GOP Nomination Debate 1: My Ranking from Best to Worst (Last Place)

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:

Last Place: Senator Rand Paul

Offering the absolute worst performance in the first nomination debate was Kentucky Senator Rand Paul. From my vantage point, Paul’s challenge was to broaden his support among Republicans beyond the mythical throng of libertarians awaiting a fellow traveler to rise up for their support. Libertarianism does not play well with religion, so Evangelical Christians will not flock to a Paul campaign. Libertarianism has also shown itself weak in dealing with foreign threats, so foreign policy hawks are unlikely to consider Paul. Compound his views on domestic spying, and Paul comes across as a quirky candidate, needing to cobble most of his support from unlikely sources. Paul did nothing in the first debate to endear himself to any of these unlikely sources.

“You’re having a hard time tonight.”

These words, from Donald Trump summed up Paul’s experience perfectly.

From the outset, interrupting the proceedings to attack Donald Trump, Paul came across as a small, yipping, dog: eager to start fights he can’t win. When the general idea among the candidates was to avoid getting into scuffles with Trump, Paul went headlong into foolish territory and paid dearly by losing stature.

Then, came the infamous fight with Governor Chris Christie, in which Christie annihilated Paul as a grandstanding senator who doesn’t face the consequences of his votes and speeches as directly as Christie faces the results of his decisions. Paul resorted to a cheap shot about Christie hugging President Barack Obama weeks ahead of the 2012 election, but Christie turned that barb around by talking about hugging the 9-11 victims’ families who suffered because domestic spying resources weren’t employed before the attacks. Paul looked sullenly at the floor and shrank away until tepidly delivering his closing remarks.

“I am a different kind of Republican…”

Indeed he is. On the fringe. Finishing last in the first GOP Presidential nomination debate.

GOP Nomination Debate 1: My Ranking from Best to Worst (Ninth Place)

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:

9th Place: Governor Chris Christie

Governor Chris Christie’s chances for winning the Republican nomination remain incredibly slim. Christie’s appeal to Republicans wanting a candidate with a brusque, unapologetically conservative executive is undermined by candidates like Donald Trump and Ted Cruz. Not known for his religiosity, Christie cannot court Evangelical Christian voters as effectively as some of his rivals. Lacking specific expertise on foreign policy that contenders like Senator Marco Rubio and Governor Jeb Bush demonstrate effectively, Christie struggles to stand out from the foreign policy hawks in the party.

So, for Chris Christie to have performed better in the debate, he would have had to portrayed himself as a unifying figure. He needed to portray himself as someone who can earn the support of some of the many different stripes of conservative voters. He failed.

When asked to contrast his remedy for entitlement reform with Governor Mike Huckabee’s, Huckabee focused the majority of his remarks on protecting the people receiving social security money after being forced into an imperfect system. Christie dismissively dispatched with Huckabee’s ideas, calling them simply “wrong.” In this exchange, Christie allows himself to be painted as someone who will dispassionately cut services for millions of Americans who depend on them, compared to someone who will work diligently to craft an alternative plan that can save social security. For the millions of Republican voters at or nearing retirement age, a choice between the two men is clear. After the Republican defeat in 2012, Christie should also wonder if he comes across as someone who “cares about people like me”–the defining factor in Mitt Romney’s loss to Barack Obama.

Secondly, Christie sparred pointedly with Kentucky Senator Rand Paul over government surveillance. The bad blood between the two men has been boiling for years. It spilled over, hot, in their exchange that had all the cringe-inducing moments of a couple arguing right before separation. Though Christie was right, and Paul looked like a wet dog after the exchange, these kinds of fights leave no winners, especially when one would best serve himself as a uniter.

Governor Christie suffers from a common Republican problem: Americans know that Democrats can be “nice,” so they do best when they show that they can be tough. Republicans are expected to be tough, so we must do better to come across as “nice.” Christie’s tough image serves him well in his role as a regional figure. As Scott Walker can attest, regional appeal does not always translate to national appeal. What the national party looks for in a national nominee may differ from what a state party seeks in a governor. For Chris Christie to succeed in this race, he must show Republicans that he can represent (or at least tolerate) all of us.

GOP Nomination Debate 1: My Ranking from Best to Worst (Eighth Place)

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:

8th Place: Donald Trump

Real estate mogul, Donald Trump, enjoyed a very low bar going into the first debate. For this reason, he could have won the debate handily by simply playing the statesman: foregoing bombastic attacks and non sequitur responses, offering thoughtful policy ideas and proving himself worthy of his supporters.

