Carly Fiorina & Marco Rubio, The Big Winners of the Second Republican Presidential Debate
Carly Fiorina said she would not talk to Vladimir Putin because “the only way he will stop is to sense strength and resolve on the other side.” Fiorina repeatedly delivered clear, crisp, bullet-pointed answers to questions about policy—showing up her rivals, who tended to speak in more sweeping generalities. Her “plan” for Iran involved bringing the rest of the world back around to reinstituting a stronger-sanctions regime against the Mullahs in Tehran. You go Lady. Senator Rubio, a fresh blood and lots of brilliant ideas, who blames Obama for the US global failure due to his inability to lead and disengagement, he pledges to rebuild America to fulfill its potential, you go Senator. [DID]
For the second debate in a row, Fiorina was once again the breakout star of the night, taking on Republican front-runner Donald Trump with finesse and capturing the crowd with polished, zinging answers and an impassioned charge against abortion. Fiorina earned perhaps the biggest applause of the night as she skewered Planned Parenthood.
CNN’s Jake Tapper provided the opening. “In an interview last week in Rolling Stone magazine, Donald Trump said the following about you. Quote, ‘Look at that face. Would anyone vote for that? Can you imagine that, the face of our next president?’ Mr. Trump later said he was talking about your persona, not your appearance. Please feel free to respond what you think about his persona.”
Fiorina didn’t flinch. “I think women all over this country heard very clearly what Mr. Trump said.”
Then Fiorina did something unusual for a candidate on a debate stage. She went silent. She let her seconds tick away. And the cheers rocked the auditorium.
Trump was left to stammer out a peace offering. “I think she’s got a beautiful face and I think she’s a beautiful woman,” he said, smiling hopefully. But Fiorina didn’t give an inch. She stood there stone-faced. On the split screen, Trump’s pleading grin looked weak and desperate.
This is the second debate Fiorina won. She dominated the JV stage in the Fox News debate, forcing CNN to change the rules to ensure she made the main stage in their event. She validated their decision tonight. She had the crispest answers, received the biggest cheers, and proved the only candidate on the stage capable of standing against Trump. She made everyone else on the stage — especially Trump — look unprepared. But she did it in part by playing fast and loose with the facts. Her barrage of specifics often obscured a curious detachment from reality.
One example of Fiorina’s powerful contrast with Trump came when the debate turned to foreign policy. Trump was asked what would do to get the Russians out of Syria. His answer was a meandering paean to his own likability:
I would talk to [Putin]. I would get along with him. I believe — and I may be wrong, in which case I’d probably have to take a different path, but I would get along with a lot of the world leaders that this country is not getting along with.
We don’t get along with China. We don’t get along with the heads of Mexico. We don’t get along with anybody, and yet, at the same time, they rip us left and right. They take advantage of us economically and every other way. We get along with nobody. I will get along — I think — with Putin, and I will get along with others, and we will have a much more stable — stable world.
Compare that with Fiorina’s crisp, machine-gun specifics:
Having met Vladimir Putin, I wouldn’t talk to him at all. We’ve talked way too much to him. What I would do immediately, I would begin rebuilding the Sixth Fleet, I would begin rebuilding the missile defense program in Poland, I would also conduct military exercises in the Baltic states, I’d probably send a few thousand more troops to Germany. Vladimir Putin would get the message. By the way, the reason it is so critically important we that everyone of us know the General Soleimani’s name is because Russia is in Syria right now, because the head of the Quds Force traveled to Russia and talked to Vladimir Putin into aligning themselves with Iran and Syria to prop up Bashar al-Assad. Russia is a bad actor but Vladimir Putin is someone we should not talk to because the only way he will stop is to sense strength and resolve on the other side and we have all of that within our control. We could rebuild the Sixth Fleet. I will. We haven’t. We could rebuild the missile defense program. We haven’t, I will. We could to Senator Rubio’s point, give the Egyptians what they asked for, which is intelligence, we could give the Jordanians what they’ve asked for bombs and material. We have not supplied it, I will. We could arm the Kurds; they have been asking for this for three years. This is in our control.
Message: unlike Trump, I actually know what the hell I’m talking about.
A similar contrast was evident on the one issue Trump is actually supposed to understand: immigration. “The 14th amendment says clearly to a lot of great legal scholars, not television scholars but legal scholars, it is wrong,” Trump said. “It can be corrected with an act of congress, probably doesn’t even need that.”
Um, no, Fiorina replied. “The truth is, you can’t just wave your hands and say ‘the 14th Amendment is gonna go away.’ It will take an extremely arduous vote in Congress, followed by two-thirds of the states, and if that doesn’t work to amend the Constitution, then it is a long, arduous process in court.”
She went on to say that Obama “could have chosen to do anything to solve this problem. Instead, he chose to do nothing. Why? because the Democrats don’t want this issue solved.”
Trump, at this point, gave in. “I agree 100 percent, by the way, with Carly on the fact that the Democrats do not want to solve this problem.”
Stylistically, the night was a win for Fiorina who, over and over again, seemed to actually know what she was talking about.
New York journalist and CNN contributor Errol Louis said after the debate that Fiorina was “the clearest winner.”
The second winner of the debate was Senator Marco Rubio
Rubio proved Wednesday night why so many GOP elites have long considered him a top contender for the Republican nomination: He can weave his strong handle of policy with a compelling personal narrative.
Rubio took on Trump differently than Fiorina or Bush, dispatching the front-runner without attacking him directly, instead steering the debate toward his strengths.
When Trump pointed out Rubio’s voting absences in the Senate, Rubio refused to retort with an attack of his own.
“You’re right, I have missed some votes, and I’ll tell you why, Mr. Trump. Because in my years in the Senate, I’ve figured out very quickly that the political establishment in Washington, D.C. in both political parties is completely out of touch with the lives of our people,” Rubio said. “That’s why I’m missing votes. Because I am leaving the Senate, I’m not running for re-election, and I’m running for president because I know this: unless we have the right president, we cannot make America fulfill its potential, but with the right person in office, the 21st century can be the greatest era that our nation has ever known.”
Vox Policy & Politics: