The early Republican debate on Fox News was exactly like an undercard bout on a big championship fight night: No one got knocked out of the race, nor did anyone make the kind of move that would earn them a shot at the title, but the arcs of several candidates did advance, or decline.
Former Texas Gov. Rick Perry had the best showing. He was smooth and forceful on immigration (albeit pretty much wrong) and the economy. He seemed smart, serious and unhesitant.
Carly Fiorina, the former Hewlett-Packard chief executive, also raised her stock a bit, but not a ton. She certainly seemed knowledgeable and thoughtful, but she did not have a "Darn, she needs to be president" moment. Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal has improved over the past decade but still just seems....odd. He neither lost many friends nor made many, and the same is true for former Gov. Jim Gilmore of Virginia and George Pataki of New York. They were just...fine. South Carolina Sen. Lindsey Graham seemed hesitant and almost physically ill, looking and sounding nothing like the 20-year congressional veteran he is.
Other than Perry, former Sen. Rick Santorum of Pennsylvania probably had the best night, if only because he's so confident in what he believes and so practiced in explaining it. Sincerity was Santorum's strength in 2012, and it likely will be again.
On policy Repeal and replace Obamacare, secure the border, cut taxes, revive the economy, be really hard on the Islamic State and Iran. There really wasn't a bit of daylight between their stances, poll-tested to not offend Republican voters, with the exception of Pataki's pro-abortion rights stance.
Ideally, these debates and these pieces would (and will, as we go forward) be about ideas, but there wasn't much new on the idea front, which makes it all about the personalities. The most common attack on political reporting now is the accusation that it's all "horse-race journalism."
There's truth to that, but some of it is the lack of ideas worth writing about.
So, Perry and Santorum may have moved forward. No one really moved backward, with the possible exception of Graham, who may get a pass if we find out he was horribly ill and toughed it out. And viewers hoping the early-debate participants would be rabid in their attempts to garner their attentions They didn't get the bout they were looking for to prime them for the main event later tonight.