If Twitter decided elections, Chris Christie would be in first place after tonight’s debate. During Christie’s exchange with Rubio about his repetition of retreaded talking points, Google spiked, leading Twitter to conclude that viewers focused on that one event.
Rubio’s exchange with Chris Christie, in which the New Jersey governor hammered him on reverting to the same talking points over and over — hammered him — prompted a lot of cringes online. Perhaps those tweets mentioned by Twitter were all positive! Perhaps … not.
In fact, Rubio was very strong on his talking points, which have been resonating well in New Hampshire. Rubio’s closing statement practically word-for-word echoed the latest TV ad flooding the Granite State. This was certainly on purpose.
Christie has gone negative in New Hampshire, which doesn’t tend to favor negative this close to the polls. Rubio and Cruz have stayed positive in their messages. (Interestingly, and as an aside, both Democrats get this concept.)
Trump hit hard and did well on his responses about police overreaction and how cops are prevented from doing their jobs by threats of lawsuits. It was his best moment of the night. His worst was the unwarranted cheap shot at Ted Cruz in his closing statement, about “stealing votes” from Ben Carson. That could be Trump’s “Dean scream.”
Jeb Bush had a good debate–he finally landed a real punch against Trump on eminent domain. It reminds me of Moby Dick, quoting Ahab: “To the last, I grapple with thee; From Hell’s heart, I stab at thee; For hate’s sake, I spit my last breath at thee.” If Jeb had given as much money to attacking Trump as he has given energy in this debate instead of spending it against Rubio, maybe Trump wouldn’t be leading in the polls, and Bush wouldn’t be on the edge of an early exit.
Ted Cruz was silent for long stretches tonight. I don’t think it hurt him. His answers were on message, with no real missteps. Cruz’s personal and heartfelt story about his half-sister’s struggle with heroin and ultimate death was very powerful. It might have connected with some New Hampshirites–drug abuse is a huge issue in NH.
Ben Carson was weak and whiny, proving why his place in the polls has slipped to near irrelevancy. I can’t understand why Kasich is popular in NH, other than the fact he spent so much time in the state. At least Christie has something useful to offer.
The real question is, with Tuesday’s primary approaching, did anyone move the needle? I think the answer is yes: Trump moved it in the wrong direction. Christie probably gained some undecided votes. Rubio, despite losing the exchange with Christie, continued his momentum. He had more talking time than the other candidates, and his answers, while repetitive, were right on target with the message that’s gotten him to second place in NH.
Here is NPR’s final talking time tally:
Without input from the ground, it’s hard to say if the debate made a huge difference, but from my chair, it appears that the trend lines were simply reinforced. If anything, the race might be closer than we expect for the top three. If there’s a surprise, it would come from Christie, but I’m not willing to go out on a limb for that.