Winners: Trump, Kasich, Rubio. Losers: Bush, Carson, Cruz.

Donald Trump’s campaign might eventually unravel, but it didn’t happen Thursday night.

National Journal
Alex Roarty
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Alex Roarty
Aug. 6, 2015, 7:59 p.m.

The win­ners and losers from Thursday night’s prime-time GOP de­bate:

Win­ners

Don­ald Trump

Trump’s cam­paign might even­tu­ally un­ravel, but it didn’t hap­pen Thursday night. The front-run­ner in the polls thrived off a series of tough ques­tions about his past — in most cases, quickly pivot­ing to a con­dem­na­tion of polit­ic­al cor­rect­ness and polit­ics as usu­al. Trump is clearly a TV vet­er­an: His tim­ing was im­pec­cable when he quipped to de­bate mod­er­at­or Me­gyn Kelly that the only wo­man he ever trash-talked was Rosie O’Don­nell. It wasn’t true, but in Trump­World, it didn’t really mat­ter.

The re­cit­a­tion of many of Trump’s past lib­er­al po­s­i­tions — his sup­port for abor­tion rights and single-pay­er health care, for in­stance — might ali­en­ate some sup­port­ers un­fa­mil­i­ar with the finer points of his re­cord. But time and again he demon­strated why so many con­ser­vat­ives are in love with his blunt mes­sage. “I’ve been chal­lenged by so many people, and I don’t frankly have time for total polit­ic­al cor­rect­ness,” he said at one point. “And to be hon­est with you, this coun­try doesn’t have time either.”

(RE­LATED: Re­pub­lic­an De­bate Turns Spec­tacle and Leaves Trump on Top)

John Kasich

The Ohio gov­ernor snuck onto the main de­bate stage thanks to a late surge in the polls — and im­me­di­ately proved he might be­long in the field’s top tier. It wasn’t just his strong com­mand of the facts, though he demon­strated that with a de­tailed de­fense of his de­cision as gov­ernor to ex­pand Medi­caid. Kasich also showed a cha­risma that made him — and not Jeb Bush — look like the most elect­able Re­pub­lic­an in a gen­er­al elec­tion. Wheth­er he was tout­ing his re­cord as a swing-state gov­ernor or fin­ess­ing a ques­tion about how he could jus­ti­fy his op­pos­i­tion to gay mar­riage to a gay son or daugh­ter, he talked like a for­mid­able po­ten­tial nom­in­ee.

“You know, Amer­ica is a mir­acle coun­try,” Kasich said, re­spond­ing to the ques­tion of how he would de­feat Hil­lary Clin­ton. “And we have to re­store the sense that the ‘Amir­acle’ will ap­ply to you. Each and every one of the people in this coun­try who’s watch­ing to­night, lift every­body, unite every­body, and build a stronger United States of Amer­ica again. It will be and can be done.”

Marco Ru­bio

Of the three can­did­ates most likely to win the nom­in­a­tion — Marco Ru­bio, Jeb Bush, and Scott Walk­er — the sen­at­or from Flor­ida had the best night. He seemed to grow in con­fid­ence as the de­bate wore on, cul­min­at­ing in a rous­ing speech ex­plain­ing his op­pos­i­tion to abor­tion rights.

More than any­thing else, however, he un­der­scored again and again why he would be a strong op­pon­ent against Clin­ton. “If I’m our nom­in­ee, how is Hil­lary Clin­ton go­ing to lec­ture me about liv­ing paycheck to paycheck?” Ru­bio asked. “I was raised paycheck to paycheck. How is she go­ing to lec­ture me about stu­dent loans? I owed over $100,000 just four years ago.”

(RE­LATED: John Kasich Is Steal­ing Jeb Bush’s Thun­der)

Losers

Jeb Bush

Bush didn’t stumble badly. But the former Flor­ida gov­ernor didn’t come off as the man most likely to be pres­id­ent, either; he was awk­ward at times, un­in­spir­ing at oth­ers. He did little to dis­pel the no­tion that his pub­lic pres­ence can be un­der­whelm­ing. He brought back pain­ful memor­ies of his cam­paign’s worst mo­ment, when Kelly re­vis­ited his sug­ges­tion earli­er this year that he would have ordered the in­va­sion of Ir­aq know­ing what he knows now.

“I re­mem­ber, Me­gyn,” he said, try­ing to laugh it off.

Bush’s ex­per­i­ence and gar­gan­tu­an bank ac­count guar­an­tee that most will still see him as the GOP front-run­ner after this — but it wasn’t his best night.

Ben Car­son

Car­son scored points at the night’s con­clu­sion, jok­ing about all the things that he, as a sur­geon, has done that his rivals hadn’t. But of the 10 can­did­ates on stage, he’s the one who came off as if he be­longed in Thursday’s earli­er “Happy Hour” de­bate. Car­son him­self seemed to sense he was the night’s for­got­ten man, jok­ing that the mod­er­at­ors had gone a long time between ask­ing him ques­tions.

“Well, thank you, Me­gyn,” he said when it was fi­nally his turn again. “I wasn’t sure I was go­ing to get to talk again.”

(RE­LATED: Trump Voters: Is This Really What You Want?)

Ted Cruz

Cruz sub­mit­ted a sol­id — if un­mem­or­able — per­form­ance. But he gets graded on a curve — and not well: This should be the former col­lege de­bater’s best format, and a hand­ful of his rivals had a bet­ter night. Worse yet for the sen­at­or from Texas was Trump’s per­form­ance, which sug­ges­ted that the bil­lion­aire — and his hold over the con­ser­vat­ive voters Cruz cov­ets — won’t fade from the race any­time soon.

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