Second Republican Debates Shake Up 2016 Primaries

By Varun Ravichandran

There is still over a year until the general 2016 presidential elections, but the race in the primaries is already hot with several candidates vying to be the Republican nominee for president. The most recent debate, which took place on September 16, 2015, in Simi Valley, California, featured eleven candidates in the primary debate. Over the course of three hours, the candidates grappled over several issues, ranging from foreign policy to the economy to President Obama’s performance in the Oval Office, to assert the ideas they believed would resonate most with the American people.

In the primaries, Donald Trump has gained notoriety for his breakthrough as the leading Republican candidate for presidency. During the first debate, which had been held by Fox News, he had gained significant support for his brash and direct criticism of the state of America at the moment.  With double-digit leads over his nearest rivals, Trump established himself as a legitimate candidate in the race far more quickly than most of his rivals had expected. This debate stemmed his momentum. From the onset, Trump was constantly on the defensive as candidates such as Carly Fiorina attacked him for the numerous controversial statements he has made in the past. During the foreign policy section of the debate, Trump was rendered silent due to his lack of experience in the field compared to his competitors.

In contrast to Trump, Carly Fiorina made the biggest splash during the night. Previously regarded as a dark horse behind Jeb Bush, Ben Carson, and Donald Trump, she proved that she could hold her ground as well as anyone other candidate. When responding to a question about released Planned Parenthood videos, she appealed that voters “watch a fully formed fetus on the table, its heart beating, its legs kicking while someone says we have to keep it alive to harvest its brain” before advocating in favor of abortion. Her statements earned her tremendous support from social conservatives, while her background as a businesswoman who had once headed Hewlett-Packard caused many to view her as a potentially powerful candidate for a general election.

The sheer number of candidates present for the debate diluted the amount of content each person could say, which caused certain people to remain silent for lengthy periods of time. Although Chris Christie capitalized on a key moment to tell others to “stop playing games,” a move that made him seem more mature than his competitors, he largely flew under the radar during the debate. Jeb Bush had more opportunities to speak than in his first debate, but he still seemed stiff and out of his comfort zone for the most part. The remaining candidates (such as Carson, Huckabee, Cruz, etc.) primarily featured in some back and forth commentary but were unable to make a lasting impact on the audience.

At the conclusion of the CNN debate, polls indicated that 52% of viewers thought that Fiorina had emerged the clear winner of the night. This strong performance translated to a significant boost in the polls that saw her emerge at second among the Republican pack, with 15% support. Although Trump holds onto his lead at the top, his numbers have significantly declined from a high of 32% down to 24% post-debate. Ben Carson stands at a close third at 14% approval behind Fiorina.

With another four to five months remaining before the first primaries begin in Iowa, the Republican candidates still have quite a bit of time to mobilize and jostle into a leading position. Although it remains unclear as to who will emerge as the Republican nominee, one can be certain that the process will be a long and testing trial.