The CNN GOP debate promised fireworks and substantive discussion on national security and foreign policy. The debate did not disappoint. This was the meatiest discussion yet and, for the most part, every candidate rose to the occasion. I will rank the candidates not only on overall performance but how likely I think they are to have moved the polling needle in their favor.

Marco Rubio-- I think he was again the winner and I will be surprised if he doesn't rise in the national polling. He is carving for himself the moderate/conservative/establishment position as others like Jeb Bush and John Kasich fail to get national traction. He was attacked by Ted Cruz and was prepared, cool, and eloquent at all times. Unflappable again. He ably contrasted his positions on immigration, ISIS, and defense cuts against Cruz. He also once again leverages his immigrant roots to connect him with real Americans who are struggling.

Ted Cruz-- Isn't it ironic that the two winners of a GOP debate are Hispanic? Cruz went into the debate with some momentum having attained the lead in a few polls of Iowa caucus voters and having moved up to second place nationally. Generally regarded as the smartest person in the room, he delivered and solidified his position as the leader of the very conservative/social conservative/rising outsider in the race. He was strongest in his definition of strength against ISIS by contrasting American air power used in the First Gulf War (1100 sorties per day) against the Obama Administration's use of about 15-20 sorties a day against the caliphate. He and Rubio fenced to a draw and that did not hurt either candidate.

Chris Christie-- has also had some momentum, particularly in New Hampshire, going into this debate. He strongly asserted his experience as an executive who has made tough decisions, a relentless prosecutor, and someone actually used the Patriot Act and its provisions to avert a terrorist plot. He might have won except he probably went a bit too far in declaring a No-Fly Zone against Russia in Syria, "If you want World War III, you have your candidate", declared Rand Paul. I thought Paul won that one.

Jeb Bush-- I think he had his strongest performance to date. He staked out his positions on immigration, on a strategy to defeat ISIS, and the importance of executive governmental experience. He mixed it up with Donald Trump, which at times was a tad silly, but I think his challenge to Trump that if thought debate challenges were tough, imagine if he were President, was a very good one-liner. I don't think Bush will get any bump but he is going out in a blaze of glory.

Carly Fiorina-- always tough, strong, and forceful Her best moments came in telling America that she was the person who could enlist Silicon Valley leaders in helping to update our terror-busting tools. She reminded us that she knows them and was called on to do that very thing already. But her time seems to have come and gone.

Rand Paul-- redeemed himself from some previously lackluster performances. He had some of his supporters in the audience and the cheers helped him. He staked out his libertarian positions particularly well but it hasn't helped him that there has been news just before the debate that he might throw in the towel.

John Kasich-- seems to have lost his mojo. He declared well that silly infighting abets cynicism, especially among young people. He certainly has the knowledge and record to boast but has a hard time breaking through. These debates are not a good forum for a sober, thoughtful person who lacks the ability to punch hard.

Donald Trump-- will probably keep his base support nationwide but, while he tried in his opening statement, to be more low key, he quickly took off his gloves and revealed his over sensitivity, his neediness to be the groom at the wedding (even while whining about all the attention focused on him). But he certainly did not win.

Ben Carson -- crammed for his final exam and, to some degree, it showed. But he couldn't get past the first one or two sentences in discussing anything of substance. So he relied on folksiness and his calming personality. He is declining n the polls and will probably continue to do so.