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U.S. Republican Presidential Debates: Fight Of The Titans

PHOTO: qz.com

PHOTO: qz.com

THE top 10 Republican candidates in the United States, US 2016 polls, out of a field of 17, took the stage in Cleveland, Ohio, U.S on Thursday night. In some ways, it was a remarkably diverse group, from the orange-haired business mogul, Donald Trump, who has jumped out to an early lead; to the libertarian scion, Senator Rand Paul; to former Florida Governor Jeb Bush, son of one president and brother of another.

Reuters reported that it was a debate on immigration, abortion, and foreign policy—especially about Iran. New Jersey Governor, Chris Christie and Kentucky Senator, Rand Paul battled over terrorism and civil liberties, with Christie accusing the senator of failing to understand the threat to the nation—and Paul tartly responding that Christie failed to understand the Bill of Rights. Later, Christie tangled with former Arkansas Governor, Mike Huckabee, who has presented himself as a defender of entitlements for workers and seniors. And there was Trump, of course.

He was, inevitably, one of the standouts of the night. Although he mostly avoided taking direct shots at his opponents, he couldn’t resist battling the moderators. They hardly relented, asking him about boorish comments about women; his slurs against Mexican immigrants; his previous Democratic allegiance; his past description of himself as pro-choice; and his donations to Hillary Clinton. Among the other candidates, former Florida Governor Jeb Bush was able to make a strong impression and get lots of camera time but he also faced several difficult questions from the moderators, and he didn’t always have ready answers.

Florida Senator Marco Rubio gave one of the best performances of the night, showing why so many commentators remain bullish on his prospects despite his middling poll numbers. Yet perhaps the most surprising showing came from Chris Christie. His presidential campaign has widely been viewed as past its expiration date. But he was able to capitalize on his everyman persona Thursday night—speaking in detail, delivering his responses with passion, and picking his fights without letting his temper get the better of him.

Not everyone had such a strong night. Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker has consistently run alongside Bush and Trump atop polls, but his answers on Thursday night were forgettable. In his closing statement, he promised he was “aggressively normal,” but Walker’s problem in Cleveland was that the “aggressive” hardly came through.

He avoided committing a serious gaffe, despite repeated questions that seemed aimed at testing his knowledge of foreign policy, and his strong showing to this point means this debate is unlikely to prove decisive for his prospects. Ben Carson, a first-time debater and candidate, seemed listless and low-energy, and while he faithfully repeated the culture-war mantras that have won him fans, he didn’t have direct answers to almost any of the questions he fielded. Rand Paul also seemed a bit lost on stage.

At his best, Paul is able to use the rest of the field as his foil, but on Thursday, he fumbled questions about Iran and foreign aid to Israel, passing up opportunities to land punches on his rivals. Beset by campaign scandal and fundraising struggles, Paul needed a strong performance, and he failed to produce one.



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