Analysts: Bush avoided confrontation, Trump stayed on attack, Christie showed new life

Former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush avoided confrontation. Donald Trump stayed on the attack. And New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie showed new life.

Those are the takeaways from the first2016 GOP round of debates held in Cleveland Thursday night, according to analysts.

"(Bush) was stilted, but consistent," said Ed O'Keefe, a Washington Post reporter who has covered Bush extensively. He added the former Florida governor "started cautiously, but appeared more comfortable by the end."

The verdict? While Bush didn't perform as vibrantly as some had hoped, he didn't make any big mistakes either. But that also means he also didn't have a big breakout moment.

Bush was among the top 10 Republican candidates who participated in a two-hour prime-time debate from Cleveland Thursday night hosted by Fox News and Facebook.

The 2016 contenders, who boast sharply conservative records and attention-grabbing personalities, used the debate stage to try to distinguish themselves from one another in the crowded GOP field that now stands at 17.

The seven candidates who did not make the 9 p.m. cut participated in an earlier debate at 5 p.m.

The main event got off to a lively start with Trump and Sen. Rand Paul of Kentucky.

“The first hour of the second debate has been so surprisingly ugly, and terribly unpresidential,” Lara Brown,associate professor at George Washington University's Graduate School of Political Management, told “The candidates have hit each other and attempted to score with the audience, forgetting that they are on television.”

The candidates, some say, may have actually done more harm than good at getting their message across.

“They have been playing to the ‘heat’ of the crowd, rather than the ‘coolness’ of the television camera,” Brown said, adding that Florida Sen. Marco Rubio, neurosurgeon Ben Carson and Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker were among the few that kept it classy.

Trump, who dominated headlines with his controversial comments about Mexican illegal immigrants, entered the Quicken Loans Arena Thursday night with a target on his back.Ahead of the debate, the billionaire said he would not attack his rivals but would rather discuss the issues.That didn’t last.

Fox News political analyst and contributor Charles Krauthammer did not pull any punches when it came to Trump's performance.

“The fact is, he was out of place,” Krauthammer said. “When you think about it, when he is free-form, when he is uninterrupted and when he can do the flight of ideas, when he can go on his own and ramble – he’s entertaining, he’s sharp and he’s actually amusing,” Krauthammer said. “But here when he was controlled and in a tight setting, he was lost for much of the debate.”

Fox News senior political analyst Brit Hume called the dustup between Christie and Paul, “the most eye-catching moment” of the night.

“As I watched it, it seemed to be Christie had a comeback for everything and he got much the best of it, but I can guarantee you that Rand Paul adherents, people who are worried about the surveillance, think he did better so we’ll see,” Hume said.

“Christie really went after Rand Paul and I think he may have damaged Rand Paul. The problem is, if you do that, you don’t always look good doing it so you may not be the beneficiary,” he added.

Bush, who stumbled earlier in the week when he tried to slam Planned Parenthood’s funding by saying he wasn’t sure “half a billion dollars for women’s health issues” was needed, left himself open to attack on the issue.

He acknowledged during Thursday night’s debate he didn’t know that a board he sat on gave millions of dollars to Planned Parenthood. Bush was named as a founding director to the tax-exempt Bloomberg Family Foundation in 2010. He resigned in 2014.

While Rubio and Carson turned in steady performances,Thursday's big winner appeared to be Hewlett Packard CEO Carly Fiorina, who had social media sites buzzing all night. Fiorina participated in the 5 p.m. debate, where talk of Trump, terrorism and the Iran nuclear deal dominated.

"I thought she had nailed it from her opening statement. And I thought she only got better,” Brown said.

“I thought she was clear, sharp, and smooth. I was quite impressed.”