conservatives were already upset at what they saw as Fox News attempting to pick the nominee during the last couple of GOP primaries, and my inbox and social media were full of similar complaints after Thursday’s events.
Here’s what I repeatedly heard from frustrated conservatives across the country:
- Fox’s moderators intentionally tried to undermine the candidates in the first debate by openly demeaning their prospects, despite the fact everyone on that stage had an impressive resume.
- Megyn Kelly seemed to make it her mission to destroy Trump.
- Fox’s moderators seemed to debate the candidates more than the candidates debated each other.
- Fox seemed to mysteriously ignore candidates like Cruz and Carson for long stretches.
Of course, this is all subjective and perception is reality to people whether it’s true or not. Still, very few conservatives I interacted with during and after the debate thought Fox was “fair and balanced.”
Steve Deace is a talk show host and author of “Rules for Patriots: How Conservatives Can Win Again.” You can find him on Facebook and Twitter @SteveDeaceShow. Deace is a former reporter for The Des Moines Register, a paper owned by the same company as USA TODAY.