LOS ANGELES, January 15, 2016 — For those who wanted to see an unruly mob engage in petty, personal attacks, the 2016 Fox Business debates were a disappointment. Both the main event and the undercard debate featured substance from beginning to end.
The debates took place in Charleston, South Carolina. The undercard was moderated by FBN correspondents Sandra Smith and Trish Regan. The main event had Fox News anchor Neil Cavuto joined by FBN correspondent Maria Bartiromo.
Ideologues choose their winners before the debate even starts. Democrats had written and fired out their critique of the debate before it aired. Anyone who watched it without blinders saw serious candidates discussing serious issues.
Virginia Gov. Jim Gilmore was the only one of 12 remaining GOP candidates who did not qualify for either debate. Kentucky Sen. Rand Paul, downgraded from the main stage to the undercard, boycotted the event.
Here are the letter grades for the participants.
None of the three candidates on stage hurt themselves, but their remarks were generally ignored by the press.
Former CEO Carly Fiorina came out swinging at Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump, accusing them both of crony capitalism. “Unlike another woman in this race, I actually love spending time with my husband.” She was on message, but did nothing to change her trajectory. Grade: B+
Former Sen. Rick Santorum offered a passionate vision for American foreign policy. We’ll tear up the Iran deal on day one because, “Iran has already torn it up.”
Santorum pointed out the Citadel cadets in the audience and vowed to fight for them. “I will not let America be trampled on anymore by these radical Jihadists.” Santorum has a powerful message, but until he rises in the polls, it will not be heard. Grade: B+
Former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee compared Afghanistan to the land of the Flintstones. He knows he has been tuned out by most of the GOP electorate, and has been unable to wow audiences beyond his socially conservative base. Grade: C+
Kentucky Sen. Rand Paul skipped the debate, the move of a spoiled brat. He feels he has a top tier campaign; the polls disagree. The debate went on fine without him. Grade: F
Moderators Sandra Smith and Trish Regan both asked intelligent questions about issues that matter. They kept the focus on the candidates, not themselves. They were as professional as it gets. Grade: A
Texas Sen. Ted Cruz is the political version of Joe Pesci from “My Cousin Vinny”; it is impossible to out-argue Ted Cruz. He trumped Trump on the birther issue and the “New York values” issue. He offered a solid contrast with Trump on Muslim immigration, and argued Marco Rubio to a draw over taxes. He went hard after the Obama Administration, opening strong with the humiliation of American sailors in Iran.
He closed strong with his promise to be a real commander in chief. Grade: A+
Florida Sen. Marco Rubio was nicked in the previous debate, but not this one. He was polished and on message. He kept his focus on the Obama Administration and tossed red meat to the crowd. “Hillary Clinton is disqualified from being commander in chief of the United States.” She lied to the Benghazi families. When Cavuto challenged Rubio about soaring gun sales, Rubio quickly went after Obama. “I am convinced that if he could get rid of every gun in America, he would.” “Criminals do not buy their guns from a gun show.” He argued passionately against Cruz’s value added tax, which Cruz insisted was not a VAT. He held his own on immigration and vowed to put Edward Snowden on trial.
He respectfully but forcefully went after Chris Christie’s past liberal positions on gun control and Common Core. Grade: A+
Former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush: The last debate was his first good debate. This was his best debate. He came across as seasoned and mature. His revised his approach to Donald Trump, and it worked. He disagreed with Trump about Muslim immigration in a way that did not allow Trump to blast him. He said Trump’s position makes it impossible to take out ISIS. The Kurds are our allies; they are also Muslims. We must tighten up the entry visa program. Bush understands why people are angry, but Trump is wrong on the issue. He went after Hillary Clinton as well, and came across as a man ready to be America’s next leader. Grade: A—
New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie got in plenty of one-liners, and took square aim at President Obama and Hillary Clinton. He called Obama a “petulant child.” “Mr. President, we’re not against you. We’re against your policies.” “We are going to kick your rear end out of the White House come this fall.” Christie did not completely reassure people concerned about his past support for gun control. Rubio got the better of him on Common Core. He did better when he was asked how he would handle violent crime in the cities. He would ban sanctuary cities and enforce marijuana laws.
Christie is rarely overshadowed, but on this night he was. Grade: B+
Businessman Donald Trump got clocked for the first time in a GOP debate. He was trounced when he went after Cruz’s citizenship. The crowd did not like his plan to restrict Muslim immigration. His worst moment came when discussing China, which was supposed to be his strong suit. Asked about his support of a 45 percent tariff on Chinese goods, Trump disputed the report: “It’s the New York Times. They’re always wrong.” Cavuto pressed Trump on his support of the tariff, and Trump kept evading. Trump finally said he was open to a tariff. He insisted that the Chinese would not retaliate, but offered nothing to back up that assertion.
Trump did well with his careful praise of South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley while explaining why he was justifiably angry with her remarks. He normally gets in the last word, but Cavuto and Cruz got the better of him on this night. Grade: B
Dr. Ben Carson was, as always, likable and funny. He was also overshadowed. Asked if Bill Clinton was fair game and Hillary Clinton was an enabler, Carson asked whether we have standards and values anymore. Right and wrong exist, and we must not let secular progressives destroy values.
He drew laughs when he insisted he was mentioned in a comment because the question referenced “everybody.” Carson said that he has seen so many people hurting; Americans want truth, honesty and integrity so that we can heal, inspire and revive America. His honest thoughtfulness was overshadowed by those who spoke more forcefully. His best moment came when he advocated seizing oil held by ISIS, but he needed more of those. Grade: B
Ohio Gov. John Kasich is determined to be the John Huntsman Jr. of 2016. Kasich is a good Ohio governor who refuses to recognize how unlikable he comes across. He rambles, speaking long after his time has expired. In the last debate he seemed unhinged. This time he was more lucid and slightly less obnoxious. It does not matter how competent he is if he turns people off.
He detracted from the debate. Grade: D
Moderators: Neil Cavuto and Maria Bartiromo are consummate professionals, precisely what moderators should be. They asked incisive questions and pressed further in a polite but forceful manner. Cavuto brilliantly challenged Trump on tariffs, and Bartiromo did the same with Rubio on immigration. They handled the gun control and Syrian refugee issues in a dignified manner. They stuck to issues that matter and avoided fluff. They were clearly focused when they steered the conversation into foreign policy.
They are both brilliant without being pompous. They kept the focus on the candidates and kept it off of themselves. They were flawless. Grade: A+