Nine GOP presidential candidates gathered for the Las Vegas showdown Tuesday evening, but businessman Donald Trump and Texas Sen. Ted Cruz, who are in the top-tier of the polls, gave some of the stronger performances of the night, according to pundits. Trump appeared to be calm and collected, as he offered specifics in his retorts, while Cruz passionately sparred with Florida Sen. Marco Rubio over immigration reform.
Boston Globe reporter Matt Viser noted the debate reflected the polls. "Seems nothing fundamentally changed tonight," he tweeted. "Trump-Rubio-Cruz all strong."
Seems nothing fundamentally changed tonight. Trump-Rubio-Cruz all strong. Bush had a good night. Carson fading, Christie showing potential.
— Matt Viser (@mviser) December 16, 2015
AL News hailed Cruz as the winner. "Cruz came into the debate enjoying his strongest numbers yet and his answers Tuesday showed why he's enjoying that support. When asked about Trump's Muslim ban, he walked a fine line between acknowledging the fears behind the idea while saying he disagreed. His answers on foreign policy, especially related to military force against ISIS, were direct and will play well with voters. Cruz had his best debate showing to date and also showed that when he starts talking, you can't interrupt him," the news site wrote.
Online polls offered similar conclusions. A CBS News poll showed Trump in the lead with 47 percent of the vote. Drudge Report's poll showed Trump received about 48 percent of the votes, with more than 45,000 votes. Trump was the most popular in Slate's poll, in which he received 63 percent of the votes.
Earlier in the day, Trump took to Twitter to claim that he had won all of the four other debates, even though pundits did not draw the same conclusions in past debates. "I won every debate so far according to all debate polls," he tweeted.
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) December 15, 2015
Sen. Lindsey Graham commanded the lower-tier debate, according to some pundits. "For sheer command of performance & specificity, looks like Graham has won another undercard debate," David Catanese, a U.S. News and World Report reporter, tweeted.
BBC reporter Anthony Zurcher said based off the amount of attention Graham received in the press room, it would appear that he won the undercard debate.
For sheer command of performance & specificity, looks like Graham has won another undercard debate.
— David Catanese (@davecatanese) December 16, 2015
The top-tier GOP debate also featured neurosurgeon Ben Carson, former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush, former Hewlett-Packard CEO Carly Fiorina, New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, Ohio Gov. John Kasich, and Kentucky Sen. Rand Paul. CNN anchor Wolf Blitzer moderated the debate. CNN anchor Dana Bash and conservative talk radio host Hugh Hewitt joined Blitzer.
Gov. Christie made a point of speaking directly to -- and for -- the audience, saying the public didn't want to listen to hair-splitting policy debates. He repeatedly mentioned his experience as a prosecutor to bolster his credentials as someone prepared to enforce laws and go after bad guys. While he may not have boosted himself into the top tier nationally, he probably helped maintain his recent momentum in New Hampshire.
Jeb Bush was widely seen as having his best debate performance yet. Of all the candidates, he went most directly at Trump, dismissing his plan to ban Muslims as not serious and as contributing to the tensions between the U.S. and the Arab world. Bush used the word "serious" a half-dozen times in describing what kind of leader the nation needs. He said Trump was a "chaos" candidate who would make the world more chaotic. It appeared to be a rehearsed line -- but unlike his obviously scripted smack at Rubio's Senate attendance record in the previous debate, he delivered it comfortably. Still, the more confident performance Tuesday night may have come too late to pull the former front-runner's campaign into double digits.
The most consistent line in the debates -- used by virtually all the candidates -- was to repeatedly tie presumed Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton to President Barack Obama as responsible for the spread of ISIS terror. In the Democratic debate coming up Saturday, Clinton will have her chance to respond.