There were quite a few pundits who had to walk back their claims that Donald Trump would be toast with Republicans after he dissed John McCain. What happened next was interesting to watch. The bandwagon a lot of pundits got on was ridiculing anyone who predicted that any of Trump’s nonsense would ever hurt him. The essence of the argument was, “See, I told you…Republicans are getting exactly what they want with Trump and he has a complete teflon shield to say anything.”

That kind of analysis relied on a caricature of Republican primary voters and completely missed the fact that – even at his peak so far – Trump was only at about 20-25% in the polls. Since he has no problem with name recognition, that means that over 75% of likely Republican voters were not buying the Trump-mania.

Until we got actual polls following the Fox News debate, I listened to the reaction of my Republican friends on Facebook (very unscientific, I know) to get a read on how it played. Based on that, it looked like Trump took at bit of a hit, but wasn’t down for the count yet, with the real winner (in addition to Carly Fiorina) being Marco Rubio – who climbed back into “top tier” status. Some recent polls are now confirming that take.

In Iowa, it’s important to note that up until recently, Trump was trailing Scott Walker there. Suffolk University released a poll this week that reversed that trend. Trump leads in that poll with 17%, followed by Walker at 12% and Rubio at 10%. But look at what they found in response to the debate:

The race was closer among viewers of last Thursday’s debate: Trump and Walker were tied at 14 percent, with Rubio (11 percent), Carson and Fiorina (tied at 10 percent), and Cruz (9 percent) close behind. However, among likely caucus voters who skipped watching the FOX NEWS debate, Trump (21 percent) led Carson (10 percent) by a wider margin, with Rubio and Walker tied at 8 percent.

“In the absence of a debate, Trump’s lead widens because he swallows up the political oxygen, but when that oxygen is spread out more evenly in a debate, it breathes life into the other candidates, and the race gets closer,” said Paleologos…

Both Rubio and Carson benefited from strong debate performances and are within striking distance of the leaders. When debate viewers were asked which candidate was most impressive, Rubio led with 23 percent, followed by Carson with 22 percent.

(On a side note: remember that the RNC specifically reduced the number of primary debates this time around because they reflected so badly on their candidates in 2012. They may be regretting that decision right about now.)

Rasmussen found pretty much the same thing nationally.

The latest Rasmussen Reports national telephone survey finds Trump with 17% support among Likely Republican Primary Voters, down from 26% in late July before the first GOP debate. Senator Marco Rubio and former Florida Governor Jeb Bush are in second place with 10% support each, in a near tie with Fiorina and Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker who both earn nine percent (9%) of the likely primary vote.

Other than Fiorina, the only candidates who improved their standing from July to August were Rubio (who went from 5% to 10%) and Carson (who went from 5% to 8%).

Harry Enten at FiveThirtyEight analyzed 7 post-debate polls and lists the winners as Fiorina, Rubio and Carson and the losers as Walker, Trump and Bush.

Contrary to pundits who are caught up in Trump-mania, what I have noticed among my Republican friends is that there is a pretty large contingent who reject Donald Trump. They are still perusing their options. It might be that the post-debate “bounce” for Rubio, Fiorina and Carson will be short-lived. But that simply underscores the fact that this race is extremely fluid. Anyone who pretends to know the mind of the Republican primary electorate right now is kidding themselves.

Nancy LeTourneau

Follow Nancy on Twitter @Smartypants60.