So what we saw, primarily, were the two other standouts of the race dominating the proceedings — Ted Cruz and Marco Rubio. Neither had his best night, if you were scoring on points, but in the end they did what successful debaters need to do. They gave the voters of Iowa and beyond a real choice.
The choice is not about substance, though Ted Cruz would dearly like voters to think so. It’s about style.
There are differences between them on policy, and they are significant, especially on foreign policy. But on the matters of direct concern to Republicans right now, their differences are differences of degree.
They’re both conservatives. They’re appalled by President Obama’s constitutional overreach. They hate ObamaCare. They both say they’ll kill terrorists and build up the military and they have bad things to say about Hillary Clinton.
The Fox News debate team hit both of them at their weakest points.
Rubio’s weak underbelly is immigration and how his positions have shifted over time. He was forced to try and square the circle when the moderators queued up footage showing those shifts, and it’s not easily squared.
But Rubio’s surreal fluency and ability to summon up torrents of words in his own defense — and in attacking Cruz and Jeb Bush when they hit him on the inconsistencies — mitigated some of the damage.