Thursday night's GOP debate in South Carolina may have been the last good chance for low-polling candidates to shake things up a little—but while it was a feisty affair, it was short on surprises, with front-runners Donald Trump and Ted Cruz dominating. Here's what the pundits are saying about the candidates' performances:
- Donald Trump. Trump turned in a very strong performance, winning applause with a spirited response to Cruz's attack on "New York values." His "performances in these debates are never home runs—he's too undisciplined and unprepared for that," writes Chris Cillizza at the Washington Post. "But, this was, without question his best debate."
- Ted Cruz. Analysts are split on whether Cruz or Trump came out on top, but the senator was an undeniable force to be reckoned with, and had one of the night's biggest moments when he went birther on Trump. At just over 18 minutes, he had the most speaking time of any of the seven candidates.
- Marco Rubio. While he was overshadowed by the Cruz-Trump fireworks, analysts say he turned in yet another solid debate performance. An attack on Cruz for flip-flopping in immigration did a lot to "firmly cement Mr Rubio as strongest candidate to represent the center-right of the establishment," according to Rob Crilly at the Telegraph.
- Chris Christie. It was a reasonably good night for Christie, who had some strong moments when sparring when Rubio, whom he told: "You already had your chance, Marco. You blew it." He "delivered the strongest debate performance of the establishment candidates as he touted his record as a governor and let his no-nonsense New Jersey spirit shine," writes Jeremy Diamond at CNN.
- Jeb Bush. It wasn't a terrible night for Bush, who sounded the most presidential despite his defeat appearing inevitable, writes Glenn Thrush at Politico. Bush served as a "reality check for a field ... which trucks in bombast, vagary and unsupported promises," he writes.
- John Kasich. Anybody who hoped this debate would provide the Ohio governor's breakout moment would have been disappointed. "He committed no real gaffes, but he delivered no memorable moments, either," writes Niall Stanage at the Hill.
- Ben Carson. This was the night Carson "surgically removed himself from contention," decides Thrush, who was far from the only analyst to call Carson the night's biggest loser. He spoke less than any other candidate and when he did, he seemed out of his depth, Cillizza writes.
(Meanwhile, Rand Paul won the undercard debate ... by skipping it