The GOP debate’s focus on economics laid bare Republican candidates’ lack of detailed plans for how to grow the economy and help the middle class. Frontrunner Ben Carson, for example, offered a murky and confusing explanation of his tax plan, betraying a poor understanding of economics.
But for the most part, the debate had an explosive tone from the beginning. John Kasich railed against the “fantasies” of his opponent’s policies, but despite his outrage, Kasich seemed out of place up on that stage. (Even my lefty husband liked Kasich’s answers tonight, which means he is most likely done in the Republican primary.)
Jeb Bush went after Marco Rubio aggressively and personally about his pitiful no-show Senate voting record. While his assertions were true, Jeb Bush came off as a bit desperate. It was risky and necessary for Bush as he needed a breakout moment. It didn’t work. Jeb is also done.
Ted Cruz stood out and actually focused on substance. This was his best debate yet. Rubio also had an outstanding debate: focused on his policies, attacking the media, ignoring the facts, like most of the other candidates did. It will work well for him. These two GOP Latino candidates did well, but ironically, if either of them were to become president, they would be disastrous for the Latino community.
Carly Fiorina was fine, but did not regain her much-needed past momentum. She is done as well.
For their part, “outsider candidates” Ben Carson and Donald Trump did what they needed to do. They answered their questions, laid low, and no one landed a punch on either. Carson, as the newly minted frontrunner, was the quietest of the bunch and that was the best strategy for him.
In a first of any of these debates, the last half was much more focused on policy. They clearly realized the damage the last two debates had done to their party’s brand and knew they needed to look much more substantive.
Sadly, the policies that passed for substance from these candidates were extreme right-wing policies that work well for their base but do not work well for general election voters– from cutting Medicare and Social Security to building a wall and deporting millions, to failed trickle-down economics, to fact-free statements about climate change, to talking down an economy that has thrived under the last two Democratic presidents and flailed under the last two Republican ones.
The candidates’ lack of gravitas was telling when many of the candidates could not even answer the question from the moderators without demonizing the media. Not one candidate focused on policies that would help middle class families or workers. And on these issues of substance, none of the Republican candidates could hold a candle to any of the three remaining Democrats.
This article originally appeared as a column for [CNN].