There are two news items out of last night's GOP debate: one concerns Carly Fiorina and the other Donald Trump.
The debate was good news for Fiorina and not such good news for Trump.
Fiorina, who debated with the second-tier candidates, and who except for Dr. Ben Carson (who is not going to be president but is a charming man!) is newest to debating at this level, had a breakout evening. She'll likely make it onto the prime-time debate next go 'round.
I don't cotton to identity politics, but nevertheless it can't be denied that it is good for the GOP to have a woman who wants to roll back government and take the victimhood out of feminism in the national debates.
Social media instantaneously declared Fiorina da winna. More than eighty-percent of social media users were said on Fox after the debate to have found her the best of the earlier debaters. I thought all her answers were crisp and excellent but that she didn't hit her stride until the second half of the debate. I am in Peggy Noonan's camp on Fiorina's performance last night:
The reliably on-point and interesting Carly Fiorina has been declared the overwhelming winner. That surprised me because I’ve seen her better, including this past weekend at the Koch donors seminars in California, where to some she was a revelation. This is a strong, gutsy woman. The evening was a reminder that the debates are important: Those not preoccupied with politics were seeing her for the first time. Next time she will belong in the top tier.
Donald Trump did not have such a good night. He was booed when he held up his hand because he was the only one on the stage who would not pledge not to run as a third party candidate. Everybody in the room, including Trump, knew that such a move would make Hillary Clinton President. He also could not present evidence for his oft-stated charge that the government of Mexico is sending rapists and other felons to the U.S. He said that border guards had told him so, which falls short of what he has been saying.
But I think that the nadir for Trump came in an exchange with Fox moderator Megyn Kelly. Kelly reminded him that he had called women "fat pigs, dogs, slobs, and disgusting animals." Trump tried to demure saying he had "only" called Rosie O'Donnell that. Under Kelly's questioning, he admitted it wasn't just O'Donnell and attempted to turn it to his advantage by saying that he isn't politically correct.
But here's what I think the exchange did: it reminded many viewers, viewers who may be fired up by some of the things Mr. Trump has been saying, that he hails from the world of trash-talking Rosie O'Donnell. That has long been his milieu. He also did not handled questions about Trump enterprises that have gone into bankruptcy well. The evening was, as Philip Klein put it, "a Trump-wreck." A third party candidacy would probably be less potent than would have been projected before the debate, but in a close race, Trump could likely still inflict a Trump-wreck on the Republican nominee.
The evening as a whole, however, was a huge success.
It was a far cry from what we saw in 2012, and, as the Wall Street Journal editorial notes, last night banished the ghosts of 2012 debate season. This is an impressive group of candidates. Fred Barnes has an excellent recap of who "gained, faltered, and remained unaffected."