The debate looked tame until the end. Did Cruz try to paint Trump as a feckless neophyte? Trump tried to brand Cruz as a scary hunchback who can’t be trusted? Trump tried to wipe Trump from the record with Cruz’s boring position on the position? I don’t know.
Trump was surprisingly calm in the early going and almost unwatchable for about a third of the debate. That moment when he turned around and said “not bad,” evidently knowing that Trump had been lost for the entire hour, “because people can’t stand listening to him,” as if The New York Times reported that couldn’t have been Trump’s own observations, is one of the moments Trump is going to regret forever.
Trump totally missed a golden opportunity to close out with a knock-out blow — Cruz and Trump are little bit weirdo, potentially dangerous nebulae of virulence — and Trump’s opponent tried to capitalize.
Trump was really at his best when reacting to his opponent, but after a certain point Cruz stopped trying to help Trump, so Trump became competitive, um, and he seemed to encourage it. Trump seemed bored after a while. Nobody was impressed with the debate before Trump and everyone was put off by it after.
As for what happened in the debate itself? It’s best to listen to Howard Wolfson:
Then Fox News gave their perception of who won the debate:
This was the debate that Trump gave Trump, the one he would have hoped the other man would deliver in exchange for playing down his barbs. Trump promised, through all the shellacking, that he would not directly respond to a Fox News question about a possible Trump/Cruz alliance, but boy, did Trump disappoint. Fox News questioned Trump about a hostile to Trump statement made by Cruz’s son, a question posed to Cruz himself by Trump. Trump opened with a shrug, and closed with a shrug. He had to explain, needlessly, why he called Cruz a “Lyin’ Ted.” And his final answer was by far the most unsavory. It was as if he chose to pose this an interview on a tape recorder, and then wondered why everyone had written it as a question.