Yes … Jeb Bush won Thursday night’s Republican debate, hands down. As Stephen Stromberg wrote in the Washington Post (see The GOP debate winner was … Jeb Bush?):
This is the first time in the GOP presidential race in which the candidate who was the most credible on the issues also won the debate.
“… he showed that one can put in a strong showing in a GOP debate without being a bile-spouting rage machine, and he may peel off some people who are attracted to the other candidates’ confidence rather than their specific, objectionable policies.
On point, crisp in his answers, and at ease, Bush was quick to respond on policy issues that he understands and knows so well. Perhaps his well executed performance was because he didn’t have Donald Trump goading and sticking a juvenile thumb in his eye every time Bush tried to speak. The debate minus Trump was refreshing. Seven candidates were able to discuss — and spar at times — without the distractions, not to mention lack of substance, of Trump.
Maybe Donald Trump’s absence gave Bush a confidence boost — or at least permitted him to get a word in edgewise. Perhaps Bush, with little to lose at this point, relaxed. Or maybe he is just more polished after months of campaigning. Whatever the reason, he spoke with more conviction and dominated the stage at several points in the debate. And he used some of those moments to bring policy specifics and high principles into an otherwise dismal conversation.
Governor Bush, widely known to be a policy wonk, had that knowledge on display. On the military and national defense:
While the other candidates pretended that pumping up the military, ranting about “radical Islamic terror” and ordering saturation bombing is a strategy to defeat the Islamic State, Bush called for pumping up the military — but also establishing a no-fly zone, creating safe zones for refugees and training a Sunni ground force to retake territory.
On immigration and his stare-down of one-time protoge and mentee Marco Rubio:
Bush once again bucked the other candidates’ disgusting embrace of Trumpism, arguing for offering illegal immigrants a path to legalization. But he may have turned that into a tactical as well as moral victory as he and the moderators pointed out that Marco Rubio and others on stage supported a pathway to legalization, too — or at least had before running for president. Rubio, he said, “cut and run” when the politics got hard. Rubio looked like a crypto-amnesty supporter and a coward. For once Bush won a one-on-one on-stage debate faceoff.
On religious freedom and welcoming ethnic groups:
Moreover, Bush argued that conservatism is not about protecting the nation from or for any particular ethnic group or religion. Quite the opposite: “We should be a welcoming nation. Our identity is not based on race or ethnicity, it’s based on a set of shared values. That’s American citizenship,” he said. “You can deal with the threat of terror and also recognize that this country should be aspirational.” This was the one debate in the GOP campaign so far in which these obvious points did not seem doomed to be crushed by the unrelenting anger, fear-mongering and nastiness of the other candidates.
And what of the six other candidates on that stage?
… the only one who had a halfway decent night was Bush. And he actually deserved it.
Meanwhile, Bush won a huge endorsement from his home state Thursday when Florida’s largest newspaper, the Tampa Bay Times, resoundingly endorsed him (see Jeb Bush is best choice for Republican nomination):
It’s time to stop treating the election of the next president of the United States like a game show without serious consequences. After more than a year of constant fundraising, meaningless opinion polls and reckless rhetoric from so many candidates, voters finally will make their voices heard starting Monday in the Iowa caucuses and eight days later in the New Hampshire primary. For Republicans fighting for both the soul of their party and the White House, the best choice is former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush.
Bush was one of the most effective governors in Florida’s history and the first Republican to serve two terms.
Trump’s snide attacks about Bush’s lack of energy were never accurate. It has been Bush who has best challenged Trump for his ridiculous talk of banning Muslims from entering this country and for suggesting a 45 percent tariff on Chinese goods that would ignite a trade war.
This is a pivotal moment for the Republican Party, which has to broaden its message and its appeal to women and minorities to ensure its long-term future. Bush has the best potential to connect with the voters in a general election and take the nation forward rather than backward. For the Republican nomination for president, the Tampa Bay Times recommends Jeb Bush.
In the endorsement category, Bush is running away with it by ranking first of the candidates in endorsements from senators, congressmen, and governors.
Bush has concentrated on the New Hampshire primary on February 9. Iowa caucuses on February 1.