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August 22nd, 2019

Insight

Winners and losers from the 11th Republican presidential debate

Chris Cillizza

By Chris Cillizza

Published March 4, 2016

Winners and losers from the 11th Republican presidential debate

The four remaining Republican presidential candidates gathered in Detroit on Thursday night for the 11th debate of the GOP nomination fight. I tweeted it. The Fix team annotated it. And, below, I picked some of the best -- and worst -- of the night that was.

Winners

Ted Cruz: The Texas Senator picked a nice moment to have his best debate of the primary season. He flashed his prosecutorial chops when making the case that Donald Trump was neither a real conservative nor someone who could win the White House for Republicans this fall. His persistent calls for Trump to release the audio tape of an off-the-record interview with the New York Times were effective and put the real estate mogul off his game a bit. Cruz also benefited from the fact that Trump and Marco Rubio went after each other hammer and tongs for the first hour of the debate, a brawl that allowed him to look like he was above the fray and magnanimous.

John Kasich: The narrowing of the presidential field quite clearly helped the Ohio governor on Thursday night. Sure he often felt like he was participating in an entirely different debate than the other three candidates. But, when he got a chance to talk Kasich's uplifting and positive message made for a welcome relief from the name-calling, interrupting and general rudeness that dominated most of the conversation on stage in Detroit. Kasich effectively made the case for why being an insider was a good thing -- a very hard one to make in an election like this one -- and likely won himself some votes from voters fed up with all the fighting. Did he do enough to boost him into the top tier? No. But that simply isn't possible for Kasich given the delegate math. Still, he deserves credit for putting his best foot forward.

Fox News moderators: Bret Baier, Megyn Kelly and Chris Wallace are a really good trio. They asked well-thought-out questions that anticipated -- and avoided -- the talking points of the candidates. I l-o-v-e-d when Wallace called up a series of fact-checks aimed at rebutting Trump's talking points on how he would handle the debt and deficit issues in the country. Ditto the video triptych that Kelly introduced showing Trump contradicting himself over and over. That's what moderators should do; force candidates off their regular schtick, make them to think on their feet a bit and, in the process, show viewers who they really are.

Teenagers: A penis size reference within the first 10 minutes of the debate? The 12-year-old version of me would have laughed like crazy at Trump's "guarantee" about the size of his genitals. (OK, fine. The 40-year-old version of me laughed too.)

Losers

Donald Trump: Trump totally dominated the debate in terms of speaking time and the broader conversation. There were times where it felt more like an interview with Trump than a debate with three candidates not named Trump on stage. As usual with Trump in a debate setting, the more he talks, the less positive the outcome is for him. He repeatedly came across as juvenile -- calling Rubio "Little Marco" and Cruz "Lyin' Ted." Hell, within the first 10 minutes of the debate Trump was insisting that questions about his endowment -- not the financial kind -- were way off.

From a more substantive perspective, Trump took real body blows -- especially from Cruz -- regarding Trump University and the comments he made in an off-the-record session with the New York Times. Trump, as he has in nearly every debate, showed a wafer-thin understanding on policy and, when pressed about that lack of knowledge, reverted to name-calling. Does any of the above matter? It hasn't yet.

Marco Rubio: The Florida Senator seemed to have resigned himself to a kamikaze mission against Trump during this debate. He jabbed at and with Trump over and over again in the debate's first 60 minutes, turning every question -- and answer -- into an attack on Trump. It hurt Trump but hurt Rubio too as he struggled to get back to his more positive "new American century" message. Rubio improved in the second half of the debate but Cruz was better throughout. It's hard to see how this debate changes the dynamic set in place on Tuesday night; Trump as the favorite, Cruz with the next best chance of being the nominee, Rubio as Trump spoiler.

Debate audience: From the mugging for the cameras -- act like you've been there! -- to the constant cheering and jeering for every word the candidates uttered, the audience was annoying at best and distracting at worst. I am not a big fan of debates held without a live audience but this is getting bad.

The Republican party: The first hour of the debate was an absolute disaster for Republicans hoping to re-brand their party heading into the 2016 general election. It looked more like a high school cafeteria food fight than an even semi-serious conversation about issues. Assuming Trump is the nominee -- and he has the most obvious path -- then this debate will provide Democrats with roughly 100 minutes worth of raw footage of Rubio and Cruz savaging the real estate mogul that they can use in negative ads this fall. A lose-lose for the GOP.

The thing on Ted Cruz's lip: Was it the piece of a mint? Spittle? A piece of tooth? I don't know. But what I do know is that it will haunt my dreams.

Previously:


03/03/16: The Republican establishment waited too long to stop Donald Trump. Now they probably can't
03/02/16: Winners and losers from Super Tuesday
02/29/16: Why Donald Trump is remarkably dangerous to the Republican Party
02/29/16: 4 reasons why Chris Christie endorsed Donald Trump
02/26/16: Winners and losers from the 10th Republican presidential debate
02/24/16: Donald Trump is on course to win the 1,237 delegates he needs to be the GOP nominee
02/23/16: This Donald Trump explanation of his Iraq position is just so mind-boggling
02/22/16: Jeb Bush never really had a chance in the 2016 presidential race
02/18/16: Senate Republicans will never hold a Supreme Court vote this year. This poll shows why
02/17/16: South Carolina isn't Bush Country anymore
02/12/16: Winners and losers from the 6th Dem debate
02/10/16: Winners and losers from the New Hampshire primary
02/06/16: Winners and losers from the fifth Democratic presidential debate
01/29/16: Winners and losers from the 7th Republican presidential debate
01/27/16: Ranking the Republican 2016 field
01/25/16: Trump is the favorite to be the Republican nominee. Period
01/22/16: Who had the worst week in Washington? Hillary Clinton
01/18/16: Feeling bad for Jeb Bush
01/15/16: Winners and losers from the sixth Republican presidential debate
01/12/16: Here's exactly how Bernie Sanders can beat Hillary Clinton
01/11/16:The fantasy scenario that could become reality for Hillary
12/30/15: The five big lessons from a weirdly watchable year of politics
12/21/15: Winners and losers in the third Democratic presidential debate
12/16/15: Winners and losers from the 5th Republican presidential debate
12/16/15: Cruz, not Trump, looking like GOP favorite for 2016
12/04/15: Ted Cruz is the sleeping giant in the Republican race
11/24/15:Trump is leading an increasingly fact-free 2016 campaign
11/23/15: A ranking of GOP presidential candidates who can still make a case --- and the nominee
11/16/15: The remarkably unappealing anger of Donald Trump
11/11/15: Winners and losers from the fourth Republican debate
11/02/15: Jeb Bush says he still doesn't get why his terrible debate performance matters so much
10/29/15: Winners and losers from the third Republican presidential debate
10/22/15: Paul Ryan might be saving his party. But at what cost?
10/20/15: Six things we know Joe Biden is thinking
10/19/15: Who had the worst week in Washington? Lincoln Chafee
10/14/15: Winners and losers from the first Dem presidential debate

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