FEB 06 2016: GOP DEBATE REVIEW

The night’s winners, losers, and broken records.

There’s a reason why New Jersey governor Chris Christie has described Florida senator Marco Rubio as “the boy in the bubble.” Tonight, we got to see the bubble burst.

After a week’s worth of speeches in which Christie promised to remove the kid gloves, he made good on his promise in a pointed attack on Marco Rubio that left the senator noticeably rattled.

In a substantive debate that touched on topics as varied as abortion, torture, eminent domain, the first of a few show-stealing exchanges came when Governor Christie called out Senator Rubio for using the same repetive phrasing when pivoting from a question, and instead using his response as an opportunity to bash the policies of President Barack Obama. Tonight, the line in question referred to the president’s alleged awareness of the many subversive ways in which he intends to doom this country.

While these lines, with their echoes of statements made at debates, may play well for Senator Rubio’s base, they did not sit well for Governor Christie, who accused Rubio of defaulting to the same “25 second speech” whenever he is faced with the pressure of a difficult question. How did Rubio respond? Instead of refuting the governor’s charges and launching a successful attack of his own, Rubio instead repeated the offending lines, not once, but three more times.

The stumble was an immediate and obvious error which by the end of its recitiation had elicited jeers and boos from the audience. Chris Christie doubled down on his point, contuining to comment as the senator tried desperately to retreat to the familiar territory of berating Barack Obama.

Although Rubio had stronger moments later in the evening when discussing his stance on foreign policy and his beliefs concerning abortion, the “broken record” gaffe will go down as the pivotal point of the evening, if not his campaign.

An argument also erupted between Jeb Bush and Donald Trump on the latter candidate’s relationship with the practice of eminent domain. Bush called attention to a scandal involving Trump’s attempted use of eminent domain in order to remove an elderly woman from her home in an effort to expand his Atlantic City property.

Trump’s attempted dismissal of Bush and his statements inspired further boos from the audience in multiple waves. For Trump, whose favorability has been trending downward overall among Republican voters since December, it is uncertain if the exchange cost him votes, but it certainly did him no favors.

Other candidates found their own moments to stand out at different points in the evening.  In response to a geographically relevant question concerning drug addiction, Ted Cruz unveiled a poignant and emotional story concerning his own personal connection to substance abuse within his family. As always, trailing candidates John Kasich and Ben Carson brought the lighter moments and the dry laughter. When asked on the Iowa Caucus robocall controversy, Ben Carson had some gentle words of wisdom that elicited a sympathetic response. Kasich likewise had a few scattered moments of strength that he will likely be able leverage into a slight bump in support in advance of the New Hampshire primary on February 9th. However, in the end, the night belongs to Ted Cruz, Jeb Bush, and even to a lesser extent, Donald Trump.

One of the more distressing moments of the evening came as the candidates took turns discussing their views on water boarding, and whether or not the practice would be used during their tenures as president. Cruz made sure to distinguish the difference between water boarding and traditional torture before going on to say that he was open to the idea. The most resounding support of the practice came from Donald Trump, who boldly stated that he was in favor of water boarding if the situation called for it. Water boarding, and more.

The question still remains as to how the dust up between Marco Rubio and Chris Christie will play out among either undecided, and/or Rubio-leaning Republicans in New Hampshire in the final hours before the primary. Rubio, who has had his sights set on yet another come from behind vcitory in New Hampshire akin to his 3rd-place-yet-victorious finish in Iowa on February 1st, may now find himself losing traction. But will Rubio’s loss be Christie’s gain? Not necessarily. In the most recent UMass poll, Chris Christie still trails Trump, Rubio, Cruz, Kasich and Bush with only 4%. Is there enough time for Christie to benefit from his attack on Marco Rubio?

We’ll find out Tuesday.

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