According to the NBC and Gravis polls, the 4 leaders (out of 9 presidential hopefuls) of the first Republican debate were Donald Trump (23% and 19% respectively), Ted Cruz (13% and 7%), Ben Carson (11% and 22%), and Marco Rubio (8% and 13%). Consistent runners up were Jeb Bush (7% and 10%) and Scott Walker (7% and 7%).
Predictably, the most unpredictable candidate was Donald Trump, who stood firm on his controversial statements on illegal immigration, and fielded personal questions about his business. His most notable contribution to the debate may have been the 24 million viewers who tuned in.
What continues to give Donald Trump an edge as a presidential hopeful is what has kept him at the top of the polls: namely, his complete lack of polish as a politician. He told the hosts, his fellow candidates, and 24 million viewers: “I think the big problem this country has–is being politically correct. And I don’t frankly have time for total political correctness. And to be honest with you, this country doesn’t have time either.” Even after being called to task for derogatory remarks he made in the past about women, his answer was classic Trump: “What I say is what I say.”
In sharp contrast to Trump, Ted Cruz was a safe-bet conservative to the core. While he remained poised and direct, his calm clarity on his political stands got attention. His foreign policy left nothing to the imagination: Cruz resisted the idea of a nuclear deal with Iran, and added further: “If you join ISIS, if you wage jihad on America, you are signing your death warrant.” His closing statement was the strongest one, and it described what he would do on his first day in office as President of the United States–looking ahead, instead of displaying his past record.
Ben Carson has always been a candidate of interest because he is perceived as unpoliticized and honest. Like Trump, he has held no political office to date, another reason that voters are open to Carson as a candidate. He is also a gentle but well-spoken man. When asked a second question after a long stretch of time, he answered with mild rebuke and well-placed humor, “Well, thank you, Megyn, I wasn’t sure I was going to get to talk again.”
Carson’s arguably best-answered question had to do with race, where Carson described his training as a neurosurgeon. He pointed out, “when I take someone to the operating room, I’m actually operating on the thing that makes them who they are. The skin doesn’t make them who they are. The hair doesn’t make them who they are. And it’s time for us to move beyond that.” Despite the low amount of screen time, he seems to have made his mark on Republican viewers.
A Politico poll of GOP insiders declared Jeb Bush and Marco Rubio the winners of the night’s debate. While this is relatively less important news for Bush, who has constantly hovered near the tops of the polls, this is very good news for Rubio, who has not been prominent of late. Rubio brilliantly fielded two questions that brought him back to the Republicans’ attention.
The first basically asked him to tell Bush why he would make a better president than him. Rubio neatly turned his answer into a challenge to Democrat hopeful Hillary Clinton, saying, “how is Hillary Clinton gonna lecture me about living paycheck to paycheck? I was raised paycheck to paycheck.” His response to the question on illegal immigration was also a brilliant stroke, when he replied, “We feel like despite our generosity, we’re being taken advantage of.” His stance was clear, but more importantly, his reason was relatable.
All-in-all, these four poll-toppers have made distinct marks, some of them–like Carson and Rubio–unexpectedly shining. While Donald Trump continues to bring viewers to the debates, it is as good a moment as any for these GOP hopefuls to spread their platforms to as many voters as they can.