Correspondence from US: Did Anyone Win the Republican Presidential Debate?

Donald Trump, the most popular Republican presidential candidate, didn’t shine during the debate with his rivals. His answers were irrelevant, and after an hour he gave the impression of being overwhelmed by the erudition of his colleagues.

Actually, there were two separate debates: the first with the less popular candidates and the second with the candidates who have more support. There are 15 candidates seeking the nomination, most of whom haven’t gained significant support in the polls. Therefore CNN, which organized the debates, decided to authoritatively separate the wheat from the chaff.

The more important debate, with 11 candidates, lasted three hours and ended after 5 a.m. Central European Summer Time, so there aren’t yet any polls showing who won according to the voters. However, we can expect to see a substantial increase in support for Carly Fiorina, the former Hewlett-Packard CEO. She was cool-headed, and her answers were factual, logical and precise. She explained problems and proposed specific solutions. It was she, not Donald Trump, who gave the impression of a talented manager who could run a company and a country.

The New York billionaire must have realized that, because he attacked her. He said that according to experts, she was one of the worst corporate bosses in the history of the United States. That’s when Fiorina showed she can also be bold. She recalled that Trump filed for bankruptcy four times. “You ran up mountains of debt as well as losses using other people’s money. Why should we trust you to manage the finances of this nation any differently than you managed the finances of your casinos?” she said.

For most of the evening, the billionaire repeated the slogans we’ve already heard dozens of times. That he will make America better than ever. That he will create the strongest army in the history of the world — one that will make enemies shiver. That he will eliminate the Islamic State in a few months. That he will create millions of new jobs. He didn’t, however, explain how he would do all these things.

When asked by moderator Jake Tapper if he still believes that vaccines cause autism in children, Trump said: “I do not know whether vaccines cause autism. But I know people who say that they do. It happened to somebody that worked for me recently. I mean, they had this beautiful child and all of a sudden they go in and they get this monster shot. A beautiful child went to have the vaccine, and came back, and a week later got a tremendous fever — got very, very sick — and now is autistic.”

When second-place candidate and retired pediatric neurosurgeon Ben Carson stated that a series of studies provided strong evidence against the hypothesis that the MMR vaccination causes autism, Trump slightly changed his strategy. “I am not against vaccinations,” he said. “You need to vaccinate. Spread them out over a period of time and autism will drop!”

Cuban-American Sen. Marco Rubio from Florida also did well. He is young, charismatic and brilliantly prepared. The debate took place at the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library with Air Force One as the backdrop. When Tapper asked the candidates what kind of America they would like to leave to their successors, Rubio, with an authentic tone of emotion, talked about an America whose Air Force One would land in a free Cuba, where its people could choose their own destiny. It was probably the most honest and human response of all.

Trump did not say anything new, interesting or clever. He acted more polite than he did during presentations at meetings, and at the end, he actually seemed downbeat. He told just one funny joke. When asked what code name the Secret Service would give him if he became president, he said it would be “Humble.” He will probably stay at the same place in the polls, because he didn’t make an absolute fool of himself. Just a little one.

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