Debate drafting: Riding the leader’s slipstream

Ask any race car driver, a winning strategy is to let the leader pull you along in their draft - saving the energy to make your winning move at the right moment. Works in debates as well.

Line of cars at Talladega utilizing the slipstream of leader Kyle Busch By Curtis Palmer from Vestavia Hills (Birmingham), Alabama, USA (Kyle leads the pack) [CC BY 2.0 (], via Wikimedia Commons

COLORADO SPRINGS, Colo., January 24, 2106 — Without the Big Elephant in the room, Fox News’ Thursday debate was different.

In one respect, though, it was like all the others: spectacle. The hype, the glitter, the special effects, zooming camera shots and the cheering audience make the debates seem more like the Friday Night Fights than a serious discussion of policy issues. One almost expects the disembodied announcer’s voice to say, “and in this corner, Senator from Texas, Ted Cruz,” with a rising pitch as he pronounced the name.

It’s a cage match in more ways than one.

Fox News GOP Iowa Debate analysis and letter grades

Donald Trump’s absence was glaring as Cruz opened with a joking reference to it. He occupied the center podium, which has so far been reserved for the real estate mogul.

Trump’s reason for skipping the debate was odd. Trump supposedly made nice with Fox and Megyn Kelly after their public war of words. But maybe not: Trump tweeted pictures from Kelly’s alluring Esquire photo shoot on Thursday to justify his calling her a “bimbo.”

She wasn’t bimbo-esque at the debate. She even had a new, short, almost butch hair style. Another topic of discussion about these vapid affairs.

One thing that might have been remarked on was the ties. The senators and Ben Carson wore good conservative red ties (Carson and Cruz had a little white in them as well). The three governors all wore Obama baby blue ties.

Honestly, after seven years these establishment guys don’t get it? Unfortunately, nobody had the nerve to wear Gadsden yellow. Maybe in South Carolina.

Why Ben Carson makes sense for the GOP

Without Trump to gang up on, the Fox moderators tried to get the others to gang up on Cruz. To his credit, Chris Christie refused to take the bait twice, either talking about the situation instead of an opponent or changing the topic slightly to talk about himself.

Instead of taking an opportunity to attack Trump personally, Cruz at one point made the distinction between criticizing someone personally and criticizing their policies. Good on the candidates.

Yet at one point, Cruz seemed to be frustrated at moderator Chris Wallace’s questions, noting Wallace had asked four consecutive questions inviting others to attack Cruz without his being able to respond.

According to the debate rules, if one candidate mentioned the name of another in his answer, that named candidate had 30 seconds to respond. But if the moderator did so, that guy was out of luck.

It’s tough to be at that center podium.

Ted Cruz and friends get Texas tough in Iowa

Megyn Kelly played gotcha with both Cruz and Rubio, airing an edited sequence of videos of them talking about immigration issues in a contradictory way. Cruz tried to explain his situation in terms of the legislative process, but that’s a difficult thing to do. People just don’t understand legislative maneuvers.

Rubio tried to reconcile his campaign promises with the Gang of Eight bill but he wasn’t successful. Chuck Schumer and the Democrats who convinced the freshman senator to sign on to that bill effectively neutered Rubio. Maybe that was the plan all along.

And maybe that kind of gotcha journalism was why Trump really skipped the debate. He’s leading in the polls; what did he have to gain by putting himself through it?

The media try to make the debates “must see TV” and position them as the most important part of the presidential campaign. They’re not.

People passed on the debate in droves. Trump raised over $6 million for vets.

The night was not a total loss.

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