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The Race for the White House: Second GOP Debate

Whatever your politics, you can’t have failed to notice the horserace that is developing on the right side of the aisle.  The Republican Presidential Candidates were rearing to go in Wednesday night’s primetime debate at the Reagan Library. A field of eleven came out of the gate, and the three-hour debate seemed like an all-out sprint for some.  Though no winner was clearly crowned, the night revealed some front-runners, some longshots, and maybe even a dark horse or two jockeying for position.


Carly Fiorina  

Former Hewlett-Packard

Fiorina, perhaps in an attempt to separate herself from career politicians, presented herself as a no-nonsense candidate willing to “challenge the status quo and lead the resurgence of [the United States]”as a world power. 

She took a strong stance on foreign policy, especially in regard to relations with Russia. “Vladimir Putin is someone we should not talk to because the only way he will stop is to sense strength and resolve on the other side…” she said. As for Iran and the recent nuclear deal, she was adamant that she would support Israel and not allow Iran to develop nuclear weapons.  She also made clear her support of the American military. 

Beyond comments on national security, Fiorina called for the “defense of the nation’s character” in response to questions about Planned Parenthood, making an impassioned plea against abortion. Fiorina also referenced her impressive business and leadership experience in the discussion of the American economy, saying that her leadership would be about solving problems and unlocking the potential of Americans.  

Overall:  Fiorina was focused and well informed, showing poise and grace even in the face of critical comments on her leadership and appearance.  She came out in front with some of the most memorable lines of the night. 

Secret Service Codename: “Secretariat”

Marco Rubio  

Senator (R-FL)

Senator Rubio stood out as the foreign-policy expert among the candidates, commanding the issues and presenting solutions.  He criticized the current administration for their poor choices in Syria and for the recent Iranian nuclear deal.  He lambasted Chinese cyber-attacks and Russia’s divisive political strategies, while also showing willingness to meet with those countries’ leaders.  He asserted his support for key American allies and for the American military.  He called for action against ISIS, but warned that “the U.S. military was not built for “pinpricks”—we won’t authorize use of force if they’re not in a position to win.”

Rubio also shone in thee discussion of illegal immigration, drawing on personal experience as a descendant of a Cuban immigrant.  He called for America to secure her borders and modernize the legal immigration system, while also being more responsible about the immigrants currently living in this country.

Overall: Rubio was vocal and issue-focused, playing on his strengths and experience while not getting drawn into skirmishes between candidates.

Secret Service Codename: “Gator”

Jeb Bush  

Former Governor of Florida (1999-2007)

Bush was probably the most “presidential” among the candidates, making a marked improvement over his performance at the first GOP debate.  He presented himself as the quintessential conservative reformer, willing to tackle the big issues, including immigration, gender equality, and the economy. 

Continuing the trend, Bush was forceful on foreign policy, stating that America needs to be a world leader again, using military force as a deterrent to the rest of the world.  He also had a memorable moment, defending his brother’s legacy: “When it comes to my brother, there’s one thing I know for sure. He kept us safe.”

In a humorous moment, Bush apologized to his mother for his having smoked pot in high school.  What some candidates may have wanted to use as a scandal actually turned into a down-to-earth moment for Bush, a plus in the polls.

Overall: Bush pulled to the front of the pack, staying mainly on the offensive.  He parried personal attacks with grace and revealed the more zealous personality that constituents have been hoping for. 

Secret Service Codename: “Everready”

Suggestion for a Woman on the $10-bill: Margaret Thatcher* (Yes, we all know she’s not American)

Middle of the Pack:

Ben Carson

Retired Pediatric Neurosurgeon

Anything but a career politician, Mr. Carson recently skyrocketed to No. 2 in the polls, resonating deeply with strong conservatives and Christians.  Early in the debate, Carson was quick to differentiate himself, saying, “I in no way am willing to get into bed with special interest groups or lick the boots of billionaires. The pundits have forgotten about the people.”  

Carson was thoughtful and measured in his replies, especially to the issues of immigration, taxation, the minimum wage and vaccinations. He called ISIS “an existential threat to our nation” that we cannot allow to progress.  Along these lines, he defended having a strong American military, which could be called upon when absolutely necessary.

Overall:  Carson was true to his reserved and conservative demeanor, meaning he did not speak as much as his supporters may have wished and he refused to attack his opponents.  What he did say was very intelligent, but it may not be enough for Americans to remember him at the polls. 

