Here’s how the main-debate-stage players performed:
Biggest winners: Ben Carson effectively dodged a question about his credibility, handled issues better, and had the best close. He will keep his fans. Ted Cruz was very effective, tangled with and then won an exchange with John Kasich on bank subsidies, and had a good close hearkening back to Reagan. Carly Fiorina came alive twice in a big way: She had a great answer on crony capitalism and also sounded like a potential commander-in-chief. Rand Paul was more cogent and less peevish than he was in the other debates. Nailed down voters who question U.S. intervention overseas. Great zinger that exposed that Trump didn’t know what is in the TPP trade deal.
Running in place: Jeb Bush improved from the previous debate and used less jargon in his answers, save for an unfortunate answer on banking. Marco Rubio was fluent and focused as always, but stood out less clearly as a debate champ.
Losers: John Kasich managed to score the lowest ratings of anyone ever focus-grouped by Frank Luntz. Donald Trump played nice tonight but undercut himself with a weird answer about Vladimir Putin. Also hurt himself with women voters by pointing out (interrupting) that Carly Fiorina was interrupting others. Trump claimed in after-debate commentary that he was becoming “diplomatic.” He actually is in danger of becoming boring.