Instead, Trump was Trump: refusing to pledge allegiance to the party’s eventual nominee, attacking Megyn Kelly, boasting about benefiting from illegal political action, and failing to provide any specifics about his wild conspiracy theories regarding the Mexican government.

Spending any more time deconstructing his performance is a waste of time. Mr. Trump lacks sincerity and seriousness, and deserves neither support nor fleeting consideration. Whatever supporters Trump keeps after this debate are either detached from reality or openly hostile to conservatism and the Republican Party.

GOP Nomination Debate 1: My Ranking from Best to Worst (Seventh Place)

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:

7th Place: Governor Scott Walker

Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker stepped into the GOP nomination race later than most. Still, though, he entered the fray with higher poll numbers than most of his contenders. The higher they are, the saying goes, the harder they fall. For Governor Walker to remain high after the first debate, he needed to prove himself to be something more than a regional political star. Walker needed to highlight his political successes, his conservative ideology and how he would respond to national challenges. Instead, though, Walker’s performance completely underwhelmed.

For starters, Walker only alluded to his political triumphs by recalling that he won his third election last year. This bland answer means little to people who do not know that one of his elections was a recall election that he heroically fought and won.

Each of the questions posed to him were very challenging, calling on him to rationalize his image as an effective problem solver. Walker failed to answer each question.

In fact, his answers suggest that he may overestimate his national image: instead of distinguishing himself from the field, he pivoted to contrast himself with Hillary Clinton–which on its face shows a good instinct, but does little to introduce him to a national audience.

Question:

“Governor Walker, when you ran for governor of Wisconsin…you promised that you would create 250,000 jobs in your first term…In fact, Wisconsin added barely half that and ranked 35th in the country in job growth. Now you’re running for president, and you’re promising an economic plan in which everyone will earn a piece of the American dream. Given your record in Wisconsin, why should voters believe you?”

Answer:

“Well, the voters in Wisconsin elected me last year for the third time because they wanted someone who aimed high, not aimed low.

Before I came in, the unemployment rate was over eight percent. It’s now down to 4.6 percent. We’ve more than made up for the jobs that were lost during the recession. And the rate in which people are working is almost five points higher than it is nationally.

You know, people like Hillary Clinton think you grow the economy by growing Washington. One report last year showed that six of the top 10 wealthiest counties in America were in or around Washington, D.C.. I think most of us in America understand that people, not the government creates jobs. And one of the best things we can do is get the government out of the way, repeal Obamacare, put in — reign in all the out of control regulations, put in place and all of the above energy policy, give people the education, the skills that the need to succeed, and lower the tax rate and reform the tax code. That’s what I’ll do as president, just like I did in Wisconsin.”

This typical response to a typical question exemplifies my critique. Walker opened his answer with a glib throwaway line, took a weak stab at an answer in the following sentences, and focuses the majority of his answer on a vague attack on Hillary Clinton complete with Republican cliches.

Without a doubt, Scott Walker underwhelmed in the first debate. In a field rife with qualified candidates, he must do better if he hopes to win the nomination.

GOP Nomination Debate 1: My Ranking from Best to Worst (Sixth Place)

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:

6th Place: Governor Mike Huckabee

Since his failed run for President in 2008, Governor Mike Huckabee has proven himself as one of the GOP’s most effective communicators. With very little money, Huckabee earned significant support and stayed relevant throughout the campaign. He spent life after the race hosting a successful talk show on the Fox News Channel.

Now, once again seeking the Republican nomination, Huckabee’s task in the first debate was to showcase his rhetorical skills and demonstrate that his policy prescriptions hold relevance for the country as it exists today, not as it did in 2008. Also, as is the case with many of the Republican nominees in such a crowded field, Huckabee needed to stand out from other candidates who share his presumed bloc of support–namely Evangelical Christians.

“It’s time that we recognize the Supreme Court is not the supreme being, and we…protect children instead of rip up their body parts and sell them like they’re parts to a Buick.”

“The military is not a social experiment. The purpose of the military is kill people and break things.”

“When someone points a gun at your head and loads it, by God, you ought to take them seriously…”

“Ronald Reagan said ‘trust, but verify.’ President Obama is ‘trust, but vilify.’ He trusts our enemies and vilifies everyone who disagrees with him.”

