A funny thing happened at the Republican primary debate in Milwaukee Tuesday night.
A debate broke out.
Episode 3 of the GOP’s presidential debates was the best yet - if you’re more interested in what the candidates think about the issues than what they think about each other.
Unlike the fiasco put on by CNBC last month, the moderators on the Fox Business Network didn’t try to get the candidates to fight among themselves or ask stupid liberal gotcha questions.
In fact, FNB’s classy and competent journalists - Maria Bartiromo, Neil Cavuto and the Wall Street Journal’s Gerard Baker - were the night’s biggest winners.
But what about the candidates? Who won or lost?
I did my duty to God and party and watched the so-called “undercard” debate, where Bobby Jindal, Rick Santorum, Mike Huckabee and Chris Christie slugged it out.
Santorum stuck up for the family and the workingman as usual while Huckabee tried to sell his unsellable Fair Tax idea, which has no chance of becoming a reality - ever.
Rising New Jersey heavyweight Chris Christie clearly won the undercard debate on points, despite the pesky attacks of his fellow governor Jindal.
Christie fought off Jindal with one hand while throwing a dozen hard jabs at someone who wasn’t even in the ring - Hillary Clinton. He proved he deserves to be with the first tier at the next debate in Reno on Dec. 15.
In the main event Tuesday there were no clear winners or losers.
John Kasich got in a good zinger about Donald Trump’s fantasy promise that he’d round up and deport 11 million illegal immigrants, but overall he was too angry-looking and yelled too much.
Jeb Bush, once again, acted more like an awkward wallflower at a seniors dance than a future president. He needed a memorable moment but didn’t get it.
Bush did get a chance or two to show he’s smart on foreign policy and realistic on immigration.
But in this silly primary season he and Kasich are out of place. This time it’s not just about having brains or experience. It’s about having style and personality -- and being an outsider.
Speaking of which, Trump, except for his cheap verbal snaps at Kasich and Fiorina, behaved himself.
He did OK when he answered questions but seemed like he was there more in body than spirit.
He again promised to rebuild our military and kick everyone’s butt in the Mideast.
But his “Make America Great Again” bumper-sticker boasts are looking more dubious all the time. Maybe The Donald should ask Bush if he could sublease some of his position papers.
Dr. Carson didn’t hurt or help himself at the debate, either. But he also needs to start sharing some of his substantial policy ideas - if he has them.
Ted Cruz and Carly Fiorina did great each time they had the stage.
Fiorina killed with her tough foreign policy stand and her rant on crony capitalism.
Cruz warned that if the Republicans join Democrats “as the party of amnesty, we lose” in 2016.
He had the best quip of the night when he said that the politics of immigration would be much different “if a bunch of people with journalism degrees were coming over and driving down the wages in the press.”
Rand Paul showed up to debate this time.
He made his libertarian points well and landed a sharp sucker punch on Marco Rubio’s chin by asking how his plan to spend $1 trillion on families and $1 trillion on rebuilding the military could qualify as a fiscally conservative position.
Anyone forced to single out a winner would probably pick the crowd favorite, Kid Rubio. He was smooth, quick on his feet and hit hard with both hands on foreign policy.
He, Cruz and Christie are the best debaters among the establishment candidates.
If they are going to get a chance to knock out Trump and Carson, however, the GOP bosses have to dump the undercard now and get the top five or six contenders on the same stage in Reno.
Michael Reagan is the son of President Ronald Reagan, a political consultant, and the author of “The New Reagan Revolution” (St. Martin’s Press). He is the founder of the email service reagan.com and president of The Reagan Legacy Foundation. Visit his websites at www.reagan.com and www.michaelereagan.com. Send comments to Reagan@caglecartoons.com. Follow @reaganworld on Twitter