New Jersey Governor Chris Christie came out swinging in Saturday night's Republican debate. Florida Senator Marco Rubio looked like he was on the defensive for much of the night trying to protect the momentum he got with his third place finish in Iowa. Christie easily scored a TKO over the rattled Rubio and was the big winner among the debaters.
In his first response, Rubio introduced a new concept for Republicans that President Barack Obama knows exactly what he is doing. "Barack Obama is undertaking a systematic effort to change this country, to make America more like the rest of the world," he said. Appearing next, Christie directed his response directly to Rubio, "You have not been involved in a consequential decision where you had to be held accountable. You just simply haven't." Christie wasn't through with Rubio, "And the fact is -- the fact when you talk about the Hezbollah Sanctions
Act that you list as one of your accomplishments you just did, you
weren't even there to vote for it. That's not leadership, that's truancy."
Rubio, clearly shaken, threw a counter punch. "Under Chris Christie's governorship of New Jersey, they've been downgraded nine times in their credit rating," he charged.
"This country already has a debt problem, we don't need to add to it by
electing someone who has experience at running up and destroying the
credit rating of his state."
Christie demanded to be given a response. "You see, everybody, I want the people at home to think about this, "Christie said looking into the camera. "That's what Washington, D.C. Does. The drive-by shot at the beginning
with incorrect and incomplete information and then the memorized
25-second speech that is exactly what his advisers gave him."
Rubio had a ready response, "Chris, your state got hit by a massive snowstorm two weeks ago. You didn't even want to go back. They had to shame you into going back." Christie jumped in, "You know what the shame is -- you know what the shame is, Marco? The
shame is that you would actually criticize somebody for showing up to
work, plowing the streets, getting the trains running back on time when
you've never been responsible for that in your entire life."
Christie got the best of that exchange and went on to have a strong night just days before New Hampshire primary voters go to the polls in what will likely be a record turnout. His performance is not likely to vault him near the top of the field because so far he has been so far behind.
The frontrunner in all the state polls is Donald Trump. His debate performance was strong. When booed for attacking former Florida Governor Jeb Bush, he noted, "The RNC told us, 'We have all donors in the audience.'"
When asked what he would do about North Korea's launch of a long range missile, he responded, “I would get on with China, let China solve that problem...They can do it quickly and surgically. That's what we should do with
Bush had his best debate performance, but it is too late to have any impact on Tuesday's primary. On the other hand, Ohio Governor John Kasich's strong debate performance could help him because he has been doing well in the polls. He came off as the reasonable and practical conservative, for instance, on immigration. "I think Congress would pass a plan to finish the border, guest worker,
pay a fine, a path to legalization, and not citizenship," he said. "And we've got
to get this done. And I will tell you this, within the first 100 days
that I am president, I will put that proposal to the Congress."
Texas Senator Ted Cruz looked like a professional debater, tapping the podium to emphasize points. He apologized to Dr. Ben Carson for messages his campaign sent out to Iowa Caucus goers as they gathered to vote that Carson was suspending his campaign. Cruz blamed it all on a CNN report. Later, CNN took the unusual step of responding, "What Senator Cruz said tonight in the debate is categorically false.
CNN never corrected its reporting because CNN never had anything to
correct," the statement read. "The fact that Senator Cruz continues
to knowingly mislead the voters about this is astonishing." Some of his critics charge that Cruz is slimy.
For Ben Carson the evening started off badly because he was nearly stranded backstage when he was introduced. He went on to have the least response time and said nothing memorable--except noting it was President Ronald Reagan's 105th birthday.
Saturday night's debate was spirited and feisty, as the governors all outperformed the senators. Afterward, Marco Rubio's staff tried to spin a sow's ear into a silk purse. Meanwhile, many New Hampshire voters will no doubt consider Governor Christie's words, "I like Marco Rubio, and he's a smart person and a good guy, but he
simply does not have the experience to be president of the United States
and make these decisions."