Our Reactions to the Fox Business & Wall Street Journal GOP Debate By OL Staff November 11, 2015

John Hart, Opportunity Lives Editor-in-Chief, @johnhart333
The clearest winner in Tuesday’s debate was the Fox Business Channel and co-moderator Neil Cavuto, who ended the night saying, “It wasn’t about us. It was about them.”

Cavuto and his fellow moderators understood that if they asked thoughtful questions and got out of the way, the candidates themselves would make news with their exchanges. That’s precisely what happened.

The most interesting dynamic was between the night’s two best performers: U.S. Sens. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) and Ted Cruz (R-Texas). Although they didn’t “get into it” with each other, per se, they showed why many Republicans believe the race will come down to a Rubio-Cruz race.

Both men shined. Rubio effectively parried an attack by Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) that he wasn’t a true conservative during a discussion on defense spending, while Cruz deftly handled complex questions about banks and bailouts, putting Ohio Gov. John Kasich on defense.

The night’s most important moment didn’t involve fireworks or rhetorical flourish. It was Cruz’s deliberate and calculated decision to bring up sugar subsidies as a way to pay for additional defense spending. It was a reveal to Cruz’s theory of the race and what he sees as a coming clash with Rubio.

Cruz believes there are “two lanes” in Republican presidential primaries: a moderate lane and conservative lane. Aside: The fact that Cruz would lump so many conservatives in the moderate lane shows how successful the grassroots has been at inspiring the Republican Party to re-embrace its Reagan reform roots.

By bringing up sugar subsidies, which some conservatives have dinged Rubio for supporting, Cruz placed a tracking device on the Rubio campaign that he will light up for conservatives when he begins to argue that Rubio is the guy in the “moderate lane” of the race. Rubio, of course, will say he is no moderate and is the same Tea Party darling who beat Charlie Crist — the Republican establishment’s anointed candidate — in his Senate race in 2010.

Rubio can also counter that Cruz is more of a talker than a warrior, and more of a controversialist than a conservative. Cruz, Rubio could argue, was a poor steward of his Senate seat and did little to use his constitutional authority to advance specific spending cuts, policy proposals and legislative solutions. Rather than authoring an Obamacare alternative, Cruz orchestrated a flamboyant crusade to “defund Obamacare” that was designed to advance himself rather than the cause of conservatism. The government shutdown the Cruz strategy precipitated actually hurt conservative efforts to repeal and replace Obamacare.

During the debate, while anticipating a future Rubio counter to his coming attack, Cruz went out of his way to emphasize his commitment to hard work and specificity — two traits many conservatives believe Cruz lacks.

Again, while this dynamic wasn’t the focus of much back and forth, it showed that Cruz is in chess mode and anticipating the future moves not of Trump or Carson, but Rubio.

The debate wasn’t a game changer for any of the other candidates. It simply showed the game may be about to change, and Cruz offered a reveal — a tell — about what it will look like when it does.

Ellen Carmichael, Opportunity Lives Senior Writer, @ellencarmichael
As usual, Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL) enjoyed the best debate performance. He triumphed in his exchange with Sen. Rand Paul (R-KY), further casting Paul as an outlier in the GOP primary. His message of optimism and positivity, especially as it concerned the party’s future juxtaposed to presumptive Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton, was the best moment of the night. The crowd seemed to respond most warmly to him.

Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX), who hasn’t always impressed me, provided a critical assist to Rubio when he was wrongly attacked by Paul. In the last debate, he also defended his fellow Republican challengers. It seems he has realized that his propensity to attack his fellow conservatives wasn’t doing him any favors. I like him more.

Former Gov. Jeb Bush (R-FL) had his best debate performance yet. He was well-informed, assertive and unflustered. It might be too late, but I think he made a compelling case for himself.

Carly Fiorina has failed to capitalize on her first and second debates’ success. She’s failed to be specific, only outlining what she sees as problems instead of proposing her solutions. But, this debate was a much better performance. She was firm, yet relatable. She helped her cause tonight.

This was, by far, Trump’s worst debate performance – which is really saying something. I suppose he noticed that he faded into the background in the previous two contests, so he needed to step out-front here. His attack on Fiorina elicited boos from the crowd, and off-topic declaration that Kasich had benefited from energy boom in Ohio was bizarre. Worst of all, his comments – especially as it concerned Putin and the Middle East – were rambling and incoherent. It was an embarrassing and disqualifying performance.

Sen. Rand Paul barely made it to the debate stage, because he’s got the lowest polling numbers. After the solid undercard debate performance of Gov. Chris Christie (R-NJ), it’s hard to see how he’ll stick around. His exchange with Rubio was ill-advised, and as Ramesh Ponnuru from National Review points out, was not based on actual facts. He continues to position himself far outside of the mainstream of the GOP primary voting base, and the Rubio/Cruz team ate his lunch. Despite this being Paul’s best debate performance, he still doesn’t belong on the stage.

