My personal assessment of the GOP debate – Main Event:

Talking times via NPR news & Betsy Woodruff

First of all, the opening introduction of the candidates by the ABC News moderators was badly – badly – bungled. Candidates either didn’t hear their names being called, or they were being called out-of-order, and so they came out on stage in fits and starts, out-of-order, with Ben Carson and Donald Trump waiting in the wings, while other candidates walked past onto the stage. Badly done.

Secondly, Mary Katharine Ham, editor at large of Hot Air, a contributing editor to Townhall Magazine, and a Fox News Channel contributor was awesome as a debate moderator. She asked very tough, very good, very substantive questions that Republican primary voters wanted to have answered. Hopefully she is a returning feature in future debates.

Jeb Bush (Talking time – 12:30) did very well, and could be considered a winner of the debate (the real winners being the 3 governors – Bush, Christie, Kasich – who all needed a good night). He stayed on the offensive with a great attack on Donald Trump on the topic of eminent domain, and on foreign policy. His answer on abortion was a bit weak, but may have been an effort to play to the moderate New Hampshire voters.

Ted Cruz  (Talking time – 17:34) started off shakily, but wound up holding his own in a performance that maintained his standing. he lost no ground, but didn’t gain any either. He was able to recover with thoroughly detailed answers on a wide array of important issues, illustrating his thorough knowledge and understanding. While he had a significant amount of speaking time, he seemed to disappear for long stretches at times. Cruz also had an awkward dissection of his apology to Ben Carson following the miscommunication of Carson’s apparent departure from the race after the Iowa Caucus, which was originally reported by CNN. Cruz had an especially powerful moment telling the incredibly moving story of his half-sister who became a victim of her addiction to drugs. The absolutely stunned silence from the audience was profound. You could literally have heard a pin drop were one to do so. Very effective at humanizing Cruz and demonstrating he has a personal understanding of the public health problem drug addiction represents.

Chris Christie (Talking time – 12:53) came for blood. Marco Rubio’s blood to be specific. Christie is in a desperate situation. He has bet everything on New Hampshire, and as a result, cannot afford to hold anything back. Knowing that Rubio represents an existential threat to his continued presence in the race, Christie attacked Rubio at every opportunity, showing a tenacity and focus that have been missing from the debates. While he was successful in momentarily derailing Rubio, pointing out Rubio’s constant repeating of a deflecting attack on Obama, he seems to not recognize that the arguments for his candidacy are somewhat weaker by contrast, given that he has little pull outside the northeast.

John Kasich (Talking time – 10:33) Kasich was fine but not a standout. He was awkward at times, his responses clearly geared to endearing him to the New Hampshire electorate – like thanking the audience for their patience. His positions, largely on the moderate end of the spectrum, were in high relief as he attempted to demonstrate that high expectations of his performance in the primary Tuesday are not unfounded. With his statement that New Hampshire has “changed” him, Kasich did everything he could to appeal to the voters. Basically, Kasich declined to attack anyone else, furthering speculation he’s running for vice president.

Marco Rubio (Talking time – 18:14) Stumbled badly out the gate, and every time he tangled with Chris Christie. Rubio had a fantastic moment when he attacked the extreme position of the Democrats on abortion. That moment was lost in the brutal attacks from Chris Christie, and in Rubio’s almost robotic repetition of the “Obama has been terrible” talking point. The second half of the debate gave Rubio an opportunity to offer substantive, detailed answers in questions on ISIS, the definition of Conservatism, and the aforementioned abortion. Given that Christie has gone on the rampage against Rubio recently, it’s very concerning that Rubio seemed to have not anticipated or prepared for attacks from Christie.

Donald Trump (Talking time – 15:32) while he leads in the New Hampshire polls, he did little to show that his loss in Iowa was a fluke. While he came across as a more serious candidate than he has in previous debates, he did nothing to demonstrate that he has a firm grasp of the issues – creating jobs, immigration reform, and foreign policy.  He offered some good answers on negotiating with terrorists and on enhanced interrogation techniques, which made him look tough on terror.

Ben Carson (Talking time – 8:46) should drop out and soon. He did nothing to stop his free fall in the polls. His burst of popularity earlier this fall faded almost as quickly as it emerged, and his performance last night again illustrated why. Too many questions and doubts about his knowledge of global issues and national security experience remain. He was a non-issue in the debate, and it seems voters are ready to move on. Carson is an incredibly likable man with an exceptional personal history. His life story enables him to offer an entirely different perspective, but he continues to fade before our eyes as a viable candidate. Good guy; not presidential material.

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