Fox News held it's first debates for 2016 GOP presidential hopefuls. My thoughts:
First, Trump. I predicted he would do better than people thought he would and would grow or increase his support. I don't think he screwed up in the debate, and I imagine he'll hold his support, but the debate made it clear that he lacks any substance. I don't think his refusal to rule out a 3rd party run hurt him like others did; it showed some conviction. But going after Megyn Kelly during the debates? Why? Then doubling down by going off the deep end with his comments about her afterwards? What is the point? So much of what he puts out is overblown, unnecessary meanness. It gets old fast. I think he's plateaued.
Two, the Paul / Christie exchange. Great exchange. Passionate, articulate, principled ideas communicated from both sides. Christie was arguing on behalf of government surveillance of phone data while Paul was arguing against it. Personally, I'm more in line with Paul's views, but I think Christie won the exchange. Paul tried to portray Christie as someone who fundamentally misunderstands the Bill of Rights, but Christie's response made him look like someone who's done the job of defending the country while Paul simply complains from the Senate floor.
Third, people who broadened their appeal. There's been a lot of chatter in the media about how well Marco Rubio performed, and I agree. He presented an energetic, youthful appeal and gave passionate, concise answers that seemed to come from a place of both conviction and strong knowledge of the facts. He was my favorite performer. Mike Huckabee also performed well. I'm not a Huckabee guy due to his stance on certain matters, but his views have appeal to a certain segment of the Republican base. Huckabee communicates those views well. I don't think he's the nominee, but there's a good chance he'll be the social values guy who's left when the 17 (is that the current number?) that are running whittles down to 4 or so.
Fourth, breakout candidates. Carly Fiornia and John Kasich are getting decent media buzz from their performances. Carly Fiornia was praised as giving a solid performance in the early debate among the lower-tiered candidates, and John Kasich got attention for his views on gay marriage that portrayed him in a slightly different light than many other Republicans. Both did something to get noticed and it will pay off for them by having some people take a look at their candidacies when they otherwise wouldn't have.
Fifth, the losers. If you weren't a big part of the media conversation after the debate, it was a loss for you, especially in a field this crowded. Ted Cruz? Ben Carson? Bobby Jindall? Not having anyone talking about you really has to be particularly painful for Jeb Bush & Scott Walker, who have the 2nd and 3rd best polling numbers behind Trump. Both need to do something to start getting positive momentum with their campaigns. Both are smart and capable of doing so, but now is the time for them to get to work.
Final thoughts. This was a good debate. Agree or disagree with them, but the Republicans have good, solid, formidable candidates running. Whoever the nominee is will benefit from the competition and being forced to find a way to stand out from the rest of the pack.