On an overall level, the second Republican debate, sponsored by CNN, suffered from some of the same problems as the first one, sponsored by Fox News — lots of talk from the candidates about keeping immigrants out and defunding Planned Parenthood, not much talk about igniting economic growth or lowering the burden of government regulations. Here are my impressions, candidate by candidate, after watching the whole thing. What a crew!:
Donald Trump: He said some weird things that if he were a normal candidate might hurt him. For example, he said vaccines cause autism. That has been thoroughly studied and debunked (see Seth Mnookin's book The Panic Virus). He promised to "get along" with Vladimir Putin. And he described Carly Fiorina by saying, "I think she's got a beautiful face and I think she's a beautiful woman." So far, saying these sorts of things haven't hurt him in the polls, so it's not clear that these comments will hurt him.
Jeb Bush: Responded strongly to Trump criticism of George W. Bush's Iraq war decision: "when it comes to my brother, he kept us safe." Said his Secret Service code name would be Ever Ready — "high energy" — and effectively mocked Trump's answer of "Humble." Not as good on television as Fiorina, Rubio, or Cruz. Less effective in responding to Trump's attacks on Mr. Bush's Mexican-American wife; demanded he apologize to her, but didn't press it when Mr. Trump refused to do so. Says Trump wanted casino gambling in Florida, but Bush resisted.
Carly Fiorina: Very effective in presenting her foreign policy plans: rebuild the Sixth Fleet, send more troops to Germany, build missile defense in Poland, run military exercises in the Baltics. Also effective in criticizing Hillary Clinton: "flying is an activity, it's not an accomplishment." Says she and her husband "buried a child to drug addiction."
John Kasich: The one guy who defended taxing carried interest at capital gains rates against Jeb Bush, Donald Trump, and Hillary Clinton's desire to change the rules: "don't agree in terms of changing the incentives for investment and risk-taking."
Chris Christie: Vowed to use his prosecutorial experience to go after Hillary Clinton on the issue of her private email server: "I will prosecute her." Also says Mrs. Clinton "believes in the systematic murder of children in the womb."
Rand Paul: His unique selling proposition is skepticism of American military interventions (though Trump and Carson say they also opposed the Iraq War.) "There will always be a Bush or a Clinton for you if you want to go back to war in Iraq."
Ted Cruz: Faulted George W. Bush for appointing John Roberts to the Supreme Court. Promises to replace ObamaCare, defeat ISIS, move American embassy in Israel to Jerusalem. Called Planned Parenthood an "ongoing criminal enterprise."
Scott Walker: Defended his record in Wisconsin against criticism from Trump. Criticizes Trump: "you can't take America into bankruptcy."
Marco Rubio: Vows to free Cuba. Telegenic, somewhat hawkish foreign policy spokesman. Good talking about his Spanish-speaking grandfather's support for free enterprise and limited government.
Ben Carson: Offered an opportunity, as a physician, to debunk Trump on vaccines and autism, replies by agreeing that vaccine doses could be spaced out more.
Mike Huckabee: Says he'd apply a litmus test requiring prospective Supreme Court justices to consider "unborn child" as a human being. Calls for federal war on cancer, heart disease, diabetes, and Alzheimer's. Wants to eliminate IRS and replace with "fair tax" on consumption.
Lindsey Graham: Won the "undercard" debate that featured himself, Governor Pataki, Governor Jindal, and Senator Santorum. The most hawkish on Islamic terrorism: "destroy the caliphate...Assad must go." "We're gonna pull the caliphate up by its roots and we're gonna kill every one of those bastards we can find." Promises to open more military bases. Showed flashes of humor and ability to think on feet: "in my world, Hispanics are Americans." "First thing I'm gonna do as president, we're gonna drink more."
George Pataki: As Donald Trump put it, "he wouldn't be elected dog catcher right now." Didn't do anything to change that impression. Doesn't yet seem able to pull off Romney-like transformation from liberal Northeastern Republican governor to conservative Republican presidential nominee. Critical of Trump: "Donald Trump is unfit to be president of the United States." Agrees with Trump, Bush, on end to carried interest: "I would not give a special rate to Wall Street fat cats."
Bobby Jindal: Got off some good prepared lines. Obama "has declared a war on transfats and a truce with Iran." Vied with Santorum in anti-immigration bluster, vowing to "criminalize and jail" the mayors and governors of sanctuary cities for illegal immigration.
Rick Santorum: Favors an increase in the federal minimum wage by 50 cents an hour over three years. Says immigrants are taking jobs away from Americans.