This debate is the logical outcome of the blow up after the CNBC debate. CNBC is a generally right leaning network on economic issues. But simply pressing the candidates to answer questions or noting when they’re making demonstrably untrue claims made them liberal. So now we have a debate structured around letting candidates say absolutely anything – because scrutinizing candidates is liberal. This leads to having half the debate framed around how strong financial regulation leads the biggest banks to get bigger and bigger and how we need to put in place new policies to prevent banks from getting this big. And the best place to start is to repeal Dodd-Frank. As David said at one point tonight, it’s impossible to find any way into this conversation because it’s all theology and self-referencing assertions.
The stand outs in this debate turned out to be John Kasich and Rand Paul, just in terms of bringing the other candidates back to dealing with actual facts or things like counting.
In terms of who helped themselves or hurt themselves, I’m not terribly sure. Whatever you can say about the CNBC debate, it was tight, with sharp exchanges and memorable moments. There was very little of that tonight. Trump lacks energy and punch when he’s not the center of attention. Jeb Bush was better than he was in the last debate but not nearly enough to shift the balance in what seems like a dying campaign. Carson seemed fine by Carson standards but mainly because it’s not permitted to ask him any real questions or press him for an answer.
In the post game Ben Carson just told moderator Neil Cavuto he and the rest of the candidates were very happy with the moderators – which pretty much tells the whole story. “Well, can I say the candidates were very happy with you guys.” All in all, though he stuck to his same talking points, I think the net effect is to help Rubio since the decline of candidates like Jeb Bush mean he is the one establishment Republicans seem likely – seem basically forced – to continue to rally around.