Wednesday night’s CNBC debate in Boulder, Colo., was the night the gloves came off in the GOP. Bush and Rubio ended a months-long détente. Kasich said his rivals can’t do math. Cruz ignored questions about policy to grandstand in a screed against the media. And, for the first time, Donald Trump, the one-time front runner who is slipping in the polls, was largely inconsequential to the proceedings. Here are the winners and losers:
Winners: Marco Rubio had the breakout moment he’s been waiting patiently for. Gone is the slow-and-steady build-up—he’s ready to become the Bush slayer. Rubio swatted back Bush’s attack on his voting record, sending his former mentor reeling, while parrying a host of contentious questions about his financial situation and preparedness to be president with crowd-pleasing attacks on the media. Already one of the most popular candidates in the race with sky-high favorability numbers, it’s not a question of whether Rubio’s support will grow after this debate—it’s just how high. Ted Cruz had been overshadowed by the rise of Trump and Carson in the first two contests this cycle and on Wednesday, he decided it was his time to make his move. Repeatedly criticizing the debate moderators, the conservative firebrand delivered the sort of red meat that the GOP base loves. Ben Carson found a target on his back as he rose to the top of the polls, and while he struggled repeatedly to explained his economic plans, he avoided any major missteps. Carson supporters going into the debate had no reason to abandon him, which sometimes is about as good an outcome a candidate can hope for. Chris Christie and John Kasich have both cast themselves as practical alternatives to Bush this cycle and they each made progress at showing how they could replace him in the GOP’s establishment lane. Christie delivered what amounted to the night’s coup de grâce to Jeb, implicitly criticizing him for wasting time answer a question on fantasy football, while Kasich stole Bush’s thunder in attacking the Carson and Trump economic plans. The challenge for the pair: there is only room for one of them.
Didn’t win, Didn’t lose: Carly Fiorina had a star moment after the second debate, but couldn’t repeat the performance in Boulder as her polling bubble burst. But she largely withstood attacks on her record and reminded GOP voters why they liked her: because she’s a potent critic of Hillary Clinton.
Losers: Jeb Bush called on Marco Rubio to resign for missing his day job in Washington, only to have his attack thrown in his face. The one-time front-runner needed to send a signal to wary donors and voters that he still wants to be a candidate after sounding increasingly defeatist on the campaign trail. He leaves the debate even worse than he entered and his rivals emboldened by his performance. Donald Trump dominated the first two debates, but proved to be a non-factor Wednesday night, fading into obscurity as his opponents on stage shined. Coming on the heels of his declining poll numbers, the performance provided a taste of what the GOP race might look like without Trump—and GOP voters may have liked what they saw. Rand Paul had spent the weeks going into the debate arguing that his campaign wasn’t going away, despite poor fundraising, high spending and anemic poll numbers, but when it came to the debate stage, but that didn’t come through on stage. He spoke even less than Bush, and when he did, decided to argue with the moderators for time. Adding insult to injury, he even found his family’s signature issue—auditing the Fed—co-opted by Cruz. A one-time evangelical darling, Mike Huckabee found his entitlement proposals under assault and his lane dominated by Cruz and Carson. Largely disappearing on stage, he too struggled with the moderators for time, and when he had it, did little with it. The moderators: After a chaotic debate in California last month, the candidates learned they could simply ignore time constraints without consequence. In Colorado, the CNBC panel found itself overwhelmed by emboldened candidates and underprepared for them to challenge the premise of contentious candidates. The result was the most tumultuous debate of the cycle, rather than the substantive policy debate the network had telegraphed.
Meanwhile in Washington, Speaker of the House John Boehner will turn over the gavel to Paul Ryan, who will make the case that it’s a “new day” in Congress, signaling to frustrated conservative members that things will be different under his leadership without insulting the controversial outgoing leader.
Here are your must-reads:
How Jeb Bush Lost the Debate
He fell into Rubio’s obvious trap [TIME]
What You Missed While Not Watching the Third Republican Debate in Colorado
TIME’s Michael Scherer’s minute-by-minute breakdown
John Boehner Gives His Exit Interview
The outgoing Speaker reflects on his time in Washington to TIME’s Jay Newton-Small
How Bernie Sanders Evolved on Gay Marriage
He’s long opposed anti-gay laws, but he was not an advocate for gay marriage until recently, TIME’s Sam Frizell writes
Protesters at Donald Trump Rallies Face Increasing Violence
TIME’s Tessa Berenson on heightened tensions at Trump events
“You find me a Democrat that’s for cutting spending $10, I’ll give them a warm kiss.” — Bush at the CNBC debate, asked whether he’d accept a fiscal deal that cut spending and raised taxes at a 10-1 ratio
“I’m not running against Governor Bush. I’m not running against anyone on this stage. I am running for President” — Rubio throwing Bush’s attack on his voting record in his face
BONUS: “There’s no need to pile on Gov. Bush after his performance tonight. Their exchange speaks for itself.” Rubio campaign manager Terry Sullivan twisting the knife to reporters after the debate
Bits and Bites
Hillary Clinton Backs Use of Death Penalty [Wall Street Journal]
Reince Priebus Follows Candidates in Criticizing Debate Moderators [New York Times]
Rubio Avoids Attacking Bush on Morning Shows [Washington Post]