Grading the GOP Debate: Who Passed? Who Failed?

Photo credit: Teresa via Flickr (CC BY-ND 2.0)
Photo credit: Teresa via Flickr (CC BY-ND 2.0)

Will tonight’s GOP debate have a major impact on the race? Probably not. The debate aired on Fox Business Channel, which isn’t included in very many basic cable packages.

But still. Tonight was an absolutely fantastic debate — probably the best GOP debate yet. All of the candidates seemed to be on their ‘A’ game.

Here are my grades for each of the candidates:

Ted Cruz: A+++

What a night for Ted Cruz. Wow.

Just as he was starting to see slippage in Iowa amidst liberal media hit pieces and ridiculous “birther” theories, he delivered a slam dunk performance that should shut up his critics and embolden his supporters.

Cruz may have been the first GOP candidate to actually “stump the Trump.” He absolutely dominated several exchanges with the GOP front runner, and that should pay off for him as the Hawkeye Caucus approaches.

Marco Rubio: A++

Rubio gets stronger and stronger with every debate. Once again, he displayed an impressive knowledge of foreign policy and specifically addressed how he would prosecute the war on ISIS.

He left the crowd with several memorable lines, including a couple hard hitting attacks on Hillary Clinton. Additionally, Rubio won the battle with Cruz over the VAT tax. That can’t be understated, especially as it came toward the end of the debate.

Rubio couldn’t have delivered a better performance at a better time. Let’s see if this helps him solidify his standing in the early primary states.

Chris Christie: A++

I can’t think of a single weak moment for Christie tonight. It sure seems like he’s positioning himself well ahead of Bush and Kasich as the “#2 establishment pick” behind Rubio. Christie needs to win New Hampshire to make his bid for President viable… but will he? This debate performance certainly helped.

John Kasich: A

I really don’t like Kasich. He’s supportive of Common Core, and he has criticized Republicans for talking about abortion. Not a fan of that.

But he had an exceptionally good night. One of his best responses focused on stagnant wages and the struggles working families have experienced over the past decade. He pointed out that the Federal Reserve’s near-zero-interest rate has helped the rich who invest in the stock market, while hurting lower income families who don’t have the wherewithal to invest in equities, families instead forced to settle for historically low rates of return in savings accounts and CDs.

Republicans should pick up on what Kasich did tonight with his economic message. Addressing stagnant wages and focusing on the reduced cost of living for the middle class will be a sure winner in the general election.

Donald Trump: A

It sure seemed like Donald Trump got hit hard by Ted Cruz tonight, but he handled the attacks well and delivered a typical Trump performance — he won’t be hurt, and he probably won’t be helped. Still, he earns his ‘A’ for getting out of what should have been a knockout blow from Ted Cruz.

Ted Cruz went after Trump aggressively on “New York values,” reminding voters of an interview Trump did with Tim Russert in 1999 — an interview where Trump claimed to be “very, very pro-choice” — but Trump responded by invoking September 11th and reminding everyone about the sacrifice made by New York first responders, criticizing Cruz for implying that New Yorkers weren’t “real Americans.” It was a fantastic, timely response.

Jeb Bush: A-

Jeb did okay. But he needed to do much better than okay. Jeb finished dead last in the “establishment lane” tonight behind Rubio, Christie, and Kasich. That’s not good enough, and he’s becoming, at best, an after thought, and at worst, a joke.

Good effort, Jeb. But it’s time to drop out.

Ben Carson: A-

Carson didn’t have a very memorable performance, outside his hilarious interjection after a Jeb Bush response:

Carson: “I was mentioned, too.”

Neil Cavuto, Fox Business moderator: “You were?”

Carson: “Yeah, he said everybody!”

Then Carson proceeded to respond. That was pretty great.

But otherwise… well, you know what? I’m just going to give Ben Carson an A- for staying awake (and making a pretty funny self-deprecating joke about it early). Good job, Dr. Carson!

Tonight was a lot of fun. We have an all-star team out there, pure and simple. This field is infinitely better than the 2012 field, and that bodes well for the GOP’s chances in 2016. Whoever our nominee is, it will be very fun to watch them beat Hillary or Bernie. I can’t wait.

Jon Schweppe is Deputy Director of Communications for the American Principles Project.