Republican 2016 debate: Who were the winners and losers?

The setting for the first Republican debate certainly resembled a TV game show, but the contestants - I mean candidates - don't win a prize after just one round. They will have to endure many more in the months ahead and for now it's mainly a game of survival. Here's how the top 10 fared.


Donald Trump

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There was speculation that Donald Trump was going to tone down his rhetoric during the debate to appear more dignified and presidential. So much for that.

Best moment: When asked about immigration, he boasted that he's singlehandedly made it an issue in the race, which is largely true. Then he bashed reporters and "stupid politicians" for good measure.

Biggest flop: Trump was asked to defend his past support of a single-payer style health insurance programme, similar to the UK's government-run NHS. He began his remarks by saying it works "incredibly well" in places like Canada and Scotland, and went downhill from there.

Final verdict: Trump dominated the stage, but for once he had to answer some direct questions.


Jeb Bush

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Bush was put on the defensive early and often by the Fox debate moderators. His strategy likely was to try to stay above the fray, but sometimes he seemed to be floating so high he was bumping against the rafters of the arena.

Best moment: He was asked about whether he considered Trump a clown - right after Trump gave a meandering response to an abortion question. Instead of going on the attack, he gave a sharp synopsis of his Florida economic record and said he wanted to offer a "hopeful, optimistic message".

Biggest flop: As expected, Bush was asked about the wisdom of the Iraq War. He eventually turned it into a critique of Barack Obama's foreign policy, but it took him much too long to get there.

Final verdict: He didn't stumble, but his performance isn't going to win over any of his conservative critics.


Scott Walker

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Was Scott Walker at this debate? At times, the mild-mannered Wisconsinite who made his bones as a union-slayer seemed to be missing in action. He had the second-least amount of airtime during the debate, ahead of only Rand Paul.

Best moment: He adequately fielded several questions about foreign policy - a perceived area of weakness - and even got off a zinger, saying that the Russians and Chinese probably know more about Hillary Clinton's e-mail server than the US Congress.

Biggest flop: On a question about God, he said: "It's only by the blood of Jesus Christ that I've been redeemed from my sins." Americans generally like their politicians to be religious - but not too openly sectarian.

Final verdict: Walker's poll standing has made him a top-tier candidate, but he seemed a bit timid on the big stage.


Rand Paul

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The Kentucky senator came out swinging in the debate, jumping in to mock Donald Trump right at the opening bell. His campaign, once full of potential, has stumbled, and it appeared his goal was to shake things up one way or another.

Best moment: Paul's best moment was perhaps the best moment of the whole debate, an animated face-off against Chris Christie over balancing national security and individual liberty. It's Paul motivating issue, and it showed.

Biggest flop: In a party where one of the biggest applause lines is support for Israel, Paul's budget-based explanation for why he wants to cut off all aid to the nation likely won't fly.

Final verdict: Paul bills himself as a "different kind of Republican", and that was clear tonight. He was animated and aggressive, but it may not be what conservative voters want.


Chris Christie

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Christie has promised to offer straight talk, and he didn't disappoint. He showed his pugnacious side in his argument with Paul and skewered what is often considered a sacred cow in his call for reforming Social Security.

Best moment: It's hard to pick a winner in the Paul-Christie battle over government surveillance. Paul probably showed the most passion - and nailed the governor by bringing up his infamous Obama hug just before election day in 2012 - but Christie is probably more in line with where the majority of Republicans are right now.

Biggest flop: The New Jersey governor missed a big opportunity to defend his home state when Donald Trump talked about the difficulties of doing business in Atlantic City. There will be an angry voicemail from the local Chamber of Commerce in the morning.

Final verdict: Christie was composed and assertive, but that Obama hug may haunt Christie for the rest of his political career.


Mike Huckabee

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Huckabee was given plenty of opportunity to weigh in on social issues, and he took full advantage of them. Evangelical conservatives are his base, and they had to be pleased with what they heard

Best moment: Huckabee got to be the candidate who defended Social Security from Chris Christie's calls from reform. Given that the Republican primary electorate trends older, that's not a bad place to be.

Biggest flop: When asked about transgendered soldiers, he said: "The purpose of the military is kill people and break things". That was perhaps a bit too blunt, even for a Republican audience.

Final verdict: He toned down the fiery rhetoric but still had some memorable lines.


Marco Rubio

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The Florida senator gave a solid performance from start to finish. While he wasn't flashy, he never stumbled and offered some memorable lines. The question for him will continue to be whether, as the youngest candidate in the field, he can convince Americans he's ready for the presidency.

Best moment: Rubio probably had the applause line of the night, when he said God "has blessed the Republican Party with some very good candidates. The Democrats can't even find one." The crowd ate it up.

Biggest flop: Rubio took exception when Fox moderator Megyn Kelly said he favoured a rape and incest exception to an abortion ban. In 2013, however, he co-sponsored a Senate bill with just such a provision.

Final verdict: Rubio has a lot of potential as a candidate, and tonight he showed some of it.


Ben Carson

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At times it seemed the retired neurosurgeon was the forgotten man on stage. "I wasn't sure I was going to get to talk again," he quipped at one point. The chaotic proceedings often proved to be a formidable challenge for the soft-spoken Carson.

Best moment: In his closing arguments, he boasted that he is the "only one to separate Siamese twins".

Biggest flop: When asked about race relations, he said that as a surgeon, he doesn't see skin colour. "It's time for us to move beyond that," he concluded. It was a missed opportunity to reach out to a key part of the Democratic base.

Final verdict: Carson has a dedicated following that will likely stay loyal, but the political novice was outgunned.


Ted Cruz

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Cruz entered the debate with a reputation as a skilled orator, and he was polished and engaging in his presentation. The limited opportunities in the crowded field never really let him hit his stride, however.

Best moment: Cruz made a big splash with his first answer, about his recent face-off with Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell. "If you're looking for someone to go to Washington, to go along to get along, to agree with the career politicians in both parties who get in bed with the lobbyists and special interests, then I ain't your guy."

Biggest flop: In his closing statement, he said he intended to "instruct the Department of Justice and the IRS to start persecuting religious liberty". Let's hope he misspoke.

Final verdict: A champion debater gives a solid, if unspectacular, performance.


John Kasich

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The Ohio governor had the Cleveland crowd on his side but he didn't give them too many opportunities to cheer. A late entry into the field, he's considered a dark horse with potential to rise, but he was one of the candidates who often got lost in the shuffle.

Best moment: "I'm an old-fashioned person here, and I happen to believe in traditional marriage," Kasich said in response to a question about gay rights. He went on to say that his faith teaches him to offer unconditional love, even to someone who "doesn't think the way I do".

Biggest flop: Kasich's decision to expand Medicaid coverage under Obamacare, which he justified by quoting the Bible, has been roundly criticised by conservatives. He was asked to address that right off the bat, which is a tough way to make a first impression.

Bottom line: Kasich has the resume of a president, but he didn't get to make his case tonight.