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Candidates Fail to Catch Fire at Third Republican Undercard Debate

3 minute read

Few fireworks were expected at Wednesday’s undercard Republican presidential debate, and the four candidates on stage met those low expectations.

During the hour-long debate on CNBC, Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal, South Carolina Sen. Lindsey Graham, former New York Gov. George Pataki and former Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum stuck to the scripts they have been reading from at past campaign events and debates.

Though the focus of the debate, dubbed “Your Money, Your Vote” by the cable business news network, was the economy, the candidates quickly pivoted to parts of their stump speech. After one question on a congressional budget deal, Graham quickly changed the subject to terrorism. At another point, Santorum was asked about consolidation in the beer industry and responded by talking about Obamacare.

Graham was the standout of the debate, for both good and bad reasons. Although he showed energy and landed some zingers against Democrats, he also got crickets from the audience when he defended his stances in favor of immigration reform and addressing climate change.

.Read More: Here’s How Lindsey Graham Defended His Unorthodox Positions

In what was perhaps the most forceful moment for any candidate, Graham argued that he would be a forceful commander-in-chief.

“To the Chinese, when it comes to dealing with me, you’ve got a clenched fist and an open hand,” he said, holding up both hands. “You pick. The party is over to all the dictators. Make me commander in chief and this crap stops.”

He took a similar tack defending his willingness to compromise on legislation.

“I’m trying to solve problems that somebody better solve,” he said, joking that Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders went on vacation to the Soviet Union and never left. “ If we can’t beat these people, then who in the hell are we going to beat!”

The undercard debate has proven helpful in the past. It served as a launchpad for former Hewlett Packard CEO Carly Fiorina, who received the boost in the polls she needed to land on the main stage during the next go-round. But it’s hard to see that same lightning striking again.

Of the four candidates onstage, Graham is polling highest with a mere 1 percent according to a RealClearPolitics average of national polls. Pataki has only two tenths of one percent.

Read More: Transcript: Read the Full Text of the Undercard CNBC Debate in Boulder

See the Covers of the 2016 Presidential Hopefuls' Memoirs

Hillary Clinton Hard Choices memoir
The cover of former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton's 2014 book "Hard Choices" is a classic of the political memoir genre: The politician's face, front and center with a strong but vague title beneath.
Carly Fiorina tough choices memoir
Former Hewlett-Packard CEO Carly Fiorina's 2007 book "Tough Choices" followed the same playbook as Clinton's, even down to the similar titles.
ben carson one nation memoir
Retired neurosurgeon Ben Carson's 2014 book "One Nation" is a variation on the theme, the crossed arms and the subtitle underlining the message, since he's not been a politician before.
george pataki where i come from autobiography
Former New York Gov. George Pataki's 1998 autobiography, "Pataki," presents him as such a towering figure that he doesn't even need a regular title.
Marco Rubio American Son memoir
Other politicians go for a softer touch with a more autobiographical book to help voters learn more about who they are, as in Florida Sen. Marco Rubio's 2013 memoir, "An American Son."
Lindsey Graham My Story ebook memoir
South Carolina Sen. Lindsey Graham's 2015 e-book, "My Story," takes a similar approach.
Rick Santorum autobiography memoir
Former Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum's 2005 book, "Rick Santorum," is less autobiographical, but the cover also goes for the soft touch.
Mike Huckabee God Guns Grits Gravy memoir
Some books zero in on a specific image. Former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee's 2015 book, "God, Guns, Grits and Gravy" and the photo of him, tieless, in a pastoral scene, sells him as an avatar of rural America.
Rick Perry On My Honor memoir
Former Texas Gov. Rick Perry's 2014 book defends the Boy Scouts, reinforcing the fact that he's an Eagle Scout and a cultural conservative.
Donald Trump The Art of the Deal book
And business mogul Donald Trump's 1988 book, "The Art of the Deal," sells his image as a dealmaker so much that he still references it today.
John Kasich Stand for Something memoir
Other candidates aim to show they are leaders, as in Ohio Gov. John Kasich's 2006 book, "Stand for Something."
Rand Paul Taking a Stand memoir
Kentucky Sen. Rand Paul's 2015 book, "Taking a Stand," goes a similar route, though the subtitle, "Moving Beyond Partisan Politics," gives it a slightly different spin.
Books Ted Cruz
Texas Sen. Ted Cruz's 2015 book also pitches him as a truth teller, with a casual portrait and the title "A Time for Truth."
Lincoln Chafee Against the Tide memoir
Former Rhode Island Gov. Lincoln Chafee's 2010 book, "Against the Tide," also promotes him as willing to go it alone, in this case referencing his vote against the Iraq war.
Scott Walker Unintimidated memoir
Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker's 2014 book, "Unintimidated," goes the same route, promoting his fight against labor unions.Penguin Group/AP
Bobby Jindal Leadership and Crisis memoir
And Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal's 2010 book, "Leadership and Crisis," adds a photo of first responders to bring to mind natural disasters.
Bernie Sanders Outsider at the House memoir
But the cover of Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders' 1998 memoir shows that he really does go his own way. It breaks all the design rules, looking more like an airport thriller.

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