6 DC communicators pick winners, losers, and top moments from the GOP debate

Winners: John Kasich and Fox News president Roger Ailes. Mixed reviews: Donald Trump and the moderators.

Images via Gage Skidmore, Wikimedia Commons
Images via Gage Skidmore, Wikimedia Commons

PRWeek asked a handful of DC-based communicators to weigh in on last night’s Republican debate in Cleveland.

Connie Mack, EVP at Levick and a former Republican congressman from Florida

This debate showed what many have known for a long time: Donald Trump is a bully, and his time in the spotlight of Republican politics is over. Most of the candidates on the stage did well or at least committed no fouls, but you can mark this as the point that Trump proved he should not be president of the United States. He's fired.

The other point that was particularly interesting to me was Governor Chris Christie's claim that he's gone before the FISA Court. There is no way that can be true. As I noted when I was in Congress, one of the biggest problems with the FISA courts is that they operate in absolute secrecy. That's a problem for our freedom, and it's certainly a problem for what Christie is claiming. No one has ever stood in front of a FISA Court.

Erikka Knuti, senior director at Purple Strategies

The big takeaway is the genius of Roger Ailes. One, he brought in Ohio Governor John Kasich (a former Fox employee) and sidelined Perry. Two, this debate was seriously entertaining with a game-show buzzer and everything. Three, he kept the schedule open so the debate could go on and on. More ratings, more ratings, more ratings. You have to admit, the man knows TV.

Bill McIntyre, director of Ketchum’s Washington office

The candidates did well overall, but there were some stand-out moments we should watch to see if the debate changes the rankings. 

Best in show: Donald Trump was unfiltered, getting cheers and jeers, showing all the candidates how to speak plainly and successfully. I'll bet his poll numbers jump again.

Best Trump-eter: John Kasich’s "atta-boy" to The Donald on immigration: "Donald Trump is hitting a nerve in this country…People are frustrated. They’re fed up. They don’t think the government is working for them. And for people who want to just tune him out, they’re making a mistake." I think The Donald makes a contribution to the Kasich campaign.

Best poke at Hillary Clinton: Scott Walker referring to allegations of foreign cyber attacks in the US said, "The Russian and Chinese governments know more about Hillary Clinton’s e-mail server than do members of the US Congress." Perhaps he gets an offer from Comedy Central.

Caitlin Legacki, principal at Precision Strategies

The most interesting piece about last night's debate is that the most dynamic candidates aren't really viable, and the so-called "viable" candidates weren't at all dynamic. After Donald Trump predictably dominated the conversation, John Kasich was the candidate who did himself the most favors. Marco Rubio and Chris Christie met expectations, while it felt at times that Jeb Bush was surprised to find himself on a presidential debate stage. It's a huge problem for Republicans if Scott Walker and Jeb Bush aren't able to articulate a clear vision for what they want to accomplish. The real winners in last night's debate were the moderators, who asked really smart, tough questions, and Hillary Clinton.

Corey Ealons, SVP at VOX Global

The host network for the debate used its questions to try to make "moments" or outright embarrass some of the candidates, and that was unfortunate. That said, Carly Fiorina distinguished herself during the happy hour debate, and Marco Rubio met expectations with a crisp performance. Kasich also performed well on his home turf. 

So while we may have two strong VP contenders, no one elevated themselves as a strong frontrunner. It is still anybody's game at this point.

Matt Canter, SVP at Global Strategy Group

Trump stole the headlines and will continue to monopolize the limelight, but that’s a good thing for frontrunners such as Jeb Bush, Scott Walker, and Marco Rubio. The last thing they need is for candidates like Kasich to get any more oxygen.

Kasich seemed to do himself favors tonight. He served up plenty of red meat, while hewing close to a general election message.

Rubio showed he is a skilled politician and smooth communicator, but his answer opposing exceptions for rape and incest likely disqualified him in a general election. He’ll certainly want that moment back someday.

My favorite moment of the night was the street brawl between Christie and Sen. Rand Paul (R-KY) over the NSA. Irrespective of whom had the better policy case, Christie got the better of the exchange.

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