Donald Trump was his usual bombastic, blustery self at the second Republican debate but Carly Fiorina, the only woman on the stage, walked away with the winner’s trophy.
She impressed voters, pollsters and pundits with her grasp of issues — the entire range, from Ukraine, Iran to social issues — and her demeanour, some were reminded of Margaret Thatcher.
And she came prepared to fight. She scrapped with Trump about her record as HP CEO, and zinged him for filing bankruptcies, which he has earlier said were routine business tactics.
When asked about Trump’s comment about her face — “Look that face! — in an earlier interview, she said, “I think women all over this country heard very clearly what Mr Trump said.”
That comment drew the loudest applause of the night. Trump tried to get past it saying, “She’s got a beautiful face, and I think she’s a beautiful woman”. Fiorina just scowled.
Trump came to the debate as the frontrunner, and was expected to be the central figure as in the first. But this time, the other candidates looked ready and eager to take him on.
Former Florida governor Jeb Bush and Wisconsin governor Scot Walker, for instance, repeatedly tangled with Trump, who has acquired something of a reputation for getting nasty.
And Trump joined in happily. But experts and commentators did notice he looked disengaged and shallow when the debate shifted to bigger issues, like foreign policy.
Eleven candidates took the stage Wednesday night for the debate hosted by CNN, one more than the last one because of Fiorina moving up to the big league from the kiddie-table.
Due to the sheer size of the Republican field, 16 now after the exit of Rick Perry, candidates have been split into two teams for the debates — depending on their poll numbers.
The top 10, and now 11, go to the prime time debate, and the rest battle it out on a separate stage that takes place earlier, and has been derisively called the “kiddie-table”.
That group includes Louisiana governor Bobby Jindal, who doesn’t want to be identified as an Indian-American, which he is. He did quite well Wednesday, and may see his numbers jump.