Republican 2016 debate: The winners and losers from Donald Trump to Carly Fiorina

Chris Cillizza in Washington DC judges how well the ten hopefuls performed

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The top 10 Republicans running for their party's presidential nomination have debated for the first time. It was amazing in every sense of the word and I loved every minute of it. I jotted down some notes during the two-hour event — I could have watched for at least another hour! — and picked some of the winners and losers from the night.  Enjoy!


Marco Rubio



Natural talent tends to shine through in big moments when the bright lights turn on. The Florida Senator, who had dipped in polls following a bump in the wake of his announcement, was terrific on Thursday night. He was poised, on message and seemingly entirely at ease — even when pressed on immigration, which could have been a problem for him. Rubio's response on his inexperience — “This election cannot be a resume competition” — was a good one.  Most importantly for Rubio, he looked the part of a president.  Hurdle cleared.

Megyn Kelly/Bret Baier/Chris Wallace



Moderating a 10-person debate that includes Donald Trump is no easy task. The Fox trio managed the back and forth very well and, more importantly, asked good, challenging questions without venturing into “gotcha” territory. With the exception of the weirdness that happened between 8:50 pm and the start of the debate (more on that below), they were outstanding.

John Kasich's first hour

John Kasick gets animated (AFP/Getty)


The Ohio governor came across as reasonable, conservative and just different enough in the first 60 (or so) minutes of the debate.  It helped him that the crowd in Cleveland was ready to jump out of their chairs at his every utterance but Kasich still did well — particularly in the agile way he avoided attacking or praising Trump. Kasich faded from sight a bit in the second half of the debate although his same-sex marriage answer was personal and effective.

Ben Carson's second hour



The acclaimed neurosurgeon was nowhere to be found through the first half of the debate. But in the second hour and, in particular, the final 15 minutes or, Carson was outstanding. His closing statement was among the best — if not the best of the group.  Carson's math is simple: The more he talks about being a brain surgeon, the better.

Donald Trump



As always, Trump is the hardest candidate to judge.  His unwillingness to commit to supporting the Republican nominee if he isn't it should hurt him among Republicans. His general cluelessness about foreign policy specifics won't help either. But, what  I've learned about Trump is that his brashness and boisterousness have an appeal with a not-small part of the GOP electorate. And, Trump did Trump — unapologetic and dismissive at every turn. “I think the big problem this country has is being politically correct,” Trump told Kelly at one point early in the debate.  People clapped — and the Trump message (such as it is) seemed vindicated. I've been wrong on Trump before. I think he may be beyond normal political predictions.

Carly Fiorina



Yes, she was in the “kids table” debate at 5 pm. But, the former HP executive stood out — big time. She was relaxed and well versed on domestic and foreign policy. She looked the part too.  My guess is that by the time the next debate comes around, she will be more central to the conversation.

The crowd: THANK YOU to Fox for not telling the audience to avoid applauding, booing or otherwise reacting. This isn't golf! It's politics! Let people cheer! And boo! Well done, Cleveland!

Primary debate season: Oh how I have missed you. Let's never break up again.



Rand Paul



The Kentucky Senator didn't get a whole lot of time to talk — the least of the 10 candidates — but he didn't do much when he did.  Paul's “different kind of a Republican” riff is a good one but he didn't hit it well until his closing statement. Too late. Paul did nothing to restore the momentum he has lost in the race to date.

Scott Walker


The Wisconsin governor wasn't bad. He was just overly scripted. He hit all the notes he wanted to — union fighter, elected three times in four years, proven conservative — but it felt like he was rushing to get his talking points out rather than focusing on the actual policies behind the words. Not terrible. Just not great.

8:50 pm to 9 pm on Fox: What the heck was that? Did Bill O'Reilly throw to the debate too soon? It sure felt like something odd had happened. First Megyn Kelly asked the candidates to come out. Then they didn't. Then they did. Then they just sort of stood there as the moderators made awkward small talk with them. Super weird. It felt like I was watching myself at a junior high school dance all over again.

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