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Fiorina's no feminist, but she did cow Trump

Women, take heart. Even a misogynistic blowhard like Donald Trump can be cowed.

In Wednesday's debate of Republican candidates, Carly Fiorina was asked to comment on Trump's recent insult about her looks. She rose so far above him, he didn't lay a glove on her all night. "Women all over heard very clearly what Donald Trump said," she replied, and the quip earned one of the biggest rounds of applause. Trump was in full retreat, "I think she has a beautiful face and she's a beautiful woman," he said sheepishly.

Fiorina never took the ample Trump bait that was dangled before her. Instead, she exposed him. The debate covered foreign policy and he knew nothing.

Fiorina was fearless. Women often don't get to confront their tormentors directly, much less before 25 million television viewers.

While Fiorina showed him up, neither she nor anyone else showed him the door. Still, this second debate was evidence that Fiorina's rise is not a blip and that Trump is becoming the thing he hates, a politician able to trim his sails when he encounters an unexpected gust of wind.

But just because Fiorina benefited from Trump's misogyny she shouldn't be mistaken for a feminist. She's an opportunist. Although she's now scooping up the benefits of being attacked by Trump, she began her campaign attacking the other woman running for president.

Like so many Republican women, she flicks away the suggestion that her gender has helped her, yet claims special standing as the only woman on stage.

With no love from insiders Trump played to his base

Sorry, Republicans, but it's still Donald Trump's world. And sorry, Donald, but now you have to share it with Ben Carson.

The conventional wisdom seems to be that Carly Fiorina won herself a big patch of political territory in Wednesday night's marathon, 11-candidate debate on CNN. But the conventionally wise have been consistently wrong about this campaign, and I wonder if voters were equally impressed with her performance.

There's no question that Trump had an off night. The blustery mogul is at his best when he can feed on the energy of a fired-up crowd, but the audience at the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library was small and consisted mostly of party insiders. They showed him very little love.

His worst moment came when he claimed, without elaboration, that if he were president he would "get along with" Vladimir Putin and somehow convince the Russian leader to support U.S. foreign policy goals. Sure, and maybe Putin will give him a pony, too.

But he stuck to his guns on the issue that propelled his rise: immigration. Trump's claim that he can somehow deport 11 million undocumented men, women and children is absurd, ridiculous, unthinkable, cruel, dishonest — pick your adjective. But it has electrified much of the Republican Party base, and I'm betting that his supporters heard him loud and clear.

Loser for the night? The whole Republican field

Jeb Bush's supporters may have hoped when he got into the race that he would outshine the other candidates in debate the way Mitt Romney had four years ago, that he would seem like the most serious and presidential of the bunch.

That hasn't happened, in part because he is dealing with stronger competitors, in part because the party's divisions have grown more rancorous. (My wife works for his campaign.) But those supporters can take heart from the fact that he did better in the second debate than in the first, showing steadiness and good humor.

The first debate went off like a series of firecrackers, thanks to Trump. This one was more of a slog, which may be what the primary campaign is turning into as well.

I'd nominate another loser for the night: the whole Republican field. Bush was one of the few candidates to talk about economic growth. The debate told us more about where the candidates stand on vaccines, county clerks in Kentucky, and Ronald Reagan than what they would do about health care, the economy and college loans. The Republican candidates don't have to convince the voters to agree with them on every issue. They do have to convince them that they care about the same things.

A wonder no one fainted in GOP endurance debate

Chris Christie did pretty well in the debate. Too bad he's such a terrible governor. New Jersey would rather have another traffic crisis at the George Washington Bridge than vote again for Chris Christie.

What is it about governors in this race? Florida is deeply unenthusiastic about Jeb Bush, Wisconsin seems to hate Scott Walker, and if Louisiana had a chance to get its hands on Bobby Jindal, God knows what would happen.

The debate went on for so long it was a wonder no one fainted. And think about the viewers who made it all the way from the first debate. "The first four questions are about Donald Trump!" former Gov. George Pataki complained. Sen. Lindsey Graham repeatedly slid in the fact that his parents ran a bar and a poolroom. Graham insists he's really enjoying himself, although when someone keeps saying, "I'm running because I think the world is falling apart," it's sort of a downer.

Former Sen. Rick Santorum and Jindal tried so hard to break through the barrier of national indifference they sounded like rabid otters.

Yes, some political junkies watched Republicans debating for almost five hours Wednesday. This should be a message to the Democrats. Right now the party is engaged in a fight about whether its schedule of three debates in 2015 is too puny. Honest, there can be one every night as long as the American people are not actually forced to watch them. It could be a kind of endurance contest. Last person standing gets the nomination.

Inexperience not a qualification for governing

The question -- Why do you want to be president? -- is worth asking each candidate. Why, indeed. We can predict most of the answers, none of which will be remotely true.

"We need to make America great again and I'm your man," seems to be a favorite. "It's time to take our country back and when I was governor, I blahblahblah." Or, "It's time for a nonpolitician."

But for many, running for president is The Next Thing -— for them. After you've saved lives, built hotel empires, been secretary of state or a governor, what's next?

It is a fine thing to reach the summit of one's aspirations. It is a necessary thing, I suppose, that some are driven to leadership and, we hope, altruistic endeavors.

But governance isn't easy. And effective leadership doesn't necessarily convey to the White House from the boardroom or surgical ward -- or the gilded world of luxury hotels where women are "cherished" and the "hair is real."

This isn't to suggest that professional politicians are better qualified than others (necessarily), though it's likely some are. Nor is it axiomatic that distance from the political class makes someone a better choice just because he/she hasn't a clue how Washington works.

Knowing nothing -- or having no relationships with those you're hoping to lead toward productive alliances -- is hardly a recommendation for the job. This should go without saying and would be unnecessary were we not at this silly moment when the nation seems primed to favor the rabble-rousingest purveyor of emotional potions and fantastical fixes.