Why can't pundits decide who won Thursday night's debate?

GOP supporters watch the Republican debate.
(Image credit: Brendan Hoffman/Getty Images)

With seven qualifiers in Thursday night's Fox News primetime debate — and a noticeably absent Donald Trump — analysts are divided on who the real "winner" of the night was. Generally, most agree that Sen. Ted Cruz had an awkward night after he grew snappy with the moderators for tough questions while Jeb Bush showed some badly overdue liveliness. Here is a look at what some experts had to say:

"Cruz had a fantastic ethanol answer, but he didn't shine tonight like he did last time. Bush was better. Rand Paul did extremely well." — Charles C. W. Cooke, writer for National Review"Rand Paul was my surprise best of the night. He was crisp, sharp and to the point." — Ari Fleischer, former White House press secretary for President George W. Bush"Jeb Bush is like a Shakespeare protagonist wandering through a Charlie Sheen sitcom." — Glenn Thrush, chief political correspondent of Politico"I think Rubio probably won tonight’s debate. Unintended consequence of Trump skipping the debate?" — Matt Lewis, senior contributor to The Daily Caller"While Trump was across town being carried live by every other network, and while he, not the other GOP candidates, dominated social media, the rest of the Republican field desperately and hopelessly failed to catch up to him." — Brad Woodhouse, president of the liberal research group Correct the Record [The New York Times]

In our coverage of the debate, Peter Weber wrote that, "Donald Trump probably won Thursday night's Republican debate in Des Moines, Iowa, by simply not showing up.That's partly a testament to Fox News, which brought in a new trick — confronting candidates with video of them contradicting their current positions — to the debate, putting Sens. Marco Rubio (Fla.) and Ted Cruz (Texas) in a tough spot. Trump would almost certainly have been subject to the same treatment, and it probably wouldn't have been pretty."

Read all of The Week's debate coverage here.

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