The event itself was revealing. In her first debate on the main stage, Carly Fiorina was aggressive and confident and pushed past more established candidates to stand as the top challenger to frontrunner Donald Trump.
The Donald himself alternated between trademark Trump — brash and “braggadocious,” even as he proclaimed modesty — and being oddly subdued. But when he wanted to alpha dog an opponent, he did, and Jeb Bush paid the price. Repeatedly.
Marco Rubio had some fine moments on foreign policy — though he also stood out as a ferocious climate change denier. Rand Paul quietly had a strong debate — clearly contrasting his libertarian leanings against big government heavies like Chris Christie. Slow-and-steady Ben Carson didn’t have a breakout night — but he’s running as the tortoise to the jackrabbits in the field and his slow-jam RPM seemed to work for him.
The debate was particularly painful for Scott Walker and Chris Christie, who performed adequately, but failed to land any defining blows that could change their luck.
Here the top ten zingers of the night.
1. The debate started hot with Sen. Rand Paul complaining of Trump’s “sophomoric” attacks on the looks of his fellow candidates. Trump replied: “I’ve never attacked him on his looks — and believe me, there’s plenty of subject matter right there.”
2. In the defining moment of the night, Trump and Bush were fighting for control of the stage. Jeb had accused Trump of being part of a corrupt system — lobbying for casino gambling in Florida. The challenge led to noisy overtalk, with Jeb trying to assert his dominance. Trump seized control with a backhanded one liner: “More energy tonight. I like that!” Jeb shrank, and Trump owned the remainder of the exchange.
3. Hitting a man while he’s down, Trump also lashed out at Scott Walker, highlighting the governor’s lousy economic record in Wisconsin: “When the people of Iowa found that out, I went to number one, you went down the tuuuubes.”
4. Fiorina got the best of Trump in the exchange over his slight of her “face” in the cover story in Rolling Stone. Fiorina’s moment was strongest because Trump had just been needling Jeb for saying he “misspoke” when he said America spent too much on women’s health and insisting that President Trump would be “wonderful” for women. The “face” question that followed by debate moderator Jake Tapper included Trump’s prevarication that he hadn’t meant to impugn Fiorina’s looks. Fiorina said only: “I think women heard very clearly what Mr. Trump said.”
5. Trump quickly returned fire over Fiorina’s sad-sack record as the CEO of HP, which was particularly effective after Fiorina had held up her record as if she’d been the second coming of Steve Jobs: “She can’t run any of my companies, I tell ya.”
6. Paying special attention to Rand Paul, Trump also needled the Kentucky senator over his low poll numbers. He started the debate insisting Paul shouldn’t even be on the stage as the 11th ranking Republican. Midway through the debate, he cut short Paul’s attempt to get a word in edgewise, with a dismissive, “You’ve got your 1 percent.”
7. Hitting Jeb on family values, Trump also gave it to Bush over running the Republican brand into the ground: “Your brother gave us Barack Obama,” Trump insisted. “Such a disaster those last three months, Abraham Lincoln couldn’t have been elected.”
8. After Trump outed himself out as a big-time anti-vaxxer, linking childhood vaccines to autism (against all evidence), Dr. Ben Carson had a quietly biting line:“He’s an OK doctor,” he said, before insisting, “We have extremely well documented proof that there’s no link.”
9. Jeb had one good one-liner, saying that his Secret Service codename would be “Eveready” — like the battery — quipping, “It’s very high-energy, Donald” to peals of laughter.
10. But Trump one-upped Jeb to the last, even in self-deprecation. His Secret Service name, he insisted, would be “Humble.”
A bonus item:
This was a GOP debate, but Hillary Clinton got in one of the best lines of the night. During the debate, when the Republicans were dissing one another for speaking Spanish, she tweeted, “La libertad incluye el derecho de hablar en cualquier idioma. Eso nos hace fuerte como país y es algo que debemos celebrar—no denigrar.” (Translation: Liberty includes the right to speak in any language. That makes us strong as a country and is something we should celebrate — not denigrate.)