Who knows? By any conventional measure, the day-glo obvious answer would be "hell, yeah," but we're in the Republicide cycle, don't forget, so what should be a disaster usually proves to be a boon, at least for Trump.
For starters, the audience was more like the crowd at a WW[E] event than a political debate. Loud, raucous, booing loudly, catcalls, holding up profane signs (okay, I made that one up, but it would have fit like a glove). It was either pro wrestling-esque or an average episode of the Jerry Springer Show (Is that still on the air anymore? In this gutter popular culture, doesn't it have to be?).
Which made it all the more dichotomous that the crowd seemed to be pro-Rubio and, even moreso, pro-Bush. Which, if the polls can be believed, is the diametric opposite of the Palmetto State GOP voting public at large. Though House Bush has always done well in South Carolina, so there may well be non-ideological reasons for the rooting leanings of the debate audience that are not part of that apparent contradiction.
At any rate, this was an "away game" for Trump, and he, predictably thin-skinned as he is, did not respond well to it, yelling back at the audience when they deafeningly booed him. It's a wonder he didn't give them the finger and start dropping F-bombs right there on the stage as well. And he gave them plenty of reasons to do so to him,
Using the foundation of denouncing the crowd as "pro-Bush/'pro-'donor'," Trump let Jeb! get to him - no, seriously, the "low-energy guy" actually got The Donald flustered - so the billionaire slumlord sidetracked into a vitriolic, Trutheresque rant about how 9/11 was all Bush43's fault and he might even have false-flagged the attack himself and how Dubya knew all along there "weren't any WMDs in Iraq" and "lied us into war" there anyway and how he did NOT keep the country safe that made the purported "Republican" front-runner sound like a bizarre, caustic hybrid of Noam Chomsky, Michael Moore, and Barack Obama circa 2007, and the antithesis of the candidate who once said that he would "bomb the shit" out of ISIS.
But he wasn't done by a long shot. To this (presumably) pro-life audience, in this heavily pro-life, evangelical State, he staunchly and angrily defended Planned Parenthood as well as Hillary Clinton ever could have. He lauded the industrialized mass baby-murdering giant that also sells dismembered baby organs and criminally conspires to protect sex-traffickers....
....as "doing many wonderful things for women's health" while downplaying their core business.
Then he "populistly" vowed to "tax the shit" out of companies that manufacture products in Mexico and [Red] China and then import them into the United States for sale. Which is both economically insane and viciously statist, and left any thoughtful viewer wondering if he's okay with companies that manufacture products in Malaysia or Indonesia or Vietnam or Guatemala and import them back here. To say nothing of where some of his own products are manufactured....
Katie Pavlich summed up Trump's performance quite succinctly:
Coming off his New Hampshire primary win, businessman Donald Trump couldn't stand the heat on the South Carolina stage. He came off as unhinged, angry and liberal.
In other words, The Real Donald Trump. He can dish it out, but he cannot take it. Which makes all the preceding months of his rivals leaving him alone in order to rip each other apart all the more infuriating for what a collective lost opportunity it is. Whether or not it's coming too little, too late, that particular "cherry" got gloriously popped last night.
Marco Rubio continued his recently declared and completely inexplicable war against Ted Cruz without getting anywhere in particular. He was much more on his game than a week ago, speaking more extemporaneously and articulately, but attacking isn't really Rubes' thing. He's at his best when he's in full Reagan "morning in America" mode. You could see that in the exchange where, after Cruz accused him of going on Univision and promising amnesty to that Spanish-speaking audience (the "Rubio-Schumer" plan), the Florida senator retorted, "I don't know how Cruz knows what I said on Univision because he doesn't speak Spanish." To which Cruz responded, "Podemos hacer esto en español, si quieres."
That speaks to Cruz's night, most of which he spent counter-punching all the attacks that should have been aimed at Trump. But he got in the haymakers at Trump that he needed to, and scored repeatedly.
Will it make any difference a week from now? By any conventional measure, the day-glo obvious answer should be "hell, yeah". But we are in the Republicide cycle, after all.
UPDATE: Oh, I forgot, John Kasich was there, sanctimoniously defending ObamaCare and the vast expansion of already bankrupt Medicaid he embraced like he was possessed by Nancy Pelosi, and I guess Ben Carson remembered his clothes this time.