This past Tuesday night, CNN hosted the 5th Republican presidential primary debate. The subject for the night’s debate was foreign policy. In the last debate, the field had been narrowed to just eight candidates. However, with stock in New Jersey Governor Chris Christie on the rise, and Rand Paul squeaking in by the slightest of margins, the fifth debate saw the field opened back up to nine presidential hopefuls: Donald Trump, Ted Cruz, Marco Rubio, Ben Carson, Rand Paul, Chris Christie, Jeb Bush, Carly Fiorina, and John Kasich.
The Biggest Losers: Please Make It Stop
John Kasich: In my review of the 4th debate, I suggested that Ohio Governor John Kasich would be on his way out. I was certain that he would not find his way on to the main stage of another prime time debate. I was wrong. Although, his appearance only solidified why he shouldn’t have been on the stage in the first place. Don’t get me wrong, Kasich seems like an experienced level headed politician who has a pretty good success rate and getting things done. Unfortunately, the guy is simply not resonating with GOP voters.
Prediction: I was wrong about Kasich with my last prediction, but I feel no differently about Kasich’s overall standing. If he continues to make the main stage of future GOP debates, it won’t hurt him or help him. Frankly, he should save some money, suspend his campaign, and endorse another candidate. He’s not going to be the GOP nominee for President in 2016.
Undercard Candidates and Debates: I think we’ve gotten to the point where the candidates who are making the undercard debates are all but forgotten. I refuse to watch them at this point, and I find it hard to believe that the ratings on these pre-debate debates are any good. I think the networks should begin weeding out the field, and it starts by announcing that there will be no more undercard debates.
Prediction: The undercard candidates will stick around for a while. I’d like to think two or three would drop out before Iowa. I suspect Mike Huckabee will stay in the hunt until Iowa at least. I highly doubt the major networks will cease with the undercard debates so long as the field stays as large as it is. However, what we may begin to see is the main stage get small, and the undercard debate get larger.
Jeb Bush: In my last review, I predicted that Jeb Bush would leave the GOP presidential race by the end of 2016. We’re getting awfully close to the end of the year and Jeb Bush did everything in his power at Tuesday’s debate to ensure that my prediction is right. Jeb looked visibly nervous and every attempted attack on Donald Trump was crushed by the bombastic businessman.
Prediction: I may be wrong about the timing, but Jeb Bush is on his way out. I’d seriously be surprised if he made it to Iowa. As I’ve said before, it all comes down to money, pride, and namesake for Bush at this point. In all honesty, he’s just about used up all three.
Ben Carson: Ben Carson was right on the edge of a mild performance—and a big loser. I put him here because in light of the drastic fall he has had in the last few weeks, this debate performance will only sink him further. Carson continues to calmly mumble through his responses which are articulate enough. However, his emotionless delivery makes one wonder if he even really wants to be President at this point. His best moments were delivered towards the media, and toward his oddly visible friendship with Donald Trump.
Prediction: Carson is an anomaly to me. I think he’s had his Herman Cain moment and is spiraling downward. There’s always the chance that he will spike back up, but Ted Cruz seems to have stolen the evangelical base that was behind Dr. Carson, and run away with it. His fall has been so dramatic, so quickly, that I’m beginning to question if he’s going to be able to make it to Iowa. I still think he will, but that will depend on campaign finances and strategy.
Mild Performances: Campaigns That Are Slipping
Carly Fiorina: Fiorina delivered a lackluster performance compared to her last few showings. This really shocked me. In previous debates, she has seemed very educated on foreign affairs and I expected her to shine in a debate dedicated on that subject. Unfortunately, she was practically non-existent and on one or two occasions tried to insert herself into the debate only to be quieted by debate moderators. When she did speak, she spoke intelligently and directly, but failed to really distinguish herself among a host of candidates vying for the best way to do essentially the same thing.
Prediction: I previously predicted that Fiorina wasn’t going anywhere and that she may take Dr. Ben Carson’s position as second among the non-politicians in the race. To my surprise, both Fiorina and Carson are plummeting, leaving Donald Trump in a class all of his own as a businessman and non-politician. As the only woman in the race, I still expect Fiorina to continue strong into the new year. As we get to the first round of primaries, expect Fiorina to drop out.
Donald Trump: For the first time in a debate, I could sense not only the pundits’ and candidates’ distaste for Trump, but also some in the crowd’s. Trump drew a number of boos with his approach to the refugee problem and his dealing on foreign affairs. At one point, he even criticized the crowd for not understanding “why anyone would boo that.” For the first time, which is shocking in and of itself, Donald Trump seemed wildly disconnected from voters. Up to this point, his appeal has been that he says it “like it is” and relates to the “average American.” In this debate, the average American was disgusted by some of the things he was saying, and they let him know it audibly.
Prediction: I think Trump may be in store for a shock when the votes are actually cast. I have had a hunch for a while that “the polls” are not indicative of what’s going on in the minds of the actual voters. I think Trump’s media presence is inflating this reality to a degree we’ve not seen before. Tuesday’s debate only solidified my sense that “The Donald” may not be resonating with as many voters as the polls seem to indicate. We won’t know until we get to Iowa. My prediction remains that Trump will stay the front runner, until actual votes are cast.