Secret Service Codename: “One Nation”

Chris Christie

 Governor of New Jersey

Christie’s most memorable moments came when he rebuked the other candidates for their behavior at the debate itself, making them look childish and immature. 

“While I’m as entertained as anyone by this personal back-and-forth…for the 55-year-old construction worker out in that audience tonight who doesn’t have a job, who can’t fund his child’s education, I’ve got to tell you the truth. They could care less about your careers, they care about theirs,” Christie said. “Let’s start talking about that on this stage and stop playing — and stop playing the games.”

Christie played a hard line on the issues of immigration, abortion, and the environment, using his background as a lawyer to his advantage.  He also criticized Hillary Clinton on the recent email scandals, saying that he would prosecute her himself if necessary.

Overall:  Christie came out as the more conservative (less moderate) and polished politician that many Republicans have been asking for, but it may be a case of too little, too late.

Secret Service Codename: “True Heart”

Rand Paul  

Senator (R-KY)

Though the Libertarian from Kentucky lacked the spotlight during most of the debate, that which he did say was thoughtful and intelligent.

He called for limiting the role of the military in the Middle East: “Every time we have toppled a secular dictator, we have gotten chaos, the rise of radical Islam, and we’re more at risk. So I think we need to think before we act, and know most interventions, if not a lot of them in the Middle East, have actually backfired on us.”

He also proved insightful on the issue of legalized marijuana, calling for rehabilitation over incarceration for drug users and pointing out that the “war on drugs” has had a negative racial outcome on inner cities.  Paul also called for the elimination of the current tax code and the establishment of a 14.5% flat tax. 

Overall: Paul performed well in this debate, but too much of his rhetoric revolved around attacking Trump.  He needs to emphasize his own strengths more if he wants to make up vital points in the opinion polls and overcome his media underrating. 

Secret Service Codename: Justice Never Sleeps

Donald Trump  

Billionaire Businessman

Trump’s name dominated the conversation early on, but he seemed to fade into the background when actual policy matters came up.  His opponents harshly criticized his abilities as a prospective president, but he was just as quick to zap them back. 

He emphasized his business savvy and experience as a means to get the nation back on its feet economically, saying, “My businessman mindset is what this country needs to get out of debt.” He was also very vocal about his stances on immigration reform, taxation, and vaccinations. 

In terms of foreign policy, Trump asserted that his experience working with people will allow him to get along with other world leaders and work to fix tough international issues.

Overall: Though entertaining as usual, the billionaire’s awkward moments may trump his substantial ones in the eyes of the voters. He allowed himself to get caught up in personal squabbles with opponents, detracting from his voice on the issues.  He may also have offended more voters than he won over.

Secret Service Codename: “Humble”

Behind the Curve:

The last four contenders, though using their government expertise to their advantage and answering the questions posed to them, seemed to fade from the stage (and possibly from the minds of the American people).  Among the top tier of 11, however, they cannot be discounted.   

John Kasich

Governor of Ohio

Scott Walker  

Governor of Wisconsin

Ted Cruz  

Senator (R-TX)

Mike Huckabee  

Former Governor of Arkansas 

“And they’re off!…”

So there you have it folks, the grand prix right around the corner in 2016, the race is heating up among the Republican Party’s best and brightest. While there was no clear winner, it will be interesting to see how the performances affect the polls in the coming weeks. As the pressure to choose a nominee mounts, however, it may be beneficial to focus on the issues more than the speeches, and the positions over the personalities.  Stay tuned for the next Republican debate on October 28, 2015 and the first Democratic debate on October 13, 2015. 

*For your general enjoyment, here’s Margaret Thatcher on the $10 bill.  


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MJ Jackson

Notre Dame

Meadow Jackson is a senior at the University of Notre Dame studying Political Science, Japanese, and the Art of Procrastination. Her goals in life are to work toward world peace, run a marathon, and somehow earn a lifetime supply of coffee (not necessarily in that order). She loves learning languages, traveling, eating copious amounts of vegetarian food, and finding hole-in-the-wall cafés in all corners of the world (where she can do all of these things at once). Feel free to email her at any time at mjacks12@nd.edu (especially if you have any information on how to win a lifetime supply of coffee ).
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