After the escalating pattern of hostilities over the previous 11 GOP debates, the 12th offered what seemed like the strangest spectacle yet: four Republican candidates calmly discussing the issues, with nary a mention of bodily parts or functions. Marco Rubio was widely seen as having turned in the best performance, though the lack of any standout moments from rivals left the relatively subdued Donald Trump in the best position at the end of the night. Here's what commentators are saying about the candidates:
- Donald Trump. He pursued a strategy common to front-runners: "play not to lose, avoid mistakes or eruptions, and force the opposition to change the dynamic," writes Dan Balz at the Washington Post. He didn't really seem to know what he was talking about most of the time, Balz notes, but that hasn't been a problem for him before. Mark Halperin at Bloomberg also declares Trump—"the luckiest front-runner"—the winner, mainly because the three underdogs largely left him alone and failed to score big moments of their own.
- Marco Rubio. The Florida senator was "poised, confident, and knowledgeable" on his home turf, writes Chris Cillizza at the Washington Post, who credits him for avoiding attacks on Trump and for "performing extremely well when the chips were down," even though it's probably too late to save his campaign.
- Ted Cruz. This was a good but not good enough performance from Cruz, according to Niall Stanage at the Hill, who considers Trump and Rubio the winners. His debating "was proficient, as it almost always is, but he delivered no moments spectacular enough to derail the Trump train," he writes. Leon Wolf at RedState, however, calls Cruz the winner simply because the debate left him on course to become Trump's sole opponent. Wolf gives Cruz bonus points because "on several occasions, he demonstrated that he knew what he was talking about, and that Donald Trump did not."
- John Kasich. The Ohio governor had some excellent lines and turned in a competent performance, but not one likely to catapult him to the GOP nomination. Last week, Kasich emerged as "the adult in the room during a childish debate that for all intents and purposes devolved into a middle-school food fight," writes Andrew Tobias at Cleveland.com, but he failed to stand out during Thursday's more well-mannered affair.
Click for some of the debate's best lines
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