LOS ANGELES, Feb. 25, 2016 — The five remaining Republican presidential candidates Thursday held their final debate before the March 1 Super Tuesday contests. Several fiery exchanges marked the night.
CNN’s Wolf Blitzer was the lead moderator. He was joined by CNN personality Dana Bash, radio host Hugh Hewitt and Telemundo personality Maria Celeste Arraras.
This debate probably did little to alter the trajectory of the race. Nobody had an awful performance. Analyzing the debate results is based solely on each candidate’s performance in this debate irrespective of polls or personal preferences.
Retired neurosurgeon Ben Carson — He was magnificent. Despite being low in the polls, he was funny, charming and likable in every way. In past debates he has been too professorial. On this night he was more focused.
He gets limited time in these debates, leading to one of the best lines in any of the debates: “Can somebody attack me, please?”
From immigration to his strong closing statement about “these hands,” Carson showed heart and humanity. Grade: A
Ohio Gov. John Kasich — After several miserable debates, he finally rebounded in the previous debate. This was his best one. Gone was the bombast. He came across as a serious adult. He still falls back on reiterating his record, but he found the right balance. He was compassionate without being preachy and moralistic.
He also had some common sense comments: “If you’re in the business of commerce, conduct commerce.”
When Trump said the Ohio economy was doing well because of oil, Kasich calmly pointed out otherwise. Only 15,000 of 450,000 jobs created were in the energy sector. On healthcare he said “It’s easier to interpret the Dead Sea Scrolls than it is to understand your hospital bill.” Grade: A—
Florida Sen. Marco Rubio — He hammered Trump early and often. He said that if Trump had not inherited $200 million, he would be selling watches in Manhattan. On repealing and replacing the Affordable Care Act, Rubio repeatedly noted that Trump has no plan.
On Israel, he showed why Trump’s position of neutrality is actually an anti-Israel position. “The Palestinians are not a real estate deal.” It is not possible to negotiate with terrorists.
Rubio would have ranked higher, but he failed to deliver the knockout blow. Grade: B+
Texas Sen. Ted Cruz — He sparred with Trump frequently. Cruz noted that he has defended Israel his whole life while Trump in 70 years never has. When Trump tried to get Cruz to apologize, Cruz thundered, “I will not apologize for one minute for defending the Constitution. I will not apologize for defending the Bill of Rights.”
Cruz kept pointing out to the lack of specificity in Trump’s answers. However, Cruz also failed to land a punch big enough to derail Trump. Grade: B+
Businessman Donald Trump — His last debate was by far his worst. This time he was a piñata, taking shots all night from Cruz and Rubio. Trump frequently offered answers that lacked substance. He would do great things, but would not say what he would actually do or how he would do it.
He still has not said how he would pay for the wall on the Mexican border. He hinted at a trade war. He even attacked moderator Hugh Hewitt for no apparent reason.
Trump entered as the frontrunner, and he did not make any fatal gaffes. He took a licking and kept on ticking. Grade: B
Wolf Blitzer — He asked substantive questions. He was his typical professional and polite self. He let the candidates attack each other for far too long, but with fewer candidates on stage this was less of a problem than in past debates. Blitzer did not inject himself into the discussion. Grade: A—
Dana Bash/Hugh Hewitt — They asked too few questions to make an impact. They did nothing wrong, but nobody will remember they were there. While that is normally the definition of a good moderator, in this case they were just overshadowed. Grade: B
Maria Celeste Arraras —We live in the nation of Kardashistan. People can pretend to love substance, but style matters. Most people had no idea who she was. After this debate she will probably be inundated with Twitter followers, Facebook devotees and marriage proposals.
She may be one of the most beautiful women on earth, and that matters to people who hire people to be in front of the cameras. Grade: A+