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Winners and Losers from Last Night's Debate

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Winners and losers from last night’s debate

Too tired after last night’s three-hour-plus debate? Too many candidates to keep track off? Too many zingers and back-and-forths? Have no fear: Our list of winners and losers is here.

First, the winners:

  • Carly Fiorina: Yes, we aren’t the only ones who thought she stood out. But she was prepared, took advantage of every opportunity, and certainly sounded the part. Bottom line: She made the most of her appearance at the main stage (and don’t forget, she almost didn’t make it!) But as her interview with NBC’s Savannah Guthrie reminded us, her business and political experience -- getting fired from HP, losing her only race in California -- will receive more attention as she does.
  • Marco Rubio: Just like in the first debate, Rubio shined and demonstrated that he’s a natural performer at these kinds of debate. He’s always hitting doubles. That said, his water joke when talking about California’s drought was tone deaf.
  • Chris Christie: Out of all the candidates who NEEDED a good debate (Walker, Huckabee, Paul, and Christie), Christie delivered the most. He scratched and clawed like this could be his last opportunity on a stage like this. And he made the most of it.
  • Jeb Bush: The first part looked like a repeat performance of the Cleveland debate for Bush. But he had to show to everyone (donors, establishment Republicans, the press) that he could beat up Trump. And he did.

The losers:

  • Donald Trump: He didn’t have a good night (although he'd disagree). As it turns out, he was the one with low energy. In fairness, Trump knows when he has an audience and when he doesn’t. And the small crowd at last night’s GOP debate -- the epitome of your GOP establishment -- wasn’t his kind of crowd. Given the length of the debate and all of the questions directed at his way, it also isn’t surprising he seemed out of breath by the end.
  • Ben Carson: This was his chance to shine, and he fell flat. The exchange over vaccines underscored this: He had the facts and credibility on his side, but was unable to deliver a forceful response.
  • Scott Walker: He had a good first 10 minutes with his “apprentice” line. But he faded after that. It was like the football team that immediately delivered on the trick play it had been practicing, but then showed little else for the rest of the game.
  • Mike Huckabee: Beyond his Kim Davis answer, Huckabee really didn’t stand out -- a surprising result given how he was consistently the GOP’s best debater in the 2007-2008 campaign.

Those who were OK:

  • Ted Cruz: He didn’t broaden his appeal, but if there’s one thing about Ted Cruz, he knows how to talk to the constituency he’s trying to win over.
  • Rand Paul: The exchange over marijuana gave us a glimpse of why Paul is still an interesting candidate. But he was simply OK…
  • John Kasich: If you’re a down-the-middle political independent or an evenhanded political reporter, you probably thought he did great. But if you’re a conservative Republican, what did he say that excited you? His answers on the Iran deal were almost identical to the talking points from Obama and Clinton.

The establishment strikes back at Trump

Beyond the winners and losers, and beyond the debate’s extraordinary length (more than three hours!!!!), perhaps the biggest storyline was how the other Republican candidates -- especially from the establishment -- struck back at Donald Trump. Here was Jeb: “The one guy that had special interest that I know of that tried to get me to change my views on something was generous and gave me money was Donald Trump. He wanted casino gambling in Florida.” Here was Walker: “Mr. Trump, we don't need an apprentice in the White House.” Here was even Fiorina: “I think Mr. Trump is a wonderful entertainer, he's been terrific in that business. I also think that one of the benefits of a presidential campaign is the character and capability, judgment and temperament of every single one of us over time and under pressure.” If the air has started the leak from the Trump balloon, it might have begun last night.

A party divided usually cannot stand

Here is our final observation from last night’s debate – the GOP remains divided on so many different issues. Immigration. Foreign policy in the Middle East. How to deal with Planned Parenthood. Marijuana. Bottom line: Winning parties typically don’t usually have this many major differences. And one of the reasons why the GOP remains divided is that it’s still litigating the past GOP administration (the Bush-Trump exchange over the Iraq war captures that perfectly). In 2016, the eventual GOP nominee will be arguing: “Trust me -- I’m not George W. Bush or the Republicans in Congress.” But boy, that’s a tough argument to make. Today’s Republican Party is still searching for its core. And as a result, one of the winners from last night’s debate by default was Hillary Clinton or whoever the Dem nominee will be.

Hillary stumps with the governor of Vermont

Speaking of Hillary, she campaigns today in New Hampshire with Vermont Gov. Peter Shumlin, who has endorsed Hillary over fellow Vermonter Bernie Sanders. As one of us has written, Sanders has yet to receive a single endorsement from a Democratic elected official -- on Capitol Hill or in Vermont. Here’s Monica Alba’s dispatch on Hillary’s Jimmy Fallon appearance last night.

Jeb walks back his Margaret Thatcher answer

NBC’s Peter Alexander spoke exclusively to Jeb Bush after last night’s debate. Here’s one thing we noticed: He seemed to be walking back his answer that he’d put Margaret Thatcher on the $10 bill. “You know, I don't think that's the most relevant thing in the world,” he said. “I would give it up to the-- on the internet and let people decide this. That would generate a lot of interest. It could create all sorts of opportunities for math teachers to teach math, for social studies teachers to do the same. You could have an avalanche of interest in picking the woman that should be on the $10 bill.”

Two other political stories to watch the Iran deal and the Fed

Today is the deadline for Congress to act on the Iran deal. And as a result, it looks like today will be the day it officially becomes a done deal. And today, we’ll also hear if the Federal Reserve raises interest rates.

On the trail

Hillary Clinton campaigns in New Hampshire, while husband Bill raises money in Chicago… Trump also is in New Hampshire, holding a rally in Rochester at 7:00 pm ET… Jeb Bush holds a rally in Las Vegas at 6:45 pm ET… And Rand Paul also is in the Silver State.

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