Fiorina and Rubio shine as Trump 'collapses'

Before the main event of the "Battle of Cleveland" between the top 10 GOP presidential candidates, there was a preliminary bout of seven candidates: Sen. Lindsey Graham (S.C.), former Gov. Rick Perry (Texas), former Hewlett-Packard CEO Carly Fiorina, former Gov. George Pataki (N.Y.), former Sen. Rick Santorum (Pa.), former Gov. Jim Gilmore (Va.) and Gov. Bobby Jindal (La.).

Fox commentators George Will and Chris WallaceChristopher (Chris) WallaceAmash says Sanford presidential bid won't impact decision on whether he runs in 2020 Trump labels GOP challengers the 'Three Stooges' Pompeo: Taliban talks are dead 'for the time being' MORE were impressed by Fiorina. So were we. So were those voting via Twitter on Greta Van Susteren's program shortly after the debate: 82 percent voted favorably.

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Fiorina, who rose from temp secretary to CEO of one of the largest tech companies in the world, said that she will make two phone calls when she becomes president: The first to her "good friend, Bibi Netanyahu," the prime minister of Israel, to make it clear that we stand with Israel; the second to the supreme leader of Iran to tell him that "until you open every nuclear and every military facility to full, open, anytime, anywhere, for-real inspections, we are going to make it as difficult as possible for you to move money around the global financial system." Of course, she said, the supreme leader "might not take my phone call, but he would get the message."

On her first day, she will undo all the Obama damage of executive orders he has signed since his first day. Other candidates said that too, but one got the impression she really meant it.

So ends the first presidential-race debate among the seven candidates who did not crack the top 10.

Thanks to Fox News, these seven looked good. The two people in this gallery wavered between Fiorina and Perry; we chose Fiorina because she looks to have a real potential to be on a winning GOP ticket.

Two hours later, the varsity candidates entered the arena to be greeted by thousands of invited debate watchers and millions of TV watchers. The debate moderators, Megyn Kelly, Chris Wallace and Bret Baier, welcomed the 10 and proceeded to start the debate with a highly combustible emotional and political question: Is there anyone on the stage who will pledge to not only support the GOP nominee, no matter who it is, and pledge to not run for president as an independent?

Waiting for an answer, every one of the thousands present in the arena held their breath; we can presume millions of TV debate watchers also held their breath.

Donald TrumpDonald John TrumpBusiness, ballots and battling opioids: Why the Universal Postal Union benefits the US Sanders supporters cry foul over Working Families endorsement of Warren California poll: Biden, Sanders lead Democratic field; Harris takes fifth MORE did not disappoint.

He would not pledge to support the GOP nominee; he would not pledge to refrain from running an independent campaign.

A little later, Wallace asked Trump for any specific evidence or proof that the Mexican government was intentionally sending rapists and murderers to the U.S. Trump did not answer Wallace. When pressed, Trump said that Border Patrol people told him that. Trump avoided Wallace's stinging questions about the four different bankruptcies of his Atlantic City, N.J. casinos that cost investors and lenders hundreds of millions of dollars; one bankruptcy cost lenders more than $1 billion.

On these three moments, Trump blew it as far as real Republicans are concerned.

Taking second place in the loser class of the night was Sen. Rand Paul (Ky.). Everyone else — Gov. Chris Christie (N.J), Gov. John Kasich (Ohio), Sen. Marco RubioMarco Antonio RubioCalifornia poll: Biden, Sanders lead Democratic field; Harris takes fifth The 13 Republicans needed to pass gun-control legislation GOP group's ad calls on Graham to push for election security: 'Are you still trying?' MORE (Fla.), Dr. Ben Carson, Gov. Scott Walker (Wis.), former Gov. Mike Huckabee (Ark.), Sen. Ted Cruz (Texas) and former Gov. Jeb Bush (Fla.) did fine.

Carson cracked up the arena at the end. Christie body-slammed Paul. Kasich sounded good. Walker was a little less effective than the rest. Huckabee had his moments. Cruz didn't sound like a college debate champ. Bush did what he had to do and probably cemented his long-range position. Rubio showed he could play with the big boys and made the best sound bite of the night for a prospective presidential nominee: "[God] has blessed the Republican Party with some very good candidates. The Democrats can't even find one."

Rubio, again with: "If I'm our nominee, how is Hillary Clinton gonna lecture me about living paycheck to paycheck? I was raised paycheck to paycheck."

Winners: Rubio, Bush, Christie, Cruz (maybe), Carson and Walker.

Losers: Rand Paul, Donald Trump.

Charles Krauthammer commented that it was the "collapse of Trump." I agree.

Contreras was formerly syndicated by Creators Syndicate and the New American News Service of The New York Times Syndicate.