Poetic lines like these punctuated almost all of Huckabee’s answers in the debate. Effective, memorable, simple, and punchy, these folksy responses helped him stand out among other candidates, like Jeb Bush, who struggle to come across as “regular people.” For the many conservatives who complain that Republicans fail to explain their positions in succinct terms, easy to digest, Governor Huckabee offers hope. In fact, Huckabee’s closing statement struck me as the cleverest.

As it happens, though, his rhetorical flair helped undermine an important policy position that he, alone, trumpets. For years, Huckabee has supported the consumption tax plan known by its imperfect moniker–”The Fair Tax.” The Fair Tax, through a series of rebates to the poor and an elimination of the Federal Income Tax, raises the majority of its money by converting federal taxes into a single sales tax. To fully understand how this tax works necessitates reading “The Fair Tax” book and the follow-up book which addressed its critics. Indeed, the idea is attractive once it is understood, and simplifying the concept is a challenge facing all of its proponents. To that end, Governor Huckabee highlighted a positive aspect of the consumption tax by alluding to “prostitutes, pimps, and drug dealers.” The effect of his allusion, a surprised reaction from the audience and a comment by Megyn Kelly “Sounds like somebody’s a little R-rated,” framed his response on an important tax reform idea in terms of pimps and prostitutes instead of in terms of the policy’s merit.

Finally, Governor Huckabee, who irked Mormons in 2008 by suggesting that Mitt Romney, as a Mormon, is not a Christian, must convince Evangelical Christian voters to support him over his other rivals seeking their support. At the same time, though, Huckabee corrects interviewers who note his tenure as a Baptist preacher by highlighting his work in the secular realm. Huckabee recognizes that his appeal must include, but cannot be exclusive to, his Christian identity. Tactically speaking, Huckabee must attract the largest number of a significant Republican voting bloc if he intends to win the nomination. Senator Ted Cruz, Dr. Ben Carson, and Governor John Kasich (to a lesser extent), pose the greatest threats to Huckabee’s Christian appeal. The former Arkansas governor fought these threats by invoking God in virtually every one of his answers. The extent to which this tactic worked has yet to be seen.
Governor Huckabee, like each of the nominees, faces an uphill battle to be the Republican nominee. The battle begins on the debate stage, and in his case, he did well to make a case for himself. Still, the governor must do more to appeal to his substance on policy issues to make this conservative comfortable to support him over all of the other contenders for the party nomination.

GOP Nomination Debate 1: My Ranking from Best to Worst (Fifth Place)

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.

GOP Nomination Debate 1: My Ranking from Best to Worst (Fourth Place)

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:

4th Place: Dr. Ben Carson

Initially, I reserved skepticism for Dr. Carson: he has never held political office, he’s gaffe prone, and he lacks policy knowledge. Carson’s appeal rests on the cult of personality–much like President Barack Obama. As a symbol, Carson represents a fine example of the best populists in the party–intelligent, religious, feisty, and gentle. While I doubt Carson will win the nomination, his performance in the first debate demonstrated his wide appeal. For Dr. Carson to have best helped his campaign, he needed to stand out on substance, introduce himself and avoid gaffes.

Dr. Carson introduced himself very well, highlighting his professional accomplishments as a neurosurgeon, demonstrating his religious faith and offering a taste of his willingness to fight liberalism. Incredibly charming, even when decrying a perceived lack of attention, Carson delighted viewers with well-placed quips and a vivid picture of his conservative instincts.

There ends Carson’s achievements in the first nomination debate.

The soft-spoken doctor lacks dynamism, which is a problem all its own. Coupling that with aimless answers reminiscent of his announcement speech, and a complete lack of policy substance, spells disaster for a party that nominates him.

Megyn Kelly asks:

“Your critics say that your inexperience shows. You’ve suggested that the Baltic States are not a part of NATO, just months ago you were unfamiliar with the major political parties and government in Israel, and domestically, you thought Alan Greenspan had been treasury secretary instead of federal reserve chair. Aren’t these basic mistakes, and don’t they raise legitimate questions about whether you are ready to be president?”

This question encapsulates Carson’s greatest hurdle. Can his professional success, conservative stances, and skin color make up for his political unsophistication, or is Dr. Carson the latest iteration of Herman Cain?

His response, was not promising:

“We have a debate here tonight, and we will have an opportunity to explore those areas, and I’m looking very much forward to demonstrating that, in fact, the thing that is probably most important is having a brain…”

On waterboarding, Carson played coy. When asked if he would have used force against Bashar al-Assad in Syria, Carson pivoted to anti-Obama talking points. On tax policy, he offered his version of the 9-9-9 Plan–the 10% tithe plan that, without further exposition, would disproportionately harm the poor.

