The Republican debate at the Reagan Presidential library was the first debate of the real election season (post Labor Day) and it was certainly an endurance race for the candidates, the moderators and the viewers. In case you were watching the season finale of Born Again Virgin, don’t have cable or just find the GOP field to be inherently distasteful, don’t worry. Below are the 6 most important takeaways from the second Republican debate.
1. Worst. Debate. Format. Ever.
I hate to say this, because Jake Tapper is an excellent journalist and his hosting duties are top notch. Nevertheless the questions, the formatting and the organization of this debate was probably the worst I’ve seen in recent memory. It’s always politically fashionable to complain that a debate lacked substance, but in this case it’s hard to fault of the candidates when the moderators don’t ask any substantive questions. The first 10 minutes of the debate candidates were asked whether they agreed with Bobby Jindal (who wasn’t even there) that Donald Trump was too “hot headed” to have his finger on the nuclear button. Beyond the bizarre hyperbolic nature of that question, the debate boiled down to asking one candidate to respond to a quoted insult from another candidate. Fox News actually did a much better job of asking substantive policy questions and follow ups than these moderators. And at a 3 hour running time for the main debate the process become more tedious as time went on. There was clearly no air conditioning in the room, the candidates looked hot, uncomfortable and tired by the end of the night.
2. Ben Carson, Carly Fiorina and Marco Rubio will take big leaps.
Everyone in the debate read from the same 1990s political playbook and decided to jump on Trump the frontrunner, and completely ignored Ben Carson. The result? Carson got to build upon his mediocre performance in the first debate (where he spoke for only six minutes, but skyrocketed into second place). He was more engaging, spoke eloquently on the minimum wage and will probably catch up to Trump in post-debate polling. The rest of the field better realize that he’s solidifying his grip.Businesswoman Carly Fiorina sounded more confident and comfortable talking foreign policy than Senators Rand Paul or Marco Rubio, which is pretty embarrassing. She also landed the first real hit on Donald Trump by any politician on either side since Obama’s White House Correspondent Dinner speech. Rubio sounded the best of any of the establishment politicians, which isn’t saying much, but he didn’t do himself any damage.
3. Stick a Fork in Jeb Bush and Scott Walker.
These guys are so done they should trade their watches in for turkey timers. Scott Walker disappeared for large swaths of the debate, failing to really insert himself into foreign policy discussions or anything else. When Trump pointed out that once the voters got to “know Gov. Walker” that he dropped from second to 8th in the polls, Scott didn’t really have a comeback. He may drop to 9th based on this tepid debate performance. Jeb whiffed on every prepared attack he had on Trump. His self-deprecating jokes came off as desperate and his attempt at playing the tough guy fell flatter than his poll numbers. Word of campaign advice to Governor Bush, If you’re going to feign offense and demand that Donald Trump apologize to your Mexican American wife – don’t back down the moment the Donald blows you off. Either you look like you weren’t really offended or you weren’t man enough to stand up for her. Neither is a good look for a candidate battling the perception that he’s weak. Throughout the debate Jeb kept claiming he was his own man, like a political version of Pinocchio, and I think he’d essentially thrown in the towel at the end when he suggested that Margaret Thatcher (a former Prime Minister of England) be the first woman to grace American currency.
Speaking of women, or minorities, or students, or the poor, or anybody other than upper middle class ideologues, this debate featured ZERO questions about domestic policy for your average American. There was not one question about education policy, whether that was public schools or college. There was no question about riots, criminal justice or mass incarceration. Again, even Fox News managed to squeeze in a Black Lives Matter question. And even more telling, when Jake Tapper asked a ‘fun’ question to the candidates and asked them what woman they would put on the new 10 dollar bill out of all of the famous, impressive world changing women in U.S. history here is a breakdown of 11 candidates: Two picked their wives or mothers, two picked foreigners (Mother Teresa and Margaret Thatcher) and Carly Fiorina said she wouldn’t put any woman on U.S. currency. Three more picked Rosa Parks, because I think Rosa Parks and Martin Luther King are the only famous black people they know from the Civil Rights Era. I don’t entirely blame the candidates for this, but it’s amazing that in 3 hours huge swaths of domestic policy were just ignored in favor of finding out who dissed who on Twitter that week.
5. The Democrats need to pay attention.
This is a much, much smarter Republican field than in 2012. For all of Donald Trump’s bombast, they are avoiding some of the more ridiculous debate statements from previous campaign years, and some of them (most notably Carson, John Kasich and Jeb Bush) are doing a good job of presenting themselves as friendly if not overly qualified candidates for president. When Hillary and Bernie Sanders finally go at it in October (still almost a month away) they will need to put on a show for the public to match the passion and engagement that these Republicans have shown for campaign process. Jim Webb, Martin O’Malley or somebody is going to have to take a swing or they will pale in comparison to the GOP debates thus far.
6. They need to retire the kid’s table debates.
Jindal isn’t taking anyone’s place on the main stage, Lindsey Graham’s own constituents don’t want him to run for President and it’s unlikely that future network debates are going to expand the prime time slots beyond 11 people. Time for the also-rans to wrap it up.
This article originally appeared on TheRoot.com.