There are two takeaways to the happy hour/underdog/kids table debate if you’re following post-debate coverage:
1. It was such a sad, sad, little world, with an especially sad Lindsey Graham
2. Carly Fiorina won.
The crowning of a winner is, of course, the inevitable end to which these debates flow. And considering that this was a first course debate comprised of candidates who lost the top 10 race, the deflationary atmosphere also came with a touch of inevitability. But the empty stadium seats, although left purposely so by organizers–that was the visual coup de grâce for the entire affair.
The Fix‘s Chris Cillizza:
What made Fiorina stand out — more than what she said on any particular topic — was that she looked up to the moment. She was prepared and poised. She rarely glanced at notes. She spoke freely and easily. She had the “it” factor.
Politico‘s Dylan Byers:
The candidates — and, more importantly, the voters watching at home — were reminded of their low polls, declining approval numbers and all the times they’d run for office and lost.
The Vox‘s Andrew Prokop:
Overall, it’s been a very low-energy affair, with even normally charismatic candidates like Lindsey Graham sounding flat. That’s partly explained by the fact that there’s practically no one in the audience at Cleveland’s Quicken Loans Arena:
Avik Roy, an adviser to Rick Perry, tweeted that the event wasn’t open to the public. This decision only further feeds the sense that this event is rather humiliating to the candidates participating. Great debate moments often tap into the energy of the crowd, but this group of candidates can’t even do that.
National Review‘s Eliana Johnson:
Carly Fiorina, who has proven to be one of the best communicators in the race, was perhaps the only one to land a punch. “I didn’t get a phone call from Bill Clinton before I jumped in the race,” she said, referring to a recent Washington Post report that Trump spoke with the former president before he launched his campaign. “Did any of you? Maybe it’s because I hadn’t given money to his foundation or donated to his wife’s Senate campaign,” she said.
Had there been a crowd, it would’ve gone wild.
National Journal‘s Shane Goldmacher and Tim Alberta
At the debate’s conclusion, the faint sound of scattered applause came from the arena. It belonged to a few dozen friends, family members, and staffers to the various candidates. They were the only people allowed to sit in the audience and were asked not to applause or make noise throughout the event.
According to Google Trends, which has been tracking searches related to the debate, members of the press weren’t the only ones who noticed Fiorina’s performance. She was searched for more than any other candidate from the early debate overall, and in every state but Louisiana (Bobby Jindal, natch) and Alaska (Rick Perry?)