Carly Fiorina again walked away with the GOP debate – and this time on the big stage. Fiorina was informed, measured, sure on her feet and adept at avoiding (and sometimes winning) contentious spats with Donald Trump.

She defended her tenure at Hewlett-Packard, argued in favor of smaller government and a stronger military and vowed to fix our broken government.

Also, she discussed the extremely personal tragedy she and her husband suffered when they lost a child to drug addiction and also took on Planned Parenthood with force and emotion.

Voters are getting to know Carly Fiorina and it is pretty clear they like what they see. It was a bravura performance, worthy of the name she chose as her Secret Service handle if elected – Secretariat.

Voters are getting to know Fiorina and it is pretty clear they like what they see. It was a bravura performance, worthy of the name she chose as her Secret Service handle if elected – Secretariat.

Other winners at the CNN-hosted debate at the Reagan Library were Jeb Bush, who was more animated and on top of his game than in the prior gathering on August 6, Chris Christie, who managed from his outlier position to insert himself into the conversation. John Kasich, who needs to and was able to build recognition with voters. Marco Rubio who, despite evidence of nerves and one joke that flopped, recovered with his usual mastery of foreign policy. And Ted Cruz, who spoke out passionately about Planned Parenthood and his opposition to the Iran deal.

Scott Walker did not win as much air time as some of the others; getting heard required sharp elbows from time to time, and Walker should have been more aggressive.

Ditto Rand Paul, who covered favored topics like marijuana legalization, but sounded defensive and almost bored by his long-standing aversion to military intervention. 

Ben Carson, who came on so strong in the first debate, seemed too laid back and polite amongst so many alpha personalities; as ever, however, he provided a pleasant contrast to so many self-promoters.

Governor Huckabee did fine, especially on blasting Obama’s agreement with Iran, but his participation did not raise him above the field and will not likely give his candidacy a much-needed shot in the arm.

Which leaves The Donald, who, despite the valiant efforts of the moderators, did not manage to dominate the debate as completely had been expected.

Trump had earlier promised to dial down his insults and aggressions, but almost immediately attacked Rand Paul for having the temerity to appear on the stage, given his low poll numbers.

It was an odd start, and "The Donald" never managed to move to a higher plane.

Paul countered that he considered Trump’s behavior “sophomoric”; Trump could not resist making nasty remarks about Paul’s appearance, which confirmed the Kentucky senator’s diagnosis.

The candidates for the most part did not take the bait so liberally strewn throughout the conversation by the moderators who were clearly hoping for brawls. They mostly refrained from going after Trump, which left him seeming deflated.

Trump also suffered by comparison with candidates on all sides who were sharp on specifics, with Fiorina rolling out concrete proposals about needed additions to the military or Rubio detailing what options are available in Syria. Trump’s promise that “I will have the finest teams and solve a lot of problems” and assertion that “I will know more about the world than anyone” sounded remarkably thin.

Fiorina was asked whether she thought it would be dangerous for the country to have Donald Trump’s finger on “the button,” meaning in control of our nuclear arsenal, and wisely answered that it was up to the voters to make that decision.

Walker, asked about Trump’s qualifications, quipped that we “don’t need an apprentice in the White House; we have one there now.” He also mentioned Trump’s business bankruptcies, as did some others, questioning the billionaire’s credentials for managing the country’s finances.

Here’s who did not win the debate: the CNN moderators. Their line of questioning was so geared to producing rows between Trump and the other candidates, so hungry for ratings, that Governor Kasich, to his credit, called them out on it.

“If I were watching from home”, he said, “I’d turn off the TV” – and he was right.

Christie, too, interrupted later on, when Fiorina and Trump were exchanging barbs about each other’s work histories.

“I’m as entertained as anyone” Christie said, but noted that most Americans were worried about their jobs and finances, not about the dueling candidates. 

Rather than probe differences on jobs policy or how to handle the Veterans Affairs controversy, Jake Tapper, who did most of the questioning, continually asked candidates to respond to criticisms launched against them by another person on the stage. Often, the charges were not illuminating, but instead aimed at provoking the kinds of spats that inspire reality TV.

For instance, when Trump’s disgraceful remarks made to Rolling Stone Magazine about Carly’s looks were recalled, Fiorina calmly replied that “Women all over the country heard what Trump said,” but wisely refused to take it further.

Nonetheless, the candidates did manage to stake out some policy differences, many of which were in keeping with past positions.

Cruz occupied the role of disruptor, vowing to tear up the Iran accord, while Kasich pledged to work with our allies.

The Texas senator also demanded that Republicans fight for their principles, and make Obama veto measures such as a budget without funding for Planned Parenthood.

Kasich argued against shutting down the government over Planned Parenthood, since such an effort is unlikely to produce any constructive results, and could prove damaging to the GOP.

Walker said we should cancel the upcoming state visit of China leader Xi Jinping, to protest that country’s cyber intrusions, while Paul argued that we should not be rash, and pressed for engagement with our adversaries.  

All the candidates argued for a secure border, but differences exist on how to handle the estimated 11 million people in the country illegally. Pushed to explain how he would follow through on his promise to deport all those folks, Trump did not have an answer, and instead claimed the candidates would not be talking about the issue were it not for him.

Fiorina parried that politicians had indeed been discussing illegal immigration for at least 25 years but that nothing had been done. She noted that Obama was elected partly on a promise to push through reform, but that he hadn’t taken up the issue, even when he had control of Congress. And that, she said, is why voters are rallying around outsiders. Because they want some things fixed.

How right she is. Let us hope that one of the folks on that debate stage takes the Oval Office in 2016 and gets to work. 

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.