GOP Debate: Winners, Losers, Report Card

Carson GOP Debate Fox Business (Scott Olson / Getty)
Scott Olson / Getty

The clear winner of Tuesday night’s GOP debate was the Fox Business Network, which conducted two lively sessions that were freewheeling, substantive–and, for the most part, fair. The entire GOP field benefited from the chance to showcase their policies.

But while most did well, and a few had their best nights of the presidential campaign thus far, some did better than others. Here, in order, is how each of the Republican contenders performed.

Ben Carson: A Carson was the overall winner. He defended his record from personal attacks and gave detailed, substantive, convincing answers on both economics and foreign policy. It was his best debate so far–and by far.

Donald Trump: A- Trump also had one of his best debates thus far. Aside from an opening gaffe in which he said wages were “too high,” he invoked Dwight Eisenhower on immigration and did well on trade and foreign policy.

Ted Cruz: A- Cruz delivered another solid performance on all fronts, slamming the IRS, defending opponents of illegal immigration, and ribbing journalists. He missed an opportunity to stand out, but made no real mistakes.

Rand Paul: B+ Paul had his best debate yet, hitting Marco Rubio over military spending and attacking Democrats, arguing that inequality is greatest in the places they govern. He showed flashed of his early potential in the race.

Carly Fiorina: B+ Fiorina’s best answer was on Obamacare, where she spoke in detail about why it should be repealed and what should replace it. She took a few late, and probably needless, jabs at other candidates.

Jeb Bush: B More than any other candidate, Bush kept the focus on Hillary Clinton. But he allowed Kasich to interrupt him, and his answers, while substantive, were abstract rather than addressing voters’ concerns directly.

Marco Rubio: B Rubio looked angry for much of the night, and came off worse in the exchange with Paul, talking himself into a corner on military spending. But he recovered latter in a stirring defense of American strength.

John Kasich: B- Kasich looked greedy in the beginning, repeatedly interrupting other candidates, much to their–and the audience’s–annoyance. His answers later in the evening, however, were more patient and thoughtful.

Undercard debate:

Chris Christie: A Christie used nearly every single answer to attack Hillary Clinton rather than the others on the stage. He may have had no other choice after being relegated from the main stage, but it was an effective tactic.

Bobby Jindal: A- Jindal took on Christie’s record in New Jersey and gave strident, effective answers to questions about his own. Somehow, he still struggles to project a presidential persona, but overall he had a solid performance.

Mike Huckabee: B+ Huckabee had a good debate, and one great moment when he talked about the distinction between welfare reform and entitlement reform, arguing that current beneficiaries should not have to suffer.

Rick Santorum: B+ Santorum is always solid in these debates, and defended his controversial stance in support of the Export-Import Bank. He remains focused, however, on the other candidates rather than the bigger picture.

Summary: 1. Carson 2. Trump 3. Cruz, and honorable mention to Christie and Jindal.