These are less formed because I have to get them out quick before I wind down in advance of the radio marathon tomorrow.
1. Trump plateaus, Carson fades. He knows absolutely nothing about
public or foreign policy--which is why he rocketed to the lead. (How
else to prove your authenticity?) But he's garnered the know-nothing
vote. Tonight's performance will only solidify fears by those who
haven't already jumped on the Trump train. Carson, who quietly got tons
of praise during the last debate (I have a political twitter feed that's
about a third conservative), got zippo tonight. He's also ignorant, but
didn't hit the moral/Christian themes that buoyed him last time. Trump
may not lose a ton of support, but I bet he doesn't pick any up; Carson
begins his inevitable fade.
2. Jeb! and Walker tanked. Of the
two, Walker was by far the worst. He's got nothing. Faced with the
abyss, he did a disappearing act. I predict he's the next one gone. Jeb!
needed to reestablish himself as a plausible establishment alternative,
but he did anything but. He's the Eli Manning of the pack. (Non-sportos
will have to google that reference.)
3. Carly and Rubio are the
big wild card of the night. The conservatives were loving Carly early
on. She now stands as the only one to seriously sting Trump. But she has
an extremely intense affect that wore badly. The love tapered off. She
might get a bump in the polls, but she'll need to figure out how to mix
it up and offer levity and warmth if she's going to move into the top
tier. As for Rubio, he has always been the consensus media fave, and
they were loving him tonight. By normal standards, he did well. He's got
a naturalness Carly would do to study. But for whatever reason, he is
dead to the base. I don't see anything here that will turn it around,
but you never know.
4. Some interesting issues-related stuff
actually emerged. The Iraq war came up (Jeb's worst moment: he probably
fatally wounded himself if he ever gets to the general by claiming his
brother "kept us safe"--yeah, except for that one time), and the
candidates sparred. Bush's legacy is mixed, and there were some who
repudiated the decision. Cannabis came up and had a few defenders. Carly
was surprisingly off-key about it. There was a bizarre moment when
Trump cowed the two doctors on the stage into not shaming him on his
shameful anti-vax position. Taxes are also funny: Carson wants a minimum
wage indexed to inflation; Trump's good with the rich paying more. Some
of them even acknowledged the existence of climate change. Honest
fissures appeared that will be interesting in the future.
Tone. Things were wild at the start, but the evening slowly resolved
into a pretty standard political debate. That helped the normals and
hurt Trump, whose campaign is predicated on drama and chaos. Huckabee
has become angry Uncle Mike, Rand is coming to terms with the
obsolescence of his campaign, Cruz is aggressively unlikable but to all
of his ~8%, Kasich and Christie were basically reasonable but way out of
step with the party (read: doomed).