I stuck around for only the first half of the 10-candidate debate last night but still came away with some impressions.
Start with Donald Trump: Although he was still the bombastic, egotistical narcissist he's always been, Trump did not do as badly as he might have — meaning, he didn't punch any of his fellow candidates or the Fox News questioners (who didn't toss any softballs to him or the others). He didn't sound presidential, but most of the time he didn't sound like a lunatic. He even made an occasional valid point, and didn't deny that he often insults people (whom he considers to be beneath him).
Jeb Bush: Of all the candidates, he looked the most presidential. It helps if you're the tallest candidate in the room. He seemed reasonable and knowledgeable but didn't run away with the debate. Jeb took the "political dynasty" question and did as well as anyone could with it, i.e., "I am my own man. I am running on my own record." Etc.
Marco Rubio: His comment that "this election is about the future" might have been the best comment of the night, a comment that could resonate with younger voters (Rubio is 44). The comment averts questions about past GOP positions and policies, and it opens a clean slate. Rubio has an eloquence and a forceful delivery that gives a Kennedy-esque aura.
Ted Cruz: The Texas senator seems determined to come across as the meanest SOB on the stage. His facial expression seems fixed in a pugilistic mode, and he seems ready to take a punch at somebody, anybody, at any moment. He is the master of the sanctimonious put-down and the vague but forceful catch-phrase.
Mike Huckabee: The former Arkansas governor and TV personality is clearly older than four years ago, but his delivery and speech have been honed by his time on talk-TV. His assertion that "personhood" begins at conception, and the newly fertilized ovum is protected by the Fifth and 14th Amendments is astounding. No court decision has asserted such a sweeping conception (excuse the pun), but he wants to argue that a newly formed zygote has a DNA and therefore is protected by the equal protection clause of the Constitution.
Rand Paul: Paul came across as feisty and a bit courageous in his willingness to challenge Trump. I wondered if the two might come to blows. While he fared well in defending his position on foreign aid, ISIS and domestic spying, his combativeness didn't seem presidential but rather Trump-ish. Paul's line about being tired of seeing ISIS troops riding around in a billion dollars worth of U.S. Humvees was memorable.
Chris Christie: Speaking of feisty. Christie couldn't seem to decide whether he should be belligerent or warm and fuzzy. He claimed that only he had the ability to challenge terrorists because he had prosecuted terror cases as a federal attorney. Paul got under his skin by reminding everyone of his hug of President Obama (after Superstorm Sandy), which Christie defended by veering off on his hugs to terrorist victim families. Non sequitur, Governor?