The moderators of the GOP debate Thursday night at the Quicken Loans arena gave Donald Trump plenty of rope – and sure enough he hanged himself. Right out of the box, the candidates were asked to pledge their support to whomever ultimately wins the GOP nomination; the only hold-out was Trump, who refused to make that commitment and who elicited boos from the audience.

Later, in response to a sharp question from Megyn Kelly about his history of calling women “fat pigs” and “slobs,” Trump argued that the big problem with the country was political correctness. He concluded, “If you don’t like it Megyn, too bad; you haven’t been very nice to me.”  Bad decision, Donald.

 

Trump was also asked to provide proof of his claims that the Mexican government was intentionally funneling criminals into the U.S. He didn’t provide the requested back-up, but rather claimed, “If it weren’t for me, we wouldn’t be talking about illegal immigration.”  He followed that absurd claim with a rant about how much smarter the Mexican government was that our “stupid” America’s leaders.

In recent weeks Trump had explained that he gave money to numerous Democrat campaigns in order to secure favors – portraying those contributions as normal business transactions.

During the debate he was asked to provide specific examples of such benefits, and said that because he gave money to Hillary Clinton’s foundation and to her campaigns, he asked her to come to his wedding…and she did. Does he even know how tacky that sounds?

Undoubtedly, Trump will soon complain that the Fox anchors were out to get him. The truth is, the debate was his to lose and he lost it.

Trump was asked about his earlier support of a single-payer health care system, his several business failures, what he would do specifically about the visit of Quds Commander General Suleimani’s visit to Moscow (illegal under today’s sanction regime) and other issues that might (and should) give his enthusiastic followers some pause.

He was by turns bombastic and evasive, not answering the questions but rather launching into various diatribes about the stupidity of everyone not named Trump. And so it went. 

Undoubtedly, Trump will soon complain that the Fox anchors were out to get him. The truth is, the debate was his to lose and he lost it.

Thankfully, it wasn’t all Trump all the time, though occasionally it seemed some candidates might have stepped out for some fresh air. When finally asked a question by Kelly, Dr. Ben Carson, thanked her and said “I wasn’t sure I was going to get to talk again.”

Who won the debates tonight? In the earlier round, Carly Fiorina once again proved herself a smart, formidable contestant, leaving many to wonder why her campaign has thus far failed to take off, relegating her to Stage 2.

Senator Marco Rubio did not lunge offstage for a glass of water, but instead handled himself well. His answers were crisp and thoughtful; on the contentious issue of immigration, he balanced a forceful demand for tightened borders with realism about the need to resolve the problem of our large illegal population.

He was challenged to defend his lack of executive experience and did so by reminding viewers of his several years running Florida’s state legislature. He also (rightly) noted that if the election came down to a resume competition, then Hillary Clinton would win.

Ted Cruz was also a winner Thursday night. His skills as a debater served him well, as did his forceful criticism of President Obama’s inability to confront ISIS, and his scathing rebuke of sanctuary cities.

John Kasich had a good night, too, and his success was essential. He entered the race late and he is not well known nationally. But, Kasich is popular with moderates who are skittish about electing another Bush, and this debate allowed him to reach a bigger audience.

Former Governor Jeb Bush failed to excite. His delivery was not crisp, and once again he got himself tangled up answering a question about the Iraq war. Really, he needs to get this down – his slightly fuzzy answers about his brother and the Iraq invasion make him appear irresolute. Maybe he really is simply rusty. The only issue on which he scored was education; he defends his support of Common Core with vigor.

Governor Chris Christie had a chance to crawl out of the doghouse last night, but barely made it past the door. He got into a shouting match over Rand Paul’s opposition to NSA snooping, with Christie citing his post-September 11 experience as reason to encourage more, not less, intelligence gathering. The confrontation was vintage Christie but somehow it lacked authenticity. Maybe Trump has simply stolen his tough-talk persona.

Carson, Huckabee and Walker all performed credibly, with Carson having the debate’s best line: “I’m the only one on the stage to separate Siamese twins. I’m the only one to remove half a brain, though you would think if you went to Washington that someone had beat me to it.”

Rand Paul seemed on the defensive, and did not impress. Though the country is tired of war, people are alarmed about ISIS, Iran, China and Russia. Paul’s semi-isolationist stance was an easier sell when our engagements in the Middle East were still building. His dustup with Christie came across as nasty on both sides, with Paul accusing the New Jersey governor of “blowing hot air.”

In the final minutes of the Great Debate, Senator Marco Rubio said “God has blessed the Republican Party; we have some very fine candidates; Democrats can’t even find one.”

On the basis on both the forums held Thursday in Cleveland, the voters may well agree.       

Liz Peek is a writer who contributes frequently to FoxNews.com. She is a financial columnist who also writes for The Fiscal Times. For more visit LizPeek.com. Follow her on Twitter@LizPeek.