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Politics & Government

A Millennial Republican Response To The Third GOP Debate

STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

Early in last night's presidential debate, a moderator asked Republican candidates about their greatest weaknesses.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

MIKE HUCKABEE: If I have a weakness, it's that I try to live by the rules.

UNIDENTIFIED MODERATOR: Thank you, Governor. Governor Bush.

JEB BUSH: You know, I am, by my nature, impatient. And this is not an endeavor that rewards that. You've got to be patient. You've got to be - stick with it and all that.

UNIDENTIFIED MODERATOR: Mr. Trump.

DONALD TRUMP: I think maybe my greatest weakness is that I trust people too much.

CARLY FIORINA: Well, gee, after the last debate, I was told that I didn't smile enough (laughter).

UNIDENTIFIED MODERATOR: Senator Cruz.

TED CRUZ: I'm too agreeable, easy-going.

INSKEEP: Some of the debate from CNBC on Westwood One. Now, amid this, the candidates were also slashing at each other's weaknesses. John Kasich said Donald Trump's ideas were not realistic, and Trump struck back. Jeb Bush critiqued Marco Rubio for missing Senate votes, and Rubio struck back. And amid all that was a larger question whether Republicans can overcome a weakness revealed in recent presidential elections and narrowing of the GOP electorate. And we're going to talk about that with Kristen Soltis Anderson. She's a Republican pollster and author of "The Selfie Vote" about millennial voters. Welcome to the program.

KRISTEN SOLTIS ANDERSON: Thank you for having me.

INSKEEP: So what kind of a face do you think the Republican Party presented to the country last night?

ANDERSON: I think the Republican candidates all sort of came together in opposition to the moderators, which led to a dynamic that means most voters aren't walking away with a new concept of Republican positions on issues but rather that the field still seems very kind of diverse and divided. I don't know that last night's debate is going to change many voters' perceptions of the candidates that they already like and kind of dislike moving forward or that it really did much to change the Republican brand because the big headline is Republicans fought the moderators.

INSKEEP: Fought the moderators, attacked the media, attacked each other to some extent. If you look there, though, was there somebody who seemed potentially interesting to a wider audience, beyond the GOP debate?

ANDERSON: I think Marco Rubio had a phenomenal night. And I think some of his strongest moments weren't just when he had that great counterpunch as Jeb Bush attacked him on his voting record in the Senate, but he had wonderful moments where he talked about things like higher education and the need to reform and how we provide education to people beyond high school, the need to strengthen vocational training. I thought that was a very important message that's one that can reach younger voters and can reach that more diverse audience. He also focused on this question of H1B visas. There was an immigration back and forth with Donald Trump...

INSKEEP: Yeah.

ANDERSON: That I don't think looked very good for Donald Trump, that really demonstrated Rubio's ability to stand out on strong policy issues in addition to being very rhetorically talented.

INSKEEP: Now, with that said, you have written that the impression young voters have of the Republican party - and I'm going to quote here - is that the Party is "close-minded, racist, rigid, old-fashioned." Is there a risk in a primary campaign like this where Republicans are going for their base voters that they just dig in and reinforce them?

ANDERSON: The think that's why the Rubio candidacy has been so interesting and so potentially important for the GOP because he's sort of the candidate who I think is best positioned to bridge the gap between the Republican base, that's quite conservative on many issues and might have a harder time appealing broadly, and the, quote, unquote, "Republican establishment," which, as of late, has struggled to put forward a candidate that can excite the base while also appealing to the center. I think Rubio's the one candidate who can do both at the same time.

INSKEEP: Well, let me ask something that's kind of strange about the reality of television and televised debates. There was that arguably silly question at the beginning; what's your greatest weakness? And many of the candidates did not seriously answer it. Jeb Bush actually gave an answer that was arguably honest. He said, I'm impatient, which is a characteristic he may well have. And he admitted to it, which could be seen as an authentic moment. But nobody thinks, it seems, in the punditocracy, that Jeb Bush had a strong debate. That - is it possible that certain candidates just don't have what sells well on television right now?

ANDERSON: Well, there was a very revealing moment where, I think, after the debate, Jeb Bush said this - somebody - he was asked about his debate performance. And he said, it's not about a performance when you're president. I think for him, he understands that he'd be a very strong president of the United States, but does - clearly does not enjoy the process of running for that office. And in this instance, had - you know, it was clear he and his team had put together what they thought was an attack against his number one opponent in his lane of the Republican primary, the assumption that Rubio voters are most likely to be brought over. And he wasn't really prepared for Rubio's counterpunch.

INSKEEP: Kristin Soltis Anderson, author of "The Selfie Vote," thanks.

ANDERSON: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.