Jeb Bush

“I’m going to have to earn this. Maybe the bar is even higher for me.”

Robert Costa

National Political Reporter

Bush’s first presidential debate will be remembered for what didn’t happen: a turbulent tussle with Donald Trump. Instead, Trump called Bush a “gentleman” – ushering in a détente that could have consequences across the GOP race. Others may soon step in to remind voters of the Bush vulnerabilities that flared on Thursday: his time on the board of a group that backed Planned Parenthood, past support for the Common Core curriculum. His next threat may not be Trump but the ambitious non-Trumps who are looking to punch up.

David Weigel

National Political Reporter

He remains the front-runner who intimidates nobody. Fox’s moderators did not push him out of a comfort zone, and his rivals had precious little interest in doing so. His answers were honed yet lackadaisical – here I’m thinking of “We need to stop the Iran agreement, for sure.” Bush offered no real reason for the mainline Republican voter to ignore fresher faces and stick with him. If there is a case to make against Kasich, or Rubio, he needs to make it.

Ben Carson

“I’m the only one to take out half of a brain, although you would think, if you go to Washington, that someone had beat me to it.”

Robert Costa

National Political Reporter

When he got into the race, Carson had a plan: be the smart, anti-Washington voice who draws people who hate politics. Then Donald Trump jumped in and adopted Carson’s playbook, only with more bravado. Now, Carson is at a crossroads. His soft-spoken manner and penchant for wordy put-downs has fans, but he lacks political coherency and fervor. At the debate he joked that he “wasn’t sure” he’d “get to talk again.” He did get another chance, several of them, but never had a breakthrough moment.

David Weigel

National Political Reporter

Carson doesn’t seem to understand that most people are seeing him for the first or second time. If it’s the second time, they only know him from a sui generis, rip snorting National Prayer Breakfast speech where he attacked President Obama to his face. None of these candidates have less seasoning in political debate than Carson, and if he is to stay in the top tier, he needs to fix that. Carson left the stage without huge errors, but with nothing that would build his support.

Chris Christie

“If you think it’s bad now, you should have seen it when I got there.”

Robert Costa

National Political Reporter

Christie may have to wait weeks, if not months, to find an opening. As long as Donald Trump, another combative Northeastern Republican, remains in the race, it’s going to be hard for Christie’s personality, which has always been at the center of his political appeal, to stand out. Keeping up his tangles with Rand Paul over national security may be his best play. GOP hawks are still searching for a contender, and Christie, a former prosecutor, gets them juiced when he dismisses Paul as a libertarian on a "subcommittee blowing hot air."

David Weigel

National Political Reporter

His big idea, one that Washington always over-rates the appeal of, was Social Security reform that he said was necessary because “the trust fund is filled with IOUs.” That was a strange thing to say about Treasury bonds. Christie has suffered more than anyone from the rise of Trump, a chaotic candidate who has “told it like it is” without being bound by the fact-checking and coherence of an ordinary politician. Trump has his business failures; Christie has the record of New Jersey, which does not compare particularly well to Jeb Bush’s Florida or John Kasich’s Ohio.

Ted Cruz

“I will fight to defend liberty”

Robert Costa

National Political Reporter

Iowa, Iowa, Iowa. That’s where Cruz sees a possible bounce. Every answer Thursday seemed crafted for conservative caucus goers who hate the “Washington cartel” and politicians who “get in bed with the lobbyists and the special interests.” There was fervent talk of scripture, talk of his preacher father and fury for President Obama. But Cruz didn’t wow and he has not made a splash in some time. It wasn’t that he was flat, it’s just that two years after the shutdown made him Ted Cruz, tea party hero, his skirmishes with Senate GOP leaders don’t have the same aura of excitement they once did.

David Weigel

National Political Reporter

For long stretches of the debate, Cruz did what his Washington enemies dream about: he disappeared. That was partly bad luck (it was incredible that Paul, not Cruz, got to tell the story of a religious liberty fight in Houston), partly because Cruz never seemed to get beyond his campaign trail patter. His stories of wars in the Senate did not resonate as richly as his personal story. But he made no mistakes, and considering what Cruz wants to be – the de facto choice of conservatives and libertarians – that might be enough as the Trump fever rages. 

Mike Huckabee

“I’m not sure how paying for transgender surgery [in the military] makes our country safer.”

Robert Costa

National Political Reporter

By now, Huckabee’s aversion to social change – his absolute devotion to rolling back abortion rights, his denunciations of pop singers and political correctness – is as familiar to Republican voters as Pat Boone. To some Republicans, that’s a good thing. But it’s not clear how these affections translate to political resurgence. He stands out as someone who is respected but unsure of how to fully tap into trepidations over the culture — a struggle shared by Rick Santorum, another former Iowa victor.

David Weigel

National Political Reporter

As Rick Santorum rediscovers irrelevance and Ted Cruz courts Rand Paul’s restless base, Huckabee establishes himself as the holiest of holy warriors. He basically promised to start a constitutional battle with Democrats if elected, by invoking the Fifth and 14th amendments to define personhood as starting at the moment of conception. He bit right into a question about transgender people serving in the military. If no candidate is slipping after this debate, Huckabee sees a niche big enough to matter in a 10-way or 12-way race.

