Well, that was surprisingly diverting, wasn’t it? I don’t know about you, but I wasn’t expecting the aggressive nature of the questioning. It wasn’t anything remotely resembling a debate, but it was interesting and, in the end, I think a very profitable evening for the GOP. I think Fox did a good job working with a group of candidates ranging from mediocre to bizarre. Yeah, I said it: Fox did a good job.
Megyn Kelly was the biggest winner, in my not even a little bit humble opinion. She’s the only Fox employee who can ask tough questions of Republicans and get away with it (who can forget her withering remarks to Karl Rove on election night?). The tactic of asking difficult questions of the candidates this early in the campaign cycle is, in my opinion, a slyly clever strategy. It gets the candidates’ weaknesses out in the open so they aren’t subject to “gotchas” when it’s time to take on the Democrats.
Interestingly, many of the candidates took issue with the line of questioning after the debates. The Trump, Paul, Cruz, Christie, and Walker fans all felt like their candidate had been singled out for especially rough treatment. Of course, there’s this weird tendency for pro-establishment candidates (and conservatism is nothing if not pro-establishment) to try to run as maverick outsiders, so maybe they were just trying to position their candidate as “they guy the insiders are afraid of!” If so, it came off as a little disingenuous. I hate to invoke bogeymen at this early stage, but if you’re financed by the Koch’s? You ain’t an outsider and no one’s afraid of your candidacy.
Don’t ask me to tell you which candidate “won.” They debate format was so scattershot and each had such different agendas that trying to declare a winner seems like a pointless exercise. For the most part, they stayed in character: Trump blustered. Paul raged. Kasich and Carson were calm and reasonable. Jeb! was Jeb minus the exclamation point. Huckabee and Cruz both sounded reasonable while saying some seriously batshit stuff. Christie was the Jersey Giuliani. Walker acted like “being selfish” is a family value (he scares me more than any of ’em.) They were very much themselves. Everyone appealed to the people who already liked them. I doubt any of them made inroads with people who weren’t already behind them.
The ratings for Fox last night were fantastic. They should hope with all their might that Trump sticks around because he brings an audience if nothing else. I think it was a good night for the Republicans. They got challenged a little more than they expected, but they had a huge number of eyeballs and none of them flubbed their lines enough to drive away their supporters. Sure, it was a terrible debate (as far it being an actual “debate” is concerned) and I agreed with approximately nothing that was said, but I think they achieved their goals.