Thoughts on the Latest Republican Debate

The latest Republican Party debate in Greenville, South Carolina was a lively, messy affair. There were plenty of heated moments and no clear winner emerged on Saturday night. Former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush, whose performance in these debates has steadily improved, had a pretty good night. He went after Donald Trump and had some success. Given the current political climate, it's still extremely unlikely that Bush would be the GOP nominee, but at least his campaign is now far more respectable than it once was.

Sen. Marco Rubio recovered from his disappointing debate performance in New Hampshire; it will be interesting to see how well he does in South Carolina. Rubio had some intense exchanges with Sen. Ted Cruz, something we're likely to see more of in the weeks ahead -- particularly as it relates to immigration.

Ben Carson delivered another soporific performance -- don't expect him to stay in the race much longer. Ohio Gov. John Kasich is running an admirable campaign and has continued to play up his (comparatively) more moderate stance on the issues. Unfortunately, moderation doesn't seem to be getting a lot of traction with primary voters and that's unlikely to change.

What more can be said about Trump? The orange-skinned loudmouth didn't have a good night, yet it's not clear if that matters. Frankly, it's not clear that Trump's debate performance has ever really mattered. Trump's preternatural ability to blend ideological incoherence and amazingly vague policy prescriptions with a consistently combative debate style makes him truly special.

It appears that the Donald, a political hooligan par excellence, can say and do whatever he wants; loyal Trumpians will support him enthusiastically. Recent polling suggests that Trump is still way ahead in South Carolina.

Aside from Trump, who was the biggest loser on Saturday night? Others have already pointed out that one could make a compelling case that the GOP was the biggest loser of all. As Chris Cillizza writes in The Washington Post:

This debate was downright nasty. Tons of name-calling. Lots of quotes that can be harvested by Democrats to be used against whoever emerges from the current bloodbath to be the Republican nominee. Just a bad face to put forward to the public.

The race for the White House is far from over, although the continued success of Trump and Cruz should worry all thoughtful Americans.