For the first time, the outsider candidates — Donald Trump, Carly Fiorina, and Ben Carson — were largely sidelined in favor of people who conventional wisdom would say are the safer bets to win the nomination — specifically, Marco Rubio.
In previous debates, almost all the combat revolved around Donald Trump. His brash style and willingness to level uppercuts at his opponents — both on the stage and off —determined the questions, defined the narrative, and made him the most prominent voice in the debates. But the candidates descended on Boulder as the shape of the race is starting to change. Trump can no longer say he is leading in every single poll in every single state. Ben Carson has slid ahead in Iowa, and is taking up ground in national polls.
Trump put on a solid debate performance, getting into it with John Kasich and taking on the moderators. He landed a couple of solid one-liners. But what stood out was how often the billionaire upstart was not a part of the discussion.
“He’s starting to not monopolize the discussion any more, which is bad for him,” says one GOP strategist.