Not much changed last night in Milwaukee. There were a few solid back and forth moments, but no one self-immolated. On their tax plans and economic proposals, the candidates mostly hit their marks. Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton were roundly criticized for their actions and inactions, and actions yet to be taken. For many of the candidates, the fourth GOP debate was also the first where we saw some of them relying on a set-piece script. They kept to their best points and produced some small new nuggets for the crowd in the theater and at home.
Here's a tour of how the candidates did.
Chris Christie may have been bumped to the kids’ table for the fourth GOP debate, but he made the most of it. Throughout the hour, Christie owned the stage and was substantive on issues. In 10 of the 12 answers he gave, Christie criticized not his opponents but Hillary Clinton, relentlessly.
Bobby Jindal was a Rube Goldberg machine of opposition research attacks on his stage-mates. Despite a gaping budget deficit in his home state of Louisiana, Jindal hit Christie and Huckabee for essentially being RINOs. The first several parries made sense. After those, however, he was flailing.
Huckabee was Huckabee.
Rick Santorum screamed into the microphone and scared people.
Rubio once again showed that he knows how to navigate the debate stage, parry attacks from opponents, and weave his personal story and vision for the country into his policy proposals. From the large cheer he received at the open, to the close of the debate, Rubio recognized his ascent and appears prepared to take advantage of it.
Carly is back! She’s got the one-liners. She’s got the intensity. She’s got the conviction on both the economy and especially national security. Her dissection of Obamacare as a case study in crony capitalism was excellent. If Fiorina needed a rebound from the last debate, she got it tonight. Carly was unafraid to wade into discussions about which she felt strongly and she was the beneficiary of Donald Trump snarking at her for interrupting – drawing boos from the audience in her defense. With the next debate six weeks off, Carly needed a strong performance and provided it.
Where has this guy been for the last four months? Rand actually participated tonight and while some of his positions, specifically related to national security, are out of step with the balance of the field, he generally knows what he believes and why he believes it.
With the exception of the Rubio-Rand-Cruz-Carly dust up, the three moderators asked substantive questions of the candidates and generally kept control of the flow. Despite the silly bell going off, if a participant was on a good run, they let them go. They were aiming for the anti-CNBC and cleared that bar by a country mile. Maria Bartiromo, Neil Cavuto and Gerard Baker managed the debate as well as could be expected.
There is no doubt that Ted Cruz knows his stuff. He assuredly knows every comma and semi-colon of his various economic plans. There is no doubt that Ted Cruz believes every word of what he’s written in those plans. But he tried too hard at times to come off as funny or likable. That’s not his move. He’s a die-hard right-winger. He does much better with angry indignation and railing against Washington than formulating charm he simply doesn’t possess.
The stakes were high for Jeb tonight. He was pretty good. He was substantive and knew his facts and figures. He took Donald Trump to task for having his facts wrong. And while he looked marginally more comfortable tonight than last month, he is at his core, a studious guy. Like Chris Christie in the earlier contest, Jeb turned his fire not to his fellow Republicans, but to Hillary Clinton. Bush can come away from Milwaukee to fight another day.
I thought that Donald Trump was going to shine tonight. I believed in a contest focused mostly on taxes, the economy and jobs that Trump had an opportunity to transform himself from populist ideologue to legitimate frontrunner. He likely didn’t do himself any real harm in Milwaukee, but he didn’t take the opportunity to break his mold as caricature. Some of his answers were masterpieces of dissembling. He was strong on the TPP trade deal until he waded too much into discussing China (who is not part of the agreement.) Trumpites love Trump. Nothing about tonight will likely change that.
Dr. Carson had his first rocky week on the campaign trail. Combatting questions about the various anecdotes he’s told about his past, Carson disappeared for long stretches of the evening. To my surprise, Neil Cavuto actually asked about Carson’s troubles. The good doctor handled the question well and pivoted to a hit on Hillary. His answers on economic policy were in some instances perfectly acceptable, which to date, is the most he’s said on these issues. Like Trump, if you’re a true believer in Ben Carson, Milwaukee left you feeling fine about his chances.
Whew. Kasich spent the first hour barging into every question he could find. On immigration, he was willing to call out Donald Trump for the improbability of deporting 11 million people. He spent the second hour fighting for airtime. When he had the opportunity to talk, he too often came off as flinty and cranky. For the GOP in 2015, he has taken on the role as party scold. And while there seemed to be early enthusiasm for his role as potential savior for the Establishment wing of the party, tonight he seemed to be the archetype of politicians that this year’s Republican primary voters detest (though maybe not in New Hampshire.)
A veteran public affairs and political professional with more than 15 years experience, Reed
has been in politics and public affairs for nearly 20 years. Since 2011, Galen has been the
owner of Jedburghs, LLC – a full service public affairs, public relations and political
consultancy that focuses on providing boutique service to its clients.
Galen has spent the last eight years servicing major corporate clients and political campaigns,
advising Fortune 50, 100 and 1000 companies in need of high-level counsel in the fields of
strategic communications, procurement and legislation. In addition to his private sector
work, Reed has managed several high-profile ballot measure campaigns in California and
Colorado – directing all aspects of message development and voter contact.
Before moving to the private sector, Reed served as Deputy Campaign Manager for John
McCain’s presidential campaign and Deputy Campaign Manager for Arnold
Schwarzenegger’s successful 2006 re-election campaign.
Prior to his move to California, Galen worked on both the 2000 and 2004 campaigns of
President George W. Bush’s. Between campaigns, Galen spent a year at the White House
and served the Bush Administration at both the US Department of the Treasury and the
Department of Homeland Security.
In 2014, Galen ran six campaigns in California, including a targeted congressional seat, a
statewide race and four legislative independent expenditures. In addition, he was a debate
coach for newly elected US Senator Dan Sullivan of Alaska.
Reed has had his work published in such outlets as The Orange County Register,
RealClearPolitics and Politico and is regularly a voice on California and national politics in
The Washington Post, The New York Times and The Los Angeles Times.