Friday, August 7, 2015

Your Post-Debate GOP Power Rankings

By Joe Parello (@HerewegoJoe)

Last night was the highly anticipated first Republican primary debate of the 2016 election cycle, and boy did it not disappoint. Donald Trump was in full-on "F-you" mode, Rand Paul pissed everybody off, Jeb Bush went back and forth between relatable and robotic, Mike Huckabee and Ted Cruz appealed to their ultra-conservative bases and, somewhere in there, political points were made/earned.

I won't waste any more time with introductions. Here is where I rank the Republican presidential hopefuls after one debate.

Note that all poll numbers come from a CBS News poll of likely Republican voters conducted earlier this week. I have also specified which candidates took part in the 5 pm forum, rather than the actual 9 pm debate.

17. Jim Gilmore (5 pm forum)
Pre-Debate Poll Numbers: <1%

Instantly forgettable. Seriously, did he speak during this thing?

16. George Pataki (5 pm forum)
Pre-Debate Poll Numbers: <1%

He just sounded like Rudy Giuliani Lite to me. The whole "I'm a Republican from a Blue State" thing is always more successful in theory than practice, especially once voters look at your record.

15. Lindsey Graham (5 pm forum)
Pre-Debate Poll Numbers: <1%

This dude is basically one of the evil vampires from "True Blood." That's it, I've got nothing else.

14. Bobby Jindal (5 pm forum)
Pre-Debate Poll Numbers: 2%

Jindal at least had one memorable moment, where he said that Medicaid should not be expanded anywhere in America, but he mostly parroted his party mates on stage about Planned Parenthood, and flat-out failed to answer other questions. He's too intriguing to totally dismiss right now, but he's on the edge.

13. Rick Santorum (5 pm forum)
Pre-Debate Poll Numbers: <1%

This ain't 2012, and Santorum's act has gone stale. He'll still appeal to a small, passionate group, but don't be surprised to see him out of this soon.

12. Rick Perry (5 pm forum)
Pre-Debate Poll Numbers: 2%

Rick Perry may have made the best move of the early debate when he credited opponent Carly Fiorina, saying that she could have worked out a better deal with Iran than John Kerry did.

In one fell swoop, he attached himself to the clear winner of the early debate (more on her later), softened himself (a bit) toward women, grabbed onto a current hot-button topic (a nuclear Iran), and showed he was willing to accept good ideas from fellow Republicans. With the elephant in the room of Donald Trump in this election, being a "company man" for the party could pay dividends. 

11. Mike Huckabee
Pre-Debate Poll Numbers: 8%

Huckabee closed out the night with a great dad joke that set you up to think he was talking about Donald Trump (rich person that can't govern who is soaking up all the media attention), but it turned out to be Hillary Clinton.

Oh, sick burn!

Kidding aside, I actually did chuckle at that, but Huckabee was largely lost in the crowd. He just wasn't saying anything new, or anything that 3-5 other candidates on the stage (not to mention 2-3 that were on the stage a few hours prior) were saying as well.

10. Rand Paul
Pre-Debate Poll Numbers: 4%

Paul is lagging behind in the polls because he's not as Libertarian as his father, and occasionally says things that don't make any sense. He came after Donald Trump in an obviously contrived attack early in the debate, and really didn't land any punches, then got in a shouting match with the fat guy from New Jersey.

Not surprisingly, neither of those exchanges went well for Paul.

9. Ben Carson
Pre-Debate Poll Numbers: 6%

The first two questions the FOX News moderators asked Carson were, essentially:
1. Why don't you know anything about anything?
2. Torture?

His responses were, "I prefer people who can think as opposed to those who simply amass knowledge," and "if we torture that's our business, and we shouldn't tell anyone that we torture," respectively.

Solid start, and a rough middle, but his closing statement showed why he may stick around, as he used some humor to discuss his brilliant career as a surgeon and position himself as a Washington outsider working for change.

He didn't get many opportunities, but he at least capitalized on some of them.

