Style: Flowbee chic with a side of the neighbor who wants to talk about the storm runoff from your lawn onto his lawn. It's not a big deal, but he's just planted the zoysia grass and it's slow-growing, so, you know, he needs to be careful, and suddenly you have developed the skill of falling asleep with your eyes open.
Substance: In his closing statement, he noted, “Sometimes being positive isn’t all that interesting," but, to be fair, sometimes he wasn't that positive. Will be remembered for being the first person to say "a battery can unleash an entirely different world" who was not talking about sex toys. Said with an emotion closely resembling passion, “No veteran ought to be homeless, no veteran ought to be unemployed,” almost like those were basic human needs or something. Is, like the rest of the field, up for creating a lot more veterans via doing wars and shit. Will someday keep a picture of Ohio in his wallet, remembering how they were once in love.
Style: Disgruntled sulk. He's not going to be bad this time, OK? He's learned his lesson and he's going to clean it up and put his toys away and NOW can he get the governorship? NOW can he? YOU PROMISED.
Substance: With no low road to take, Rubio mostly just meandered down familiar lanes, pausing to remind people that his mother is in the audience, so psst no dick jokes, OK? He pulled out his Reagan-era encyclopedia for his answer on Cuba and just as studiously ignored the science on climate change, condescendingly and misleadingly asserting, "As far as a law that we can pass in Washington to change the weather, there's no such thing." He made a vague gesture at being "pro-environment" because of his kids, who someday will have to explain to theirs what Miami was like before you needed scuba gear to visit.
Grade: Broken snow globe
Style: Smugly unctuous and dead inside. He can call upon an evangelical timbre and the gestures of a really top-notch Model U.N. player, but his eyes don't match his ginned-up passion. They are flat and dark, because he knows the end is coming and the many-headed beast of Revelation is actually a yam-colored millionaire with magical hair and tiny hands. The end is coming and he has no time to atone for his sins, which are many but mostly administrative.
Substance: Some of the night's most tone-deaf lines, which were aggressively G-rated but incomprehensible. "Donald, you are welcome to be president of the Smithsonian," he snarked, because, haha, see, he wants to be president of the United States, but the Smithsonian, why, that's just a serious institution of historical study and a repository of artifacts, so, you know, sick burn. Once again promised to bring back torture, just in a more roundabout way than Trump, which is basically the entire premise of Cruz's campaign: "Like Trump, but with more words."
Grade: The smell of hot pennies
Style: Florid self-congratulation, gouty impatience. Trump was subdued by the standards of Trump, which are all of our standards now, because this is our new reality. Dubbed the debate "elegant" in post-match interviews, which is how he describes any event during which he declines to describe his penis.
Substance: Saved his pugnaciousness for those offstage! Pressed on the outbreaks of violence at his rallies, Trump justified the thuggery, declaring that some protesters are "bad dudes," which is a lot more classy than saying "black," but I'm pretty sure that's what he meant! (And you thought he didn't bother with dog whistles.) That's pivoting to the general, I guess. Casually changed his position on ground troops to fight ISIS, saying he'd send "20,000 or 30,000" Americans -- AND ISIS WILL PAY FOR IT. Insisted on "changing the laws" regarding war crimes so that they're not so war-crimey, because otherwise "we're never going to defeat ISIS … we’re being a bunch of suckers and they are laughing at us." Kind of late in the game to be worrying about other cultures laughing at us. All of this would be very worrying except that he also explicitly admitted that none of what he says means anything: "What are you willing to negotiate on?" asks the moderator. “It depends on what comes up,” Trump says. “You never know.”
This is too long, and I didn’t even cover half of his discombobulating bloviation. I never will, I guess.
Grade: A car dealership noodle when there is no wind