Five weeks since their first clash at the Fox News debate, the Republican presidential candidates gathered late into the night Wednesday for a second round of political natural selection at the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library in Simi Valley, California.
Even with the recent departure of former Texas Gov. Rick Perry, the crowded field seemed no less bulky. The 11-person phalanx of candidates who participated in the main debate, stretched out as long as the Air Force One replica behind the stage.
Here are the winners and losers.
Barely sliding into the main-stage competition, the ascendant Fiorina was the clear-cut victor of the evening, just as she was in her first predebate debate. The former Hewlett Packard CEO was treated to the warmest and most consistent applause on Wednesday night. Moreover, she struck a perfect balance of sophistication and toughness when it came to handling questions about (and attacks from) Donald Trump.
When CNN debate moderator Jake Tapper asked Fiorina about Trump's insulting accusations about her appearance—"Look at that face…would anyone vote for that?"—which appeared in a recent Rolling Stone article, Fiorina played it cool but direct: "I think women all over this country heard what Mr. Trump said." The crowd roared. And Fiorina received similar applause from the audience—and Twitter tidings—for smart remarks on the reason Republicans should elect a nonpolitician. "A fish swims in water," she said. "It doesn't know it's water." Unlike Trump, Fiorina demonstrated a strong mastery of the foreign policy encyclopedia. She also continued to prove most capable of keeping her eye on the other side, issuing harsh critiques about Hillary Clinton, whom she chastised as a former secretary of state with nothing but air miles to show for it.