Chris Christie: Chris Christie surprised by simply being on the stage on Tuesday. After having been relegated to the undercard debates in the last round, he rose in the polls to qualify for the main stage in CNN’s debate. As I predicted, with the exception of Kasich leaving, either Huckabee or Christie would come back to the main stage. Christie didn’t squander his opportunity. Instead, he learned from his mistakes and, instead of sparring with other candidates or even the media, he directed just about all of his comments to the viewers. Looking straight in the camera he spoke to the people. That approach will do him well. his debate performance was good, but I’m not sure how much traction it will get him.
Prediction: Chris Christie could surprise us and have a long run at the GOP primary. I was surprised to see him return to the debate stage, and even more surprised to see him do extremely well. I would look to see Christie establish himself as a solid low-end candidate that sticks around for a while.
Marco Rubio: Coming off of a hot performance in the last debate, Rubio set out to distinguish himself from the other two Tea Party candidates. Unfortunately, this move did not work in his favor. Rubio’s attempt to show strength in military and grace on refugees, only served to strip him of the Tea Party elements that distinguished him from the neo-conservatives up to this point. Sparring with Ted Cruz multiple times, Rubio walked away the worse for wear coming off as a big spender overseas and a big spender when it comes to giving aid to refugees here at home.
Prediction: Rubio did not do himself any favors in this debate. I predicted that one of the Tea Party candidates (likely Rubio or Paul) would become the sinking ship among the three. My prediction still lies firmly behind Rand Paul rising and now, more than ever, for Rubio to fall. Unfortunately for the Tea Party wing of the Republican party, I don’t forsee Rubio endorsing Paul or Cruz after Tuesday’s debate.
Big Winners: Coming Out With a Head of Steam
Ted Cruz: Ted Cruz continued to impress as he parried attack after attack from Marco Rubio. Cruz could barely contain his laughter as Marco tried to align himself with Cruz on immigration reform. In his story telling fashion, he continued to paint Rubio as a big spending amnesty supporter. While Rubio came on strong at the beginning of the debate, with each successive attack, Cruz perpetually made him look worse and worse. In the end, a once strong Rubio looked pretty liberal when it comes to foreign affairs and immigration. All this only serves to bolster the ever growing support of Ted Cruz.
Prediction: Cruz looks to be the clear front runner among the Tea Party Candidates. For now, Rand Paul has a lot of catching up to do. Still, the fact remains that three Tea Party Candidates, as strong as they are, only equal one Trump in the polls. A post debate poll to determine the debate winner by Drudge Report shows Cruz and Paul as second and third to Donald Trump. Combined, they still don’t garner the support they need to knock him off. I suspect Cruz will remain in second in the polls and will head into Iowa with that position. I doubt he will garner much more support than he already has.
Rand Paul: Only a few days before Tuesday’s debate, media pundits were reporting that Rand Paul might fail to make the main stage of the debate. Subsequently, they anticipated that he might suspend his campaign. Now, looking back, it’s clear that Rand Paul should have been on that stage. Paul delivered, by far, his best performance and the best performance of the night. What made this surprising is that the evening’s subject matter has long been the Achilles’ heel of his father Ron Paul. Rand Paul capitalized on his conservatism by applying it to foreign affairs like nobody else on the stage. Even Ted Cruz was happy to discuss wars and intervention when it came to ISIS, while Rand Paul simply said, “Let’s stop giving them guns.” Rand Paul’s level headed approach saves dollars and makes sense. Even Charles Krauthammer, long time critic of Paul’s, could not dispute that Rand Paul came off as impressive.
Rand Paul leveled Donald Trump for the second consecutive debate by calling out his ideas about the Internet and war a violation of both the First Amendment and the Geneva Convention. Donald Trump visibly waved Rand’s remarks off, but his dismissive action toward Rand equated to the dismissal of the Geneva Convention and the First Amendment. Rand also found a way to get the last laugh on Chris Christie after he boldly declared he would shoot down Russian planes who violated a no-fly zone. Paul countered by saying, “If you want World War III, there’s your candidate.” Christie, for once, did not have a quick witted response for Senator Paul.
Prediction: I have remained firm in my support for Rand Paul though dubious of decisions he has made along the way. I think the real thrust of Rand’s Campaign will not show itself until we get to Iowa and New Hampshire. I fully expect Rand to pull off surprise win in either Iowa or New Hampshire that will catapult his campaign into a clear front running campaign. Until then, we wait and watch.
Jeremy Lundmark is a former pastor and former host of the podcast "After The Sermon." Jeremy has earned his Masters of Ministry from Summit University in Clark's Summit, PA. He is the author of the book, The Fury of God. Jeremy is a husband of thirteen years to Alison G. Lundmark and is the proud father of three children: Alexander, Brionna, and Scarlett. To connect, leave a comment on one of his posts at TheologyMix.com.