John Kasich

“God gives me unconditional love.”

Robert Costa

National Political Reporter

Ever since he got into the race last month, no one in the Republican Party, perhaps even Kasich, has been entirely sure about where he fits. Thursday night’s debate answered the question: smack dab between Donald Trump and Jeb Bush – and wearing a big heart on his sleeve. His talk of “rehabbing the drug addicted,” lifting “people in the shadows” and praise of Trump for “hitting a nerve” made him seem like an insider with an outsider’s sensibility.

In this field, it’s not a bad profile.

David Weigel

National Political Reporter

The strictures of a debate fit Kasich like a girdle – taut, uncomfortable, necessary. There were no puzzling digressions, no in-jokes. There was no real attack on any rival, just two points. One: I was there when we balanced the budget (“hasn’t been done since”). Two: I love everybody. He might not get another crowd this friendly, or set of questions this tailored to his strengths.

Rand Paul

“The Fourth Amendment was what we fought the revolution over!”

Robert Costa

National Political Reporter

Ron Paul followers who have grown skeptical of Paul the younger, unite. Rand Paul, libertarian warrior, is back, using a soaring, throaty cadence to woo you. Paul returned to touchstones of the movement his father once led: a non-interventionist foreign policy, suspicion of domestic surveillance and an insistent embrace of constitutional rights. That’ll wake up the grumblers in Sioux City who may have thought the “most interesting man in politics” stuff has rounded his edge.

David Weigel

National Political Reporter

He needed to be aggressive and remind libertarian voters that he was their lone anti-interventionist hope. He succeeded on both counts. “I don’t want my marriage or my guns registered in Washington” was a line that could have sounded like nonsense to 75 percent of Republican voters, but libertarians got it exactly. They also cheered his fight with Chris Christie, who happily played the mustache-twirling role that Rudy Giuliani played when Paul’s father ran for president. Paul needs to continue doing this, though he can’t control whether the media keeps on covering it.

Marco Rubio

“If this election is a resume competition, then Hillary is going to be the next president.”

Robert Costa

National Political Reporter

Rubio reminds me of Mickey Mantle in 1951. That year, Mantle was a rookie and rising force on a championship team, playing as well as the scouts had predicted. But he was regularly overshadowed by Joe DiMaggio’s dramatic final season. Rubio at the debate, and his campaign so far, have had similar challenges. Yet Rubio remains patient – energetically running out ground balls, slamming occasional doubles, giving the GOP a shot of blue collar credibility and immigrant roots. He bets 2016 may still be “about the future, not the past.” He may be right.

David Weigel

National Political Reporter

Conservative? Sure. (“I also believe that we need a fence.”) Personal story? Miles better than Jeb Bush’s. (“How is Hillary Clinton going to lecture me about living paycheck-to-paycheck?”) Rubio might have been the most adept at ignoring the Trump-Paul-Christie goat rodeo to further his message. Think about it: He said “future generations will look back at this history of our country and call us barbarians for murdering millions of babies who we never gave them a chance to live,” and no one walked away calling him right-wing.

Donald Trump

“If I am the nominee, I will not run as an Independent.”

Robert Costa

National Political Reporter

Trump’s performance Thursday revealed a politically raw novice but also a natural entertainer whose skills as a high-rolling business magnate and reality television host prepared him for his summer turn. Trump, too, showed a longing to be seen as more than a rambling billionaire. His resting face between answers was a portrait of furrowed-brow solemnity. Trump’s adversaries acknowledged that, in a time of conservative unrest, he has become a force who is instinctively channeling the base’s frustrations. To win the nomination, he has to do more of it.

David Weigel

National Political Reporter

Fox News set up a bear trap for Trump, and he ambled right into it. His characteristically scrambled answer on whether he might run a third-party campaign could dog him, not so much because he comes off as a threat in the general election, but because he sounds so slippery and hungry for power. In the past, he’s said he’d run if his voters were disrespected, and that’s a monumentally better way of putting this. That’s also where he can go next. Trump did not implode. He may have lost some support tonight, but it was telling that no candidate criticized him on the immigration and John McCain gaffes that once looked like weapons.

Scott Walker

“It’s only by the blood of Jesus Christ that I’ve been redeemed from my sins.”

Robert Costa

National Political Reporter

“Aggressively normal.” Walker used the phrase to describe himself at the debate and it was an apt summary. The question is whether normal is what conservative voters will be looking for after the summer of Trump. In a raucous year, Walker is running a straightforward Republican campaign: low taxes, evangelical outreach, more investment in the military and tough words for Islamic State terrorists. He touts his Midwestern background, his Everyman roots. In a normal year, it would probably be a likely track to the nomination.

David Weigel

National Political Reporter

There was no flash in this performance, which is exactly how Walker thrives. His explanation of his “evolution” to the right on abortion was a perfect fortune cookie of pointlessness: “People across America want a leader who’s going to listen to them.” And he carried an old-fashioned zinger in his pocket, about cyber hackers knowing more about Hillary Clinton’s e-mail than real Americans did. Walker can keep putting up performances like this, and limning his answers with social conservative patter, to remain the leader in Iowa.