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Republican debate: who won?

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Mark J. Terrill/AP

(Read caption) Jeb Bush (2nd from l.) is flanked by Mike Huckabee (l.), Marco Rubio (2nd from r.) Donald Trump during the CNBC Republican presidential debate at the University of Colorado in Boulder on Wednesday.

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It’s hard for me to determine who won and who lost this debate.

I have my biases, hopes and expectations that play into who I think did well and who didn’t.

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John Kasich went the realistic route, which works well for me. I like to think I live in the real world, as much as anybody who lives just a couple blocks from the Capitol.

Ben Carson seems like very nice man. Completely unqualified to be president, but a very nice man.

Donald Trump is another one who is completely out of his element when it comes to politics. His answers were vague. He falls back on old clichés when he doesn’t know what to say. Everything is going to be great, he tells us, but he never tells us how. When Becky Quick hit him on calling Marco Rubio “Mark Zuckerberg’s senator," he either lied about it or didn’t know the comment was on his website.

Rubio did very well. He was ready for an attack by Jeb Bush and he completely schooled his former mentor.

After that ill-advised attack, Jeb Bush just completely faded from the debate. He got less time than any other candidate.

Chris Christie had some terrific moments although it is hard to see how his one-liners are going to translate to better poll ratings. People like to laugh with the New Jersey governor, but they don’t seem to want to vote for him.

Ted Cruz got the biggest applause by attacking the CNBC moderators for asking non-substantive questions just as the moderator was asking him to comment on the latest budget deal, which is not exactly a question about somebody’s underwear. Cruz was so desperate to throw the media under the bus, he forgot to throw Republican leaders under the bus. I didn’t find it that compelling, but the crowd did.

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Cruz also made the extraordinary statement that the federal government needs to go back on the gold standard, a policy that would surely lead to a deep and dark depression.

I found Carly Fiorina to be incredibly annoying. I don’t know why. Like fingernails on a chalkboard.

There’s going to be an effort to run Jeb Bush out of the race because of his uninspiring performance at this debate. But that’s silly. We are a far way away from the first Iowa caucus, and Bush still has an impressive organization in place.

But he has to up his game. He shouldn’t waste his time attacking Marco Rubio. It’s awkward and it just points out how much older he is than his fellow Floridian. If Jeb wants to succeed, he needs to tell us how he can pull together a coalition that can beat Hillary and then pass an agenda to shrink Washington to a more respectable size.

That would be a good use of his time.

The debates didn't focus on enough substance.  What about corporate inversions?  How to increase take home pay for the American people?  How do we really grow the economy?  What loopholes specifically do you get rid of?

Overall, these debates are both too long and not long enough. There are too many candidates and not enough smart questions. I hope the American people don’t base all of their political decisions on the course of these debates, but what else can they base them on? Thirty-second commercials?

I am usually pretty optimistic about the future of this country, but nothing in these debates gives me any great peace of mind.

John Feehery publishes his Feehery Theory blog at http://www.thefeeherytheory.com/.