Debate number 11 now done. This was the Fox debate after the SEC Primary/Super Tuesday. It was the rematch of Megyn Kelly vs Donald Trump. It was the first debate where Republicans were down to four candidates now that Ben Carson is also out of the race. Who won? I say nobody. I say it was a tie between Marco Rubio and Ted Cruz, with Trump close behind and even John Kasich doing very well. What this means is no real change to the race. Probably winner overall was the Fox moderators who once again were the best of the moderating teams we've seen. But lets do the grading, this will be easy and quick (BTW we'll have a surprise winner)
Marco Rubio B+. Scored good points against Trump but also took it on the chin several times. Trump seemed to more focus on Rubio than on Cruz. Came across smart and Presidential several times and pointed out some of Trump's silly answers but didn't land a knockout punch. Typical Rubio performance but not his best. Clearly was struggling with his voice (having a cold) which probably threw him off his game a bit. I think the best part was the inspirational elements and the contrast as the commander in chief argument. Also the joga comment was funny.
Ted Cruz B+. Ted seemed to tone down his attacks from Trump a bit from last time (weird) but still gave plenty. Made a good contrast of the 'more adult than Trump or Rubio' among the four but obviously not in the class of Kasich. Plenty of stinging attacks on Trump and good arguments. Cruz seemed not to have evolved his lines of attack from the last debate, very much of the attacks seemed rehashes and often with the same exact wording. Ted could do better and shame on you, you're that good Ted, you SHOULD be doing better than this.
Donald Trump B. Trump came under attack from all sides, even Kasich threw one veiled attack. And Trump got the only video attack this time because he chickened out of the previous Fox debate when the moderators ran the same format against Cruz and Rubio back then. Trump did come under constant attack from all sides and Megyn Kelly waited well into the debate before her prepared and very potent attack about Trump University with her follow-up evidence from the court and Better Business Bureau. Yet Trump weathered it all and didn't buckle. He was less childish and yes, seemed more Presidential, at times not most of the time, but most of all, he kept his calm. That was all he needed. If Trump was standing at the end and didn't have a melt-down on stage, he won what he needed to. His supporters will see this as everybody including Fox News ganging up on their guy, and he took it without falling. That is enough for Trump to not see any meaningful erosion in his support.
John Kasich B-. John had his best debate to date and I think for the first time he really felt like he belonged among that Final Four. He was still the worst of the set but only by a sliver. He kept mostly to his only-adult-in-room game but he did do a veiled attack on Trump too and he offered more of a broad argument than what he's done in the past. The world tour was pretty clever way to show off his foreign policy credentials.
The Fox moderators were once again the best of all moderators we've seen, and they were the most successful so far - while not completely successful - in keeping the candidates from yelling over each other. Megyn Kelly had her championship match against Trump and I judge that to her on points, but give the knock-out punch out of that exchange (Trump University) to Rubio who warned the voters - this is what Trump will do to voters.
The winner of the debate? Mitt Romney. He managed to butt into the debate with his cleverly-timed press conference and scathing attack on Trump, that was brought up in the first question and returned to later in the debate. Pretty nifty move by the guy who decided not to participate in this year's Clown Circus (but clearly wishes he had joined in, and must hold hopes he can still get into the race at the Convention).
The loser of the debate. Jeb Bush. Did you see that short video of him with Trump. Reminded us once again how hapless Jeb was. Just seeing him fleetingly reminded us that this guy once was thought of as the front-runner. Even when Kasich mentioned Jeb once, it made all of us cringe again.
What happens from here? No change. There was no meltdown of Trump, he doesn't lose any support but he has hit his ceiling, he won't gain support either. Trump now soldiers on with 35% support till the Convention and if the game continues with four rivals, Trump will be the nominee simply because the rest of the 65% of the votes will be split and Trump will win a disproportionate amount of the winner-take-all states with that low level of total support. Cruz and Rubio needed to rattle Trump and they didn't. They had Megyn Kelly and the Fox team give them every opening, they were unable to get Trump off his (relatively) collected demeanor. And for what little gains Kasich may have achieved, that comes not from Trump, it bleeds a point or two from Rubio and Cruz. This is not the result anybody other than Trump (or Hillary Clinton) wanted. But the show goes on, now its up to the aftermath. Incidentially, the Fox moderators had the debate rigged clearly more against Trump than anyone else. If Trump was smart, he'd say this was a rough debate but he WON it. Take the high road, claim victory, it was close enough for him (and as always, instant online polling will be supporting his view, not because he won in reality but because he has the most online supporters). But if Trump is true to form, he will be bitching about how the media is so evil and biased and he was targeted.