Story highlights

Big winners for the night include: Carly Fiorina, Marco Rubio and Chris Christie

Less clear is how Wednesday's performance will affect the campaigns of Jeb Bush and Ben Carson

Washington CNN  — 

The day after a marathon three-hour meeting of 11 top tier candidates, here’s our take on the winners and losers of CNN’s Republican debate at the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library.


Carly Fiorina

Fiorina insisted in the lead-up to the GOP debate that she belonged on the debate stage with the top-tier White House hopefuls.

She proved as much Wednesday night.

For the second debate in a row, Fiorina was once again the breakout star of the night, taking on Republican front-runner Donald Trump with finesse and capturing the crowd with polished, zinging answers and an impassioned charge against abortion.

Fiorina earned perhaps the biggest applause of the night as she skewered Planned Parenthood.

“This is about the character of our nation and if we will not stand up and force President Obama to veto this bill, shame on us,” Fiorina said to raucous applause in what was her biggest moment of the night, one that will appeal to the socially conservative base of the party.

Fiorina dodged an early opportunity to hit Trump but didn’t make that mistake again when she was asked to address the businessman’s recent comments about her appearance to Rolling Stone, in which he suggested her face would make her unelectable.

“I think women all over this country heard very clearly what Mr. Trump said,” she said, once again to overwhelming applause.

Fiorina takes on Trump

New York journalist and CNN contributor Errol Louis said after the debate that Fiorina was “the clearest winner.”

“(She) successfully challenged Trump – criticizing his wisecracks about her personal appearance and challenging his credentials as a global businessman by deftly ticking off hotspots around the world and suggesting ways she would tackle them,” he wrote in a CNN op-ed.

Fiorina distinguishes herself on debate stage

Marco Rubio

Rubio proved Wednesday night why so many GOP elites have long considered him a top contender for the Republican nomination: He can weave his strong handle of policy with a compelling personal narrative.

Rubio took on Trump differently than Fiorina or Bush, dispatching the front-runner without attacking him directly, instead steering the debate toward his strengths.

When Trump pointed out Rubio’s voting absences in the Senate, Rubio refused to retort with an attack of his own.

“You’re right, I have missed some votes, and I’ll tell you why, Mr. Trump. Because in my years in the Senate, I’ve figured out very quickly that the political establishment in Washington, D.C. in both political parties is completely out of touch with the lives of our people,” Rubio said. “That’s why I’m missing votes. Because I am leaving the Senate, I’m not running for re-election, and I’m running for president because I know this: unless we have the right president, we cannot make America fulfill its potential, but with the right person in office, the 21st century can be the greatest era that our nation has ever known.”