Concord, New Hampshire—With only a matter of hours to go before New Hampshire’s first-in-the-nation primary, all eyes turned to Saturday night’s great debate.
No, not the vitriolic hatefest that saw Republican candidates ripping into one another at St. Anselm College in Manchester. WGIR-AM radio host Jack Heath, a former New Hampshire television news director, accurately criticized the Republican debate as a manipulated national-news-network production that excluded at least one candidate (Carly Fiorina) who is running better in New Hampshire than some of the contenders who were on the stage.
The GOP field’s eighth debate was a failed exercise in anger management.
It opened with New Jersey Governor Chris Christie and Florida Senator Marco Rubio accusing one another of being slackards. After Rubio mentioned his legislative “accomplishments,” Christie retorted, “The fact is when you talk about the Hezbollah sanctions act that you list as one of your accomplishments—and just did—you weren’t even there to vote for it. That’s not leadership. That’s truancy.”
Rubio had his comeback ready. “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. And then you stayed there for 36 hours and then [you] left and came back to campaign. Those are the facts.”
Unfortunately for Rubio, who has been rising in the polls and in the esteem of major campaign donors faster than he has been rising in credibility or competence, Christie actually knows how to debate. “This is what Washington, DC, does,” he announced. “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 game him.”
Ouch. Ouch. Ouch. The match went to Christie.
By most measures, Christie was the dominant player in the last debate before the first primary. But the New Jersey governor is still (despite weeks of intensive campaigning) running far behind Rubio, Texas Senator Ted Cruz (the winner of last week’s Iowa caucuses), and billionaire Donald Trump (the leader in all the New Hampshire polls). So Christie’s contribution probably had more to do with harming Rubio than helping himself. The beneficiaries were Cruz and Trump. But they weren’t celebrating. They were just as angry as the rest of the contenders. Cruz used his closing statement to brag about his controversial victory in Iowa—which came after Cruz backers fostered the fantasy that another contender for evangelical votes, Dr. Ben Carson, might be quitting the contest. Following Cruz, Trump closed by explaining that his rival prevailed in Iowa “because he got Ben Carson’s votes.”