By Tom Quiner
Marco Rubio was Marco Rubio.
Ted Cruz was Ted Cruz.
Chris Christie was Chris Christie.
And so on.
Even more, the debate was a breath of fresh air with the absence of Donald Trump. There were thankfully no ad hominem attacks. Even more, serious issues were seriously debated, especially immigration.
Messrs. Cruz and Rubio were both put in hot seats, to the delight of Jeb Bush, as each were confronted with gotcha video clips highlighting their apparent flip flops on immigration issues. The three man dust-up was messy.
So who won?
Who knows? The Des Moines Register’s lead headline suggested Cruz got hammered. He did, but he certainly had good moments, too.
I thought Chris Christie did well, but he was put on the defensive by persistent questioning from Fox debate moderator, Megyn Kelly, on national security issues and the use of profiling.
This was an important exchange, as Ms. Kelly stated that neighbors of the San Bernadino Islamic terrorists were reluctant to report their neighbors:
KELLY: “These folks had weapons, they knew that they were talking about trying to take our country and attack it,”
CHRISTIE: “That’s not profiling, that’s law enforcement.”
KELLY: “They didn’t know they were planning an attack.”
CHRISTIE: “They knew they were talking about attacking people.”
KELLY: neighbors had seen men “going in and out of the garage. They saw packages being delivered. They saw Muslims, and they did not think that was enough to call the cops. Do you?”
Christie seemed pretty uncomfortable at that point. Profiling is so logical, but so politically-incorrect.
As far as audience size, early ratings indicate that more people viewed this Republican debate than the last one. Trump’s absence apparently didn’t hurt.
Following the debate, GOP pollster, Frank Luntz, quizzed a focus group of Iowan Republicans who watched the debate with him. He asked how many were Rubio supporters coming into the debate.
Three hands went up.
Then he asked how many support Rubio now. A majority of the hands went up.
It was Rubio’s exchange with Megyn Kelly that made all the difference. Kelly ran a video clip of Rubio discussing immigration reform in 2013 and ran a contrasting, more recent clip showing how Rubio has moderated his position.
“Haven’t you already proven that you cannot be trusted on this issue [immigration]?”
Rubio calmly deflected the pointed question by stating rather matter-of-factly that he would not accept an approach of rounding up illegals and shipping them back to Mexico:
“We’re not going to round up and deport 12 million people. But we’re not going to go around handing out citizenship cards, either. There will be a process. We will see what the American people are willing to support. But it will not be unconstitutional executive orders.”
His reasoned demeanor seemed to resonate. The focus group used words like “presidential, confident, and electable” in describing him. They especially delighted in his crack that Bernie Sanders would make a wonderful president … of Sweden.
We’ll know Monday night.