None of the Republican presidential hopefuls on stage at the Ronald Reagan Library in Simi Valley, California on Wednesday night gained any significant ground in the second GOP debate of 2023-24.
That was the general conclusion of a group of political experts with whom Newsmax spoke shortly after the two-hour debate concluded. Among them was Arizona State University Prof. Donald Critchlow, founding editor of the Journal of Political History.
"The debate stage was overcrowded. The [Fox News] panel was not in control of candidates talking over one another and interrupting," he said. "Most of the questions seemed like left-wing talking points. The question about 70% of bankruptcies caused by healthcare costs, a [Massachusetts Democrat Sen.] Elizabeth Warren figure, has been long refuted. There should have been only four debaters on stage by this point. [North Dakota Gov. Doug] Burgum, [former Vice President Mike] Pence, and [former New Jersey Gov. Chris] Christie should have been winnowed."
Critchlow blamed what he called "the bad format and terrible panelists" on National Chair Ronna McDaniel and the Republican National Committee.
"How many elections can Republicans lose is the question of the day," he said.
Critchlow's conclusion was echoed by Chapman University (CA) Prof. Luke Nichter, who told Newsmax, "In the three acts of a Greek tragedy, in Act II, the plot gets more complicated. That's where we are tonight."
Nichter, author of the critically acclaimed new book "1968: The Year That Broke Politics," concluded that "no one did anything so remarkable as to close the big gap with [former President Donald] Trump."
"But there were a number of memorable moments that we didn't see in the first debate," he continued. "[South Carolina Sen.] Tim Scott was the one who finally got to Vivek Ramaswamy, who is normally accustomed to getting on a roll. Scott had a great line about race, discrimination, family, and the Great Society's War on Poverty.
"Then [former U.N. Ambassador] Nikki Haley nailed Scott," he continued. "She had a great line about the importance of education. Ramaswamy had a great line about addictive social media, which has the potential to win over independents and crossover Democrats – but he missed the chance to issue a call for action."
Nichter also voiced surprise that "no one really addressed the concerns of the day: the looting in Philadelphia, the United Automobile Workers strike in Michigan, the first impeachment hearing tomorrow against [President Joe] Biden, the allegations against Sen. [Bob] Menendez [D-N.J.], immigration and the southern border, or the pernicious inflation that nibbles away at so many Americans from all sides."
"That's the fault of the moderators," he added.
Nichter recalled how at the conclusion of the debate, participants were asked by moderator Dana Perino, mimicking the formal of the reality TV show "Survivor," to write down the name of someone on the stage who should be voted off the island. They refused.
However, had Trump been on the stage, as they called for him to be repeatedly during the debate, he would have surely written a name down, according to Nichter, who noted, "that's why the rest are, at least so far, unfit to compete with the 45th president."
There were other opinions.
"Trump was criticized for not appearing, but there should not be any major changes in the polling," said G. Terry Madonna, long considered the premier pollster in Pennsylvania and now Senior Fellow in Residence at Millersville (PA) University, concluded. "Debate was lively, combative and with a few sharp exchanges. It was also more even-handed. No one clearly stood out as Haley did in the first debate."
Another expert, veteran North Carolina political analyst Marc Rotterman, had a different opinion.
"Once again, former Ambassador Nikki Haley helped herself by projecting authenticity and by giving very concise and thoughtful answers," said Rotterman, "She talked about real solutions for average Americans. She was calm, confident, very relatable, and well-armed with facts. It seemed to me that former Gov. Christie really hurt himself by taking numerous cheap shots at former President Trump."
Rotterman added that "[Florida] Gov. Ron DeSantis started slow but he had the best performance of his campaign to date.
"It was a solid performance. He seemed relaxed and not programmed by consultants," he added.
John Gizzi is chief political columnist and White House correspondent for Newsmax. For more of his reports, Go Here Now.
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