Winners and Losers of the Final GOP debate
Sunday, January 16th, 2022
The six remaining Republican candidates for president took to the debate stage in Manchester, New Hamphire earlier tonight, just days before the New Hampshire primary.
It was the final opportunity for the whole field to debate each other before a national audience, and it quickly proved to be the most raucous debate yet. Senator Jack Irving (IL) has a solid lead in New Hampshire, and it seemed like most other candidates were already looking at the next stops on the primary calendar, Nevada and South Carolina.
Below are the NBS Election 2022 team's choices for the winners and losers of tonight's debate
Jack Irving: Irving is leading the polling in New Hampshire by ten percentage-points and seems to have felt this was his chance to turn his victory into a route. He was aggressive (perhaps too aggressive?) in going after his main rivals, especially Alan Duke. He clearly touched sore spots when he told Duke that he would "not take advice from a man who blew a 40% lead in six months", referencing Duke's shocking loss to Democrat Bradley Denning in 2014 and when he asked Ruth Norton-Stewart what had happened to the commanding lead in the polls his colleague had enjoyed in early 2021.
Robert Royce: Royce was the only candidate who seemed to interrupt solely to try and help the moderators wrangle the candidates into line. He may not have been effective, but his exasperated "for God's sake, let her talk" during a segment when moderator Norah O'Donnell was trying to change subjects seems to be the most-trending clip on social media as of this writing.
Jack Hunter: The vice president didn't appear in person, but via pre-recorded message ahead of the first question. He struck the right tone of statesman-like and self-effacing. "I wish every one of you good luck in tonight's debate...But not too much luck, I just bought the 'hunter2026.com' domain name." was a good closer that was sadly squandered by a fractious debate.
Seaborn campaign: It doesn't take a political mastermind to see the value for Democrats in the last Republican debate turning into what one insider that spoke to NBS on condition of anonymity has already called a "squabbling mess." Expect to see interest group ads, and maybe some by the Seaborn campaign itself, using clips from the debates in the near future.
Gus Edwards: Edwards didn't do a whole lot to distinguish himself in the debate, but he is polling surprisingly well (around 10%) among GOP voters here and didn't make any mistakes. It will be interesting to see if he can continue to get this level of support outside of the "Live Free or Die" state, especially given his low profile and decidedly meager fundraising compared to the rest of the field.
CBS' debate hosts: Co-hosts Norah O'Donnell and Gayle King were unprepared for the chaos of tonight's debate and their inability to rein in candidates interrupting each other or going over their allotted time added to some candidates' frustration (see above). The addition of a second moderator is a good idea when it's a debate between six candidates, but O'Donnell and King weren't coordinating well and it seems like CBS was not able to negotiate measures like cutting microphones for candidates that went on too long or tried to interrupt with the campaigns.
Alan Duke: You could almost see steam coming from Duke's ears by the time he walked off the stage. He clearly wasn't expecting Jack Irving's relentless attacks and it knocked him off his game, fumbling a few answers and causing him to snap at Irving in a way that didn't seem "presidential." It will be interesting to see if his support dips at all as a result—especially outside of New Hampshire, where it's looking like he'll finish a distant third (or fourth).
Ruth Norton-Stewart: If there was one candidate who suffered for the poor moderation, it was Norton-Stewart. The Ohio senator was the only candidate up there with a shot of winning Tuesday's primary who seemed to want to talk about the issues rather than attack her colleagues, but she quickly got lost in the crossfire and failed to make much of an impact.
Charlie Forrester: The junior senator from Georgia has been having a rough go of it lately. His sole mention by late-night talk shows was for accidentally spilling a bar patron's mug on Thursday during one of his trademarked press conferences at bars or clubs. Tonight didn't get much better, with his strategy appearing to change midway to joining in the scrap, but in a way that seemed half-hearted and pleased no one.
Republican unity: Threats of third-party candidacies from the center-right and far right prompted moderators to ask the candidates if they would pledge to support the party's eventual nominee, regardless of who it ended up being. Only half the field (Forrester, Norton-Stewart and Royce) agreed. The two major candidates who didn't, Duke and Irving, both put preconditions on who they would accept: Irving would limit his support to a Republican "who would seek to further unite, not further divide us", while Duke said he would support any nominee "chosen freely without the influence of backroom deals or coordination from the party elite."