Leave a comment, and send us questions @FiveThirtyEight.
It was an appropriately lively debate for a Saturday night. The Republican candidates were vicious to one another, the crowd was riled up, and the most important story of the evening — the death of Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia — was largely drowned out in the noise.
As we’ve done after every debate, the FiveThirtyEight staff anonymously submitted grades based on how much we think the candidates helped or hurt themselves in the quest for the nomination. The highest marks went to Jeb Bush and Marco Rubio, who each got a B+. Donald Trump averaged a C+ instead.
|CANDIDATE||AVERAGE GRADE||HIGH GRADE||LOW GRADE|
But as I’ve said after every recent debate, it’s hard to assess what the viewers at home will think — perhaps especially after a brawl as wild and wooly as this one. For that matter, there wasn’t that much agreement among our staff about how well the candidates did. Two of our voters gave Bush an A, for instance, while another gave him a C. Trump’s grades ranged from B+ to C-. So we’re a little ¯\_(ツ)_/¯ on this one. That doesn’t mean the debate won’t matter — it might matter a lot — but we’d like to see how the reaction plays out over the next couple of days, and how it interacts with the news about Scalia.
It’s worth remembering, however, that a lot of positions Trump was espousing in the debate, including his harsh critiques of George W. Bush and the Iraq War, and his defenses of Planned Parenthood and eminent domain, are not very popular with Republicans (although some would be smart positions to take during the general election). George W. Bush’s favorability rating among Republicans is 67 percent, for example, while just 8 percent of Republicans take an unfavorable view of him.
Trump’s performance tonight may help him with his base, but it won’t necessarily help him to expand his coalition, and perhaps the whole question the nomination turns upon is whether Trump can go from having 25 percent to 35 percent support to 50 percent-plus as other candidates drop out of the running.
We’re going to have our debate grades and some final thoughts from Nate in a moment, but in the meantime: Sign-up for our weekly 2016 newsletter.
If you watched the GOP debate tonight, you missed this:
Tonight we saw Trump not only get personal with charges against his opponents, but also respond to the charges that he is vulgar (for repeating the words of a supporter who called Cruz a misogynist term). Marco Rubio has made hay out of the issue, saying he couldn’t even discuss the word with his sons. But Trump’s closing statement stuck very much to his talking points about making America great — and was much calmer than the rest of his debate performance. I still believe the person who could most effectively take down Trump is Trump himself.
Apparently this is going to be the tone of the rest of the debates. They’ve already been through all the major issues in the previous hundreds of forums — how many times have we heard the same immigration tape loop, the same refrain on eminent domain and postcard tax returns? — but there are an infinite number of ways to insult each other and their families, an endless path to feigned anger over the latest ad or stray remark. To keep voters watching, and to stand out from the white noise, most of the candidates apparently feel they have to boil over on camera. Eventually, of course, that will become tiresome, too.
My final thought is — how is Ben Carson still in the race? His low-single-digits poll number compatriots Carly Fiorina and Chris Christie have dropped out post-New Hampshire, his campaign seems from all accounts to be massively dysfunctional, and I guess I just find it striking, looking at this winnowed field on the debate stage, that Carson has remained.
This was the nastiest debate in a while. Clearly, the candidates know the field will winnow and time is running out. I don’t know if this debate will upend Trump’s lead, but it’s not from a lack of trying from the other candidates.
The debate is wrapping up here. Final thoughts?
Strategy, Micah? This is about as pre-planned as an improv comedy night. Bringing up eminent domain on his own, without even being challenged on it? Choosing to ignore the mood of the crowd by taking a lefty view of the Iraq War and the Bushes’ role in it? He believes in running on instinct and gutting it out.
This Trump performance has been … Trumpian. Was this his strategy?
One more thing on Trump. People seem to think he’s invincible and … um, well, maybe they have a point? But he was punished a bit by voters for his angry and somewhat uneven performances during the first two Republican debates, each of which slightly (although temporarily) lowered his numbers in national polls.
An analysis by the Tampa Bay Tribune’s political director went point by point through Jeb Bush’s legacy as governor of Florida. Among the points it explores: how impressive Bush’s job creation numbers were (no better than the four preceding Florida governors’) and a rise in debt during his tenure from $15 billion to $23 billion.
Everyone has his or her own view of who wins or loses a debate. We’ll have our final debate grades later on, but to me Bush has greatly improved in his one-on-ones with Trump. He clearly has gotten under Trump’s skin a number of times, and he even got a chance to talk about what at least in a 30-second sound-bite is a successful record as governor of Florida.
Donald Trump has said several times in the last couple of minutes that he has not gone bankrupt. It’s hard to determine upon what razor’s edge of semantics Trump is treading, but he has filed for bankruptcy on four separate occasions; they were all Chapter 11 reorganizations, which he has spun to the service of his deal-making message — he was just bending the law of the land to his best business interest, he says.
Commercial break diversion! Check out our interactive map of where the candidates are earning Facebook likes:
I’m seeing mixed reactions to Donald Trump’s performance from pundits, who are variously suggesting that tonight’s debate is a meltdown for Trump and claiming it could help him instead. My personal view, for whatever it’s worth, is fairly close to that of Philip Klein of the Washington Examiner. Trump’s attacks on the Iraq War and George W. Bush and his defense of Planned Parenthood and eminent domain may help him with his base. But these are unpopular positions among the broader Republican electorate and they may simultaneously lower Trump’s ceiling.
Bush is touting his economic record as governor of Florida. We have a handy guide for evaluating the economic records of governors who want to be president.
Ben Carson just spent some of his minutes on the national debt. He’s one of the few candidates to raise the issue this cycle; as my colleague Andrew Flowers wrote last month, no one seems to be talking about the deficit any more.
Donald Trump felt the need to defend himself after his opponents hit him numerous times on the issue of eminent domain. While eminent domain may not sound like a sexy topic, the final Des Moines Register poll in Iowa found that of all the issues tested, Trump’s eminent domain policy was the thing that bothered voters most.
Well, Trump has gotten a lot of fire from Jeb Bush. And yeah, Cruz is finally getting into it with Trump now. But it still amazes me that Rubio has almost never had a bad word to say about the Republican front-runner, especially at a time when he needs to win back the confidence of the “establishment.”
So that Cruz attack on Trump was one of the first times someone has really gone after Trump, right?
Well, Ted Cruz just got Donald Trump to give a good attack ad soundbite — Trump said that Planned Parenthood does a lot of good. In an election where it’s a basic refrain from candidates that Planned Parenthood should be defunded, that’s not nothing.
The political ad wars are heating up in South Carolina. Residents are seeing ads from Ted Cruz touting his legal record, from Marco Rubio attacking Hillary Clinton, and from Donald Trump — whose campaign has largely relied on media coverage as opposed to ads — attacking Cruz on immigration. A tool called the Political TV Ad Archive allows you to see the ads — here’s the Trump attack ad — plus how often they’ve aired and in which markets.
Cruz chose to make job creation the centerpiece of his response to a question on how to lift people out of poverty. U.S. workers have been hit by a one-two punch. Globalization means U.S. jobs are directly affected by offshoring, which Trump took on in his answer, and secondarily when our markets are responsive to other global financial indices, like China’s. Second, disruptive innovation by tech companies often includes automation, with some companies creating wealth rather than jobs and leading some analysts to posit there will be a “jobless future.” (Others vehemently disagree with that thesis.)