Here’s who I think WON last night’s GOP debate…

Fox Business did another superb job conducting a substantive debate last night — except for the one segment where they seemed to want pit the candidates against each other. For me, that was a wasted segment that could’ve been dedicated to talking about the issues facing our oil and gas industry — strategic vision for energy security.

Once again, anyone on the stage last night is far superior to what’s being offered on the Democrat side as a continuation of Barack Obama’s failures, or worse.

My immediate assessment is that Carly Fiorina should’ve been on the main stage. We shall see how she fares in the coming Iowa caucus and first two primaries in New Hampshire and South Carolina. I know the Rand Paul supporters are very rabid, but it was not very mature to refuse to show up for the debate. Leading is about being a servant and humble. Not appearing at all meant Senator Paul had no voice and made himself irrelevant.

This race is coming down to two separate and distinct sets of candidates; the non-establishment and the establishment. The non-establishment candidates are Trump, Cruz, Carson and Fiorina. The establishment crew is comprised of Bush, Christie, Kasich and Rubio. The field tightens as resources become constrained. I do believe we don’t need any more “kiddie table” debates; time to get serious and whittle the field down. That will happen by natural selection now.

Here are my key bullet points from the debate:

–  Senators Ted Cruz and Marco Rubio came off as petulant freshman senators, evidencing that which confounds the America people — the incessant debate club. As they engaged each other, they hurt themselves and proved why junior senators may not be ready for prime time — as we’ve learned the past eight years. Who has a VAT tax? Who voted for what amendment? They both showed they are skilled at the practiced talking point, but the circular debates were depressing.

And the back and forth on immigration between the two of them was just confusing. I’m quite sure the fact checks will come out today. There were a couple of occasions where Gov. Chris Christie thumped them hard for their going off on tangents. I understand debate, but America has grown tired of rhetoric. The problem with senators is that they operate in the world of the theoretical; they have yet to truly delve into the practical, and certainly have not been in decision-making positions with clear ramifications. That has been the case with Barack Obama.

– Gov. Chris Christie did very well being specific in the questions on spending and his use of an 8.75% tax on a one-time repatriation of the $2T offshore capital. He also spoke very well on the issue of sanctuary cities and Obama administration lawlessness, as well as the question on Bashar Assad.

–  Gov. John Kasich once again reminded us of all he did back as the Budget Chairman. Kasich is accomplished and knows policy quite well. The problem is he loses the image aspect of being a candidate. I just don’t see him catching on, regardless of what he’s achieved.

– Gov. Jeb Bush showed in-depth knowledge, especially on Middle East issues and focused on the mental health problem in response to the gun rights issue. Again, he just doesn’t seem relaxed and comfortable in his presentation, still struggling somewhat.

– Donald Trump really ate Ted Cruz’s lunch on the “New York values” comment. Look, I married a Brooklyn girl and I’m familiar with the New York dynamic. Cruz needs to learn the tactic of the u-shaped ambush, because he walked right into it. Trump was superb in explaining two very important issues, trade that is fair in a free trade environment. He exhibited keen insights into what China is doing and how we need to fight back. What hurt Jeb Bush was that in the exchange he appeared to be scared of China. As well, when Dr. Ben Carson failed to understand corporate inversions, Trump stepped in and explained it, very concisely and specifically. Trump seems to be easing away from the bombastic fella in the first debate back in August and finding a balance. He still needs some work on national security and foreign policy.

– Dr. Ben Carson, well, when asked about agreeing with Senator Graham about 20K troops in Iraq and Syria, he went off on a tangent of unrelated soundbites. And when asked by Maria Bartiromo on the subject of corporate inversions, he went off confusing flat and fair tax policies and never answered the question — hence Trump exploiting the gap presented. In the first round of questions, Dr. Carson was asked how do we attack the Islamic terrorist network, as seen in ISIS. He responded with a joke and never answered the question, often using humor as a means of deflection in the debate when called upon. He did answer the question about Bill Clinton rather well, addressing the loss of principles and values.

Here is my final assessment. Again, not asking you to agree or disagree, just sharing what I saw. Gov. Kasich and Dr. Ben Carson probably should have been in the early debate. I don’t see their campaigns going very far. Carly Fiorina, based on her knowledge and articulation of specific policy solutions, should’ve been on the main stage. I don’t know what will happen in the first three contests, but she is a serious candidate. She was stellar in the early debate and we’ll see if that can be translated into success for her campaign.

The back and forth between Rubio and Cruz hurt them more than it helped. It reminded us that they are first-term senators without any major legislative accomplishments — but good debaters and talkers. Trump and Christie showed strength and experienced knowledge last night in respective areas of inquiry.

If you’re looking for your lead dog in the establishment category, Christie won your evening. In the non-establishment category, Trump still holds his place and Cruz will lose some momentum — though I’m not concerned about the “natural born citizen” stuff. However, you have to start looking favorably at Carly Fiorina in this category.

Who won the debate? No one really. There were some high points, some did better than others, but it now comes down to Iowa, New Hampshire and South Carolina. As stated, all of these options are better than what we saw Tuesday evening deliver a final State of the Union address.

I’m quite certain we would not have U.S. Sailors having their assault boats seized and kneeling in surrender if any of these folks were president. But let me lend some advice: commanders are decisive. They possess the ability to quickly gather information, deliberate on courses of action and recommendations and then deliver a decisive decision.

We need a decisive commander in chief, not simply good debaters.

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