Government & Politics

The second Republican presidential debate: The good, the bad, but nothing ugly

Republican presidential candidate Jeb Bush (center) spoke Wednesday as Donald Trump (left) and Scott Walker looked on during the CNN Republican presidential debate.
Republican presidential candidate Jeb Bush (center) spoke Wednesday as Donald Trump (left) and Scott Walker looked on during the CNN Republican presidential debate. The Associated Press

The second Republican presidential debate — this time on CNN — provided eleven candidates with a chance to reset the race, and their own campaigns.

Who took advantage? Who stumbled? Who lived to fight another day?

Here’s a look at the best and worst debate moments for the candidates.

The Star’s Dave Helling analyzes the second Republican presidential debate, held Wednesday night at the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library in Simi Valley, Calif., and televised on CNN.

Donald Trump

Best moment: Trump has risen in the polls in large part because of his tough stance on immigration. His answers on the issue seemed practiced and coherent.

Worst: “I will take care of women.” Unclear, and condescending. Also forced to explain his criticism of Carly Fiorina’s appearance, and awkwardly promised “I will know more about the problems of the world” if elected.

Jeb Bush

Best: Demanded an apology from Trump for a reference to his Mexican-American wife in a speech, and warmly defended his brother, President George W. Bush.

Worst: Became entangled in a same-sex marriage question, trying to endorse the “rule of law” but claiming objectors should be able to opt out of the Supreme Court’s decision. His confusing answer won’t make anyone happy.

Carly Fiorina

Best: Made the best outsider case: “This is about changing the system.” Also crisply played to hawks in the GOP by calling for a defense buildup, showed mastery of the facts, and neatly hammered Trump for his criticism of her appearance.

Worst: Asked if she was comfortable with Trump’s finger on the nuclear button, says that’s “not for me to answer.”

Ben Carson

Best: Said “there is a time when you can use your intellect” when pondering foreign policy alternatives.

Worst: Called the progressive income tax system “socialism.” Also said he opposed war in Iraq, then complained about U.S. withdrawal from the country.

Sen. Rand Paul

Best: Best reference to Ronald Reagan, reminding viewers that the former president talked with the Soviet Union. “We do need to engage with Russia,” he said.

Worst: Appeared to defend Saddam Hussein.

Gov. Chris Christie

Best: Criticized the exchanges between Trump and Fiorina as “childish,” and urged a focus on middle class workers. “We don’t want to hear about your careers,” he told both outsider candidates.

Worst: Implied he can “prosecute” Hillary Clinton.

Sen. Marco Rubio

Best: Good on immigration, tying it to his own experience. Also made the case against Trump’s lack of experience, and drew a muscular contrast with Rand Paul’s and Ben Carson’s foreign policy.

Worst: Referred to California’s drought, saying “I brought my own water.” That may remind voters of his unfortunate reach for a drink of water during his State of the Union response. Also, drought isn’t a joke.

Gov. John Kasich

Best: Drew a good contrast with Cruz on policy in the Middle East, and the senator’s implied threat of military intervention there. “We work better when we are unified,” he said.

Worst: The most conciliatory of the candidates. That might help in a general election, but may not be what Republican primary voters want to hear.

Gov. Scott Walker

Best: Called Trump an “apprentice.”

Worst: Referred to Ronald Reagan tax “cuts” of 1986. Reagan signed tax reform that was revenue-neutral.

Sen. Ted Cruz

Best: Calls for the GOP to stand on principle, suggests support for a government shutdown over funding for Planned Parenthood: “We need to stop surrendering.”

Worst: Seemed overprepared, delivering speeches instead of answers. Rubio had the same problem.

Mike Huckabee

Best: Passionately defended a religious exception to the same-sex marriage ruling.

Worst: Rattled sabers against Iran, claiming the nuclear agreement with that country “threatens Western civilization.”


The top 11 Republican candidates went head-to-head in a second GOP debate in California on September 16, 2015. For three hours they battled over immigration, foreign policy and many other topics. See some of their best - and worst - moments.

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