Gov. John Kasich (R-OH) is in the same boat as it concerns his position on the next debate stage. He comes off as condescending, angry and bitter, despite having a pretty decent record in Congress and in Ohio.

This was the best debate so far this cycle. The Fox Business Network and Wall Street Journal team kept to the issues, let the candidates talk and gave everyone an equal shot at questions. They should be commended for their expertise and professionalism.

Izzy Ortega, Opportunity Lives Senior Writer, @IzzyOrtega
Cruz Continues to Shine, But Questions Remain

The son of a Cuban immigrant turned in another stellar performance in last night’s Republican presidential debate. Senator Ted Cruz (R-TX) command of both policy and stage presence was evident throughout the night. And yet, on one issue in particular, it revealed inconsistencies that will need to be resolved before next year’s general election if he is to earn the Republican nomination as some are beginning to suggest.

The simple fact is that Senator Cruz can’t have it both ways on immigration. As an immigrant to this country and the son of an immigrant, Senator Cruz should know that immigrants don’t take jobs from other Americans. Study after study have concluded that immigrants grow our economy while ensuring that we have a vibrant and young workforce. Besides, immigrants are not static. A poor, uneducated immigrant of today is able to better his standing through hard work and education tomorrow.

As the Senator mentioned in last night’s debate, his own immigrant father arrived to this country with very little money in his pockets. Today that Cuban immigrant was able to see his son shine in the Republican debate and position himself closer to be the Republican nominee for the Presidency.

Senator Cruz needs to have deeper faith in today’s immigrants and immigration system instead of cozying up to immigration restrictionists that would make the own Senator’s remarkable immigration story impossible.

-67872c4a013ee1cePhoto: AP
Carrie Sheffield, Opportunity Lives Senior Writer, @carriesheffield
There was a big improvement on debate execution by Fox Business over the last debate by CNBC. The longer period for questions (60 seconds vs. 30 seconds in other debates) gave time for substantive answers and better dialogue among candidates. Best performers were Marco Rubio, Carly Fiorina and Ted Cruz. Cruz was able to articulate his vision on immigration in a way that was economically and policy-oriented, which Donald Trump had previously been unable to do. I disagreed with Cruz’s call to return to the gold standard; this was tried by the UK under Winston Churchill with disastrous results.

Rubio handily withstood fire from Rand Paul on the question of foreign policy and military spending. He also spoke passionately in defense of his child tax credit, which has received only a lukewarm reaction from the Wall Street Journal ediotrial board.

Fiorina articulately spoke about the negative downstream effects on the economy as government expands, whether through Obamacare, Dodd-Frank or the Consumer Financial Protection bureau.

All around, the debaters focused on substance rather than personal attacks and narrow politics. Best GOP debate so far.
Tom Rogan, Opportunity Lives Writer, @TomRtweets
The debates rumble on! Tonight’s outing focused on the economy, taxes, regulation and foreign policy. Under the polite but direct management of Neil Cavuto, it was well organized and informative. Here’s my take on each of the candidates.

Bush showed more energy and passion than in previous debates. The question… was it enough? Bush was strong when outlining the need for practical, realistic policy proposals – especially on immigration reform – and when pointing out that the creation of lower income jobs are not the same as well-paying jobs. He was also strong in challenging Donald Trump on the Middle East. He certainly had a good night but the polls will tell the tale.

Carson got off to a good start by outlining how a higher minimum wage would price out the least skilled from employment (an issue I’ve written about here). Carson defended his tax plan on the basis that it would encourage generosity towards charity, but he seemed weak on the specific fiscal calculations. Thus, we were left wondering how he would avoid blowing up the deficit. Carson was also weak on foreign policy, relying on platitudes. As the debate wore on, his energy declined. I expect he’ll drop a few points.

Cruz offered a passionate case on tax reduction, clearly on top of the specifics. This was important in allowing him to show an intellectual versatility that Donald Trump does not have. But… in a very problematic slip that you can guarantee will come back to haunt him, Cruz could only mention four of the five Government agencies he wants to eliminate (remember Perry…). Cruz also risked his credibility in saying that he’d allow American banks to go bankrupt. Still, it’s clear that Cruz wants to usurp Trump’s position as the candidate of conservative populism. If Trump implodes, Cruz might stand in a very strong position.

Fiorina had an oddly low-energy night and didn’t force her way into enough important discussions. That is, until foreign policy issues and government bureaucracy came up. Unfortunately, Fiorina relied on platitudes far too often. In short, this wasn’t a good night for Fiorina: she seemed a more absent candidate than previously.