“I’ve advocated a proportional tax system. You make $10 billion, you pay a billion. You make $10, you pay one. And everybody gets treated the same way.”

Does $1 billion mean the same to a billionaire as $1 to someone making only $10? Even flat tax proponents believe in a graduated flat tax, but getting into the weeds on Carson’s tax policy, such as it is, only exposes his greatest weakness–a great mind for neurosurgery, but not for public policy.

By my estimation, Dr. Carson performed better than many of the other candidates because the bar for him is set so low. For the most part, he met his expectations. What he needed to win the debate was for him to be something he’s not, a politico. His future in the conservative movement can be a bright one, but not as the nominee of this party, and not as president.

GOP Nomination Debate 1: My Ranking from Best to Worst (Third Place)

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:

3rd Place: Governor John Kasich

Ohio Governor, John Kasich, enjoyed a home field advantage in the Cleveland debate, but that didn’t give him cause to coast. Kasich, so far, has been vindicating his ardent supporters, mostly party insiders and Ohioans, by entering the race late and still soaring high enough in the polls to qualify for the main debate. Still, though, he remains a mostly regional phenomenon. People familiar with him, say that Kasich is thoughtful and personable, but he has not always supported conservative stances, and his temper is second only to John McCain’s.

Kasich’s challenges, in my view, were to introduce himself to millions of voters–most of whom had never heard of him–and to stand out on substance in a very substantive field. He performed the first task well, but struggled with the second.

Kasich achieved what politicians like Hillary Clinton, Mitt Romney and John Kerry could not–he appeared human, folksy, likeable and caring. This goes a long way; especially for Republicans, known for our technical arguments more than our emotional intelligence. The 2012 election showed the GOP that winning on the issues does not equal winning the election. Voters want someone who “cares about people like me.” He spent a great deal of his time telling his life story (if you didn’t know that his father was a mailman by the end of the debate, you weren’t paying attention). He also pivoted from a question about expanding Medicaid in Ohio to his record of expanding mental health facilities and growing jobs in Ohio. Kasich’s open demeanor and plain spokenness will serve him well if he ascends to the General Election.

As it happens, to earn the nomination, he must pass the party gatekeepers. In this regard, Kasich struggled in the first debate. For starters, Kasich came off as conservative, but not ideological. In a field in which firebrands like Ted Cruz and Donald Trump enjoy a great deal of popularity, ideology matters. Both, Scott Walker and Marco Rubio, declared personal beliefs that abortion should not be permitted in cases of rape, incest and when the life of the mother is at risk. Megyn Kelly rightfully pointed out that 85% of Americans disagree with this hard stance, but with Republicans staunchly supporting a more exclusive right to abortion, Kasich should understand that primary voters seek an ideological champion. For better or for worse, the chest-beaters will garner the most attention. Kasich’s moderate tone may exacerbate some less popular positions he has taken with an electorate looking for purists.

To the second point, Governor Kasich failed to stand out on substance. On the hot-button issue of illegal immigration, for example, Chris Wallace asked Kasich what he thought would be an adequate response to the crisis. Kasich meandered, praising Trump and equivocating about everyone having solutions (What are some of yours, sir?). When asked (a silly question) about whether he heard messages from God regarding what priorities a president should tackle first, he waxed distracted: mentioning his father’s occupation (mailman, again, for those who missed it), went on to talk about the divided nation and then ended with “Nothing is more important to me than my family, my faith and my friends.”

While it would be nice to elect a “nice guy” to the White House, that cannot be his only qualification.

Listen to Jason Riley and other conservatives who know Kasich, and they will tell you that he deserves a serious look. He is reportedly substantive, conservative, pragmatic and strong. So far, though, he has yet to demonstrate these qualities on the national stage. Kasich introduced himself well, but has much more work to do if he wants to attract Republican voters interested in policy solutions.

GOP Nomination Debate 1: My Ranking from Best to Worst (Second Place)

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:

2nd Place: Senator Ted Cruz

The Harvard debate team champion put his skills to good use in the first GOP nomination debate. I criticized the Texas Senator when he entered the race for his abrasive style, and for his using the filibuster and a Kamikazee government shutdown tactic to snooker conservatives into sending him money to launch his presidential campaign. Cruz notoriously fights against the “GOP Establishment,” an endeavor I find suspect, but one that nevertheless excites the populist Republican base. His debate style mimics his announcement speech delivery in that he utilizes the tones and cadences of a Christian Evangelical preacher of yesteryear. Anything less would be strange from the son of a pastor. He stands out among the crowded field of Republicans with a distinctive speaking style: His pauses and inflections make for powerful and effective delivery.  

