The final question of Thursday night's Republican debate, on whether God is telling the candidates what they need to do first as president, was just bizarre and uncomfortable. Many, if not most Americans, are good with leaders who rely on a spiritual relationship with a higher power. Few, though, are enamored of a president who actually hears a deity say, "You need to lower taxes six points and reduce coal emissions."
Sen. Ted Cruz, Govs. John Kasich and Scott Walker handled the ridiculous query with grace, which is about all that could be hoped for.
In the closing statements, practically all candidates other than retired neurosurgeon Ben Carson seemed less comfortable than they had with questions. It was the low point of an evening that was pretty good.More coverageOpinion and analysis about the 2016 presidential campaignCartoonsCartoons: The race to the presidency in 2016 CartoonCartoon: Early for 2016?
Here are five GOP presidential candidates who had a memorable evening:
Donald Trump, of course, repeatedly. Whether he was defending his bankruptcies, calling people stupid, talking about how he buys politicians who then do his bidding, or defending his often liberal stances (many of which he says he has evolved past), he was 100 percent unabashed Donald.
Former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush, because he's a front-runner and did nothing to hurt himself. It was, in fact, probably his best day of the race to date. No gaffes, and came across as fairly human. Bush is never going to be a charmer a la Bill Clinton. He's selling steadiness, and he was steady Thursday night.
New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie presented a reasoned, and mostly non-bullying tone, but was forceful and direct when talking about tough issues like Social Security funding. It was the Christie who many in the GOP were in love with at one time. But it was also the Christie who tends to over personalize issues, which voters did not love after his 2012 GOP convention speech.
Ohio Gov. John Kasich, such an unknown in general, took advantage of a hometown crowd, a gentle tone and wide smile to make a good impression. It wasn't apocalyptic. I can'trecall particularly strong policy points, except for his tremendous resume, but he likely did himself some good in his first pass on the national stage.
Sen. Rand Paul of Kentucky has nuanced opinions that can be very tough to get across in a presidential debate setting. On Thursday night, he managed to explain his stances on the Patriot Act, cutting foreign aid (including to Israel) and why the federal government doesn't need to be involved in anyone's marriage. In one of the clearest ideology lines of the night, he said about foreign aid: "Do you borrow money from China to give to our enemies."But that doesn't mean the Republican Party will agree with him.
Hillary Clinton, the frontrunner for the Democratic presidential nod, did not get hit as hard as some predicted. Many of the candidates didn't spend too much energy attacking her, nor too much attacking each other. They mostly touted their own accomplishments and plans, which was refreshing.
There were no real gaffes, and it was not a terribly sound-bitey night for anyone other than Trump. But the real winner may have been Fox News, which put on an at-times contentious debate by asking tough questions. The network is often quite easy on Republicans in other settings.