Despite the election for the next President of the United States being over 15 months away, the race for the White House was in the prime time spotlight yesterday, as candidates vying for the nations top office made their cases to the American people, and in the process presented to viewers one of the most memorable debates in recent history.
Action kicked off in Cleveland at the QuickenLoans Arena even before the major candidates took the stage at 9pm. An earlier debate, nicknamed “Happy Hour”, featured lower polling candidates who didn’t make the cut for the prime time stage. Among these was the runner up for the 2012 Republican nomination, former senator Rick Santorum, along with several other former governors and a current senator. There was little debate however, over who was the winner of this forum. Many analyst and viewers conceded former Hewlett Packard C.E.O Carly Fiorina was the best of the seven candidates. The only woman in the 17 candidate field showed that she deserves respect as a legitimate contender as she delivered a stirring opening statemen, stating, “The highest calling of leadership is to challenge the status quo and unlock the potential of others. We need a leader who will lead the resurgence of this great nation and unlock its potential once again.” Fiorina’s strong performance may help her make way into the main group of candidates and give her a chance to debate the major canidates, possibly propelling her campaign further.
Much like the race for the Republican nomination, the build up to Thursday’s debate had been centered around the controversial candidacy of real estate mogul Donald Trump, well known for not being afraid to speak his mind and often generating public outcry for his comments. It was only fitting that Trump was given center stage for the debate, and the flamboyant businessman failed to disappoint, delivering soundbites that seemed to be straight out of a Saturday Night Live skit. The debate started off with fireworks as Trump refused to pledge to not to run as a third party candidate if he does not receive the Republican nomination, even after host Brett Baier stated that the move would “almost certainly hand the race to the Democrats.” A few minutes later he got into a confrontation with host Megyn Kelly when she grilled him on sexist comments, saying almost threateningly, “I’ve been very nice to you, although I could probably not be based on the way you have treated me.” Trump didn’t reserve his rash remarks for the moderators, also calling out Kentucky senator Rand Paul. “You’re having a hard time tonight,” he said. The poll leader doubled down on his opinions in his answers to questions, including a comment that Mexico purposefully sends criminals to America and denying his businesses have declared bankruptcy.
Aside from Trump’s off the cuff remarks, another heated exchange arose between New Jersey Governor Chris Christie and Rand Paul regarding National Security, with Christie calling Paul’s libertarian views dangerous, saying, “When you’re responsible for protecting the lives of the American people, then what you need to do is to make sure you use the system the way it’s supposed to work.” Paul fired back at Christie, criticizing him for giving an infamous hug to President Obama during his visit to New Jersey following Hurricane Sandy, to which Christie replied, “the hugs that I remember are the hugs I gave to the families who lost their people on September 11th,” drawing loud applause. Other candidates also enjoyed positive feedback for remarks, such as Florida Senator Marco Rubio when describing his humble beginnings, neurosurgeon Ben Carson for a humorous closing statement about his unique medical background and the adverse effects of Washington bureaucracy, former Arkansas Governor Mike Huckabee for a reference to Ronald Reagan’s foreign policy of “Trust, but Verify,” Texas Senator Ted Cruz for a strong stance against I.S.I.S., and Ohio Governor John Kasich for a touching answer on his acceptance of a gay friend. Former Governor Jeb Bush of Florida and Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker also received positive crowd feedback, though Walker experienced a rough moment when he refused to support abortion in cases that would save the life of the mother.
The ultimate question of which candidate had the best performance in the main debate appeared to be up in the air, although experts felt that many candidates helped their cause. Analyst opinion and focus group polling show that, in fact, the only candidate that seemed to have made a negative impression on viewers was the man who had center stage for the night: Donald Trump. A focus group composed by political analyst Frank Luntz called Trump’s performance “un-presidential” and many left with an unfavorable view of the current poll leader. So called “Teflon Don” has been untouched by previous comments and scandals, so it is not yet clear how his outlandish performance in the first debate will impact the race. If Thursday’s debate serves as a preview for the upcoming election season, Americans will surely find no lack of entertainment and drama in the Race to the Oval Office.