The New Hampshire debate is over, and its implications will be seen on Tuesday.
One thing is clear: Ted Cruz remains the "consistent conservative" in the race.
While candidates like John Kasich, Jeb Bush, and Chris Christie were duking it out with Marco Rubio for the second-place crown, Cruz and Donald Trump were parrying to become the heavyweight champion. Cruz won on points.
Here are some key takeaways I had from the debate:
The Carson Apology
Cruz handled the question very well and laid the blame appropriately on CNN. The network’s attack on Ted alleging that his answer was false almost served to ratify that it was correct. By reporting how unusual it was for Ben Carson to leave the road after Iowa, the anchors were clearly inviting speculation that he would pull out.
Ted’s apology to Carson was sincere, heartfelt, and effective.
Carson handled the issue with class — he did not have much choice — and it was effectively over. Carson was not heard from for the rest of the night. He had only eight minutes of face time, last in the field. (Rubio had the most, followed by Cruz).
Rubio's destruction began when Christie chided him for not showing up for the Hezbollah vote after Rubio had listed it as one of his achievements. Rubio made a mistake in rattling off achievements rather than dwelling on and selling each one.
Then Christie closed in with an attack on Rubio’s lack of administrative experience. Bush piled on. Rubio was unprepared and looked like a deer in the headlights. He sweated.
Then he made a Rick Perry-like mistake in repeating his talking points about Obama’s competence right after Christie had called him on it the first time.
Rubio's Destruction, Part II
Rubio blundered for a second time that night on immigration, failing to explain why he gave up on the Gang of Eight. He should have said that in the aftermath of the Central American kids there was no appetite for reform. Instead, he spoke about the wall and sounded both confused and weak.
Christie hammered him on it and compounded his problems by skillfully dissecting Rubio.
Rubio's Destruction Part III
Christie ripped Rubio over his abandonment of his immigration bill a second time and scored again. Rubio looked weak and ineffective.
Rubio's failure to handle immigration questions well and his weak appearance on the issue makes it increasingly difficult for him to rebut the attacks over amnesty. It translates not just into a sense that Rubio is weak, but that he is lost on the immigration issue itself. (The wrong issue to be lost on when running against Cruz)
Cruz drew a question on North Korea that he hit out of the ballpark with the specificity of his answer, his naming of the weapons systems he would deploy, his invocation of the EMP. It was a great answer that showed his competence and knowledge.
The moderators hurt Rubio by asking about his support of the Gang of Eight bill.
Cruz delivered a great response on what he would do about illegal immigrants. His specific steps were excellent.
Trump's answer to a question about his healthcare plan was OK about competition across state lines, but when he spoke of not letting people die in the street, he seemed over the top and extreme. A lot of people probably didn't know what he was talking about.
Trump Attacks the Audience
Trump regained his form when he lashed out at the audience for booing him, pointing out that it was party donors who got tickets. Brilliant move. Typical Trump. His debate performance had been lackluster until then, but he redeemed himself with his excellent attack.
Bush Bests Trump Over Eminent Domain
Donald got lively defending eminent domain, claiming Keystone wouldn’t get 10 feet without it.
Bush skillfully distinguished private from public. While he was unable to cleanly make the point about the widow whose home Trump wanted to take — due to Trump’s interruptions — he did succeed in making the point that it was for a parking lot for limos at the casinos.
The Torture Issue
Trump did very well in his answer on torture and appealed to his blue collar male base, Very good answer for him.
Cruz Shows His Heart on Drugs and Overdose
Ted's answer about his sister was moving and well told. We were on the edge of our seats wondering how it would end. I assumed that she had died, otherwise Ted would not be so free to tell the story. But the denouement came with a wallop nonetheless.
Trump was excellent in attacking Hillary and boasting about how he’d beat her. His answer catalyzed the thought that Trump would make short work of her in debate as he would be as acerbic and aggressive with her as he had been with his fellow Republicans. Kind of like an audition.
Rubio was eloquent in saying Hillary was disqualified from being commander in chief but his answer seemed scripted and formulaic.
Cruz Closes Over Ethanol
While every other candidate delivered standard responses in the closing, Cruz chose to emphasize his consistency in fighting ethanol in Iowa and winning anyway. It was unexpected and effective.
Dick Morris is well known for hard-hitting, nonpartisan commentary about U.S. politics. He has written many books, including his 1997 best-selling memoir of the Clinton administration, "Behind the Oval Office, Winning the Presidency in the Nineties." His latest is "Power Grab: Obama's Dangerous Plan foe a One Party Nation." For more of his reports, Go Here Now.