There were three clear takeaways from the Tuesday-night CNN Republican presidential debate, according to veteran GOP pollster Frank Luntz.
Luntz, who conducted a focus group monitoring the debate for Fox News, said that Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) and New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie (R) had the breakout performances.
Additionally, Luntz found that attacks against front-runner Donald Trump largely backfired.
For Cruz, Luntz played the Texas senator’s opening statement for his focus group
“America’s at war. Our enemy is not ‘violent extremism.’ It is not some unnamed ‘malevolent force.’ It is radical Islamic terrorism. We have a president who is unwilling to utter its name,” Cruz said, adding: “If I am elected president, we will hunt down and kill the terrorists. We will utterly destroy ISIS.”
The focus group erupted into applause after Cruz finished. Asked for a word or phrase to describe him, participants said things like “believable,” “truthful,” “presidential,” “determined,” “on point,” decisive,” “common-sense foreign policy,” “definitive,” “commanding,” and a “clear rising star.”
“I think Ted Cruz has a history of talking tough and he backed that up tonight by what he said. He was definitely tough. He looked at us as voters and said, ‘I will take care of ISIS,” one participant said, using an acronym for the Islamic State terror group.
Luntz said the other focus-group winner was, somewhat surprisingly, Christie. The governor has teetered near the bottom of the field in public polling, but a number of participants said they were shifting their votes his way after the debate. One of Christie’s breakout moments was when he ripped his rivals for their petty squabbles.
“I want to talk the audience at home for a second: If your eyes are glazed over like mine, this is what it’s like to be on the floor of the United States Senate,” Christie said. “I mean, endless debates about how many angels [can dance] on the head of a pin from people who never had to make a consequential decision in an executive position. The fact is, for seven years I had to make these decisions after 9/11.”
The focus-group voters told Luntz that they loved Christie’s tough talk on national security and above-the-fray approach to his competition. That contrasted sharply with how many of the candidates approached the Tuesday debate, with many of them bickering and going after the front-runner, Trump.
“One the most powerful moments that did not do well is when candidates went after each other,” Luntz told his group. “And there was no candidate who was attacked more than Donald Trump. But every time he was attacked, you all didn’t like it.”
Watch part one of the post-debate analysis below:
Watch part two below:
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