Politico asked various folks to offer their initial reactions to the first Republican debate. Here’s mine:
I didn’t watch the debate trying to guess who won or lost—pundit reaction often is not in sync with voter reaction. I was more interested in how did the debate make the Republican Party look as a whole. As the RNC has implicitly acknowledged, the angry tone of the 2012 debates left a deep bruise on the party’s image going into the general election and beyond.
In that respect, tonight could’ve been worse. Trump, the angriest candidate, was somewhat embattled, so it didn’t look like he was the face of the party. Bush, Rubio and Kasich had some fresh, upbeat rhetoric amidst the usual conservative red meat, helping the party avoid coming across like a bunch of haters. No one with a shot of becoming the nominee said anything like “self-deportation” that could ruin his or her general election hopes.
But we didn’t hear any breakout ideas. Barack Obama struck a chord in the July 2007 debate when he dared to say he would meet with the leaders of enemies like Iran. And much of that Democratic primary was taken up debating the finer points of how to design universal health care. After the debacle of George W. Bush’s conservative economic policy and foreign policy, Republicans still have something to prove. They didn’t prove anything last night.