The four most important takeaways from the first Republican debate

1. The Trump circus continues Donald Trump performed as might be expected at center stage — from the very first …

1. The Trump circus continues

Donald Trump performed as might be expected at center stage — from the very first question, when he refused to dismiss the possibility of mounting a third party campaign should he lose. After Fox News moderator Megyn Kelly’s tough accusations of misogyny, he doubled down with a tired joke about Rosie O’Donnell. He talked about how dumb American politicians are versus those crafty Mexican leaders. And Hillary Clinton came to his wedding. We could go on. Suffice to say that he didn’t make any new friends Thursday night, but we haven’t seen the last of him either.


2. Gov. John Kasich, hometown hero, sounded like an actual human adult

The governor of Ohio was cogent, reasoned, reasonable, dare we say vice presidentialr Kasich ably defended his somewhat bipartisan record on Obamacare. When asked how he would react to having a gay son or daughter, Kasich noted that he’d recently been to the gay wedding of a friend, and said, “Of course I would love them. And I would accept them.”

3. Gov. Christie and Sen. Paul got into an argument …

The New Jersey governor got all tri-state on the senator from Kentucky in answering a question about mass surveillance — Chris Christie claiming that his 9/11 bona fides meant he knew more about actually protecting American people than the “hot air” senator, whose libertarian positions on records collection make him “a different kind of Republican,” as Rand Paul himself pointed out later. Paul reminded viewers of Christie hugging Obama post-superstorm Sandy; Christie said the hugs he remembers were of 9/11 victims. Paul rolled his eyes.

4. And Former Gov. Bush and Sen. Rubio rose above it

Jeb Bush, the brother and son of past presidents, claimed that he’s earned the nickname “Veto” Corleone at the Florida Statehouse. Bush avoided any flubs on the scale of his stumble Tuesday, when he wondered if “we need half a billion dollars for women’s health issues.” Marco Rubio appeared well-prepared and delivered perhaps the most flawless performance of the evening, with clear views on immigration and nods to his youth and charisma.

The Scorecard:

After all was said and done, Kasich took a small leap forward — as did former Hewlett-Packard chief executive Carly Fiorina, the consensus winner of the “happy hour debate” before the prime-time show. Rubio looked presidential. Christie and Paul still need a boost, as does the rest of the pack. Bush and Trump did what they needed to do. Bush: Don’t trip up. Trump: Allow us to continue wondering whether we were watching reality TV.

The winners: Points for Hillary Clinton, Twitter, possibly America. And the conjoined twins that Ben Carson separated in 1987.