Debate unlikely to change GOP dynamics
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Observations on another evening with the Republican presidential candidates:

Retired neurosurgeon Ben Carson seemed better prepared last night and once again escaped direct challenge from his rivals. But be continues to fade when it comes to substantive policy discussions. He was lucky that no one went after his plans to eliminate charitable and home mortgage tax deductions.

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Former Gov. Jeb Bush (Fla.) did better. His answers were more forceful and crisper than in previous debates, but he still fails to drive home memorable themes. Nonetheless, his improved performance helped his campaign live another day. (Sidebar: Anybody notice that he's looking more and more like President Woodrow Wilson?)

Sens. Marco RubioMarco Antonio RubioHillicon Valley: GOP lawmakers offer election security measure | FTC Dem worries government is 'captured' by Big Tech | Lawmakers condemn Apple over Hong Kong censorship Lawmakers condemn Apple, Activision Blizzard over censorship of Hong Kong protesters Youth climate activists get Miami Beach to declare climate emergency MORE (Fla.) and Ted CruzRafael (Ted) Edward CruzHillicon Valley: GOP lawmakers offer election security measure | FTC Dem worries government is 'captured' by Big Tech | Lawmakers condemn Apple over Hong Kong censorship Lawmakers condemn Apple, Activision Blizzard over censorship of Hong Kong protesters The Hill's Morning Report — Trump's impeachment jeopardy deepens MORE (Texas) both turned in excellent performances, as they did in the previous debates. There is an interesting dynamic developing between the two, with Cruz trying to frame Rubio as the moderate and himself as the genuine conservative. But Rubio bobs and weaves better and presents a friendlier face of conservatism.

Donald TrumpDonald John TrumpFlorida GOP lawmaker says he's 'thinking' about impeachment Democrats introduce 'THUG Act' to block funding for G-7 at Trump resort Kurdish group PKK pens open letter rebuking Trump's comparison to ISIS MORE was Donald Trump. He had his moments, as usual, but his inability to enlarge his issue repertoire beyond immigration and his ability to cut deals kept him from widening his appeal.

Ohio Gov. John Kasich differentiated himself by stressing practical governance, questioning glib assumptions on tough issues like deportation and Wall Street bailouts. But his jumpiness distracted from his message. 

Former Hewlett-Packard CEO Carly Fiorina held her own, but failed to shine the way she did in the first two debates.

Sen. Rand PaulRandal (Rand) Howard PaulOvernight Defense — Presented by Boeing — Pence says Turkey agrees to ceasefire | Senators vow to move forward with Turkey sanctions | Mulvaney walks back comments tying Ukraine aid to 2016 probe On The Money: Senate fails to override Trump veto over border emergency | Trump resort to host G-7 next year | Senators to push Turkey sanctions despite ceasefire | McConnell tees up funding votes Top Foreign Relations senators introduce Turkey sanctions bill MORE (Ky.) keeps getting better. His exchange with Rubio on defense spending was one of the best of the evening.

The undercard debate gave New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie a chance to test drive his message on electability (i.e., "I can beat Hillary ClintonHillary Diane Rodham ClintonState cites 38 people for violations in Clinton email review Trump campaign to hold rallies in Mississippi, Kentucky Biden struggles to reverse fall MORE") and Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal an opportunity to present his argument that he's the only governor running for president who has actually cut spending. We'll see.

Bottom line? This debate will have little impact on the fundamental dynamics of the GOP nomination race. Some debates just matter less than others. Last night was one of them.

Faucheux is president of the nonpartisan polling firm Clarus Research Group, author of The Debate Book and publisher of Lunchtime Politics, a daily newsletter on polls.