M.K. Hammer and Captain Ed have comprehensive wrap-ups of last night's tete-a-tete, saving me the trouble of attempting to watch and dozing off halfway through the three interminable hours. Besides, I don't need to watch debates to determine who I'm supporting, as I made that call two years ago.
We'll look at it through the "winners and losers" prism.
Carly Fiorina: Since she entered the race, the former Hewlett-Packard CEO has cast herself as the "anti-Hillary" and done so very effectively. Last night, at the "adult table" (an inaccurate metaphor, since Trump was present) she cast herself as the "anti-Trump," both in terms of having all the comprehensive policy knowledge and depth, authoritative communications skills, and leadership qualities The Donald conspicuously lacks, and in thwacking him right between the eyes when it counted:
The steely resolve was key. It sent the audience into a frenzy, Twitter as well, knocked Trump back on his heels, and prompted him to effectively double-down on his original sexist insult with a sexist compliment that almost came across like he was hinting that she should drop by his penthouse later for some intimate "in-depth policy discussions," ifyouknowwhatImean.
That, ladies and gentlemen, was the difference between a performer and a leader. And what a "YUUUGE!" difference it is. Though part of my fertile brain still believes Miss Fiorina is running for veep more than the top spot.
Marco Rubio: The Florida senator was his usual young, charismatic, telegenic, knowledgeable, and articulate self. He'd have been in the "push" category except that Miss Fiorina opened to door wide enough in her blowing back of Trump to let rightwing Dezi sneak through the opening.
But, like with Carly, Rubes just seems more like a running mate to me.
Jeb Bush: He fell for Trump's "low energy" bitch-slap by trying to make himself "high-energy" and more aggressive and pugilistic and only succeeded in making a fool of himself, because that's not who Jeb Bush is. Case in point:
I learned a long time ago that demanding apologies from an opponent is a counterproductive waste of time, because the best you're going to wind up with is an insincere "I'm sorry," probably couched in the usual non-apology "I misspoke/I'm sorry if you were too stupid to understand what I was saying" gobbledygook. At worst you'll wind up like Bush III did last night: Looking flummoxed and weak, your bluff having been called, as Trump called Jeb's by declining to give him what he was demanding. Indeed, if there were two more diametically opposite ways of handling Trump than Fiorina's and Jeb's in terms of success rate, I can't imagine what they'd have been.
Scott Walker: Not because he hurt himself, but because he needed to hit three or four grand slams tonight, and was never going to get that chance.
Much as I hate to admit it, Walk has become the Tim Pawlenty of 2016, the successful two-term governor of an upper Midwestern State who would make a great president but somehow manages to get lost in the shuffle of the thundering herd. Which probably isn't fair, as Pawlenty didn't enter the 2012 race on the top tier and then got taken out by Michelle Bachmann, no less, while Governor Walker has had the misfortune of having to confront the meteoric, inexplicable rise of Trumpmania and all its "outersiderism" tributaries. He's the right guy come along at the wrong - indeed, worst possible - time. You can be a better swimmer than Michael Phelps, but if a hundred-foot tsunami is coming at you, you're still going to drown.
Walk put in a much improved debate performance last night over six weeks ago, so it's not like he hurt himself or gagged up a gaffe or anything. He simply, given how much he's fallen in the polls, had a mountain to haul toward himself by main force, and that was too "YUUUUGE!" a task for any pol. In football terms, Scott Walker does not "control his own destiny" and is going to need some help from other teams to "make the playoffs".
Ben Carson: The only difference between Gentle Ben and Trump is temperment. Both are ill-informed and substantively shallow and wear their utter lack of qualification for the office they're seeking on their sleeves. Trump is a constant, roaring jerk about it, while Carson is his calm, cerebral, soft-spoken self. Obviously the former is better for seizing attention in a crowd, so Dr. Carson is never going to excel in a crowded debate stage setting. But he hasn't risen to parity with The Donald based on bombast and bluster, so I can't see him losing much ground after last night.
Donald Trump: He's the frontrunner, so he didn't have to win - in boxing/wrestling terms, "The champion doesn't have to be you, you have to beat the champion". I was a little surprised to see him playing more "not to lose" than to win, since that doesn't fit in with the Trump persona. And Fiorina did bop him good. But nothing this man says or does, things that would combust any other candidacy, ever seems to hurt him. He can do no wrong in the eyes of his mesmerized followers. He's bullet-proof. So "push" was most definitely his floor.
Chris Christie was The Big Man. Kind of like his WWE namesake, a guy who makes his presence felt, throws his weight around, but is never going to be a main-eventer.
Ted Cruz is running to be Trump's veep, even though Trump doesn't strike anybody as a guy who needs a hatchetman when that's his gimmick. If Trump fades, I'd wager Cruz will bolt the GOP with him.
Mike Huckabee has always been a single-issue socon, and that didn't change last night. He also didn't get much mic time to remind us off it.
Rand Paul still looks like the team waterboy or the equipment manager than an actual participant. If he were with the New England Patriots, he'd have been the guy deflating Tom Brady's footballs.
I don't know what the hell John Kasich was doing on that stage last night, but here's a highly entertaining example of why he shouldn't have been:
The Ohio governor might as well have had "ESTABLISHMENT" tattooed across his forehead.
THE KIDDIE TABLE DEBATE: Who cares?
Below is the entire debate, and a "trash talk" highlight summary. Won't make anybody forget Richard Sherman, but it's worth a look.