Tuesday night’s Republican presidential debate was relatively free of the rough and tumble personal attacks of the previous ones but did illuminate some of the deep divides among Republicans over immigration, the economy and national security.
In the end, the debate will do little to shake up the field but it could give change the narrative about one-time front-runner former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush from nervous donors concerned about a campaign on the ropes to one of fighting back.
Most rated Bush’s performance as improved from his previous ones but the bar was low after three lackluster performances.
“He's clearly trying and did better,” veteran Republican ad maker Bob Kish said. “He gets a temporary stay of execution for now.”
GOP strategist Brian Walsh, who has done communications for Republican House and Senate campaigns, said it was “hard to say” if Tuesday’s performance would turn down the deathwatch around his campaign.
“There's no question Governor Bush was much improved but he still needs a breakout moment and too often he found himself overshadowed in the debate,” he said. “It was likely enough to satisfy many donors, but he needs to be more aggressive moving forward because fair or unfair time is not in his side in today's media environment.”
Bush did assert himself more Tuesday, tag-teaming with Ohio Gov. John Kasich to apply some reality-checking to Donald Trump’s immigration plan, which propelled the real estate mogul to the top of polls over the summer.
Bush said Trump’s plan was not only bad policy, but also bad politics for Republicans who know that they can’t alienate the Latino vote if they want any chance to win back the White House.
"Even having this conversation sends a powerful signal. They're doing high-fives in the Clinton campaign right now when they hear this. That's the problem with this,” Bush said.
Kasich continued his attempts to poke holes in the feasibility of Trump’s plan, which is to build a wall along the U.S. border with Mexico and deport the estimated 11.5 million immigrants in the country illegally.
“Think about the families; think about the children,” Kasich said. “Come on, folks, we know you can’t pick them up and ship them across the border. It’s a silly argument. It’s not an adult argument.”
Obama Riposte to Trump: ‘America Is Great Right Now’
That might have been the high water mark for Kasich in the debate. Fighting for attention and support against establishment candidates such as Bush and Florida Sen. Marco Rubio and sounding like he was addressing a general election audience than a Republican debate one, Kasich was criticized for being overly assertive.
“John Kasich came across as rude and irritated,” Kish said, “but I did enjoy his trip around the globe ... like being on the Disney ride 'It's a Small World After All.'"
Ron Bonjean, a longtime communicator who has worked for leadership in both the House and Senate, said Kasich didn't help himself with Republican voters.
“ John Kasich did not come across well by continually interrupting others and demanding more time,” the veteran strategist said. “His position on immigration is quite bold and makes sense for general election voters but may not go over well with Republican primary voters. He also really turned off Republicans inside the room over his answers regarding Dodd Frank.”
Kasich thinks it's his show, apparently. It isn't. #GOPDebate— Stuart Rothenberg (@StuPolitics) November 11, 2015