Kasich was strong on his go-to line of compassionate conservatism and effectively linked that idealism with his family. That said, he risked becoming annoying with his constant interruptions. The real problem for Kasich is that his policy positions put him somewhere between Bush and Paul. And that’s a hard position to make work politically!

Paul had a far better night than in previous debates, but seemed hesitant at the start. He effectively challenged Marco Rubio on the proposed expansion of tax credits, but his strongest moment came on foreign policy. Although many conservatives (myself included) disagree with Paul on national security, his passion and reliably divergent viewpoints are both courageous and beneficial for conservative positive debates within the movement.

Rubio attacked Paul on national security and spoke in broad terms of conservative values and structural reforms to the economy. He continued his track record in asserting American exceptionalism. He also had good lines on the utility of vocational training versus philosophy degrees (my take here) and the opportunity posed by an American energy revolution. What became clear tonight is that Rubio is clearly positioning himself as the presumptive GOP Presidential nominee (just watch his concluding statement!). He’s already looking towards the general election race against Hillary Clinton. He seems to think Bush is done for.

Trump was reliably bombastic in his answers and body language. His strongest political moment came with his opposition to the Trans Pacific Partnership trade deal. This will help secure his populist-economic campaign even if it will alienate many conservative voters who believe in free trade. But Trump’s greatest problem is that the more he speaks, the less substantive he seems. This was especially obvious on foreign policy, where he asserted that he’ll work effectively with Vladimir Putin… because he once sat in a TV green room with Russia’s leader. The repetitive platitudes become boring after a while. I suspect he’ll dip a couple of points after this debate.

Republican Presidential candidates (L-R) John Kasich, Jeb Bush, Marco Rubio, Donald Trump, Ben Carson, Ted Cruz, Carly Fiorina and Rand Paul take the stage for the Republican Presidential Debate hosted by Fox Business and The Wall Street Journal November 10, 2015 in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. AFP PHOTO/JOSHUA LOTTJoshua LOTT/AFP/Getty Images ORG XMIT: 590991155 ORIG FILE ID: 546277410Photo: AP
Jay Caruso, Opportunity Lives Writer, @JayCaruso
It was refreshing to finally see a substantive debate, where great questions were asked and candidates had more time to discuss the issues thanks to their only being eight candidates on the stage instead of ten. It was the kind of debate that truly exposed the weaknesses and strengths of the candidates.

For Donald Trump and Ben Carson, as the debates go on and less people are on stage, they continue to reveal they do not have a grasp of policy details that are essential to being the leader of the free world. Donald Trump was incoherent and rambled on at length using many adjectives but never really saying anything of substance. Trump was also grouchy and was twice booed loudly for comments he made about other candidates. Carson was his usual, mild mannered self, but outside of his being able to call out the media for not hitting Hillary more on Benghazi, he couldn’t have given anybody confidence in what he would do as President. He wasn’t bad, but he didn’t do well.

Marco Rubio continued to be the strongest on the stage. When Rand Paul tried to make the case he was not a conservative because of his views on defense spending, Rubio turned the tables on him and made a strong case for having the strongest military in the world. He showed self-deprecation when asked about his experience vs. Hillary Clinton and just never seems to get rattled no matter what the issue is.

On the other hand, Jeb Bush was actually pretty good with his answers but his delivery was poor. He sounded nervous the entire time, often stuttering and stumbling over his words. When he tried to be funny it was awkward. He didn’t help himself.

Carly Fiorina was in her wheelhouse with economic issues but she still suffers from the issue of sounding like she is delivering a stump speech. She also had a tendency to ramble, going far beyond her allotted time and when that happened, her comments sound forced. John Kasich was a mess and if any good comes from this debate, it will be the hastening of his demise as a candidate. He was whiny, pedantic and sounded each time like he was lecturing the audience, moderators and other candidates.

Rand Paul did well with the time he had on economic issues but was just completely out of his element and out of his league when discussing foreign policy. Nobody is going to care about military spending as long as it is keeping us safe from maniac jihadists.

Ted Cruz likely had the best night aside from Marco Rubio. His best moment came when he took Kasich’s “I am an executive” bravado and turned it on its head by getting Kasich to admit that he’d bail out a bank. Kasich’s testy response that he’d let “people who can afford it” twist in the wind earned him boos from the audience. Cruz, like Rubio has command of the issues but as a tendency to get too much into the weeds causing people to tune out.

All in all it was a good debate and Fox Business Network, after seeing the disaster on CNBC, did a far better job so that in the end, we won’t remember anything they said or did. We will only remember what the candidates said and that serves the voters better.