CLEVELAND – You don’t win a debate like that one as much as you survive it.
And for the top of the leaderboard, at least, no harm was done and quite possibly some good.
Donald Trump proved to be every bit himself, which was the right thing for him to do. He managed, though at times with some difficulty, to keep himself within the confines of the format. And he certainly lived up to his boast that he was not boning up on policy points before the debate. With the air of George Patton at a roller rink, Trump rolled through.
Jeb Bush didn’t exactly light the Cuyahoga River on fire, but he was a solid citizen and did little to damage his status as the best receptacle for the hopes of the GOP establishment. Bush’s leaky answer on Iraq, however, cast some doubts that he has found a way to succinctly answer a question that will be with him always.
Scott Walker certainly looked like someone who could be president, which was his job for the night. Walker was steady and even found a few moments to show flair. He likely moved ahead in his bid simply by passing his first presidential plausibility test. And finding ways to bring Hillary Clinton into the fray was smart, indeed.
Ted Cruz tried to bring some Tumptastic flair, but he looked like a BLT next to Trump’s triple-decker bacon cheeseburger of outrage. Cruz didn’t find his first moment of deep connection until he spoke of his father’s redeeming salvation. But overall, he turned in a solid performance that will do his bid no harm.
The best individual performance was that of Marco Rubio, whose high-energy delivery, one-liners and policy riffs will undoubtedly win back some of the supporters who have drifted from his column of late.
Rubio, like Walker, passed a key plausibility threshold.
Who would have thought that Donald Trump would not have been the angriest person on the stage? Rand Paul’s sourpuss routine was not exactly expected. It may have gotten him a bit more airtime, but it likely wasn’t worth the price he paid.
Paul and Chris Christie’s eruptions over domestic surveillance were epic. It certainly gave Christie the chance to show the blast-furnace temperament that he considers to be an asset. (It’s not.) But for New Hampshire national security voters torn between Christie and Lindsey Graham, it may be a help.
Ben Carson was perfectly endearing. He started unsteadily, but found his feet in the second half. Every dopey pundit who says it’s all about rage in the Republican Party ought to try explaining Carson’s enduring popularity.
Who would have thought that the Baptist preacher on the stage would be the one to bring pimps into the scene? Mike Huckabee was charming and showed passion. But unless and until he can find a fight to call his own, Huckabee will likely languish. On debate night, though, he did well for himself.
John Kasich had a built-in advantage with a debate on his home turf and he made the most of it. Kasich was wonky and tough by turns, but seemed to be playing it safe on a high-risk night.
But if you had to pick one winner overall from Thursday’s debateapalooza, it’s easy: Carly Fiorina. She stood out on the earlier stage and didn’t have to get caught in any stampedes. It would be no surprise to see here in the main event in the next debate six weeks from now.
JUST CAN’T GET ENOUGH?
#mediabuzz has all the post-game action is on the show this Sunday, and Howard Kurtz gets the scoop from the hosts themselves. Megyn Kelly, Bret Baier, Chris Wallace, Martha MacCallum and Bill Hemmer tell all. Well, maybe not all… but a lot of the good stuff. Watch #mediabuzz Sunday at 11 a.m. and 5 p.m.
Chris Stirewalt joined Fox News Channel (FNC) in July of 2010 and serves as digital politics editor based in Washington, D.C. Additionally, he authors the daily “Fox News First” political news note and hosts “Power Play,” a feature video series, on FoxNews.com. Stirewalt makes frequent appearances on the network, including “The Kelly File,” “Special Report with Bret Baier,” and “Fox News Sunday with Chris Wallace.” He also provides expert political analysis for Fox News coverage of state, congressional and presidential elections.