It is difficult to say with any certainty what events in a campaign will have staying power or really impact the course of an election. The Omnivore holds that most 'dramatic' events don't usually wind up having a permanent effect against the 'fundamentals' of the election.
However, with bare days before the voting begins--and with Iowa holding out-sized importance in the nomination process--it seems likely that the 7th GOP Debate has some ramifications for Republicans. These are:
The Video Attacks On Cruz And Rubio Were Hard-HittingMegyn Kelly played video montages for Rubio and Cruz hitting them both right in the Immigration. It was Gang of Ocho and Cruz trying to get an Amnesty-Bill through congress (he has claimed--and tried to claim--that his work was intended to kill it. That was plainly not the case from the video shown). Video is powerful in ways that other methods are not--the Show-Don't-Tell proposition your creative writing teacher harped on.
The venue is also different from, say, a Ted Cruz attack ad. Fox News--perhaps more than any other debate-hosting agency--gets the presumption of objectivity. When Cruz shows Trump being progressive we know Cruz is going after him with the knives out. When Kelly does it . . . to Rubio . . . what are we to make of it? That it's a fair question.
The Omnivore wonders if, perhaps, Trump was tipped off to the video questioning--his high-lights reel would have been far worse than the other two's.
Trump's Decision To Sit Out Was GoodTrump dominated search terms (the debate was co-hosted by Google) and there were questions about him. He's not a great debater (you could say, not a master debater, right?)--and if he was gonna duck a debate, this was the one to duck. There were a few possible doomsday scenarios:
- Iowa takes it personal-like: The debate was in Iowa, days before Iowans vote. Would they feel snubbed The Donald didn't show up? Doesn't seem to have been a factor. Nobody seems to have cared.
- His Opponents Would Shine Without Him There: Indeed, Jeb seemed to do better without Trump around. Rubio got more talk-time. Cruz could have broken out (more on that in a moment). On the other hand, no one really shone and there weren't any knock-out punches (like Newt Gingrich's attack on the moderators in '12).
- Trump Might Look Like A Coward: Cruz tried to capitalize on this by offering to debate him anywhere--one on one. Mano y mano. Trump hit him back, right in the Maple Leaf, countering that he'd mix it up as soon as Cruz proved he was eligible to run.
Cruz Had Problems
Getting hit by the video wasn't Cruz's only problem. He was told point blank by Rand Paul that he'd do or say anything to get votes. He countered--but was was forced to sit there looking oily. He tried to talk down the debate moderators and got steam-rolled. His joke about being mistreated was (a) interrupted by Chris Wallace (who told him "It is a debate, sir"). He also came off as pissy--yes, it was a joke (and probably a prepared one)--but his delivery wasn't at all good.
In other words, he got a "moment"--but it wasn't the kind of moment he wanted. Instead of everyone talking about how he stuck to his guns, The Omnivore suspects we're going to be hearing how he got effectively dogpiled.
In any event, this may not hurt him--but it doesn't help him.
The net-net here is that these debates don't seem to be more effective at getting voters to tune out than candidates to drop out. It's clear that Carson and Kasich are both on their last legs--but Carson didn't seem like a guy who's inches from folding. He may well hang on long enough to siphon evangelical votes from Cruz before going gently--very, very gently--into that good night.
Kasich looks like he should be debating O'Malley in some kind of nether-world undercard event--but that's it. Everyone else looks in-it-to-win-it and last night gives them no reason to drop out.
Another takeaway is that the "strong, deep bench" that we we were promised looks to have been a mirage. Without Trump on the stage, Jeb looks a little better--but everyone--everyone up there is critically flawed in some substantial way. It's true that there is no perfect candidate--but looking at Cruz (extremely disliked--possibly elementally unlikable), Rubio (sharp but looks out-of-his-depth), Jeb (uninspiring policy wonk with a damaged last-name), and Christie (New Jersey tough-guy act seems to be about as far as he goes) it's apparent that even without Trump this would have been something of a disaster.