In this confusing and fascinating election cycle, I find it most useful to think about this as two races — or possibly three — not just one.
The first is the race for who will be the Great Outsider candidate, leading the rebellion against Washington, D.C. Governors have traditionally vied for this role, but in this election cycle, voters seeking an outsider candidate are decisively rejecting the Scott Walkers and Chris Christies of the world in favor of the authentic article. Nothing that happened in the debate last night appears likely to change that dynamic.
In the race between Trump, Carson, and Fiorina to be the definitive outsider candidate, Fiorina clearly gained ground. And Trump lost ground. For the first time, he backed down, when, with dignity and strength, Fiorina chided him for insulting her and millions of American women for her looks. He tried to come back with a smarmy compliment on what a beautiful woman she was. The Look — see the video to see the steely gaze she levels at Trump — told him that when we are running for president, or performing surgery, or delivering packages, or caring for sick patients, we want to be respected for our contributions to society, not flattered. Being sexually attractive to Donald Trump is not as important to many of us as Trump seems to think.
Trump also backed down when Dr. Ben Carson, asked if Trump was right to warn against vaccinations, paused, smiled gently, and thrust a dagger in Trump’s back: “He’s an okay doctor.”
If you doubt that Fiorina and Carson both beat Trump in the Outsiders debate, consider this: Fiorina and Carson tied as winners of the Twitter Debate, each adding 22,000 new followers during the debate. This was an early harbinger of Carson’s surge after the first debate. Relatively speaking, that is a greater gain for Fiorina. It will be interesting to see if her new followers come at the expense of Trump, Carson, or some other candidate.
Maggie Gallagher is a senior fellow at American Principles in Action.