Last night, the Republican hopefuls squared off one last time before the New Hampshire primary, which is now just two days away.
Ted Cruz, the winner of the Iowa caucuses, hoped to keep his momentum alive. The debate started out roughly for him, however. Early in the night, Cruz was constantly on the defensive, receiving attacks from Ben Carson about whether his campaign spread false rumors – or, one might argue, logical conclusions – about Carson potentially dropping out of the race, based on CNN reports aired during the Iowa caucuses. Once the debate moved to substance, however, Cruz quickly regained his composure, delivering a particularly emotional, crowd-silencing answer on a question about the drug epidemic.
Donald Trump, the leader in New Hampshire and national polls, had a very strong night. While his positions have shifted from conservative to liberal and liberal to conservative in virtually every area in his past, he was somehow able to come across as a conservative man who has America’s best interests in mind. Trump, in many ways, is impossible to pin down; it is impossible to shame him into silence. His no-nonsense attitude, especially on display with his unwavering support of police officers when asked about systemic discrimination in police forces, is very difficult to overcome in a debate. If anyone gained from last night’s debate, it was Trump.
Marco Rubio, who many argued was also riding momentum from Iowa, had his worst debate of this election season. Now, a bad debate for Rubio is probably an above-average debate for any other candidate, so this performance probably will not end up hurting him in the long run. However, he was completely caught off guard when Chris Christie commenced an all-out attack on him. Christie, who many also perceive as no-nonsense, made it his personal mission to tear Rubio down, and he was largely effective in doing so. These vicious attacks will not help Christie in the long run, however; they will function to somewhat pull Rubio down, or at least slow some of his momentum.
John Kasich and Jeb Bush both had good debates compared to their standards in the earlier contests. Bush threw the only effective punch at Trump when he questioned Trump’s support for the abuse of eminent domain. Barring a miracle, however, neither Bush nor Kasich has a reasonable chance to win the nomination, and both will probably drop out within the next four to six weeks.
Dr. Ben Carson did not get much speaking time and was largely overlooked. His campaign will only continue to spiral out of control. Cruz and Rubio both need Carson’s voters and are most likely eagerly awaiting the day when he faces reality and drops out.
Last night’s debate probably will not change the race in any significant fashion. If anything, it will serve to boost Trump and slow Rubio’s momentum. Other than that, we still have no clue what to expect heading into New Hampshire, as the polls there are historically even more unreliable than the polls in Iowa. Will the Republican establishment support one candidate, such as Rubio, Kasich, or Bush? Will Donald Trump get his first primary victory? Will Ted Cruz finish high enough to remain one of the two frontrunners? Only time will tell.
Watch the full Republican debate here: