Seven Republican candidates got a chance to debate without Donald Trump present on Thursday night—though the man Megyn Kelly referred to as "the elephant not in the room" still dominated media coverage, causing some to declare him the winner. Here's what the pundits are saying about people who were actually present:
- Jeb Bush. Bush had a great night, most analysts agree, highlighting how different the GOP race might be with no Donald. He was "more relaxed and more forceful" and "looked positively presidential" without Trump bullying him, writes Chris Cillizza at the Washington Post. He bested Marco Rubio in an exchange on immigration and got in a few jabs at Hillary Clinton—and Trump.
- Marco Rubio. This wasn't Rubio's greatest debate, "but he had a better night than Cruz, which is strategically important for him," writes Niall Stanage at the Hill. He did, however, struggle when the debate turned to immigration reform.
- Rand Paul. After missing the last debate, Paul was another candidate to thrive in a Trump-less environment, and he proved to be "willing and able to speak to issues his party has struggled to address in recent years," writes Cillizza at the Post, who notes that while it's far too late for his campaign, "at least he had a moment."
- Chris Christie. The New Jersey governor had a good debate, offering his usual forceful arguments about his executive experience and his strength as a general election candidate, though "familiarity robs it of some of its power," writes Stanage at the Hill.
- Ted Cruz. Trump's strategy all along was to "create a circular GOP fire squad—with Ted Cruz at the center. And it worked," according to Glenn Thrush at Politico. Rival candidates hit Cruz early and often, and he also managed to lose several exchanges with the moderators, Thrush notes.
- John Kasich. Not an awful night for the Ohio governor, but one in which he failed to have any big moments, meaning that for his campaign to go anywhere now, "there are a lot of bodies he'll have to climb over," writes Anthony Zurcher at the BBC.
- Ben Carson. Carson went from "barely being asked any questions to providing answers that often bordered on incoherence," writes Cillizza. Like many others, he was puzzled by Carson's comments about Russia, which included the line "Putin is a one-horse country: oil and energy."
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