As it happens, though, the Republican Party has been characterized as a throng of uncontrollable, misfit ideologues. Mr. Cruz has only contributed to that unfortunate characterization. In fact, he has done his best to profit from his image as a gadfly. By my estimation, though, the Republican Party suffers by speaking with contrasting voices, even as we thrive by including various points of view in our ranks. Therefore, in my view, for Cruz to have served himself best, he needed to show his ability to cooperate with other members within the party.

For the most part, Cruz agrees with the mainstream of the party. He made this evident in his comments on combating ISIS and by his vow to protect religious free exercise. He even did well not to attack fellow candidates, as many feared he would. However, by swiping at Mitch McConnell, he cemented his opposition to the party leaders, and contributed to the narrative of a divided Republican Party. If we have learned nothing from the Obama presidency, we should have learned that junior Senators need to cultivate as much good will in Congress as possible, otherwise, risk an impotent White House tenure.

Another challenge facing Cruz regards his electability in the General Election. Cruz, so far, epitomizes the Republican stereotype. His “Machinegun Bacon” ad, and his “standing on principle” rhetoric that led to the very unpopular government shutdown, contributes to this image that plays well on the right, but not so much across the spectrum. His debate performance helped his broad palatability by highlighting his thoughtfulness on a wide range of issues, but substance can be lost to style in presidential elections that tend to focus on atmospherics.

The campaign is in the beginning stage, and Mr. Cruz has done well to prove himself worthy of the top tier of Republican candidates. If he can show that he can unite the party, then he will be the nominee. If he can show himself to be more than a cartoon, he will win the General.

GOP Nomination Debate 1: My Ranking from Best to Worst (First Place)

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, beginning with the strongest:

1st Place: Senator Marco Rubio

Rubio entered the race with one of the strongest announcements of candidacy of any of the Republican contenders. In it, Rubio speaks passionately about his love of America, his duty to serve her, and his commitment to moving the country forward by tackling some of the trenchant political problems the nation faces.

Since his announcement, he has weathered scurrilous attacks from the New York Times about his wife’s speeding tickets and about his modest home. Besides these simplistic criticisms, though, Rubio has run a very effective and substantive campaign, avoiding gaffes and has maintaining an optimistic, energetic and thoughtful stance thus far. In an address before the Council of Foreign Relations, Rubio impressed attendees and pundits with his encyclopedic knowledge of foreign affairs, and with his clear-eyed prescriptions for future American foreign policy objectives.

Unfortunately, none of this has translated into bumper campaign funds. The Rubio campaign has been lost in the shuffle among strong contenders better connected to substantial donors. To make matters worse, Florida law precludes a candidate from appearing twice on a ballot, so Mr. Rubio forfeits his Senate seat by running for president. For Rubio, as for the other candidates, the nomination debates represent the greatest opportunity to attract positive attention, money and momentum.

In such a talented field of candidates, Rubio needed to do three things to win the debates: First, he needed to remain substantive, positive and passionate. Second, Rubio needed to stand out from field as offering something unique that will lead the party to success in the general election. Third, Rubio needed to appear less robotic–more human. To the third point, his smooth style puts Republicans, like me, at ease. I don’t worry that he will say something regretful. On the other hand, I have heard him criticized as being too smooth–too savvy–unrelatable.

By my assessment, Rubio won the debate by achieving each of these goals, however, to varying degrees of success. Rubio handled each question directed to him with impeccable poise and with optimism. He demonstrated his usual command of issues, and his refreshing willingness to answer questions directly, even before he’d pivot. When prompted to break with his political mentor, Governor Jeb Bush, Rubio wisely refused the bait. Bush, who offers much of what Rubio does, except in regards to age and executive experience, provided a less commanding performance (which I will discuss later), allowing Rubio the ability to stand apart from his most similar contender. Finally, Rubio’s wit, particularly his jab at the Democrat Party’s difficulty fielding a single good candidate, served to humanize him.

He easily achieved the first objective, but only moderately achieved the other two because the distraction of Donald Trump, and the plethora of candidates, muted Rubio’s chances to outshine some of his other competitors. Still, though, Rubio’s thoughtful campaign continued to impress on the debate stage. For the first debate, avoiding a meltdown can be as advantageous as achieving campaign goals. By my estimation, Mr. Rubio served his cause well.