The GOP debate minus Trump: who’s happy and who’s sad today?

Last night’s GOP debate with Trump absent allowed for much more airtime for candidates, with varying outcomes for them. Rather than try to declare winners and losers, I am going to focus on who might be happy and who sad today, as they look back. Of course, this is only a guess.

The happy club

Happiest of all is Megyn Kelly, who was the object of all the talk about Trump not attending, and whose questioning was tough. She is now one of the most prominent TV news figures in the United States.

Two other happy campers must be Ron Paul and Chris Christie. Both men got ample time to make their trademark pitches, and both delivered their points well. 

Paul sees the danger of government data collection without a warrant, and stresses the need to be more cautious about use of military force. His fans in the audience were loud and obnoxious, quite possibly turning off more Iowans (who tend to favor restraint in personal interactions) than his measured and logical presentation won over.

Christie stressed that as a governor he was responsible for actual decisions, as a chief executive, and scored some points denouncing “Washington bull” referencing legislative posturing by senators who never have to make a decision. This was mostly a reference to Ted Cruz, and the grilling he got over his amendments to a “comprehensive immigration reform” bill. Christie also parried a query on his Bridgegate liability.

John Kasich likewise must be relatively satisfied with his chance to make his usual points on Ohio’s budget balance and current surplus, and the jobs his state has added (many of them due to fracking – a point he usually omits). He also made a heartfelt plea for treatment of the mentally ill, citing his won record.

Ben Carson was better prepared than he had been in earlier debates, and didn’t need to resort to “I would convene a group of experts.”  His pitch was the now-standard line that he knows how to bring together people to solve crises, and he’s had more 2 AM phone calls than everyone else on the stage combined. I suspect he is relatively satisfied.

Jeb Bush is probably pretty happy today. He sparred with Marco Rubio over immigration, and it appears that vengeance for his former protégé running for president when it was Jeb’s turn may be at least as important as actually winning. Jeb always comes across to me as calm and controlled, something I attribute to his upbringing – especially his mother. Like Christie and Kasich, he stressed his record as a chief executive and his ability to cut bureaucracy, something the federal government desperately needs.  His strategy seems to be to hang in there and wait for the others to self-destruct.

Which brings us to:

The unhappy club

Marco Rubio had a tough night. Megyn Kelly took after him on immigration, his serious vulnerability with the base.  

KELLY: "You said earned path to citizenship is basically code for amnesty."

RUBIO: "It was."

KELLY: "You supported earned path to citizenship."

RUBIO: "It absolutely has been. At the time and context of that was in 2009 and 2010 where the last effort for legalization was an effort done in the Senate, an effort led by several people that provided almost an instant path, with very little obstacles moving forward. What I've always said is this issue does need to be solved."

Rubio did maintain his cool, though, and knows his flip flop on the path to citizenship will come up again and again. He doesn’t support it now, and I suppose he hopes that the base will come to accept that.

But the unhappiest of all the debaters has to be Ted Cruz. As the polling leader among those attending, he was the target. Mark Levin has even posited that the real reason Trump did not attend had little to do with Fox News or Megyn Kelly: (via The Right Scoop):

Trump made a calculated political decision. Even his supporters don’t give him credit for being smart enough. He made a calculated political decision, not to avoid Megyn Kelly, but to avoid the debate format where he might be the target, when the polls show him leading in Iowa just days before the caucus.

He’s where he wants to be, he believes and his campaign believes. Why go up there and duke it out with Cruz or Rubio or anybody else? Why be the target?

So you get out of that environment and then Cruz is the target.

This was never a fight between Fox and Trump. All the analysts have missed it. All the commentators have missed it. It’s ‘how brilliant’, ‘he’s controlling the media’…no he’s controlling you! He’s marketing himself. He’s branding himself. So he’s stepping out of that environment, it’s too risky, with just a few days to go.

And the people of Iowa have to decide if they want to be treated like that or not, or disrespected, or if they think this is a brilliant political move.

But this isn’t a fight between Fox and Trump.

And it worked.

Cruz shot himself in the foot early in the debate by complaining and got booed.

For a candidate who faces the rap of being unlikable, this was a big mistake. But Cruz is a trooper and stuck with it, even after the debate, being interviewed by Megyn Kelly in the “spin room” after the debate, where she in essence admitted that his amendments to the comprehensive immigration reform bill were indeed poison pills. The Right Scoop put together a clip showing her debate questioning, and then her post-debate interview with Cruz, where she makes up with Cruz.  Go to 7:30 for that part of segment. The post-debate interview begins at 4:20

If you experience technical problems, please write to