The real winner last night at the GOP debate was the Fox News team of moderators. They grilled the candidates with questions that were well researched and carefully thought out. In addition to those barbed and provocative questions, their willingness to allow heated exchanges between the debaters produced great television.
They confronted the candidates with their flaws, flip-flops and failures, rather than pander to them with softballs as Fox usually does. We learned more about the debaters and their characters than we ever do from politicians’ usual canned recitals of their talking points.
By putting the candidates on the defensive, Fox informed the public about the candidates’ records and positions that many might not have known. The men revealed much more about themselves than a printed record could show.
New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie was combative and quick on his feet, counter-attacking Kentucky Sen. Rand Paul’s ill-fated attempt to embarrass him. You gave Obama “a big hug,” said Paul, “give him a big hug again.”
Without losing a beat, Christie parried, “You know, Sen. Paul, the hugs that I remember are the ones I gave to the families who lost their people on Sept. 11.” Paul was no match for Christie. He was too polite or too timid to interrupt the onslaught. Rand Paul did not fare well.
Sometimes it was the candidate who bested the questioner. When Kelly asked Ohio Gov. John Kasich about his opposition to same-sex marriage, he said that despite his belief in traditional marriage, he accepts the Supreme Court’s ruling. You can love people without agreeing with them, he said. But if your child were gay … Kelly persisted.
Kasich stepped up to the plate, saying that he would love his daughters no matter what. “God gives me unconditional love,” he said, “and I’m going to give it to my family and my friends and the people around me.”
Kasich was the moderate in the group. None of the other Republican governors on the stage with him accepted federal funds to expand Medicaid under the Affordable Care Act. He passionately defended his decision to treat the mentally ill, the drug-addicted and the working poor.
Florida Sen. Marco Rubio appeared to have helped himself. When confronted with his lack of executive experience, Rubio replied, “This election cannot be a résumé competition. It has to be about the future. It’s important to be qualified, but if this election is a résumé competition, then Hillary Clinton is going to be the next president…. This election better be about the future, not the past.”
Former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush, who has forfeited his front-runner status in the polls to Donald Trump, touted his résumé and made little noise. He did not stand out and still had difficulty explaining his gaffe of earlier in the week to Kelly. She asked him why he had said that, knowing what we know now, his brother’s invasion of Iraq was “a mistake.” Bush tried to make up to veterans and their families for implying that those who died and sacrificed in Iraq did so in vain. You can’t please everybody, but Bush is trying.
Kelly targeted Donald Trump, battering him with sharp questions. She dared him to explain his obnoxious views and treatment of women. “You call women you don’t like fat pigs, dogs, slobs and disgusting animals,” she accused him. At first Trump denied the charge (“It was all in fun”), then had to nod in agreement. Did he apologize? No way. He justified himself by saying he had no time for political correctness.
When Kelly asked him when he actually became a Republican, Trump squirmed. He had no answer. Charged with contributing to the political campaigns of Democrats, Trump rejoined, “I give to everybody. When they call, I give. When I need something from them, two years later, three years later, I call them and they are there for me.” Perhaps he realized that he was endorsing corruption. “And that’s a broken system,” he added.
Chris Wallace challenged Trump to explain his companies’ bankruptcies. Trump responded by clarifying that the bankruptcies were corporate, not personal. He also implied that they were a smart business tactic.
The Donald resented Kelly’s biting thrusts. “The questions to me were not nice,” he pouted after the debate.
The extremists were nonplussed by her probes.
Former Gov. Mike Huckabee of Arkansas defended his position of not allowing openly trans people to serve in the military. “The purpose of the military is to kill people and break things. It’s not a social experiment,” he said.
Gov. Scott Walker had no qualms about his refusal to allow abortion under any circumstances when Kelly asked him, “Would you really let a mother die rather than have an abortion?”
Without answering directly, Walker asserted, “I believe that that is an unborn child that’s in need of protection out there. And I’ve said many times that that unborn child can be protected and there are many alternatives that would protect the life of the mother.” Walker did not say what those alternatives are.
And so it went. Memorable moments. Fun and a little scary.