The 90,000 square foot Air Force One Pavilion in the Ronald Reagan presidential library played host to nearly five hours of debate yesterday, split between the four-person “undercard” Republican debate, and the “main event,” which pitted the top eleven Republican presidential candidates against each other. Placement in either debate was based on national polling, though an exception was made for Carly Fiorina, who was moved up to prime time following a surge in her popularity after CNN stopped tabulating poll numbers. The absence of Rick Perry from either stage, after he suspended his campaign last week, was another notable change.
Host of CNN’s The Lead and State of the Nation Jake Tapper led both debates as a moderator, and was occasionally joined by conservative radio host Hugh Hewitt and CNN Chief Political Correspondent Dana Bash. A Newsmax poll conducted after the debate found that front runner Donald Trump maintained his commanding statistical lead of the field, with 46 percent of respondents answering that he won the debate, followed by debate stand-out Carly Fiorina, with 20 percent, and Florida Senator Marco Rubio and pediatric brain surgeon Ben Carson, each with slightly over 9 percent. Below are some of our favorite moments from both debates.
Jeb Bush defends his brother
When Donald Trump said that the George W. Bush administration “gave us Barack Obama,” with the poor economic performance of his last three months in office, Jeb shot back, pointing to his older brother’s mostly successful homeland security track record after September 11th, to the approval of the audience in the Reagan Library.
Lindsey Graham’s One Man Show
The size of the preliminary debate — just four candidates, to the latter debate’s 11 — gave Lindsey Graham, Bobby Jindal, George Pataki, and Rick Santorum plenty of time to flesh out their political and policy differences. It also gave the genial Graham an opportunity to tell a few jokes, which ultimately made him the most memorable candidate at the “Kids’ Table.”
Chris Christie against the Outsiders
Plenty of the primetime debate was spent — or wasted, depending on who you ask — on the qualifications of “outsider” candidates like Donald Trump, Carly Fiorina, and Ben Carson, none of whom have spent any time in elected public office. At one point, Trump and Fiorina interrogated the others’ business records (both were or are high powered CEOs). Chris Christie spotted his chance to interject.
Carly Fiorina on Foreign Policy
Midway through the main debate, after around three hours of nearly every candidate making the required attack on Donald Trump’s candidacy, Jake Tapper dealt perhaps the largest blow to the outsider candidate, pressing him for foreign policy details, of which Mr. Trump clearly had none. Carly Fiorina capitalized on this glaring weakness during her time to speak on foreign policy, with a hawkish, well-informed response that rang even louder against Donald’s near silence.
Ben Carson stands up for Vaccines
It would be easy, understandable even, for an outsider candidate like Dr. Ben Carson, to defer to Donald Trump’s bombastic — and scientifically incorrect — characterization of the dangers of vaccines, especially with regard to the non-existent threat of autism. Instead, Carson steadily laid out the facts on vaccines, saying that “we have extremely well-documented proof that there’s no autism associated with vaccinations.”