As presidential candidate Donald Trump always says, the world is filled with losers. And in the case of Fox News' Thursday night debate, some of the candidates could not escape the label (even with the Donald being markedly absent from the showdown). But there was one candidate that stuck out in particular from the pack tonight, and it wasn't for giving a stellar performance. In the week before the Iowa caucus, Thursday's debate held a particular weight for the candidates in what was their last attempt to sway Iowans to turn out to the caucuses. But Ben Carson was unable to deliver.
Carson started the night off with a mediocre opening statement. In saying that he is "the only one on this stage with no political title," Carson showed a weak spot. The outsider appeal that originally and briefly rocketed the former surgeon to place in the polls is the very thing seeming to work against him. Carson is still relying on this same outsider title, but it's clear that for their nomination, the GOP is banking on an establishment ticket. It's why they have been pushing so hard for Ted Cruz, and to a lesser extent, for Marco Rubio, for the last few weeks. The only exception to this establishment rule, defying it by sheer poll numbers, would be Trump. Carson's ship for the outsider title, on the other hand, has sailed.
Fittingly, the night certainly seemed to favor both Cruz and Rubio, in terms of the length of time they were allotted to speak. But during the rare times Carson did speak, it seemed he didn't have much to say. When asked about the GOP messaging on Muslims possibly contributing to bias, Carson in part stated:
Well, I don't know about the GOP messaging, but I can tell you about my messaging. ... In the Holy Land Foundation trial in 2006 in Texas, they had a memorandum, an explanatory memorandum that talked about the fact that Americans would be easy to overcome and to commit civilization jihad because they were going to be trying to protect the rights of the very people who were trying to subvert them. But I believe in the Teddy Roosevelt philosophy. Teddy Roosevelt said, we are a nation of immigrants. As such, everybody is welcome from any race, any country, any religion, if they want to be Americans. If they want to accept our values and our laws. If not, they can stay where they are.
But by first invoking the Holy Land Foundation trial, in which a Muslim charity was indicted on charges of terrorism, he reiterates the very negative messaging Kelly questioned him on. Therefore his second statement on the "Teddy Roosevelt philosophy" loses its impact. Chances are, many viewers are still stuck on his talk of "civilization jihad."
But perhaps Carson's biggest gaffe of the night came from a question on how he would handle Russian aggression should he be elected president. Keeping in line with some of his previous, ill-advised statements on foreign policy, Carson answered: "Putin is a one-horse country. Oil and energy."
Twitter, of course, responded appropriately:
While great for comedy, this type of talk probably won't be courting any voters in the immediate week before Iowa. The retired neurosurgeon didn't make much of his other opportunities to speak, either. He was, however, only addressed directly two other times throughout the debate, but given his stumbling answers on xenophobia and Russia, it seems that any more statements would have only lined him up to go further down on the polls and higher on Twitter's hit list.