by PABLO ROA
The candidates for the Republican presidential nomination met on the debate stage once again Tuesday night, as Fox Business Network and The Wall Street Journal hosted the party’s fourth debate of the primary season.
Just like the previous three Republican debates, Tuesday’s event was split into two separate contests to accommodate the large field of candidates still in the running for the GOP nomination.
The bottom four candidates in recent polling averages — Chris Christie, Rick Santorum, Mike Huckabee and Bobby Jindal — met in the “undercard” debate two hours prior to the main debate. The main event, which began at 9 p.m. ET, consisted of the top-eight candidates: Donald Trump, Ben Carson, Senator Marco Rubio, Jeb Bush, Senator Ted Cruz, Carly Fiorina, Senator Rand Paul and Gov. John Kasich.
Here are five takeaways from Tuesday’s Debate:
1) Ted Cruz and Marco Rubio: The Real Frontrunners?
While Donald Trump and Ben Carson were the official frontrunners for the GOP nomination before the debate, Senators Ted Cruz and Marco Rubio performed very well in Tuesday night’s debate. Both Cruz and Rubio have seen a bump in the polls in recent weeks and their strong performances in the last two debates have led many to believe that they have a legitimate shot at catching Carson and Trump.
Rubio is arguably the best Republican candidate right now because of his impressive debating skills and his unwavering ability to tell his life story in a way that many Americans can relate to. Rubio appeared knowledgable on nearly every issue discussed in the debate and, despite the fact that his responses were mostly talking points from his stump speech, he drew large applause from the audience all night long.
Cruz is also popular among Republicans for his anti-Washington rhetoric and his self-proclaimed “outsider” status. The Texas Republican has performed exceptionally well in the last two debates and could see his polling numbers continue to improve in the coming weeks.
2) Jeb Bush Shows Signs of Improvement
Jeb Bush was once considered the hands-down favorite to win the GOP nomination, and as recently as a few months ago, the former Florida Governor looked like the Republicans’ best option for beating Hillary Clinton in the general election.
Now, his campaign appears to be in a sharp decline. He struggled mightily in the last debate and is lagging behind in the polls. With promising candidates such as Marco Rubio impressing on the campaign train, establishment Republicans are no longer turning to Bush as their primary choice for the nomination.
One of the key questions heading into Tuesday’s debate was whether or not Bush would be able to turn his campaign around. While it’s unlikely that he was actually able to do that, Bush was much better in this debate than the last one, and given that debates aren’t his strong suit, the fact that he did relatively well in Tuesday’s contest is an encouraging sign for his campaign.
In Tuesday’s debate, Bush focused mostly on policy issues and attacking Democratic frontrunner Clinton. The former Florida Governor did not attack Rubio this time around, a decision that many believe was the root of his struggles in the last debate.
Bush wasn’t spectacular Tuesday night, but he emerged from the debate relatively unscathed and probably won’t see any significant drop in the polls. And for a campaign that can’t seem to go anywhere but down, that’s probably as close to a victory as you can get.
3) John Kasich Tries New Strategy. It Doesn’t Work.
Ohio Governor John Kasich is struggling in the polls and is well behind the two front runners. In an effort to become a central part of the conversation last night, Kasich tried to take on a more assertive role in the debate — chiming in on almost every topic and trying to force himself into all of the moderators’ questions.
Unfortunately for Kasich, his new tactic didn’t make it look like he was trying to influence the conversation in a positive way. Instead, his constant interruptions were a major detraction from what was otherwise a very fluid debate. Kasich, who often touts his experience in Congress and in the Governor’s mansion as a reason for why he would make a good president, looked desperate and very un-presidential Tuesday night.
4) No More Insults: Candidates Finally Stick to the Issues
The race for the Republican presidential nomination has been hectic, unpredictable and, at times, a full out verbal war among the candidates. The first three GOP debates were no exception, as candidates spent a great deal of time attacking each other rather than debating where they stood on the issues.
Tuesday night, however, things were different. While there were still tense moments and the occasional disrespectful jab (see image below), candidates finally treated the debate as an opportunity to share their views on the most pressing issues facing America, such as the national debt and immigration.
The fact that candidates mostly refrained from attacking one another helped the debate in several ways. For starters, it allowed the debate to roll on smoothly with all candidates answering questions and not wasting time talking over and insulting each other.
More importantly, the fact that the debate focused on the issues helped draw important distinctions between the candidates. Candidates shared differing views on hot-button issues such as immigration and Syria, which makes it easier for potential voters to consider what they want to see in the Republican nominee.
In previous debates, all viewers could really see from candidates was an unwavering willingness to attack their opponents and the media. Tuesday night, viewers got to see eight different candidates and hear where they stand on the issues, which is really what these debates should be all about.
5) Despite Strong Showings, Polls Unlikely to Change
Despite strong performances by some candidates and relatively mediocre performances by others, Tuesday’s debate is unlikely to do much to change the polls.
Trump struggled at times and was unable to give a detailed response to any question about the economy or foreign policy, but we’ve seen the same thing in previous debates and it’s done little to hurt his frontrunner status. Carson performed well, but it’s hard to see him pulling away from Trump in the near future.
Bush, Carly Fiorina and Rand Paul all had solid debates as well, but until the field shrinks to fewer candidates, it’ll be very difficult for any of them to catch Carson and Trump any time soon.
While this debate was probably the most substantive debate of the GOP primary cycle, it also showed how far the party is from selecting its nominee. Trump and Carson may be on top now, but the entire landscape of the campaign could change as we get closer to the primaries.
It’s hard to say who “won” Tuesday’s debate. And at this point, even with four Republican debates in the books, it’s impossible to predict what the future holds in the race for the GOP presidential nomination.
The next debate will be Dec. 15 in Nevada.