Who did you like at the debate?
August 7th, 2015

I did a short debate round-up here last night, where I looked the three strategically significant outcomes. And I think that two of them are actually quite important to the trajectory of the election: Trump put out in public that he is open to a third-party challenge and Rubio proved that he’s figured out how to square his immigration circle.

But away from the important strategic stuff, I was struck by how different the candidates’ personalities came across. I don’t expect this to be decisive, or even very important, to the overall trajectory of the face. But it struck me as interesting nonetheless.

In this way, the guy who made the biggest impression on me was Ben Carson. I don’t know that I’ve ever seen someone running for president who came across as that fundamentally decent and good. Everyone always talks about politicians who you would want to have a beer with, or would want to have as a neighbor. Carson was so kind and gentle and yet somehow normal that neither of those classifications seem remotely adequate. He’s the guy you’d want as your best friend. He’s the guy that, if your daughter’s life was at stake, you’d trust to save her.

Ben Carson is never going to be president, but he’s one of the best conservative evangelists I’ve ever seen and if he wanted to, I bet he could mint more converts to conservatism than most Republican presidents.

At the other end of the spectrum was Rand Paul. People always said that Ron Paul was, deep down, a sweetheart. I think that mostly came across in his political life: He was like a daffy, slightly cracked uncle who, nonetheless, really wanted the best for you.

At least last night, Rand Paul came across as an enormous jerk: callow, self-important, argumentative, and weird. Easily the least likable human being in either debate, which is saying something. But I’d go a little further, even: Possibly the least presidential guy in either debate. Certainly in the bottom three with Graham and Gilmore. Forget being the guy you want to have a beer with–Rand was the guy you wanted to throw your beer at.

Not that likability is everything. But all things equal, it helps. For instance, if Ted Cruz was as likable as Mike Huckabee, I’d give him even-money to be the nominee. I remain pretty convinced that Cruz’s pitch of being the only guy in the field who will always be honest and who will never duck an ideological fight will prove enormously appealing. If he had Huck’s way about him, he’d have a chance to be Reagan.

You know who else wasn’t super likable? Jeb. At some point people are going to start wondering why this guy is supposed to be the front runner. And someone might even say at one of the debates, “Look, governor, all due respect: But if your last name was Jones there’s zero chance you’d be up on this stage.”

Fwiw, if I had to put $5 right now on who the last three guys standing will be, I’d bet Rubio-Walker-Cruz. But I wouldn’t put much more than $5 on that line.

Update, 8/10: These post-debate numbers for Rand Paul are brutal. And people really did love Carson. So it wasn’t just me.

  1. iddavis August 8, 2015 at 8:40 am

    Agree with most of what you have to say about Cruz. He is the true Constitutionalist conservative with common sense. Rubio,Walker flip flop, signs of a RINO.

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  3. Jan Pitzl August 9, 2015 at 11:53 am

    I was very pleased wiith Trump and Carly. I was not pleased with Meghyn Kelly. I do not feel she represented Fair and Balanced.