Who won the Republican debate Thursday night?

Republican U.S. presidential candidate Donald Trump shows off the size of his hands as rivals Marco Rubio (L), Ted Cruz (2nd R) and John Kasich (R) look on at the start of the U.S. Republican presidential candidates debate in Detroit, Michigan, March 3, 2016.


There is a lot of criticism of the tone of last night's GOP debate. It has focused on the flash of vulgarity and the candidates shouting over each other. Another way to measure the debate is to look at what wasn't said. "I won't bite," answered John Kasich, when asked about Donald Trump. He was asked a reasonable policy question about Trump's position on Vladmir Putin , but it showed how hard the Ohio governor was working to stay outside of the cage match.

CBS News political director and "Face the Nat... 02:39

Stroll with me for a moment and imagine that the purpose of a debate is to determine who on stage has articulated why they have the experience and aptitude for the job they're all applying for. By that measurement, John Kasich was the clear winner. Perhaps people want a different standard in their president. All available evidence this cycle suggests that it is quaint to think a person should have the experience for the job they're up for. There's no more high-profile job for which experience is such a liability.

In spite of this, I asked the usually cynical and toxic Twitter world this question:

Twitter picked Kasich. Still, the Ohio governor was not immune from one of the great puzzlers of the night: uniform endorsement of Donald Trump, should he become the nominee. If you're a candidate saying that Donald Trump will destroy your party and the conservative cause, how can you then say that you will endorse his candidacy? Isn't this just the kind of overly political behavior that has given rise to the Trump candidacy itself? Politicians make appeals to voters' sense of morality and deeply held values, but when the moment of truth comes, they do the political thing. This fruit will kill me if I eat it, but I'm hungry, so I am going to eat it. This is politics, I know, but I keep reading that this is just the kind of behavior that is infuriating people. At the very least, it seems to undermine the new round of attacks on Trump.

The Republican Party is on its way to nominating someone whom none of its living presidents or nominees think should be president. The mechanism for changing that outcome could have been Thursday's debate, but the candidates who want to stop him fought it out on the raw and ragged turf defined by Donald Trump. Whether that diminishes the front-runner remains to be seen, but for those in the Republican Party who worry about the GOP's health, only John Kasich performed in a way that offered hope, and despite the hand-wringing, he won't be talked about much.