By Editorial Staff
After barely making it onto the stage as the ninth rated candidate for the fifth Republican debate, Rand Paul shocked insiders by moving up to take a third place tie on December 15 as the race begins to get serious with just six weeks until the Iowa caucuses.
The squabble fest featured in order of polling: Donald Trump, Ted Cruz, Marco Rubio, Ben Carson, Jeb Bush, Chris Christie, Carly Fiorina, John Kasich, Carly Fiorina and Rand Paul.
The agreed upon rules and questioning structure for the CNN debate favored the top three candidates with only courtesy questions going to the candidates “on the wings.”
Paul didn’t technically qualify under the CNN criteria for the prime-time debate, because he had less than a national polling average of at least 3.5 percent. But CNN decided that its scientific debate criteria needed an infusion of spirit: “In the light of new polling released this morning and in the spirit of being as inclusive as possible, CNN has decided to include Sen. Rand Paul in the prime-time debate,” according to CNN.
But Senator Rand Paul showed up with his “A-game” and deftly moved into the main flow of the conversation. More importantly, Paul’s answers to complex questions were clear and concise. The Drudge Report instant reader poll rated Rand Paul as third, behind leader Trump and number two Cruz.
The professional campaign consultants I know on both the Republican and Democrat side were impressed that Paul could work “the big issues” from the extreme outside wing of the stage to drive many of the key discussions during the evening. They also gave substantial points to Paul for goading other candidates into attacking Paul.
The professional consultants rated Paul as tied with Marco Rubio for third place for the evening, behind Trump and Cruz. Below are what the pros noted as Paul’s key moments during the debate:
9:46 p.m.: Internet — Trump defended himself against Paul, saying his proposed Internet restrictions and targeting family members are designed to target terrorists. Paul questions whether Trump is a "serious" candidate.
9:48 p.m.: Rubio acknowledges that local ground forces will have to be pushed more to fight the Islamic State; so far, they haven't done very well. Fiorina, meanwhile, knocks "first-term senators" — like Rubio, Cruz and Paul — who have never made an executive decision in their lives. She also argues that women make better leaders.
9:49 p.m.: Chris Christie, the governor, again knocks Washington politicians for failing to get things done on national security, another criticism of Rubio, Cruz and Paul.
10:05 p.m.: Leadership — Bush defends American leadership, while Paul criticized U.S. interventionism. Cruz jumps in to say the focus should be on the nation's enemies, shouting over the moderator in the process.
10:08 p.m.: Syria — Trump says Syria leader Bashar al-Assad is a "bad guy" but the U.S. should focus on the Islamic State. "We have to do one thing at a time," he says. "We have to get rid of ISIS first."
Christie says the Assad and ISIL issues are related and both have to be confronted.
Paul says taking down Assad could lead to a worse government.
10:15 p.m.: Russia — Fiorina says she would refuse to talk with Russian President Vladimir Putin until changes are made, including U.S. policy in Syria and the Middle East.
Christie says he would back a no-fly zone over Syria and shoot down a Russian plane that violates it. For good measure, he says Obama has been a "feckless weakling" when it comes to dealing with Putin.
Paul describes a "no-fly zone" over Syria is "a recipe for World War III."
10:30 p.m.: Immigration — Though asked about Syrian refugees, Paul attacks Rubio for an immigration bill he once backed, saying he sided with Democrats.
Paul later disputes the Syrian refugee program.
11:05 p.m.: Closing statements: Paul says debt is weakening the nation, and he is the only “fiscal conservative” in the race.