Before and after the third GOP debate

A self-critique on the pre- and post-debate landscape in the still-crowded race for the Republican nomination.

(Image via CNBC's Facebook page).
(Image via CNBC's Facebook page).

Let’s go back in time three days, before the 10 contenders for the Republican nod for president took the stage in Boulder, Colorado, for a short analysis of pre-debate predictions.

The debate wasn’t a game-ender for any candidate, not even Jeb Bush after a testy exchange with Marco Rubio. In short, Rubio and Senate colleague Ted Cruz gained momentum, Bush made his own situation worse, and frontrunners Donald Trump and Dr. Ben Carson didn’t rule the Thursday morning headlines.

Here’s what I, and much of the media, thought would happen and what actually did.

Prediction: Carson in the spotlight
Despite surging poll numbers, the political novice failed to hold court in the third Republican debate. He had no major self-inflicted wounds but no standout moments, either. Few candidates took him on directly – and why do that when the media and moderators are much easier targets?

Republicans’ displeasure with host CNBC continued throughout this week, with top aides from some of the campaigns planning to meet on Sunday in Washington to discuss how to elbow the Republican National Committee out of its position of power organizing the events.

RNC head Reince Priebus took the unusual step of publicly blaming the business news network for the disorganized event, but few campaigns are buying it.

Bush with the pressure on
Wednesday night was an epic flop for the former Florida governor, who somehow lost even more momentum. If there’s one moment people will remember from the debate, it is Bush attacking Rubio over his Senate attendance record, only to be repelled quickly.

Bush’s campaign is putting on a brave face - he told NewsMaxTV he’s "having a blast" – but it's more telling that his campaign manager reportedly confronted a CNBC producer during the debate.

Keeping an eye on Kasich
Ohio Governor John Kasich did lash out a bit at his GOP rivals, but not enough to make a dent. Rubio did, memorably counterpunching Bush while managing to sound optimistic for the rest of the event.

The Huffington Post – not exactly a must read for conservative voters – declared Cruz as the winner, but so did Facebook users.

And what do the numbers say? Rubio was the most-searched-for candidate during the debate, according to Google Trends, while Trump was the most-talked-about on Twitter.

Frank Washkuch is news editor at PRWeek.

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