The third Republican debate produced plenty of fireworks and managed to put the moderators and the larger news media on trial. Here’s our instant assessment of who won, who held their own and who lost.
Sen. Marco Rubio: He disassembled rival Jeb Bush when the former Florida governor suggested he should resign from the Senate for missing so many votes, fended off tough questions about his personal finances, and turned attacks into opportunities to make short policy pitches and dissertations on what’s wrong with the Obama-Clinton agenda. He also has some of the best Reagan-like one liners, like “I’m against anything that is bad for my mother.”
Donald Trump: The Donald was himself, commanding plenty of attention, confusing the moderators and itemizing at all the things he thinks he is best at. And he managed to continue to clarify some of his emerging policies while making a clear pitch for the Second Amendment with his derision of gun-free zones.
Sen. Ted Cruz: This was his best debate performance of the season so far, combining his trademark passion with quick policy declarations that showed he still is unhappy with his own party’s establishment’s failure to reduce spending. He also offered one of the more memorable attacks on the moderators and the larger news media for what he regarded as insulting questioning.
Ben Carson: The retired neurosurgeon was himself — humble, understated and plainspoken — which seems to be his winning formula so far. He also acknowledged he had changed his mind on ethanol subsidies, and now opposes them even though he is leading in Iowa where corn-based ethanol is king.
Gov. John Kasich: Right from the opening bell, he was an aggressor who assailed the math of the economic plans of front-runners Mr. Carson and Mr. Trump. He had strong command of policy and was effective in using his record in Ohio to explain why he could be successful as America’s commander-in-chief in balancing the budget and growing the economy.
Gov. Chris Christie: He was among the more effective on stage in turning the attention to the Obama-Clinton agenda, counterpunching Democrats more than his Republican rivals. And he had one of the more memorable lines when he assailed the moderators for asking a question about fantasy football when there were so many more serious issues facing the country.
HELD THEIR OWN
Mike Huckabee: He offered plenty of substance with strong delivery and folksy humor, even managing to get some laughter when he pointed out he was wearing a Trump tie.
Carly Fiorina: She was a strong debater but didn’t get much attention and didn’t score many memorable moments.
Jeb Bush: He had a few strong policy moments and a few crisp answers, but he never fully recovered from the opening confrontation that he lost with Mr. Rubio.
Sen. Rand Paul: This was his best debate so far, but he is still a long way from making a case to lift himself from the bottom of the field.
Reps. Paul Ryan and John A. Boehner: The incoming and exiting House Speakers, though Republicans, took plenty of derision for the budget deal that they passed earlier in the day, which most onstage declared failed to cut federal spending enough.
The CNBC moderators: They were booed by the crowd and eviscerated from the stage, and their questions at times likely sounded loaded and insulting to everyday Americans.