The moderator, Jack Heath, deliberately steered clear of any Trump-related questions, which is a shame, because Trump, even in absentia, might have have at least forced the candidates to talk about something besides themselves. As it was, Monday’s forum, the first of three such Q&A sessions in early primary states and a dress rehearsal of sorts for the first GOP debate on Thursday, was like freshman orientation in a class of introverts. The candidates were provided the most generic of icebreaker questions (Carly Fiorina was asked for an example of a time she showed leadership), which they promptly segued away from, and pivoted to the boilerplate speeches they’ve already been delivering in Iowa and New Hampshire for months. Because it was a forum, not a debate, the candidates weren’t allowed to interact with each other. Save for Scott Walker noting that no one in his family had been president before, none of them even tried. In a rare moment of drama, the C-SPAN cameras caught Chris Christie with a finger (his) wiggling in his ear.
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Four years after famously forgetting the third federal agency he intended to eliminate, former Texas governor Rick Perry was offered a shot at a do-over. “I’ve heard this question before!” he said eagerly. Then he pivoted to another topic and never answered it.
Jeb Bush said the president needs to do more to combat the “barbarians” of ISIS, but perhaps wary of unpleasant comparisons to that other Bush (or both of them, really), stopped short of saying “boots on the ground” were needed in the Middle East beyond special forces Ttroops.
So this is what it looks like when Donald Trump stays home. The businessman and board game magnate, who is currently leading the Republican presidential field by a mile, skipped the first full candidate forum of the 2016 presidential race on Monday in New Hampshire. His official reason: the host newspaper, New Hampshire’s Union-Leader, had already signaled that it wasn’t interested in endorsing his campaign. But maybe he had an inkling of what we know for certain now—14 candidates racing against the clock to recite canned talking points makes for a total snoozefest.