Marco Rubio and Ted Cruz finally went toe-to-toe Tuesday night in Las Vegas -- and Rubio came out on top.
That’s according to Republicans in the POLITICO Caucus, our panel of the top activists, strategists and operatives in Iowa, New Hampshire, South Carolina and Nevada.
More than 40 percent of Republicans picked Rubio, the first-term Florida senator, as the winner of the debate in a survey taken immediately following Tuesday night’s gathering....
GOP insiders were more equivocal when asked which candidate lost the debate, with 26 percent picking Cruz.
And from the Register:
Almost all of the Republicans offering commentary for The Des Moines Register said Marco Rubio shined, and that Jeb Bush earned the most-improved award during the fifth GOP debate....
Rubio, a Florida U.S. senator, was smooth and polished, which made it easy to envision him debating Hillary Clinton, the Iowans said.
The quoted Iowa insiders include a former state senator who's now a local talk radio host and a minister who's been plugged into conservative politics for decades. They were impressed with Rubio and Bush.
The problem is, rank-and-file Republican voters in a Frank Luntz focus group had a completely different reaction:
... Frank Luntz spoke to a focus group of voters who revealed that Ted Cruz and Chris Christie were their big winners on the night.
... Multiple members of the focus group applauded Cruz for his strong stance on terrorism and for explicitly stating that, if elected, he will "hunt down and kill the terrorists."
... The New Jersey governor got extremely high numbers when he criticized the endless debates and inaction of the U.S. Senate....
And they hated Jeb Bush, while their reaction to Rubio was clearly "Meh."
Christie was their GOP daddy, the guy they think can chase the monsters from under the bed.
Verbatim quotes about Christie: "He's absolutely on point and he makes me feel safe." "Highly confident, direct, to the point." "Tells it like he sees it." "The right man for these times." "He connects what we the American people are feeling with his laser focus on how to get-- to fix it." "He looked me right in the eye and told me exactly what the problem was." "... he's on point on the issues that really matter." "... I can trust him as my president."
What impressed these voters the most was Christie's response after a surprisingly nuanced Cruz-Rubio-Paul discussion of whether it's good for the United States to overthrow dictators in the Middle East. Christie said, Listen to all this "thoughtfulness." Can you believe this crap? I'm a frickin' governor. I used to be a U.S. attorney. In my jobs, I haven't have time for all this "weighing the pros and cons" nonsense. I just do stuff. So who's with me? Let's go kill some people! U-S-A! U-S-A! Nine-eleven! Nine-eleven!
Okay, that's not an exact quote. But Christie has dumbed down his message at just the right time. Ban refugee widows and orphans! And in last night's debate: Hell yeah I'd shoot down Russian jets and risk World War III! Suck it, Vladimir!
Christie might get a poll bounce, especially in New Hampshire, though post-debate bounces can be evanescent -- hey, whatever happened to the brief moment of Fiorinamania after Carly attacked Planned Parenthood in a debate in September? But whatever happens in the long run, for now it seems as if the insiders think Rubio and Bush are back in the game, and maybe Christie to a lesser extent (he was the #2 winner among Politico's insiders, though he finished well behind Rubio), while the rank-and-file are warming to Christie and (especially) Cruz.
Oh, but Luntz's focus group didn't like other candidates' attacks on Trump, as you'll see in the video. So as establishment types sustain their indecision, Trump and Cruz will probably remain on top.
Crossposted at No More Mr. Nice Blog