I’m starting to think that this Republican primary contest is really all about the extent to which the various candidates can demonstrate their capacity to out-Trump Donald Trump in being a tough “manly” bully. If that is the bar that has been set to win this nomination, here is how I’d assess the performance of the participants last night:

Kasich – meh

Bush – meh

Carson – meh

Christie – this guy is a pro. But his only targets last night were Obama, Clinton and Rubio. He didn’t go after the big guy on top.

Rubio – he is really trying to compete in this arena. But I’m afraid that his attempts come off as rehearsed. This kind of thing comes naturally to real bullies. It’s clear Rubio is faking it.

Cruz – for the first time last night, we saw him don the bully mantle to go after his competitors. He’s pretty good at it. He shut Trump down on the whole “birther” question, but then got bested by Rubio on immigration and Trump knocked it out of the park when Cruz dissed New York City.

Trump – of course he’s the guy they’re all trying to mimic. There were some ups and downs for him last night, but I don’t think that anything changed the fact that he’s still the king of the bullies. In the end, as John Cassidy writes, Only Republican Voters Can Stop Trump Now. And they don’t seem inclined to do so.

Other than these observations, it also struck me that the moderators last night contributed to the rather disjointed nature of this debate by jumping all over the place with their questions. Throughout much of the night, that meant that the debate was a series of individual statements rather than a discussion (with a few of the exceptions noted above).

But this was the Fox Business Network. So Maria Bartiromo got away with asking unbelievably loaded questions like this:

We know that recent global events have many people worried — Iran detaining American sailors, forcing them to apologize; North Korea and its nuclear ambitions; an aggressive China; and a Middle East that continues to deteriorate, not to mention ISIS is getting stronger. Governor Christie, sometimes it seems the world is on fire. Where and when should a president use military action to restore order?

Dr. Carson, one of the other candidates on this stage has brought Bill Clinton’s past indiscretions. Is that a legitimate topic in this election? And what do you think of the notion that Hillary Clinton is an enabler of sexual misconduct?

Finally, here are some of the best/worst tweets of the night.

When Cruz and Trump had their exchange about New York City, Erick Erickson weighed in with this tweet that is reminiscent of Sarah Palin’s divisive rhetoric about the “real America.”

In case you don’t know, when Rep. John Dingell retired, he took up twitter. And he is the absolute BEST!!! Here’s what he tweeted after Trump defended NYC from Ted Cruz’ attack.

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