All That and a Bag of Mail

May 2, 2015; Las Vegas, NV, USA; Donald Trump (left) reacts alongside wife Melania Trump in attendance before the welterweight boxing fight between Floyd Mayweather and Manny Pacquiao at the MGM Grand Garden Arena. Mandatory Credit: Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

Mark J. Rebilas

Last night’s Republican primary debate may well end up being the highest rated program this summer, even topping the U.S Women’s soccer team rating in the finals that aired on big Fox. It was riveting, must see television.

Our beaver pelt traders of the week award goes out to the Fox News questioners and their staffs for preparing them so well. I’ve never seen any group of candidates ever get grilled like that before in any debate. For all the criticism of Fox News’s slant — full disclosure, I watch no television news on a regular basis, not CNN, not MSNBC and not Fox, if I’m watching television it’s pre-recorded DVR shows or live sports — show me any network that has ever been tougher on candidates than Fox was last night.

With that in mind, happy Friday, here we go with the mailbag.

“The most common questions I got on email and Twitter were these two: who won the debate and what about Trump’s performance?”

Here’s my power rankings on debate performances along with comments on each candidate:

1. Fox News 

Over twenty million people watched and Fox’s moderators delivered the most severe grilling and intelligent series of questions that I’ve ever seen in a presidential debate, primary or general. I don’t know how the Fox News brand could have come off looking better. There had to be millions of people, like me, who aren’t regular Fox News viewers and left very impressed. Hell, I had to look up the Fox News channel listing before this debate started. 

Can you imagine MSNBC grilling Hillary Clinton like this?  

Megyn Kelly looked like the best Republican candidate for President

2. John Kasich

He’s going to end up the vice presidential candidate because if the Republicans win Ohio they win the election, but Kasich was thoughtful, measured, and humorous. He didn’t play to the far right wing of his party. I thought he handled tough questions with aplomb and seemed eminently likable and reasonable, two traits that were in short supply last night. 

3. Marco Rubio

The best possible ticket the Republicans could nominate — in my always humble opinion — is Rubio and John Kasich. Rubio just looks presidential. He’s got a compelling life story, he’s moderate on immigration — which plays well in the general election — and would give Republicans a chance to lock in a ton more Latino voters.

I thought Rubio was outstanding last night. 

4. Donald Trump

Many people are surprised by Trump’s appeal, but here’s what hard core political junkies don’t get — most people don’t have coherent political philosophies. They aren’t dogmatic. They can go from voting for Jesse Helms to John Edwards. People vote based on feel more than policies– does this seem like someone speaking to the way I feel?

This is Donald Trump’s time, in an era when most politicians worry about every word they say, Trump doesn’t give a damn. Most politicians are terrified you won’t like them anymore, Trump doesn’t care whether you like him. That makes him a unique candidate. Plus, Trump’s inoculated himself from criticism. What can you say about Trump that hasn’t already been said before? Put it another way, can anyone else do this?

I don’t think he could win a general election, but despite his at times caustic and abrasive language, he’s by far the most moderate Republican candidate. That’s because he’s really not a Republican at all. 

5. Jeb Bush

Bush seemed content to mostly stay beneath the fray. His strategy is to clearly outlast the crazy and emerge as the most electable candidate by the time voting nears. He’s got the money and the support and seems to believe he just needs to avoid doing or saying something incredibly stupid. 

He’s probably right. 

Having said that, he was more halting and awkward in his speech patterns than I anticipated. I didn’t come away impressed.  

6. Chris Christie

I thought Christie won the most testy exchange of the night with Rand Paul. The two had an interesting debate on the implications of gathering national security data to combat terrorism. Christie spoke from the perspective of a lawyer who fought terrorism in the wake of 9/11 and Paul spoke from the perspective of a Constitutional theorist. When Christie got the better of him based on his life experience, Paul went for an insult by ripping Christie for hugging Barack Obama. 

As a middle of the road guy, that’s an incredibly weak attack. Christie’s state was slammed by a natural disaster and Obama was quick to arrive on the scene and do everything the federal government could to make things better for Christie’s constituents. In that scenario don’t you want your governor working hand-in-hand to try and get things remedied with the president, regardless of political party? I do. In fact, criticizing someone for working across party lines in a time of tragedy is everything that’s wrong with our polarized politics.  

So when Paul hit him with that criticism and Christie immediately responded with hugging 9/11 victims, I thought it was a knockout response. And that’s coming from someone who ordinarily hates using 9/11 to score political points. Which was, to be honest, the number one play in the Republican playbook for nearly a decade. Paul’s attack line was planned, Christie’s response may well have been rehearsed, but it didn’t sound like it.

Now if Christie had only gotten to jump into the Atlantic City discussion and talk about his quest to legalize sports gambling.  

7. Ben Carson

Carson got better as the night went on, but early in the debate his speech patterns were halting and not fluid. When Fox News went with the most predictable question of the night — asking the black guy about black issues — Carson nailed his response by talking about the brains inside us all being more important than what we looked like outside. He was probably the best of all the candidates for the final thirty minutes of the debate.  

But does every single story you tell have to bring up the fact that you were a neurosurgeon? This doesn’t make me want to have you as President, it makes me want to have you as a neurosurgeon. 

8. Scott Walker

“I’m a guy with two kids, a wife and a Harley.” Great, Scott Walker is running for President to combat a mid-life crisis.

