Ted Cruz had a terrific night. He had a stand-out answer on immigration and wages and made his own fortune by getting into an argument with John Kasich on bank bailouts, enunciating the anti-bailout position forcefully and repeatedly (although I don’t really believe he wouldn’t bail out a major financial institution in the midst of a financial panic if he were president). He was pointed, eloquent, and, of course, very conservative.
Marco Rubio was very good, as well. But I thought Rubio was slightly better than Cruz last time, and that Cruz was slightly better this time. Rubio just felt a little off. Journalists were complaining on Twitter about how canned Rubio is, and truth be told, he is during these events (as are Cruz and Carly Fiorina). The trick is hiding it, and tonight Rubio seemed to be more obviously downloading speech fragments than in other debates. That said, he won the exchange with Rand Paul on foreign policy, ably defended his child tax credit, and didn’t have an affirmatively bad moment.
Both Cruz and Rubio are highly capable of defending themselves. You really never have to worry about them in an exchange, and that quality will stand them in good stead going forward.
Ben Carson was pleasant. He predictably hit the question about his bio out of the park and brought up political correctness at the end. He once again wasn’t commanding on the substance, but it hasn’t mattered to this point.
Donald Trump was largely subdued, although he perked up to slap down Kasich and broadcast how he has let Fiorina get under his skin with his complaint about her interrupting that got boos. He obviously knows nothing about the TPP that he so passionately opposes, and Rand Paul showed him up on that. He’s also at sea on foreign policy. Overall, a more respectable but still poor showing.
Jeb Bush was definitely better, but just OK. He seemed to lose momentum as the night went on. But it should be enough to stem a potential donor panic.
Carly Fiorina had several nice riffs, and a cutting line at Trump’s expense (she met Vladimir Putin, and not in a green room).
Rand Paul allowed himself to be Rand Paul. It was his best debate, even if it’s hard to see it helping him much.
John Kasich, irritable and out of step with the party, may end up buying himself a ticket to the undercard.
Speaking of that, Chris Christie was the best performer in the early debate, even if he didn’t attempt to defend his New Jersey record against Bobby Jindal’s repeated jibes. Christie effectively brushed Jindal off, but the Louisiana governor certainly got across the message that he wanted to — that he disdains big-government Republicans.