- A group Iowa republicans talked to Politico and rated the candidate’s debate performance.
- The group said Cruz was the biggest loser of the debate, still coming in third, but looking bad and having the most to lose.
- They rated Rubio as having won and Jeb bush coming in 2nd with the best debate of his candidacy on the back of an absent Trump.
- Close to 75% of those polled thought that Trump made a mistake by skipping the debate with 25% saying it was a strong calculated play.
In the final debate before Iowa’s first-in-the-nation caucuses, Ted Cruz had the worst night of the seven GOP presidential candidates on stage Thursday.
That’s according to a plurality of the Republican members of The POLITICO Caucus — a panel of strategists, operatives and activists in Iowa and the other three February-voting states: New Hampshire, South Carolina and Nevada. The insiders participated in the survey immediately following the debate in Des Moines, an event more notable for the absence of Iowa and national poll-leader Donald Trump than anything else.
More than 4 in 10 GOP insiders — given the choice of the seven GOP candidates on the stage, plus Trump — rated Cruz as the loser of Thursday night’s debate, citing his defensive posture on his past immigration stances and opposition to ethanol subsidies.
— POLITICO (@politico) January 29, 2016
“He seemed plastic and insincere,” said one Iowa Republican, who, like all respondents, completed the post-debate survey anonymously. “The crowd clearly liked Gov. [Terry] Branstad a lot more than they like Ted Cruz.”
“His entanglement with the moderators was one of the worst moments for a candidate in any of the debates,” added a New Hampshire Republican, alluding to the Texas senator’s sparring with Fox News Channel’s Chris Wallace. “His opposition to ethanol was also highlighted on the eve of the Iowa caucuses.”
Fellow Conservatives: [Yes or No] Are Biden's Socialist Policies BAD for America?
“He did not explain his switch on immigration policy very well,” another New Hampshire Republican said, citing Cruz’s attempts to address questions about his legislative maneuvering in the Senate during the 2013 immigration debate.
As for the winner of Thursday night’s debate, Marco Rubio (36 percent) and former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush (29 percent) were the top two finishers, according to the insiders.
One Iowa Republican called Rubio the “strongest and most articulate” candidate participating in the debate. A New Hampshire Republican agreed, saying the Florida senator was “the most articulate of the candidates on a variety of issues and is the most aspirational of the Republicans on stage.”
As for Bush, a number of insiders called the debate his strongest performance to date — and noted that it coincided with the absence of Trump, who has antagonized Bush more than his other competitors for the Republican nomination.
“Given his previous performances, few would believe that Jeb Bush would [come] out of one of these debates as the winner,” one New Hampshire Republican said. “Yet he stood and delivered in a strong way. It may not help him in Iowa, but it comes at an opportune time for him as he sees a surge in New Hampshire.”
Another New Hampshire Republican said Bush “seemed at ease” without Trump’s presence. And a Nevada Republican lamented: “Oh, what might have been with no Trump.”
Cruz ranked third on the winners list — but even some of those who picked him inserted a caveat.
“He did not lose [and] that is a win,” a Nevada Republican said, “but the ethanol question may have hurt him.”
Cruz stood center-stage because Trump, who leads the polls nationally and in Iowa, declined to participate over what he said was poor treatment by Fox News and Megyn Kelly, one of the channel’s personalities and a moderator Thursday night.
Caucus insiders were asked whether Trump’s decision to bag the final debate before the Iowa caucuses was smart, and GOP insiders — who at various turns during the campaign mistakenly predicted Trump’s demise — again said the brash real-estate magnate had miscalculated.
Republicans — nearly three-quarters of whom said Trump’s decision to ditch the debate wasn’t smart — replied to the survey with a number of invectives, calling Trump a “petulant child,” “narcissistic,” “petty,” “whiny, pouty and childish.”
“His fight might be [with] Fox,” said one Iowa Republican, “but he took it out on the people of Iowa.”
“When Donald Trump fails to meet expectations and loses Iowa on Monday, his decision to skip the debate will immediately be the scapegoat,” a South Carolina Republican predicted. “Like Rick Perry’s ‘Oops’ moment in , skipping the debate will be viewed in history as the singular event leading to the implosion of the Trump campaign.”
Just over a quarter of Republicans disagreed, arguing that Trump’s move made sense because is effectively running out the clock.
“The gamble paid off,” said a South Carolina Republican. “Trump had the most to lose and didn’t lose a thing. And he didn’t get those Megyn Kelly video montages fired into his backside. He’d have never been able to respond as effectively as Rubio and Cruz did. Sitting out helped him sit on his lead.”
“Trump got exactly what he wanted,” an Iowa Republican added. “Nobody lays a glove on him, while the rest of the field beat each other up. Better yet, Trump got both former caucus winners to attend his event, and his main competitor, Ted Cruz, might have had his worst debate performance of the campaign.”
Ted Cruz still winning? Check this news here in CNN: