STORY BY JOHN WINGERT
That is why Josh Hughes, first-year, came to Harvey Ingham last Wednesday night to watch the debate. The Republican debate on CNN could best be described as “pizza and circuses.”
From the outset, Drake Democrats, Drake Republicans and the Drake Political Review staff were gathered for a dramatic and entertaining affair. Ever since Trump’s stratospheric ascent, he has added an amusement to the race that drew in politicos faster than the smell of complimentary pizza.
For weeks, candidates like Bush, Carson, Fiorina and even Walker had been preparing rebuttals to Donald Trump’s continued aggression and obstreperousness. Now was their chance to fight back against the monolithic Trump.
Avid eyes gathered in Harvey Ingham to see the spectacle that would—like the last debate— likely revolve around Trump. Madeline Meyer, a senior, came to see “how Trump would handle himself” and “how the candidates would respond to Trump.”
From the very beginning of the debate, Trump showed his characteristic antagonism.
Minutes into the forum, Trump said that Rand Paul should not even be on the debate stage. Rand Paul rebutted by saying that the frontrunner for the GOP should not be lashing out at people, especially not based on their appearance, as Trump had done to Carly Fiorina. In a perfectly-timed response, Trump said, “I never attacked him or his looks, and believe me, there’s plenty of subject matter right there.”
Alex Klein, a sophomore, argued that the debate strayed away from policy contentions at times.
“It’s more concerned with how they carry themselves,” Klein said.
Much of the audience of Harvey Ingham laughed at the raucousness and patent absurdity of Trump’s prods. However, other candidates soon began to take aim at Trump.
In a performance that far exceeded that of the previous debate, Jeb Bush seemed much more confident and ready with answers. That being said, his performance still paled in comparison to many other candidates and did not seem fitting for someone who was the presumed nominee.
Although he initiated the nascent rumblings of a discussion over mass incarceration with Rand Paul after having admitted to smoking marijuana, the conversation did not last nearly as long as Bush’s confrontations with Trump. Bush argued that Trump had tried to donate to his campaigns in Florida in an effort to get gambling laws changed. Trump denied the claim vociferously. Bush said that Trump should apologize for his comments about Bush’s wife; Trump refused.
Scott Walker made some valiant attempts to rescue himself from his precipitous decline in recent weeks, especially in Iowa, where he was originally predicted to do quite well. (Walker would drop out of the race six days later.) Ben Carson maintained his non-aggressive demeanor and stalwart conservatism that has helped him climb closer to Trump’s summit.
However, the real story of the night was Carly Fiorina.
“I was looking forward to seeing Ms. Fiorina perform,” said Ryan Wiskerchen, a junior. “I was also afraid that it would just become another episode of the Trump show.”
Other students noticed Fiorina’s boldness during the debate.
“One of my favorite moments has been Carly Fiorina’s response to Donald Trump’s remarks about her when he was with Rolling Stone.” Meyer said. “I thought her response was pretty simple and eloquent.”
Fiorina was asked by the debate moderator, Jake Tapper, to respond to Trump’s diatribe: “Look at that face. Would anyone vote for that? Can you imagine that, the face of our next president?” Trump later tried to argue to numerous news outlets that he was referring to Fiorina’s “persona.”
“Mr. Trump said that he heard Mr. Bush clearly and what Mr. Bush said,” responded Fiorina, referring to Trump’s attacks on a Bush gaffe relating to women’s health. “I think women all over this country heard very clearly what Mr. Trump said.”
Carly Fiorina has become a leading figure in the primary process as someone who has shown an inordinate ability to absorb insults and remain calm while sticking to her policy ideas.
“I really liked Fiorina’s talking about how the security of the country was one issue that needed to be addressed, but that the character of the United States was also of vital importance,” Wiskerchen said.
Almost all of the candidates seemed better prepared for this debate than the first. The only real loser, especially after Fiorina’s incisive comeback, was Donald Trump. It should be noted that he seemed to be unable to offer coherent policy positions and answer tough questions at the last debate, but Trump managed to reach strong polling figures in its aftermath.
In the second debate, however, all of the candidates were more willing and able to take on Trump. In exchange, Trump harped on Rubio’s absentee voting record, Fiorina’s failed tenure at Hewlett- Packard, budget shortfalls in Walker’s Wisconsin and Bush’s dependency on mega-donations from special interests.
Throughout the whole debate, he also seemed better armed with facts, figures, and clearer, if not transparent, policy suggestions. Wiskerchen said that Trump “actually talking more about policy” was a big take-away from the debate last Wednesday. This clearer policy terminology could help Trump appeal to the moderates he still needs to win over after his poll numbers started to reach an upper limit.
That being said, Trump started to slump in energy toward the end of the over three hour-long debate and leaned against his podium. Near the end, he also made an easily-refuted assertion that vaccines can cause autism. The repeated attacks against Trump from every side on every issue were well-parried, but they were not without effect.
On the other hand, candidates like Christie, Cruz and Rubio, despite years of being involved in politics, were desperate to portray themselves as political outsiders.
Christie argued that being a Republican in New Jersey qualified him as an outsider. Cruz referenced his unusual, anti-establishment conservatism that has put him at odds with the Senate leadership. Rubio said that his absenteeism was a result of learning how broken Washington is. In a season of political outsiders like Trump, Carson and Fiorina, other candidates seem to want to join that bandwagon.
Even after these developments, it is difficult to determine a favorite.
“I am still trying to navigate the many Republican candidates,” Meyer said.
The conversation often seemed to get distracted from principled debate into “no decorum, no order,” Hughes commented. Those factors were not helpful for those trying to seriously consider who they want as their future president.
However, it is important to remember that it is still early in the season, and there is plenty of time for candidates to jostle for position. Nevertheless, Wiskerchen said, it is possible that with these debates, “the field will narrow a bit,” and the real contenders will emerge.