From the very beginning you could tell that Trump on a debate stage was going to play much differently than Trump has the last several weeks. It’s one thing to flirt with a third-party run in statements to the press and another to say you’re considering it while participating in a Republican presidential debate. Same with bragging about buying off politicians, and taking advantage of bankruptcy procedures.
He, of course, couldn’t answer about his evidence that the Mexican government is pushing people over the border. And his slap at Megyn Kelly was a classic case of not knowing your audience. The last month has been Trump making the rest of the field look small; tonight was the opposite.
Almost everyone else had a good night to some extent or other. Rubio showed why so many consider him the best raw talent in the field, hitting all his themes (the candidate of tomorrow and of the American dream) and doing it compellingly.
Huckabee is almost incapable of having a bad debate. If crafting zippy debate answers is all it took to become president we could plan the inauguration now.
The same is true of Cruz. He lacks the folksy charm, but it’s impossible to give him the mic without him using it to maximum effect.
Jeb made no mistakes. He wasn’t as commanding as Romney seemed in many of the debates, which might be, in part, a function of this impressive field.
I posted in the afternoon how Walker just needed to turn in a credible performance and he’d have a good night. He did that, although at times he seemed to take the approach of simply keeping his head down and getting through it a little too far.
Kasich was much more of a presence than I would have thought and of course benefited from a very friendly crowd. I’m not sure how his political tack will play with most primary voters, but if he’s strong, it creates a big problem for Jeb in New Hampshire.
Chris Christie was forceful but I’m afraid to say he lost the NSA exchange with Rand Paul. As for Paul, he was prickly and sour and his attempted aggression against Trump didn’t work very well.
Finally, Ben Carson was winsome, especially at the end and that’s likely to be the impression people are left with.
The biggest winner? The Fox moderators who were prepared, tough, and fair.
(This post has been updated.)