The first debate of the presidential election season is now in the books, with the very large field of Republican candidates participating in a forum and a primetime debate of the top 10 contenders on Thursday evening. The debates gave us mixed performances, with some candidates clearly outdoing the others. Carly Fiorina was the clear winner of the smaller forum, and Marco Rubio has been declared the winner of the primetime debate. For those who did not perform very well, it is time to start at least thinking about dropping out of the race in the near future. Presidential campaigns are exhausting and expensive, and with a Republican field this large, the candidate pool will have to pare down significantly in the coming months. Weighing the resources that must be spent in order to run for president versus the likelihood that they can secure a nomination, some Republicans might want to drop out of the race now, before things get too ugly for them.
While few candidates truly flopped, there were several performances that clearly lacked a presidential or authoritative quality. Exactly when the candidates will eventually drop depends on many factors (one of which might be how much derision they can withstand before they just can't take it anymore), but I really think some of them would be better off accepting defeat early, and perhaps trying again in another election. Here are the candidates who might want to seriously reexamine their strategy, or else jump ship now.
Rand Paul had a bit of a rough showing on Thursday evening. According to an analysis published by The New York Times, Paul had the least talk time of any candidate during the debate, with only 5 minutes and 28 seconds. By contrast, Trump, who had by far the most speaking time of any candidate, had 11 minutes and 14 seconds worth of words. Trump also summarily shut Paul down, accurately stating that Paul was "having a hard time tonight."
Paul is also having a hard time in the polls. He's ranked 7th in Iowa, and barely better at 5th place in New Hampshire. Having barely been able to get a word in edgewise and convince voters that he's presidential material, it's unlikely Paul will see many polling gains anytime soon. If he doesn't see improvement in the coming weeks, it might be time for him to accept that he's not likely to ever become president.
While he was sufficiently charismatic during Thursday's debate, the content of his responses were lacking in clarity, and did little to indicate that he understands the immense complexity of certain issues, such as the economy. While I'm certainly not Carson's target audience, he lost me when he suggested a taxing method based on tithing (meaning he'd like to tax 10 percent of everyone's income) because he thinks "God is a pretty fair guy." Perhaps it's true that a 10 percent taxing approach could work, but he's going to need stronger reasoning that demonstrates economic prowess if he wants to have a chance against the top candidates. With very few national endorsements and a lackluster debate performance, the Carson campaign might want to consider an early close to their efforts.
Christie didn't exactly bomb completely in the debate, but he didn't impress, either. For the most part, I remember the volume of his voice much more than the content of what he was saying. I do, however, remember the handful of times he recounted his post-9/11 experiences, but doing little to connect those stories to actions he would take in the present day. If Christie wants any hope of catching up to the head of this crowd, he's going to need to develop more substantive and nuanced responses to questions about domestic affairs. If Christie continues to struggle in the polls and doesn't come up with a better debate strategy, he ought to be consider dropping from the race in the near future.
So far, Santorum has raised the least funds of anyone in the Republican field, and surely didn't win himself any new donors during his performance in the forum on Thursday. He's also ranking dead last in the Iowa polls. Both of these figures are major indicators that voters literally aren't buying what Santorum is selling, so he might be better off sticking with his senatorial career than continuing to run for a presidency that voters just don't want him to have.
It's not that Lindsey Graham is unqualified based on his political resume, but his performance in the forum on Thursday showed he's not White House ready just yet. His answers to questions the moderators threw at him were substantive and seemed thoughtful, but his nerves were clearly getting the best of him. Put up against the confidence and authoritative deliver of Carly Fiorina, Donald Trump, and Jeb Bush, Graham's personality simply fades into the background. Graham may have won some hearts with his moving account of his early life at the end of the forum, but he either needs to work on his public presentation or admit that he's just not ready for this sort of race.