1. I think each of the ten candidates did decently well in his own way and many did quite well. It’s a flawed field, but viewed collectively, a good one.
2. In my opinion, Marco Rubio and Ted Cruz — neither of whom I favor at this time — did the best. In that order: (1) Rubio and (2) Cruz. Both, for example, knocked it out of the park in response to Megyn Kelly’s quirky question about whether God has spoken to them. But every one of their answers was on point and eloquent in my view.
3. Jeb Bush — whom I also don’t favor — rallied tonight. You could argue that he was third best, though there was plenty of competition. His opening answer on running as “Jeb” was excellent. His defense of his position on immigration was eloquent, though I disagree with it.
4. Chris Christie — whom I also don’t favor — was very good again. However, Rand Paul’s crack about the Christie-Obama hug may have undid any headway the New Jersey governor otherwise would have made.
5. Against the odds, the best fireworks of the night did not involve Donald Trump. Rather, they were supplied by the aforementioned exchange between Christie and Paul about terrorism and privacy. Christie had Paul on the ropes until the Kentucky Senator threw his “hug” haymaker.
Cheap shot? I don’t think so. Christie didn’t have to embrace Obama in the climatic moment of the 2012 presidential campaign.
Christie and Paul may have knocked each other out tonight. That would be okay with me.
6. Paul apparently agreed with me that attacking Donald Trump was the way to go. Whether this approach worked out well is a separate question. It may have to this extent: Paul got himself noticed again. People may stop asking whatever happened to him. That’s a start.
7. Trump was Trump — bombastic and dishonest, but also forceful and direct. I doubt that he did anything that will cause many of the 20 to 25 percent that support him to reconsider just now. But I suspect that the significant share of the 75 to 80 that don’t support Trump feels more strongly than before that he shouldn’t be the Republican nominee.
8. Scott Walker — to whom I’m favorably disposed at this point — did pretty well. He certainly didn’t seem out of his depth or overwhelmed by the occasion. All of his answers were adequate and some — like his defense of his Wisconsin record and his response on “black lives matter” — were good. But if I’m ranking the candidate’s performance tonight, he’s in the bottom half.
9 Mike Huckabee had a good night. He had the evening’s best line, I thought, when he said of Obama’s nuclear deal and his attacks on its opponents, that Ronald Reagan believed in “trusts but verify” while Obama believes in “trust and vilify.”
Huckabee is not at all my cup of tea. But he’s very good in these sorts of settings. You could argue that he was third best tonight.
10. The other two participants, John Kasich and Ben Carson, did okay, I thought, in answering questions and both had effective closing statements, though Kasich’s was a bit too emotional for my tastes. I can’t see either being nominated, but Kasich probably did his vice presidential aspirations, if he has any, no harm.