The Winners and Losers in the Republican Presidential Debate

Mark J. Terrill / AP
Editor’s Note: This article previously appeared in a different format as part of The Atlantic’s Notes section, retired in 2021.

A bunch of us on the politics team spent the evening liveblogging (all three hours of) the second Republican presidential debate. Here’s my instant analysis of the best moments—and, of course, who the winners and losers were.

What did the nation learn about the Republican candidates on Wednesday night?

First, viewers learned that the presidential contenders are delighted to take swipes at each other all night, if given the opportunity.

Second, they learned that the performance that elevated Carly Fiorina from the happy-hour debate in Cleveland to the main stage at the Reagan Library was no fluke—she’s a skilled speaker.

Third, they learned that the listless performance Jeb Bush delivered last time around was no fluke either. The wounded former frontrunner once again seemed unsure how best to handle the crowded stage or the slugfest the debate became.

What they didn’t learn was a great deal about policy. That was a result of a couple, related problems. First, the rules of the debate allowed anyone who was mentioned by a rival to offer a rebuttal. But that often just led to a sideswipe at a third rival, producing a daisy chain of rebuttals, as the topic of conversation drifted farther and farther away from the original question and toward a series of recriminations already familiar from the campaign trail. Second, and relatedly, the moderators allowed themselves to be rolled over by the candidates over and over—the inmates taking over the asylum, perhaps.

Read the rest, and the full liveblog, here.