WASHINGTON – Donald Trump was the biggest loser in the marquee GOP debate on Wednesday, throwing away a chance to look and act presidential, while Carly Fiorina had an outstanding night and threw Trump off his blustery game.
The second Republican showdown at the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library in Simi Valley, Calif., served to highlight Trump’s vulnerability: He had little to say when the CNN debate turned to serious issues, especially on foreign policy.
With 11 people on the stage, it was hard for everyone to get in the game, even with a debate running more than three hours.
New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie stood out when he told Fiorina, the former Hewlett-Packard CEO, and Trump, the billionaire tycoon and reality show star, to stop bickering over who was a better CEO.
A confident Ohio Gov. John Kasich put aside a suggestion he should take some whacks at Democrat Hillary Clinton, saying there was time to deal with her later. He avoided any clashes, strategically staying above the fray.
While the main story out of the first debate in Cleveland last month was how Trump crushed it, the dynamics were different this time. That’s in large part because Fiorina made it to the main stage after being relegated to the underdog matchup in Cleveland.
Observations, winners and losers:
BUSH HIGH ENERGY: “More energy tonight, I like that,” Trump said about former Florida governor Jeb Bush, whom he has been gleefully taunting.
Bush seemed to surprise Trump when he attacked him over his push to to get casinos in Florida. Trump said that was “totally false” – a statement that is not true, according to several fact-checking reports.
Bush demanded an apology to his Mexican-born wife, Columba, when he said Bush was soft on immigration because of her. Trump never apologized.
Bush had a very humanizing moment when he admitted to smoking pot. His mom did not like it, he said.
Asked what his code name would be if president, Bush said “Eveready,” the battery with the Energizer Bunny, after which he high-fived with Trump. Bush needed to do more to make this debate vault him ahead of the pack.
TOO MEEK? Trump and Ben Carson, the retired neurosurgeon, are the frontrunners. But Carson just could not bring himself to jump in the fray.
BARELY THERE: Scott Walker, the Wisconsin governor, who really needed a strong night, rarely got a word in. Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, was fairly invisible.
WINNER: Fiorina was fluent in domestic and foreign specifics, coming prepared to show off.
She was asked to respond to Trump’s quote about her in a Rolling Stone interview , “Look at that face! . . . Would anyone vote for that? Can you imagine that, the face of our next president!”
Fiorina gave Trump a steely look and said, “I think women all over this country heard very clearly what Mr. Trump said.”
Trump looked silly in his comeback, saying that Fiorina has a “beautiful face.”
In the discussion about illegal drugs, Fiorina said matter of factly she had “buried a child to drug addiction,” a reference to the death of an adult stepdaughter.
TRUMP WEAK NIGHT: Trump at the start did a strange pivot, picking on Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky., out of the blue.
“Well, first of all, Rand Paul shouldn’t even be on this stage. He’s number 11, he’s got 1 percent in the polls, and how he got up here, there’s far too many people anyway.”
On almost every question where Trump could have displayed some subject mastery, he pivoted to something else.
He said dismissively that “few people” would know all those “Arab names” of Middle Eastern leaders, and it would not matter because he would get the best people to advise him.
Rubio shot back, saying a president has to be ready to lead “on the first day.”
Trump also again bragged about all the money he is turning down from would be donors, saying one person wanted to give him “$5 million.” Under federal laws, that large contribution would be illegal.