The Debate: No big story

In last night's Republican debate on Fox News, there were a few moments of tension, most of which featured Donald Trump.  However, the big story is that there is no big story.  Trump was not his normal bigger-than-life personality, nor was he just another candidate.  He and Jeb Bush were polite to each other, although Trump did bump elbows with all three moderators on one occasion each – and also had a pretty testy exchange early with Rand Paul. 

Rand also had an angry exchange with Chris Christie, and Rand got off a good line about the "big hug with Obama."  That was the testiest moment of the entire night, and it did not involve either Trump or Bush. 

On balance, I think the night represented a very small slippage for Trump – but given that he had more to lose than the rest of the field put together, he did what he needed to do.  He will still lead all the polls, and now he has one of these events under his belt.  His refusal to pledge support to the Republican nominee drew some pretty big boos, however.

Jeb did not have a great night, often stumbling a bit over his boilerplate and unexciting talking points.  He looked defensive and unsure.  John Kasich, boosted by the home Ohio crowd, had a good night and is probably getting a look from worried establishment types.  Ditto Marco Rubio. 

However, a case can be made that Carly Fiorina won the night with her dominating performance in the preliminary debate.  Governor Bobby Jindal was strong, too.  Carly and Rick Perry were even featured in a question from Baier in the main event.

Thus, those two fared better than Ted Cruz, for example, who performed very well when given the chance but  was ignored by the moderators for practically the entire second hour – even on questions about Iran and Obamacare.  He did get a "hear from God" question, however.  Well.

One gets the idea that not only does Fox want to take Trump down, but the network wants to make sure Cruz is not standing in the wings if that happens.  It's clear that the network's talking heads still do not understand Trump's appeal, nor have they figured out Cruz' filibuster and 2014.  

And they seem remarkably uncurious about Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton, whoever they are.  It is instructive that for the first 59 minutes of the Fox News Republican Debate, the Fox moderators never mentioned either, or any other Democrat.  Finally, in minute 59, Wallace did mention Hillary.  Before then, Wallace, Megyn Kelly, and Bret Baier spent their time trying to set up little infighting spats between particular candidates.  Three of Wallace's first four questions were direct attempts to do just that.  Aren’t we all tired of that? 

There were some very good individual moments, the best being Ben Carson's double-whammy about separating Siamese twins and the removal of half-brains in Washington.  Huckabee had a well-played dig at Hillary in his closing statement, and Scott Walker drew laughs with a remark about Russia and Hillary's emails. 

The best moment for the Fox moderators was at the close of the televised coverage, when they said that all ten candidates had good moments and did well and then signed off.  But Carly Fiorina also had a good night,  and she will probably move to the big leagues for the next event.