Beckmann: Fiorina steps up in GOP debate

Frank Beckmann
Special to The Detroit News

Those waiting for Donald Trump to implode in the latest presidential debate had to be disappointed this week.

The Donald did nothing he hasn’t done before, insulting opponents — this time Rand Paul and his looks — focusing on immigration reform, and speaking in wide generalities about most every other issue while remaining the center of attention.

But only the staunchest Trump supporter could claim the businessman won this second debate, even if CNN’s questioners seemed obsessed with queries about what each candidate thought of Trump’s comments.

For America, Trump is not the issue. The state of the country is, and that’s where other candidates were able to score points, the kind that could eventually vault someone to the forefront of the race.

Trump doesn’t get specific enough about Iranian policy, relations with Russia, or the U.S. economy to destroy his own standing at the top of the polls.

It’s going to be up to someone else to impress GOP voters to overtake him instead of waiting for self-induced wounds to which Trump seems immune.

Wednesday night’s debate may have begun to reveal just such a possibility.

Former computer executive Carly Fiorina provided the best example.

In discussing Russian expansion, Trump gave vague answers about earning the respect of Vladimir Putin while the only woman in the Republican field said speaking with Putin is not an option but showing strength through a deployment of defensive missiles in Poland is a greater way to show American resolve.

Similarly, Florida Sen. Marco Rubio shined by vowing to support the restoration of Ukraine’s sovereignty which has been usurped by Putin’s expansionist policies.

Fiorina also drew an enthusiastic response from the debate audience at the Reagan Library in California with an impassioned attack on Planned Parenthood and its reprehensible policy of selling fetal organs for profit while imploring President Barack Obama and other leading Democrats to examine the videos which have shown the organization’s heartless actions.

And she advocated for ending the $500 million-per-year taxpayer subsidy to the abortion provider, even indicating she would risk a government shutdown over the issue because it speaks to “the defense of the character of this nation.”

It was the type of strong, specific response that can define a candidate and campaign, and it helped make Fiorina the winner of Wednesday’s debate in the eyes of this writer.

Since it’s popular to rank winners and losers, Rubio came across as a close second-place finisher, former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush seemed to regain his campaign footing, and native Detroiter Ben Carson may have lost some support with a weak position on illegal immigration and a convoluted surrender to increase minimum wages by negotiating with an undisclosed representative and a two-tiered pay scale that the UAW is seeking to eliminate in the auto industry.

This GOP debate left us all yearning for a winnowing of the field, because 11 people on stage is too many to truly focus on important policy issues, especially the weak U.S. economy, which barely drew a breath of comment.

It also left us wishing for some more creative questioning from debate moderators who seemed to have spent all their prep time researching what Trump has said about other candidates, and then wasting valuable minutes seeking responses from his opponents to issues which bore no importance to the American people as a whole.

But the biggest loser was undoubtedly Democratic front-runner Hillary Clinton, who began to receive some of the criticism she so richly deserves, and whose lack of qualifications came into sharp focus when numerous debaters labeled her a liar and, in New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie’s case, a criminal. Is it any wonder Democrats are avoiding any semblance of a debate?

Bottom line on the debate — America may be on its way to electing its first female president next year, but that person is a lot more likely to be Fiorina than Clinton.

Frank Beckmann is host of “The Frank Beckmann Show” on WJR-AM (760) from 9 a.m. to noon Monday-Friday.