My scorecard for the second Republican primary debate Sept. 16 ranked the candidates thusly: marco Rubio, Carly Fiorina, Ben Carson, Rand Paul, Jeb Bush, Chris Christie, Mike Huckabee, Donald Trump, Scott Walker, Ted Cruz and John Kasich. This is broken into three categories: As, Bs and Cs.
Rubio, Fiorina and Carson all earn As. Rubio slightly edged out Fiorina. He demonstrated a practitioner’s knowledge of foreign policy. He was especially astute on Russia, ISIS and Syria. He edged out Fiorina just a bit in regard to foreign affairs because Fiorina has a particularly harsh stance of non-negotiation with certain enemies. Negotiations are always necessary to better the United States’ national interest in the zero-sum game we call international politics. You can’t win the game if you don’t play it, and this is why Rubio edges Fiorina out.
Rubio also demonstrated a compassionate brand of conservatism when outlining his stance on immigration – a stance that is likely to help win votes in the general election.
Fiorina was just as good as, if not better than, her first performance. She too showed a remarkable understanding of foreign policy, military organizational structure and international strategy concerning geopolitics and anti-terrorism. She was on fire with all things international, as well as domestic concerns, especially defunding Planned Parenthood and in reforming a broken immigration system.
Overall, Fiorina has been the most consistent in the two debates, and is an authoritative speaker with a deep knowledge of the issues. She will continue to rise in the polls.
Carson earns an A because he stayed true to himself. He did not take the bait to attack Trump; he would not engage in bullying politics, and was ever brilliant and practical-minded. Carson improved vastly from the first debate in his knowledge of foreign policy. He did not stand out fbecause he will not force himself on the audience. But as far as understanding what the Founders wanted from a president, Carson demonstrated it better than any candidate on both sides thus far and, frankly, in generations.
He is cool, calm and collected, and views all problems from a contemplative, long-term mind-set. He may not set a room ablaze, but his intellect soars to the heavens. Mainly because of his ever-Madisonian mind-set, he earns an A.
Of those who scored Bs, Paul represents a savvy Libertarian policy on all issues in this debate. He demonstrated himself as the clear blend of establishment/anti-establishment. Paul understands the 10th Amendment. He understands that the United States must engage its international enemies and allies, especially Iran and an implied Cuba. He was very smart on U.S. foreign policy and gets it right: There always is an unintended backlash in any intervention. To fight ISIS, Paul suggests that those states where ISIS operates need to be the main fighting force. He handled himself well against Trump. He understands the dangers of big government and centralized tyranny. He could not compete with the frontrunners, though, and this explains the B.
Bush was far improved from the first debate. He was energetic, engaging, entertaining and aggressive when appropriate, especially against Trump. He is running on his record and his successes as governor of Florida, and is very strong and compassionate on immigration. He invoked the Reagan Rule against Planned Parenthood, something surely to win over some primary voters, and was very smart on Second Amendment rights and gun control, as well as foreign policy. He set himself apart from his family of presidents while also defending them; defending family, regardless of whether it includes President George W. Bush, is a core value for Republican primary voters. He looked weak in several personal dialogues, and this earns the B.
Christie also was much improved from the first debate. He demonstrated his ability to rule a state that is controlled by Democrats, and explained how this would make him a good president as a compromiser-in-chief. This will play well for the general elections, but not so much for primary voters, who tend to be further to the right. He pushed himself into the debates at critical moments, especially when questions tended to focus on Trump, and, when topics got away from practical policy issues. This was a ploy not doubt, but it seemed to work and resonated with the audience and, one can presume, many voters.
He evoked emotions from 9/11, and demonstrated practical policies on immigration, foreign affairs and a pro-life agenda – again, something crucial to Primary voters. Some of his interruptions appeared petty, and this earns the B.
In my next column, the candidates who earned Cs.
(The writer is an assistant political science professor at Augusta University. You can follow him on Twitter – @polscountrydoc.)