Also, we can’t elect a President with hair like his. He has the most awkward bald spot known to man. You’re in Cleveland, get LeBron’s hair guy on the phone, drop out of sight for two months and come back when you have hair again.  

9. Ted Cruz

Ted Cruz just seems like a total asshole to me. What’s more, he seems like a dangerous total asshole. I think it would be crazy if Donald Trump was President, but I don’t think he’d be insane. Ted Cruz is the most scary candidate in the Republican field because I think he’s motivated by true belief that all of his positions are correct and that if you disagree with him that makes you an enemy of the state.

True believers scare me. Cruz and his supporters are right win true believers. These people are every bit as scary as the left wing outrage brigades. There is a 0% chance I would ever vote for Ted Cruz to be president.  

10. Mike Huckabee

When you suggest that the Supreme Court should be overthrown, it’s hard for me to take you seriously as a candidate from that point forward. How did we get here? Remember when Mike Huckabee was the guy running for President who seemed a lot like your Southern baptist youth minister that everyone loved? (I liked mine growing up, but he was actually gay and died of AIDS. Really. I probably would have liked him even more if he’d just been comfortable being himself).

When did Huckabee become so damn dark?

This is where I feel like someone needs to talk sense into some of these guys. “Look, you’re never going to be President so you don’t have to become crazy. Just be you, you’ve got a good life without the Presidency.” 

11. Rand Paul  

Just end your campaign, dude. I know you’re smart and I know you want to talk about drones and I appreciate that many of your policy ideas are well analyzed and important. But you got Nedd Starked last night. 

When Trump said, “I don’t think you heard me, you’re having a hard time tonight,” it was the equivalent of pushing a guy trying desperately to keep his balance on a ledge off a ten story building.  

Deron A. writes:

“After being entertained by Trump and Company for the last two hours, I got to thinking about how I couldn’t stop comparing Trump to the Ol’ Ball Coach. Every time Trump needed a witty comeback, BAM! He treated Rand Paul like Spurrier treats Dabo or Richt. So that got me thinking, which SEC Coach, current or former, most closely resembles in their daily life each GOP candidate?”

I’ve got eight comparisons for you. 

Trump is clearly Spurrier, I mean it’s just a dead ringer. Nick Saban’s Jeb Bush. Gus Malzahn is Marco Rubio. Mark Richt is John Kasich, which means Kasich’s campaign will catch fire and then he’ll inevitably Georgia it. Bret Bielema is Chris Christie. Derek Mason last season was Rand Paul last night. Hugh Freeze is Huckabee. Dan Mullen is Scott Walker with hair.

Scott J. writes:

“Really enjoyed using your drinking game for the Republican debate last night (only way to make Trump tolerable). I know someone had suggested Finebaum and Verne as moderators to you last night and I think you would be a good choice as well. 

With the three of you moderating, if you had to pick 10 college football coaches to have a debate (political or football based), which 10 would you choose? This would be fascinating, must-watch TV. Could you imagine the ratings this would bring in June or July, when America is so deprived of quality sports entertainment?

BTW, glad to see my Fighting Irish brethren make your Top 10 Dumbest Fan Bases again! I was worried we would be left off this year.”

Credit to Chuck Dunlap in the SEC for coming up with this idea and Tweeting it to me last night. 

I’m going on Finebaum today at 3:30 eastern to discuss this idea. It would be incredible television for sure. Especially if the three top recruits in the country, or something like that, all agreed to go to whichever coach won the debate. 

If I had to pick the ten most entertaining — or combustible — coaches for a debate, I’d go with these ten in no particular order:

1. Les Miles

2. Urban Meyer

3. Bret Bielema

4. Jim Harbaugh

5. James Franklin

6. Steve Spurrier

7. Kevin Sumlin

8. Jimbo Fisher

9. Art Briles

10. Mike Leach 

First question to Jimbo Fisher from moderator Clay Travis, “Jimbo, you claim to run a program founded on honor and integrity. When you say that do you know how full of shit everyone else believes that you are?”

By the way, do you know what the most read article on all of FoxSports.com was yesterday? My Republican primary debate drinking game.  

Bryan M. writes:

“How would Abe Lincoln be perceived as a candidate in a televised debate where succinct answers/soundbites are prized, and mannerisms critiqued?” 

Well, his policy of wanting to send all former slaves back to Africa would make him a tough sell in a Presidential election today, but if we pretend that Lincoln, like all people, would be a product of his time and era and not be the exact same person in 2015 that he was in 1861 — a leap that the politically correct crowd is unable to make — I think he’d do really well in modern campaigns.  

Remember, in addition to being a brilliant intellectual Lincoln was also an incredible trial lawyer. That means he could appeal to the average person on a jury in backwoods Illinois as well as he could appeal to the intellectual elite of his era. That’s a rare combination of traits. 

At his essence, Lincoln was an incredible storyteller. Every electoral campaign is really just a story contest. Whoever tells the best, most believable story, typically wins an election. That was true in the 18th century and I think it’s even more true today.

Lincoln was a master of using Aesop’s fables and the Bible’s stories to convey complex ideas. He could turn a sound bite with the best of them. “A house divided against itself cannot stand,” would play just as well today as back in the Civil War era.

Good news, you can now search our mailbags by typing clicking on the Anonymous Mailbag link or the All That and a Bag of Mail link. 

Written by Clay Travis

OutKick founder, host and author. He's presently banned from appearing on both CNN and ESPN because he’s too honest for both.