The debate was defined by several substantial and intense exchanges between Marco Rubio and Ted Cruz. I’d score it for Rubio on points, but it was close and both senators are obviously exceptionally skilled. I think Rubio had the better of the argument on the NSA on the merits and on the question of whether or not ISIS can be defeated from the air (it can’t). Cruz also seemed a touch brittle and basically accused Rubio of being a liar a couple of times. But people like Cruz’s line about carpet-bombing ISIS and he hammered away at Rubio’s vulnerability on immigration. The Florida senator needed to try to muddy that issue up and had some success by getting Cruz to say that he doesn’t “intend” to support an amnesty. Cruz will presumably have to clean that up.
Overall, Rubio once again demonstrated his command of the facts and fluidity as a communicator, but he took the most incoming of anyone and had to spend a lot of time explaining.
It was Donald Trump’s best debate. He obviously knows nothing about the Internet and actually seemed to let Bush get under his skin. Otherwise, he was unscathed and was a non-factor for much of the night, but he’s not depending on debates to drive his support. And in the end, Trump said he’s committed to the Republican party. Question: Which will last longer, that commitment or his renewed love-fest with Ted Cruz?
Chris Christie also had a good night. He made significant in-roads in the “toughness” primary, and I would expect him to continue to trend upwards.
Jeb Bush is getting better, but he’s stuck in this endless slog of a fight with Donald Trump that is completely unedifying and does Jeb no favors (even if, for once, he made some headway). At this point, Jeb just needs to stay in the game and hope that something comes up in New Hampshire.
Ben Carson still felt out of his depth, and John Kasich was still annoying.