Debate Recap: Marco’s Moment

| August 10, 2015

Rehashing the Highs and Lows of Thursday’s Republican Debate


Nick Rudnik, Valdosta Today Opinion Contributor

In a crowded field of Republican candidates vying for their party’s presidential nomination, last Thursday’s primetime Fox News debate served as an opportunity for the GOP’s many candidates to address the American public. Penning this article just two days removed from debate night, there seems to be a lack of consensus in the American media and electorate as to a clear, prevailing victor.

While there was perhaps no single undisputed winner in Thursday’s debate, I found that Florida Senator Marco Rubio gave the strongest performance of the night. Rubio’s opening, speaking to his qualifications to serve as president, was the most impassioned, articulate, and resonant sound bite of the night. Rubio spoke of his humble origins, the son of two working class parents in Miami; the need for new, disruptive technologies to spur economic growth; and then took aim at the probable Democratic presidential nominee, Hillary Clinton. “If I’m our nominee, how is Hillary Clinton gonna lecture me about living paycheck to paycheck? I was raised paycheck to paycheck,” Rubio roared.

Even more, Rubio spoke briefly to his student loan debt, an issue prominent particularly among younger voters, as well as a need for new leadership in America. As a senator from among the most populated, and the most diverse, state in the nation, Florida, Rubio argued his accolades position him as a formidable contender for the presidency.

And then, of course, there was Trump. Trump arrived to the debate with a winner’s mindset, and left without shedding that frontrunner attitude. Early polling among likely Republican primary voters suggests the debate hasn’t hurt him—either by increasing another candidate’s support or diminishing his own. As is typically the case, Trump spoke in his signature off-the-cuff style, marked by rhetoric laced with bandied truisms and trite platitudes. For both the most ardent Trump devotees and detractors, it’s unlikely this debate will change their respective views of the New York developer.

Ohio Governor John Kasich also performed well. Politico reported his path to victory rested in his ability to seem less abrasive than normal. To that end, he executed satisfactorily. Kasich was prompted with a particularly tough question on his decision to expand Medicaid in his state under the Affordable Care Act, and controversial comments he made at a Koch event surrounding his decision. The Ohio governor explained it not only made moral sense to expand Medicaid, but fiscal sense. The ACA’s Medicaid expansion will reduce prison populations and uninsured emergency room visits—thus saving the state costs in the long term. It was a tough question he explained not only well, but thoroughly.

Appealing to the more doctrinaire, pious wing of the Republican Party, former Arkansas Governor Mike Huckabee and neurosurgeon Ben Carson both gave fair performances. MSNBC’s “Morning Joe” noted that to win the day, Huckabee and Carson both needed to step down from their lofty, self-appointed positions of moral superiority. They needed to show they can lead the nation, not simply lecture the American people on our many ills. To that end, they both fared well. (Though I still think they need to take a few more steps down from their lecterns to actually be serious contenders.)

The worst debate performance can easily be assigned to Kentucky Senator Rand Paul. Paul, the son of former Texas congressman and presidential candidate Ron Paul, claimed the smallest share of speaking time during the two-hour primetime event (just under five minutes). He spent the lion’s share of his little public exposure on stage duking it out with New Jersey Governor Chris Christie over FISA warrants and searches. The Kentucky senator’s path to success depended on his ability to minimize his foreign policy and national security stances and speak to his domestic policy views as a “new” Republican. He merely mentioned this new persona of realpolitik Republicanism once, in his closing remarks. Paul’s was assuredly the worst showing of the night.

The final debate performance I’ll cover was that of former Florida Governor Jeb Bush. I saw much of his father, President George H. W. Bush (of 1992), on the debate stage Thursday. Governor Bush seemed manufactured and flustered. His answers to the tough questions fielded from the moderators were often quite good, but he stammered through them. Bush’s protégé, Marco Rubio, certainly outshined his fellow Floridian.

Some final stray observations: it’s unclear when Trump fever will end among a plurality of Republican primary voters—or, perhaps, if it will end. In successive debates, Paul will need to be more assertive. Huckabee and Carson must assuage their hardline rhetoric to appeal to more moderate voters. And Bush needs to be more like his brother and less like his father—in terms of style and demeanor. While the evening was Rubio’s, it appears that the next day still belonged to Trump. In an early and crowded field, it seems that the sensationalism and fanfare of Trump bests the charisma and fervor of young Rubio. We’ll see if these trends hold true over the next few months.

rudnik-thumbnailNicholas A. Rudnik is currently pursuing a degree in political science with a concentration in American politics at Valdosta State University. Previously, he’s served as a congressional page in the U.S. House of Representatives during the 111th Congress and in the Office of U.S. Congressman Sanford Bishop. Further, Nick has served on staff at an institutional interest group, the Association of American Law Schools, in Washington and has worked in the private sector. He has presented his research, focused primarily on congressional parties and elections, at regional academic conferences and hopes to pursue a graduate degree in political science. Nick is currently completing two manuscripts relating to southern congressional elections and judicial decision-making in the area of campaign finance; he can be contacted via e-mail at Follow Nick on Twitter: @NickRudnik.

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1 Comment on "Debate Recap: Marco’s Moment"

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  1. Tyler says:

    It looks like V today has picked there winner in this Presidential race. RUBIO!!!! (If any of you couldnt tell). But what Nicky Rudnick under estimates the power of DONALD J. TRUMP. TRUMP IS THE NEXT PRESIDENT OF THE U.S.A.! Hes taking the G.O.P. back from the RINOS like Rubio…hahahahahaha