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The 2016 GOP Primaries: Debate One

A look at the first debate and the general shape of the 2016 GOP field.

Now that we’re somewhat familiar with the major candidates, it’d be nice to look at where the race stands. But some background is needed, at least for the GOP side of things.

The Republican voters of 2012 had a hard time making a pick. They apparently did not feel any great connection to any of the candidates. They were shopping, trying each one on. Finding a bad fit, finding it clashed with their values, they went to the next. Eventually, they went with the least ill-fitting, Mitt Romney.

2016 looks largely to be a retreading of that same ground. Trump has an early lead, mainly because he’s such a known brand. Trump has been around for a long time, outside of politics. He’s a fixture of America. That seems to many to mean he counts for more in a race among people with much less recognition. He certainly doesn’t seem much crazier than the average candidate in the race at the moment.

What’s more, his positions don’t apparently diverge so much from any of the other candidates. His tone does, though. He’s running as an anti-candidate. An outsider insider. The fact that he has had business success speaks to people that here is a man who, right or wrong, consistent or not, has gotten things done before.

Of the other candidates, Jeb Bush is favored. He’s the establishment pick, like Romney was. Barring either Trump or a dramatic shift by another candidate, Bush will likely get the nomination, just like Romney did. The voters will try each of the others in the Whitman’s Sampler and go with the plain chocolate with the dollar sign stamped on it.

The rest of the candidates, mostly, are middling. Some are more establishment, like Kasich. Others are more Tea Party, like Cruz. Others more hawk, Graham. But none stand out as the best mix of nougat, chocolate, nuts, and caramel.

The first debates

A few days ago the first debates happened. They were split into the top ten and the bottom seven. The popular wisdom had Trump winning the big table and Fiorina the small.

Trump did stave off any acute attack on his candidacy, not even losing points for being the sole candidate to refuse to pledge to support the GOP ticket no matter what. It’s not clear that he won, per se, as the moderators seemed to approach each candidate on a case-by-case basis for about half their questions. Trump’s personalized questions were of a different sort than those posed to other candidates, more about his personality than his record (though they did ask him about bankruptcies).

Trump seemed to score points by not melting like the Western Wicked Witch in The Wizard of Oz. And that, to my eyes, was also why Fiorina won the small table. There were no particular standouts down below, and the fact that Fiorina did okay seems to garner her a win as another outsider businessperson.

It will be awhile before the next polls show whether the debate changed anything. It’s likely there will be a bit of shuffling in the lower ranks, without much change among the leaders. The next debate is over a month away, and will again be a big table, little table split debate. We should see a different mixture in each by then, which may begin to show a longer trend of where the field is heading.

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