For the first GOP presidential nomination debate, I tweeted my assessment of the candidates’ performance from strongest to weakest. I came to this conclusion by judging which candidates best helped themselves. Because each candidate faces different challenges, what each must do to raise his profile varies. My assessment of the best performers and my rationale follows:
5th Place: Governor Jeb Bush
Heavy is the head that wears the crown. In the realm of serious Republican candidates, Governor Bush sits atop the heap. Saddled with a familiar surname; Bush must stand apart from his father and brother, as well as distinguish himself from an impressive field of Republicans. To make matters worse, media reserves a great deal of its challenges for him because of his name and success so far.
For Mr. Bush to have succeeded in the first nomination debate; he needed to appear substantially more adept than the other Republicans–deserving of his frontrunner status.
Bush did many things well: he stayed positive, even complimenting Senator Marco Rubio when the moderators attempted to pit the Florida politicians against each other. He came across as serious about issues, even defending his controversial support for Common Core. Bush avoided gaffes and cemented his position in the mainstream of the GOP.
That said, Bush underperformed in the debate. He failed to appear remarkably better than his competitors. Partially, this happened because the field is so talented. Bush struck an even tone between technocrat and regular guy. He did not sound rehearsed or overly polished. These are positive points–working in his favor. On the other hand, he sounded less authentic than John Kasich and Ben Carson, and less polished than Marco Rubio.
To his greatest rival, his mentee, Mr. Rubio, Bush offers very little that Rubio does not: Both speak Spanish. Both mirror the other on substantive policy positions, save Common Core. Both master an inspirational tone. Rubio, though, is younger and more dynamic. Furthermore, Rubio’s campaign more overtly compares his candidacy as the future, making Clinton and Bush runs look outdated. On the other hand, Bush’s executive experience plays in his favor.
To be sure, Mr. Bush is a talented politician. However, he lacks the excitement of many of his competitors. Bush can address this by drawing bold contrasts between himself and other candidates, or he can wage a war of attrition–outlasting the poorer candidates and remaining steady while others who offer similar promise fall to the wayside.