We’re posting on Thursday night to give you the early read on the first GOP presidential debates of the 2016 campaign:
▪ Kudos to the Fox team for a well-run forum with a series of well-researched questions that challenged almost all 10 Republicans on the prime-time stage. No one can credibly say the interrogators went easy.
▪ Donald Trump faltered, not because his rivals challenged him, but because Fox’s moderators took him on with a series of tough questions on abortion, campaign donations and whether he’d pledge to support the eventual GOP nominee, no matter who it is (he declined). His prime-time bravado has gotten him a long way. He began to unwind Thursday night.
▪ Everybody will ask who won, and the truth is that in a pack of 10 GOPers, picking a winner is tough, especially because this group of Republicans was polished and well-rehearsed. They had their hot quotes and talking points down. Pundits will pick an array of winners.
▪ Ours? We’ll go with the Florida boys, Sen. Marco Rubio and former Gov. Jeb Bush. Both were articulate, rational and exuded leadership.
▪ The losers: The “C” boys: Chris Christie, Ben Carson and Ted Cruz failed to shine. Carson, in fact, barely got any face time in the debate’s first hour. Rand Paul also didn’t have a great night. Mike Huckabee didn’t help himself.
▪ “I will not make the pledge at this time.” — Trump refusing to promise that he won’t run as an independent and also declining to pledge that he’ll back the GOP nominee, if it isn’t himself.
A gangbuster early quote that made it official that Trump may run as an independent, a move that could well deny the Republican nominee the White House. This will be hard for many Republicans to accept.
▪ “Here’s the thing about Donald Trump. Donald Trump is hitting a nerve in this country.” — Ohio Gov. John Kasich speaking about the current GOP frontrunner.
Kasich’s response typified the candidates’ unwillingness to take on Trump all evening. That job was left to the Fox News moderators who undressed Trump through a series of pointed questions.
▪ “She had no choice because I gave.” — Trump explaining that Hillary Clinton attended his wedding because he had once sent her a campaign donation.
Trump eviscerating the nation’s campaign-finance system in one of his better moments.
▪ “You call women you don't like fat pigs, dogs, slobs and disgusting animals.” — Fox’s Megyn Kelly in an early question to Trump.
Trump quickly responded: "Only Rosie O'Donnell."
▪ “You get a warrant!” — Paul responding to Christie over the issue of data collection. Christie called for a more aggressive approach.
Christie shot back: “You know, when you're sitting in a subcommittee just blowing hot air, you can say things like this.”