On balance, I thought that Marco Rubio and Jeb Bush had the best nights. In fact, I’d go as far as to say that this was Jeb’s best debate thus far. (It won’t help; he’s still doomed.)
Ted Cruz was good and will continue to rise, but he didn’t quite reach his debate-champion standards, and I suspect that he knows that. Next time around, I expect him to be untouchable.
Christie was better than he has been, but it won’t be enough to push him up into the top tier.
Trump was incoherent and bombastic, as usual. But he won’t be hurt by it.
As for the rest: Rand Paul is playing a valuable didactic role, but little more; Fiorina and Carson are fading fast; and Kasich is a joke.
- Rubio was finally hit on immigration and he came out well. Moreover, on both foreign policy and the NSA, I thought that he got the better of Cruz rhetorically. (Disclosure: I am more in line with Cruz substantively on that question).
- This was the night that everybody went hard after Marco Rubio. To my eyes, he came out pretty well.
- Rand Paul plays a vital intellectual role in these debates, but doesn’t seem able to avoid the cheap shots. The worst moment of his night was his reference to “Bridgegate.”
- Want to know how ideologically messy the Republican party is at present? Note that Rand Paul, the “libertarian,” hit Marco Rubio, the “conservative,” for being in favor of “open borders.”
- Christie’s reference to his role as a federal prosecutor became tiresome by the end. But I understand why he does it.
- Trump’s illiberalism is quite extraordinary. Not only did he ignorantly threaten to shut down parts of the Internet, but he preemptively mocked those who might think that this would present a free speech issue. Rand Paul was right to call him on it.
- Cruz’s Serious Leader Mode doesn’t become him, and he made the right choice in abandoning it after his disastrous opening statement. He is perhaps the most able to adapt of everyone running.
My predictions remain much as before: Cruz is rising and will be a force to be reckoned with; Carson is done; Trump will stay superficially strong but won’t be the nominee; Rubio remains the favorite; Jeb is going to suffer from a catastrophic lack of demand; and Rand Paul’s role will be to push the party in his direction from the sidelines. The others are destined to be also-rans and should get out sooner rather than later. There’s always 2020.