Everything in politics is subjective, so I am certain that there will be many who disagree with my views, yet, despite the subjectiveness of it all, there do appear to be some common threads developing, and most of the disagreement is simply on the degree rather than the substance.
Biggest Winner: Vivek Ramaswamy
It would be hard to come away from last night's debate without viewing Vivek Ramaswamy as the biggest winner. Regardless of what YOU might think of him, or not think of him, it was clear that his opponents and their campaigns view him as not just a credible threat, but as a person who could run the table.
He has been rising by exponential metrics recently, and his opponents only verified that by how hard they attacked him and how well they were prepped for it. Not one person made a quip about not knowing who he was, that tells you that they understand him as a Trump like outside force. They do not want to make the same mistake that the field made last time by simply dismissing Trump because he was the outsider.
Biggest Loser: Chris Christy
Say all you want about his experience and "bona-fides," the fact of the matter is that Chris Christy likely committed primary suicide, or more aptly, seppuku, when he charged after Donald Trump like a bull in a china shop. The joint and overpowering boos, from a mixed crowd that had reacted to various Trump mentions with mixed vocalizations, should have been enough to tell even the most casual observer this much.
His attack drew a masterful rebuttal from Ramaswamy that hit Christy right between the eyes:
"Your claim that Donald Trump is motivated by vengeance and grievance would be a lot more credible if your entire campaign were not based on vengeance and grievance against one man."
Christy attempted to appear strong and willing to stand up the Trump, but in the end, he simply came off looking petty and angry. I had hoped that he could keep his cool, but he reached his boiling point, and it showed.
Winner: Nikki Haley
Ok, if you have been reading my stuff for any amount of time, you know that I am a BIG truth in advertising person. Therefore, it is only fair that I disclose that I really like Haley as a candidate. She is smart, she has great experience, and she has an ability that none of the others have, the ability to come off as genuine, caring, and dare I say, human?
That said, despite my personal feelings about her candidacy, she came off as strong and had two of the biggest body blows of the entire debate. Just consider the following quotes:
"Look at the 2024 budget, Republicans asked for $7.4 billion in earmarks. Democrats asked for $2.8 billion,” she said. “So you tell me who are the big spenders. It’s time for an accountant in the White House."
“The problem that Vivek doesn’t understand is: He wants to hand Ukraine to Russia. He wants to let China eat Taiwan. He wants to go and stop funding Israel. You don’t do that to friends,”
Then “You are choosing a murderer over a pro-American country,”
Then “You have no foreign policy experience and it shows,”
She also got in a few good shots at both Christie and Pence.
In the end, she came off calm and composed. I would dare to say she also expressed herself in a borderline elegant manner.
She could really see a big bump after this kind of performance. I hope that is not just wishful thinking.
Loser: Asa Hutchinson
Despite a few good quotes, it was a relatively forgettable night for the Arkansas Governor. He got either the lowest, or second lowest amount of time (competing with Governor Doug Burgum) and when he did speak, he did not say anything that created a wave of any type that he might be able to ride.
It is possible that he set himself up for a VP ride if someone other than Trump is nominated, but it is more likely that he is looking at Secretary of State or Secretary of Homeland Security.
Small Victory: Mike Pence
The biggest boon of the evening for Mike Pence came via Chris Christy, and it was likely that he and his campaign strategized it that way.
Knowing that going directly after Trump would lead to a big negative for his campaign as it did when he made his January 6th comments, Pence held back for the most part on his former boss outside of his now all too common refrain about having to choose between Trump and the Constitution.
When Chris Christy went hog wild after Donald Trump, however, Pence knew that he did not have to, and that took all of the negative attention away from him. He could simply talk about policy without having to defend himself for his previous attacks on the former president.
Small Loss: Mike Pence
Mike Pence brought nothing new to the table during the debate, and sounded, by far, the most scripted of the participants. He gave nothing new for people to talk about, and he too often came across as taking credit for Donald Trump's work, even if he actually was the person who did the work behind the scenes.
Needing to highlight his personal success within the Trump administration, he simply was unable to thread the needle to show that he was a driving force, or even a significant factor, in the Trump era. Instead he simply looks like someone who was attempting to ride his bosses coattails to the job while also stabbing said boss in the back.
It really was a bad look overall for Pence, and in the end, it will likely cost him in his pursuit of the nomination.