8. Chris Christie
Pre-Debate Poll Numbers: 3%

I found myself in a haze later in the debate when I said to myself "my God, do I agree with Chris Christie?" I did, at least I think I did, when he called Rand Paul out on a wishful thinking national security plan of "gather intelligence on bad guys but not on good guys" (To be fair, Paul did clarify that he simply meant he wanted the government to need a warrant for searches, but we were past that once the shouting started).

I don't remember what else he said, but I kept imagining him as Ronnie from "Jersey Shore" in 20 years.

7. Carly Fiorina (5 pm forum)
Pre-Debate Poll Numbers: <1%

Fiorina is like the kid that just missed the varsity basketball team in high school, then caught everyone's eye when they started dropping 25 points a night on JV. The former CEO of Hewlett-Packard won the "Happy Hour" debate by a mile, and will likely get a chance to swim in the deep end during the next debate.

The question is, was she dancing circles around lame horses, or can she run with the thoroughbreds? Don't bother looking that last saying up (or trying to make sense of how it goes with my other mixed metaphors), I just invented it. I may have had too much to drink during these debates. Also, sorry if that joke was offensive to lame horses.

6. Tedd Cruz
Pre-Debate Poll Numbers: 6%

I can't be the only one who thinks this dude looks like the penguin, can I? Anyways, Cruz stuck to his guns (which Obama will not be taking), drawing a hard line against abortion and amnesty for illegal immigrants. There was nothing really new from this once fresh face, but his supporters love his consistency on the issues, along with his passion and seeming willingness to fight for what he believes in, even against his own party.

5. Scott Walker
Pre-Debate Poll Numbers: 10%

He mentioned the "blood of Jesus Christ" when things were getting boring, so that was nice, and made his record in Wisconsin sound very impressive. He came off a little boring, but the theatrics of Donald Trump, Rand Paul and Chris Christie may have made him look like a (gasp) voice of reason.

Chilling, I know.

4. Jeb Bush
Pre-Debate Poll Numbers: 13%

Bush had some highs, properly exaggerating his work with the public school system in Florida (it was horrible when he got there, and still horrible when he left, but the voucher program was nice, I guess), and some lows, like when he said his brother led America into a mistake of a war, but it was ok because he called a bunch of veterans' families… Yeah, he never really got into justifying that one.

Still, Jeb looked presidential enough and had the feel of a candidate that's going to be in it for the long haul. Plus, doesn't it just feel like we're headed for another Clinton v. Bush?

3. John Kasich
Pre-Debate Poll Numbers: 1%

Kasich showed himself to be the best-suited Republican for November 2016, but will he make it that far? If he can continue to perform like he did Thursday in his home state of Ohio, there's a chance. Riding a noticeable homefield advantage, Kasich stayed close enough to the center, while still professing his Christian faith and stating his opposition to Republican hot-button issues like abortion.

He's in great position right now as a (sort of) moderate, but these primary campaigns have a way of pushing candidates farther to their party's chosen side, and it remains to be seen if he can get away with the old "I hate abortion, but I don't think we should outlaw it/I disapprove of gay marriage but go to gay weddings" routine outside of Ohio.

2. Marco Rubio
Pre-Debate Poll Numbers: 6%

I feel like Republicans have been shoving Marco Rubio down our throats since they realized he's a minority from a swing state, but tonight he finally began to live up to the hype people have put behind him. He spoke clearly and with passion about a variety of subjects, showed some conservative chops, told an American immigrant tale about his upbringing and avoided any gaffes/unnecessary conflict.

A solid night puts him in position for a big campaign, and he is one of maybe three candidates who would have a prayer in the general election.

1. Donald Trump
Pre-Debate Poll Numbers: 24%

Could it be anyone else? Trump did what he does: Speak in vague generalities about how he will fix everything by being tough and doing smart things. He received a few boos for the fact that he has repeatedly verbally attacked women, and for the fact that he would not promise to not run as an independent if he did not win the Republican nomination (though he did promise to not run against himself as an independent if he were the Republican nominee), but he received much applause as well.

Trump can't get much higher than this alienating everyone, so a quarter of Republicans far away from election day seems like his ceiling. Still, it's been a fun ride so far, and I can't wait to see what happens next.

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