Politics & Policy

Fiorina and Rubio Are the Biggest Winners — Kasich and Cruz Lose Ground

Rubio at the second GOP debate. (Justin Sullivan/Getty)

In this confusing and fascinating election cycle, I find it most useful to think about this as two races — or possibly three — not just one.

The first is the race for who will be the Great Outsider candidate, leading the rebellion against Washington, D.C. Governors have traditionally vied for this role, but in this election cycle, voters seeking an outsider candidate are decisively rejecting the Scott Walkers and Chris Christies of the world in favor of the authentic article. Nothing that happened in the debate last night appears likely to change that dynamic.

In the race between Trump, Carson, and Fiorina to be the definitive outsider candidate, Fiorina clearly gained ground. And Trump lost ground. For the first time, he backed down, when, with dignity and strength, Fiorina chided him for insulting her and millions of American women for her looks. He tried to come back with a smarmy compliment on what a beautiful woman she was. The Look — see the video to see the steely gaze she levels at Trump — told him that when we are running for president, or performing surgery, or delivering packages, or caring for sick patients, we want to be respected for our contributions to society, not flattered. Being sexually attractive to Donald Trump is not as important to many of us as Trump seems to think.

RELATED: The Second GOP Debate: Spin vs. Reality

Trump also backed down when Dr. Ben Carson, asked if Trump was right to warn against vaccinations, paused, smiled gently, and thrust a dagger in Trump’s back: “He’s an okay doctor.”

Junior high school was not a pleasant time for me, as it probably was not for many Americans. Do we really want to relive it each day that Trump occupies the White House?

If you doubt that Fiorina and Carson both beat Trump in the Outsiders debate, consider this: Fiorina and Carson tied as winners of the Twitter Debate, each adding 22,000 new followers during the debate. This was an early harbinger of Carson’s surge after the first debate. Relatively speaking, that is a greater gain for Fiorina. It will be interesting to see if her new followers come at the expense of Trump, Carson, or some other candidate.

When Rand Paul criticized the sophomoric insults Trump has thrown at Carly Fiorina and others, the Donald’s response was grotesquely unpresidential: “I never attacked him on his looks, and believe me there’s plenty of subject matter right there.”

Junior high school was not a pleasant time for me, as it probably was not for many Americans. Do we really want to relive it each day that Trump occupies the White House?

RELATED: Does Carly’s Rise Mean Trump’s Fall?

The second race is the contest for who will become the conventional political alternative to a complete outsider. You could call it the “establishment candidate,” but it’s not precisely that. Here, Marco Rubio clearly increased his standing, with a strong debate performance, over lackluster performances by Bush, Walker, Kasich, and Cruz.

Consider how Rubio jumped in to explain why he sometimes gives interviews in Spanish:

I want to tell you a story about someone that didn’t speak English that well. It was my grandfather; he came to this country in the 1960s, as a — escaping Cuba. And he lived with us, growing up.

And my grandfather loved America. He understood what was so special about this country. He loved Ronald Reagan; he would be very proud of the fact that we’re here this evening.

My grandfather instilled in me the belief that I was blessed to live in the one society in all of human history where even I, the son of a bartender and a maid, could aspire to have anything, and be anything that I was willing to work hard to achieve.

But he taught me that in Spanish, because it was the language he was most comfortable in. And he became a conservative, even though he got his news in Spanish.

And so, I do give interviews in Spanish, and here’s why — because I believe that free enterprise and limited government is the best way to help people who are trying to achieve upward mobility.

And if they get their news in Spanish, I want them to hear that directly from me. Not from a translator at Univision.

Christie also had a good night, but it wasn’t as good as Rubio’s.

#share#Kasich did not do what he needed to do to gain ground as the electable establishment candidate. He grabbed the microphone only to blabber an unmemorable rehearsed line about how we need to defend Western civilization. He fell totally flat, and not just with me. A small focus group of Northeast Ohio voters said the same thing: Cleveland.com reported: “Jeremy Noll, a student at Kent State University, said of Kasich: ‘Compared to the first debate, I think he is underwhelming.’”

If you doubt that Rubio won, turn to the social-media-analytics company Netbase, which found that Rubio gained the most in terms of positive impressions on social media during the debate, up 28 points, with Fiorina second, up 17 points.

RELATED: Carly’ Night

Cruz was the biggest loser, with a drop of 25 points in positive impressions before and after the debate.

There is a third race, harder to describe, because it is partly embedded in the other two races for the GOP nomination: the contest to be the leader of the Evangelical Right, the chief social-conservative champion. Huckabee is most clearly fighting for that position, and he shone, asking a luminous question that hung in the air long after he left the stage: If we can accommodate the the Fort Hood shooter, in his religious beliefs, why not Kim Davis?

#related#But, to date, social-conservative conventional leaders such as Tony Perkins seems to be favoring Cruz and his capacity to raise money, rather than Huckabee. And many Evangelicals are also flocking towards the Christian heart of Dr. Ben Carson.

Social conservatives are not yet a real political movement, organized around political objectives, with powerful and well-financed political institutions, so the leaders seek a place at the table, the most “electable” guy who checks the right position boxes. And their followers gravitate to those who speak Evangelical — and hope for the best.

Last night was Carly’s big moment. And Rubio, I am guessing, will get a closer look, too.

— Maggie Gallagher is a senior fellow at the American Principles Project. She blogs at MaggieGallagher.com.

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