Though Jeb may have been the biggest loser, it's hard to say that any one person really "won" last week's Republican debate. True, Marco Rubio was nervously competent and gave a couple of good responses. And John Kasich delivered some well-received compassionate answers to the home crowd. And Trump was just Trump, which was still good enough for him to run away with the post-debate internet polls and even this result from NBC News/SurveyMonkey.
But my initial gut reaction after the debate? "They're all losers, but Ted Cruz did pretty well."
And sure enough, according to this result, Cruz has rocketed from just another mediocre also-ran into the enviable low-double digit territory once held by Jeb Bush and Scott Walker. We'll need to see some traditional phone poll results in the coming days to determine if there's been legitimate post-debate movement towards Cruz, but it wouldn't surprise me if there is.
Frankly, it shouldn't surprise anyone. As I wrote back in March when he entered the race:
This guy was able to beat the odds to defeat longtime Texas Lieutenant Governor David Dewhurst to win the Republican nomination for U.S. Senate in 2012, eventually beating Democrat Paul Sadler in a landslide in the general election. Defeating a Democrat in Texas may not seem like a big deal, but overcoming such a well-known establishment candidate for the nomination certainly was.
The circumstances and odds for Cruz are different now, but no one should completely dismiss his chances.No matter what the American electorate at large or his colleagues on Capitol Hill may think of him, Ted Cruz is good at this and has the potential to go further. He's a senator from a huge red state, ambitious as hell, has tons of super PAC money, and knows how to expertly push all the right GOP base buttons.
If Republican primary voters are looking for an alternative to Donald Trump who passes the conservative purity test while delivering red meat applause lines in a slick preacherly statesmanlike package, Ted Cruz just might be the answer.
To quote Rachel Maddow: Watch this space.