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Reactions: Republican debate

GOP candidates

Republican candidates during the first debate of the 2016 presidential season.

Carl Palmer, assistant professor of the Department of Politics and Government, weighs in on the first presidential debate of the 2016 season.


Last night’s anticipated Republican debates offered many voters a first glimpse at the outsized field competing for the Republican nomination.

Both of Thursday night’s debates were generally mistake-free. Unlike in 2012, with Rick Perry’s infamous ‘oops’ gaffe, no candidates managed to do direct harm to their campaigns. However, few managed to do much to distinguish themselves either, which, given the crowded field, may prove to be just as harmful to their presidential aspirations.

The main event produced some fireworks, but no clear winner. Donald Trump continued to make waves, first by refusing to pledge not to run as an Independent candidate should he fail to receive the nomination, and later referring to our leaders as “stupid” when asked to clarify his position on immigration. Trump failed to offer much beyond bluster in his responses, and one wonders if his poll numbers will take a hit in the coming days.

The candidate who seemed to do the most for his campaign was Ohio Governor John Kasich. Relatively unknown outside his home state, Kasich may see his stock rise following the debate, as he capably fielded questions across an array of issues.

The story was much different in the earlier debate, with far fewer fireworks, but with a clear winner. Former Hewlett-Packard CEO Carly Fiorina emerged clearly victorious, with greater poise and command over the issues than any of her competitors.  With her performance, one would expect that she should see a spike in her polls. Some pundits mused that, should her campaign falter going forward, she may have put herself in the conversation as a possible VP candidate with her performance.

At this point, as post-debate polling concludes, the field should begin to winnow itself, as fundraising inevitably slows down for poor-performing candidates.