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GOP Debate: Who's Still Standing on the Morning After?

A Commentary By Fran Coombs

Thursday, September 17, 2015

Debate or endurance test?

Last night’s Republican presidential campaign debate was a three-hour marathon that was reduced near the end to such penetrating questions as what woman should be on the $10 bill and what nickname would you choose for the Secret Service if you become president?

There were two major storylines going into the debate at the Reagan Presidential Library in California: Jeb Bush’s showdown with Donald Trump in hopes of reclaiming the lead and Carly Fiorina’s ascension to the A-debate stage.

Rasmussen Reports will release new numbers at 8:30 and 10:30 a.m. Eastern tomorrow that should tell us how GOP voters rate the performances of the top players. Eighty-nine percent (89%) of Likely Republican Voters told us earlier this week that they were likely to watch or follow news reports about the debate, with 71% who said they were Very Likely to do so.

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Like many of those present, Fiorina seemed to think her main job was to bring Trump down a notch. Forty-four percent (44%) of the questions, according to one news account, were asked of or about Trump. Given his front-runner status, that’s no surprise.

Meanwhile, Bush referred several times to Trump’s earlier gibe about him being “low energy,” declaring proudly near the evening’s end that the handle he would choose for the Secret Service’s use is “Eveready.”

But as the evening wore on, it was clear that most of the candidates were – orally, at least – generally on the same page as the average Republican voter. They repeatedly described themselves as "conservative," agreed on a wall or some similar structure along the Mexican border, the need for tax reform and smaller government, defunding Planned Parenthood, stopping President Obama’s nuclear weapons deal with Iran and establishing a conservative litmus test for future nominees to the U.S. Supreme Court.

Each also was trying to further introduce themselves to the voting public at a time when Trump’s notoriety is eating up all the oxygen in the room. After all, at this stage of the game, name recognition is still the most important factor in the polls.

The policy expertise displayed by Senator Marco Rubio, in particular, and several of the other candidates may have hurt Trump more than their scripted attempts to mock him. The billionaire developer came across too often as glib rather than informed. Voters may be asking themselves this morning, Where’s the beef, Donald?

It’s unclear how much further Trump can go on the dissatisfaction Republican voters have with the establishment GOP.

That dissatisfaction was perhaps best illustrated by this debate exchange between Trump and Jeb Bush. “Your brother and your brother’s administration gave us Barack Obama,” Trump declared. “It was such a disaster those last three months [of Bush’s administration] that Abraham Lincoln couldn’t have been elected.”

Bush quickly responded: “As it relates to my brother, there’s one thing I know for sure: he kept us safe. You remember the rubble [at the World Trade Center and Pentagon]. He sent a clear signal that the United States would be strong and fight Islamic terrorism, and he did keep us safe.” The partisan audience cheered in support.

Trump, whose center-stage podium was right next to Bush’s, turned to him and said quietly, “You feel safe right now? I don’t feel so safe.” His comment drew little or no applause.

Interestingly,  for the first time in over four years, over half of all voters believe the United States is a more dangerous place than it was before the September 11, 2001 attacks. Trump agreed with the other candidates last night, however, that Obama’s policies and what they consider his weak leadership are chiefly to blame.

The Republicans have nine official debates to go, the next one on October 28. The Democratic presidential hopefuls are scheduled to hold their first debate two weeks earlier on October 13.

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Fran Coombs is the managing editor of Rasmussen Reports.

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Views expressed in this column are those of the author, not those of Rasmussen Reports. Comments about this content should be directed to the author at fran.coombs@rasmussenreports.com

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