Cruz had a terrific night. He was strong and in command in his exchanges with Trump, and drew blood on Trump’s Hillary donations, his participation in the political influence game and the New York Times transcript. He avoided getting dragged down into the mud with Trump in the same way Rubio did. In general, he was firing on all cylinders, and his answer on Detroit was particularly good.
Kasich, as always, avoided any tangles with Trump and narrow-cast his upbeat, pragmatic message with no interference from the other candidates. But he seemed to stand out more tonight and probably helped himself.
Rubio seemed tired. Like Jeb Bush before him, he couldn’t quite figure out how to wrestle Trump to the ground when the mogul went into full insult mode. He couldn’t truly return fire because he has backed off his gloves-off approach from last week, which left him just complaining about Trump’s derision instead of giving as good as he got. On the other hand, Rubio scored on the Trump University scam, and a well-prepared Megyn Kelly kept Trump from wiggling away with his usual evasions. His jokes about “yoga” and “flexibility” will be re-played a lot. But he’s going to have explaining to do on why he is willing to support Trump, a “con artist,” for president if it comes to that and overall, it wasn’t a great night for him. The worst-case scenario is that he underperforms in the next handful of contests and enters the very tough fight for Florida with very little momentum.
Trump was completely appalling–rude, crude, dishonest, ill-informed, non-sensical, evasive, out of control, and even disturbing. I’m thinking in particular of his repeated assurances that he will bring the military to heel and make it obey unlawful orders. This was Trump at his worst, although past debates have established that outrageousness doesn’t hurt him because for his supporters it’s part of his appeal.