Republican Debate: Marco Rubio Wins With 7 For 7

This blog was originally published on Forbes as Republican Debate: Marco Rubio Wins With 7 For 7 on Monday, August 10, 2015.

Rupert Murdoch’s animosity for Donald Trump is a given; and so is Mr. Murdoch’s knack for sensational media. So it was no surprise that he had his three Fox News moderators go into attack mode in Thursday’s Republican debate. All 10 candidates were lined up—and targeted—like a firing squad. The only slight surprise, given Fox News’ customary Republican partiality, was the intensity of the moderators’ attack. Their challenging questions could have come from the liberal-leaning MSNBC anchors. But it all worked: a whopping 24 million viewers made it “the highest non-sports cable program of all time, the highest-rated cable news program of all time and Fox News’s most-watched program ever.

The crossfire from Fox News anchors Bret Baier, Megyn Kelly and Chris Wallace had the candidates ducking, defending or counterattacking. (Mr. Trump continued to counterattack Ms. Kelly after the debate in what is now brewing as a major firestorm in the campaign: In an interview on Friday on CNN, Mr. Trump said of Ms. Kelly’s questions, “You could see there was blood coming out of her eyes, blood coming out of her wherever.” The statement got him “disinvited” from a keynote spot at a conservative event the next day.)

Marco Rubio, however, rose above the fray on Thursday. In each of the seven times he was asked a question, he responded with authority and clarity. His assured ease stood in sharp contrast to the other candidates’ contentious voice and body language, often punctuated by their finger-wagging and -pointing. Of particular note was Mr. Rubio’s time management. At the outset of the debate, moderator Bret Baier announced the format rules which included time cues sounded by a double chime ding. While most of the other candidates’ answers were interrupted by the distracting dings, Mr. Rubio finished most of his just before or just at the chime.

His composure was a far cry from his performance two years ago when, in his Republican reply to President Obama’s State of the Union Address, Mr. Rubio came up with a bad case of dry mouth that culminated with his having to duck off camera to take swig of water.

After Thursday’s debate, the Weekly Standard, the highly-influential conservative journal, wrote, “Marco Rubio consistently gave strong and substantive answers…If the debate had a winner, it was Rubio.”

The New York Times wrote, “Mr. Rubio, the senator from Florida, has a good case to be considered the debate’s top performer.”

Fox News’ Liz Peek wrote, “Senator Marco Rubio did not lunge offstage for a glass of water, but instead handled himself well. His answers were crisp and thoughtful.” She also pointed to Mr. Rubio’s best line:

[T]his election cannot be a resume competition. It’s important to be qualified, but if this election is a resume competition, then Hillary Clinton’s going be the next president, because she’s been in office and in government longer than anybody else running here tonight.

Here’s what this election better be about: This election better be about the future, not the past. It better be about the issues our nation and the world is facing today, not simply the issues we once faced.

In that one statement, Marco Rubio captured the central issue of the 2016 presidential election and positioned himself as the best candidate. If Hillary Clinton, with her deep establishment roots, is the Democratic nominee, then he would present a clear differentiation as the Republican nominee.

That most influential of all Republican opinions, the editorial page of the Wall Street Journal, got Mr. Rubio’s message loud and clear: “He pitched himself as a candidate who can navigate this future and pointedly noted his modest immigrant roots won’t make him an easy target for typical Democratic attacks on the rich.”

This blog was originally published on Forbes as Republican Debate: Marco Rubio Wins With 7 For 7 on Monday, August 10, 2015.