Style: Puffy former child star now getting serious with a Law & Order: Special Victims Unit guest spot. He played the bad guy of the week, with most of the violence aimed at Obama, but slapped around Cruz when given the chance. Lines memorized perfectly and spat out quickly, as if saying them more naturally would risk losing the thread.
Substance: "This campaign is not about Donald Trump, it's about how this president ruined this country and how I want to turn this country around." Or, "Make America better-than-good once more!" Not like Trump at all, you see. Completely shut down rumors that he is the second coming of Christ (PolitiFact says, "Mostly true!").
Grade: Licorice-scented marker.
Style: Continues to believe that if he conveys enough outraged incredulity, Hillary Clinton will appear onstage for him to berate. (Or that he will appear on the lower half of a ticket.) Used the phrase "Lemme tell ya" as if he were about to say things that were remotely unpopular rather than his version of the same pandering sludge of anti-insider paranoid nationalism everyone is offering.
Substance: Noun, verb, Hillary Clinton.
Grade: Coke Zero backwash.
Style: He didn't actually keep pushing his glasses up the bridge of his nose with his middle finger every few minutes, but it sure seemed like it. Attempts at sarcasm and jokes felt like practice rounds mumbled in the bathroom, probably with his mom yelling through the door, "What are you DOING in there?" Shrugs his shoulders herky-jerkily, a cross between Steve Martin and David Byrne.
Substance: Compulsively supplied answers to questions rather than busting out “ISIS!” or “Hillary!” so, you know, he lost. Bragged that there are polls that show him beating Clinton, but those are polls of family members (and they're closer than he'd like). Put the best face possible on his remaindered, unread immigration book: "It's affordable for everybody." Tried to take a swing at Ted Cruz but hit himself repeatedly instead.
Grade: Sunglasses with one lens missing.
Style: You could screw cans of lit Sterno on his ears and his screams would still never sound like he was actually ad-libbing. Every other candidate onstage would like to be the one to light him up. The only moment he seemed at a loss for words was in trying to come up with something worse to do to ISIS than "carpetbombing" (you know, a military action that would involve knowingly killing great numbers of innocent civilians).
Substance: Had a bunch of Donald Trump lines that would have landed better if he hadn’t been so excited to use them. Humblebragged about getting asked mean questions but was reduced to repeating "but Megyn, but Megyn, but Megyn" when pressed on his immigration twists. Points for the deepest-cut Reagan reference/Iowa pander with "Tear down the ethanol-blend wall."
Grade: Biting down on aluminum foil.
Style: One lengthy eye roll, followed by a sigh. He is just so sure he’s right about everything, and I honestly thought he’d be doing better. He thought he’d be doing better, too.
Substance: You, like me, might have felt a flicker of respect and even warmth for Paul -- he said the drug war is racially unjust! He’s against bulk data collection and closing mosques! His disdain for Ted Cruz was pleasurably visceral! And then he talked about fetal personhood and I remembered the gold standard and his arrogance and his crazypants dad and whooooosh.
Grade: Artificial lemon flavor.
Style: Has become less the guy who wants the kids off his lawn and more the guy who wants the kids to come over and have a soda pop, maybe watch the game together, no, nothing weird, it's just that the wife has her gardening and book club and I've just got the golf once a week and the kids all have their own families now, so just stop by anytime, no, really, I just got a satellite dish! Do you like root beer?
Substance: The one candidate who can brag about positive media attention, so obviously doomed. Mentioned that government is sometimes necessary, but that’s just more proof he’s going to lose. Mostly sensical, except for that one point in a question about data gathering where he warned that "it's best not to talk about back doors," as if Russian hackers were watching the debate (and probably somewhere Santorum's ears were burning).
Grade: Very scratchy socks.
Style: Impressively somnambulant. His first answer began, "You're not going to hear a lot of polished speech from me," and that was as coherent as he got. Brought the world the vision of "Putin, a one-horse country; oil," a real string of words said on a real stage at a real debate by a real candidate.
Substance: Invoked “the 2 a.m. phone call,” because that's a worse crisis than the 3 a.m. phone call -- and because he will actually still be in a deep sleep when he answers. Hates political correctness, immigration, immigrants, not in that order. Something about inviting terrorists to dinner parties -- like Obama, I guess. Also noted that he’s against government regulations, especially regarding sentence coherence spinach clown shoe propane gambling.
Grade: A sandwich made of dice.