The Road to 2016: Post-Debate Scorecard X
A FEW GENERAL OBSERVATIONS
A note on how this scorecard works: the following list is in no particular order. The +/- indicates the candidate’s performance relative to him or herself on a scale of -10 (utter disaster) to +10 (securing the nomination). This will be followed by an overall grade (A-F).
It wasn’t a great night for Donald Trump. However, when have we seen a debate performance that caused Trump to lose supporters? (Maybe the second debate a few months ago?) Let’s be clear: Trump seemed unprepared for attacks from Marco Rubio (who decided this was his last, best chance to throw the opposition research book at Trump). If you assume Trump really just went into the debate with almost no preparation, he was able to hold his own well enough. “Trump was Trump and Trump supporters like Trump for being Trump.”
As we discussed, above, attacks on Trump for “not being conservative” only help him at the polls. Consequently, Cruz’s attacks were generally meaningless. Rubio’s attacks were more centered on the “Trump Ethos” of being a great builder and a guy with a “big, great plan.” Rubio’s attacks were probably more effective, but, as we sit here being armchair Presidential candidates, it was likely a bad move strategically. Rubio is down big in recent polls in Florida, Virginia, and Massachusetts (states where Rubio needs to do well in the next two weeks). Nothing we saw last night hurts Trump’s lead in those states.
Let’s be clear, though, Trump didn’t do much to help himself last night. He, willingly, got down in the mud and hurled ad hominems with Rubio and Cruz. Yes, that’s Donald’s schtick, but one of his goals should have been to at least look Presidential. We didn’t see that last night.
John Kasich remains the dark horse of the race. For some reason, the GOP establishment and the conservative media have decided that Marco Rubio should be the establishment standard bearer. Not only is this not supported by the delegate math in primary states, but it also belies a fundamental misunderstanding of how to beat Hillary Clinton in the Fall. Governor Kasich isn’t the most dynamic presence on the stage, but he is a sitting Governor of a must-win state in the Fall. Kasich’s generally moderate approach on marriage equality and religious liberty issues make him a far-less polarizing figure than Ted Cruz or Marco Rubio.
CNN generally didn’t bring Kasich in to many of the discussions last night. That’s a shame.
Marco Rubio: +3, Grade: A-
Marco Rubio gets an A- in this debate because he will get most of the headlines. He attacked Trump in a way that Trump, and your humble blogger, were not expecting. Frankly, the expectation was that Rubio would try to focus on policy positions and making himself look Presidential. Nothing was further from the truth last night. While Rubio was effective in what he set out to do, and thus, we’ll give him high marks, the downside is steep.
Can you name a single policy position of Marco Rubio’s that was clearly articulated last night? (No, don’t go search on Google). The fact is, Rubio is losing in the polls and it looks more and more possible that he will not win a single state in the primary. If this trend holds, Rubio will have no shot at the Presidency. In an election where about 2/3 of the GOP electorate are firmly committed to their candidate, 1/3 could be convinced to switch. Was there anything in Rubio’s performance that would actually have brought new voters over to his team?
The final important observation about Rubio is a completely unfair one: he seemed really obnoxious. Yes, we all know that Donald Trump can be a jerk in debates, but Rubio’s delivery of his one-liners was just as cringe-worthy.
Ted Cruz: +4, Grade: C+
Ted Cruz needs to win Texas on Super Tuesday. It’s his home state and most polls show that he is winning by several percent over Donald Trump. After Super Tuesday, the math for Cruz gets quite a bit harder, so he has to win now and win big to generate enough good press to continue his campaign. To that end, it made sense for Cruz to attack Trump last night. Certainly, as we’ve already discussed at length, attacking Trump from the right doesn’t make too much sense (despite being cathartic). However, if the win in Texas comes down to just a few percent, Cruz needs all the support he can get. Solidifying conservatives behind his campaign was the goal last night. Despite a fairly mediocre debate performance, overall, Cruz was likely more effective than Rubio at pulling away some undecided conservative voters.
Dr. Ben Carson: -8, Grade: D+
In what will likely be his final debate, Ben Carson reminded everyone why he was both eminently likable and wholly unqualified for the Presidency. Remember that Carson is polling around 10% in Southern States voting on Super Tuesday. His supporters could very easily deny Ted Cruz wins in states where he desperately needs to beat Trump. If there is a legacy for Carson, it will probably be that he stopped any Super Tuesday momentum for Ted Cruz.
Disclaimer: Matt McDaniel, the author of this piece is a candidate for the First District City Council Seat in Baltimore City. While this rankings list does not touch or concern Mr. McDaniel’s race, in the interest of disclosure, Mr. McDaniel has made no endorsements of any candidates and has received no money or funding from any of the candidates on this list. His campaign website can be found here.