I totally agree with Ed Kilgore's take on last night's debate. Fox News had a strategy going in and they executed it flawlessly.
First of all, most Republican strategists - including Fox News - want to see Carly Fiorina in future debates. That's because she has a job to do: blast away at Hillary Clinton while avoiding any touchy implications of "sexism." So it should come as no surprise to anyone that she has been universally declared the "winner" of the happy hour debate.
To get an idea about how that happened, all you need to do is compare how viciously Chris Wallace went after Trump about his company's bankruptcies to the fact that Fiorina's complete failure at Hewlett-Packard was never mentioned.
To the extent that the remaining candidates in that debate have a sugar daddy (i.e., Santorum/Friess), they'll probably hang around awhile. But they're all toast. And Carly gets an invitation to the big boy's table.
On to the main event. It was no accident that Christie was chosen to take on Rand Paul. That job was not given to one of the top tier candidates in case something went wrong. But Fox knew Christie would throw some ugly punches in the process and he didn't disappoint. The result: a knock-out of Paul.
Beyond that, the main objective was to eat into Trump's lead. I suspect that last night was the first time many of his fans heard about his company's 4 bankruptcies. That leaves a mark for those who assume that his wealth indicates that he's a good businessman - and that somehow that means he'd be a good president. The moderators threw other punches his way (Mexican government conspiracies and sexism), but those are part of The Donald's appeal to white male nativists. The bankruptcy question did the trick.
Today Trump and many of his fans are going after the Fox News moderators and having some success with that. But its a defensive move and, while he might still maintain a lead in the polls, I expect him to lose a few points.
It's interesting to note that most of the talk these days among pundits has been about how the big money SuperPacs are affecting this primary. That is certainly an important story. But last night Fox News showed their muscle as well. They accomplished exactly what they set out to do.
P.S. My conclusions about all this are partly influenced by what I'm seeing on Facebook from some of my Republican "friends." It's arguably a small sample size, but I'm guessing they're pretty representative of the core evangelical Republican base.
Other than the way these folks were manipulated by Fox News, the one thing I noticed is that Scott Walker pretty much tanked with folks last night. And the one who surprised them positively...Marco Rubio (although they still love them some Huckabee and Carson). Not even mentioned...Jeb!
I suspect that if there is any long-term news coming out of this debate in terms of who the eventual nominee might be, the big winner is Rubio - who put himself right back up there with Bush and Walker to contend.