CNN commentators weigh in on winners and losers in CNN debate
Fiorina made strong showing, knocking Trump out of the spotlight
CNN Opinion asked a range of contributors for their take on the CNN debate of Republican presidential candidates. Who were the winners and losers? The opinions expressed in these commentaries are theirs.
Errol Louis: Candidates finally stop dancing to Trump’s tune
The Republican race for president just got a lot more serious.
At the second Republican presidential debate, there was minimal name-calling and personal insults by Donald Trump, and all of the candidates not named Donald Trump rushed into the void, taking advantage of an opportunity to make a good impression – succeeding more often than not.
The clearest winner of the debate was Carly Fiorina, who successfully challenged Trump – criticizing his wisecracks about her personal appearance and challenging his credentials as a global businessman by deftly ticking off hotspots around the world and suggesting ways she would tackle them.
But other candidates took turns at laying out specific plans and contrasting their ideas with those of their rivals. Sen. Rand Paul, a libertarian, took issue with Jeb Bush’s vow to crack down on recreational marijuana, and Chris Christie jumped into the conversation to warn about the dangers of marijuana use leading to abuse of harder drugs – a point underscored by Fiorina, who talked about the death of her stepdaughter, who was a drug user.
The big news in all of this was that the field of candidates weren’t dancing to Trump’s tune. Instead, they talked in a serious way about serious issues, and for considerable swaths of the debate it was possible to forget Trump was onstage at all: Marco Rubio and Christie went back and forth on climate change, and Ted Cruz debated Bush over the process and criteria for naming Supreme Court justices. Ben Carson argued for a two-tier minimum wage.
It remains true that a large percentage of the Republican voting base is disgusted by politicians and convinced that a brash straight-talker like Trump might fix this. But the debate served as a reminder that Trump’s 30% support also means that 70% of Republican voters are looking for a different candidate to support. The debate proved they have plenty of viable choices.
Winner: Carly Fiorina
David Gergen: Carly Fiorina’s night
To be taken half as seriously as a man, goes an old adage, a woman must be twice as good. Her male rivals ought to be taking Carly Fiorina a lot more seriously than that today because she was better – a lot better – than most of them in the CNN debate.
She came prepared with crisp, coherent responses to nearly every issue raised and delivered two of the best monologues of the night – one when she spoke movingly about burying a child lost to drug addiction, the other about empowering every woman to realize her aspirations. She also put down Donald Trump on his slur about her face; he lamely praised her looks when, instead, he should have apologized.
Trump seemed tight at the start, needlessly picking fights, but he got his bearings halfway through and finished upbeat. I doubt he will pay much of a price for his early bombast but he may well see Fiorina, more than Ben Carson, soon nipping at his heels.
A debate that seemed long did have one major virtue: it allowed other candidates far more openings to distinguish themselves. Marco Rubio and Chris Christie took the most advantage: both were much more effective than in the first debate. The race itself, like the debate, is likely to seesaw back and forth for many weeks to come.
David Gergen is a senior political analyst for CNN and has been a White House adviser to four presidents. A graduate of Harvard Law School, he is a professor of public service and co-director of the Center for Public Leadership at the Harvard Kennedy School.
Margaret Hoover: Advantage, Fiorina
Carly Fiorina won on style and substance. Unlike Marco Rubio, who dominated the few times he spoke, Fiorina made sure she had more than a few bites at the mic. Unlike Jeb Bush, who could only politely respond to Donald Trump’s insults, while still losing most of the exchanges, Fiorina proved to be the only candidate who could effectively push back on Trump and his substance-free assertions.
Her perfectly calibrated and classy response to his insult of her face was an instant classic destined to dominate debate highlight reels. Now Trump is calling Carly Fiorina a “wonderful person” and “beautiful.” That’s the Trump-English definition for “apology. ” That’s Fiorina-English for “a win.”
Fiorina handled the attacks on her business record deftly and then attacked Trump’s habit of hanging creditors out to dry in the wake of his bankruptcies. For a GOP generally in trouble with women, she’s the only candidate that could get away with calling the move to change the face on the $20 bill a pander. And she’s right. We should know our history and make new history – today – by considering Carly Fiorina the breakout top tier candidate of Round 2.
Winners: Fiorina, Rubio, Christie, Bush
Losers: Huckabee, Trump, Walker, Cruz
Margaret Hoover is the president of the right-leaning advocacy group American Unity Fund, and author of “American Individualism: How a New Generation of Conservatives Can Save the Republican Party.” She is the host of SiriusXM’s “Get It Right with Margaret Hoover.”
SE Cupp: Trump’s bizarre answers don’t hold up
Trump came out swinging – but ended up missing. Not only wasn’t he substantive – again – but he made some pretty bizarre statements. He thinks a flat tax is more complicated than a regressive tax. He said that vaccines cause autism. He wants Syria and ISIS to fight each other. He will get along with Putin. This stuff doesn’t hold up to scrutiny. The question is whether any is ever applied to Trump.
Ben Carson also suffered some serious stumbles that will likely hurt him, namely the bizarre suggestion that a “bully pulpit” would have been a better response to 9/11 than fighting terrorists. Saying that Americans aren’t willing to perform agriculture jobs, that our Air Force isn’t “capable” and our Marines aren’t “ready,” is pretty irresponsible stuff.
I think Carly Fiorina, on the other hand, managed to beat already high expectations. She was sharp, quick on her feet and delivered more than one great applause line. Particularly effective was her emotional plea to defund Planned Parenthood. And she used every opportunity to get as granular and specific on policy as she could. I expect her poll numbers to rise.
Winners: Fiorina, Chris Christie and Marco Rubio.
Losers: Trump and Carson.
S.E. Cupp is the author of “Losing Our Religion: The Liberal Media’s Attack on Christianity,” co-author of “Why You’re Wrong About the Right” and a columnist at the New York Daily News.
William Howell: Candidates dodge tough issues of class, race
No big themes, no clear sense of vision emerged from the three hours of jawing in tonight’s debate. Such are the downsides, I suppose, of putting 11 candidates on a stage and divvying up 1-minute slots for each candidate to make a mark.
So we saw flashes of Christie the populist, Fiorina the Trump slayer, Kasich the sunny multilateralist, Trump the bombast, Rand the constitutionalist, Carson the logician. But their claims didn’t add up to much that was especially comprehensible, certainly not memorable.