The CNN Debate – Winners & Losers

UPDATE:  I’ll be on Al Jazeera America Tonight on a great program called Inside Story. It airs at 11:30pm EST.  The Host, Ray Suarez, is a former PBS/NewsHour veteran and a seasoned and accomplished journalist. These appearances are always thoughtful and insightful conversations.  There is a link to a prior appearance here. To see if you can get the show, there is a channel finder here

Tonight, on a stage crowded with strong men, they were led by a woman.

Carly Fiorina won this debate. Marco Rubio came in second.

Together they demonstrated the combination of depth and passion that Republicans will need to take back the White House next year.

For voters who want a fighter, an outsider and a leader, she checks all the boxes. And she has the greatest gift you can have in marketing – she’s different.

I would give her one piece of counsel – a little less intensity, and a smile every now and then would be a nice touch.  But tonight proved to Republicans that if she can take on a room full of tough men, she can surely hold her own with Hillary Clinton.

Fiorina is now likely to vault to the first tier of candidates and may be about to take a polling rocket ride. The next question she’ll have to answer is, can she sustain her orbit?  Can she continue to soar or, like so many others in presidential politics, does she lose trajectory and plummet back to Earth.

Marco Rubio had a great night. He reminded voters of all the qualities that he has that terrify the Clinton camp: strength, depth, youth, energy, his natural diversity and the power of his personal story.

Ted Cruz also had a good night. He is a master debater. He picked his spots in areas of strength – Planned Parenthood, Iran and judges – and laid back at other times where the issues didn’t cut to his advantage.  He was smart to pick his spots.

Christie and Kasich and even Rand Paul had moments, but it didn’t feel as though they did anything to fundamentally change their position.

The other big story of the night was the disappearing act of Donald Trump. The debate format clearly showed he is lacking not only in decorum, but depth. Other than on the issue of immigration, he was either reactive or unheard. Tonight the curtain was pulled back and we saw the Wizard of Oz for what he was, a shallow salesman who was all sizzle but no substance.

This debate also may have spelled the beginning of the end for Scott Walker. His debate was a microcosm of his entire campaign. He started early with high hopes, by taking on Trump and scoring early points. But by the end of the debate we were asking the same question we are asking tonight about his campaign: “Where did he go?”

On a final note, it’s also worth nothing that tonight demonstrated that the GOP has a deep bench and a bright future. My party has a lot of intriguing and diverse faces like Florina, Rubio, Cruz and Carson.  The party is in good hands going forward.

UPDATE:  A few more thoughts in Politico HERE and thanks to Mike Allen for the mention in Politico Playbook HERE.  Also shared a few Scott Walker thoughts HERE with the Wisconsin State Journal and I always love talking with Salena Zito, author of one of the best blogs ever, Off Road Politics HERE.