What a dispiriting performance by the ten top-tier Republican candidates in last night’s Fox debate. The “Fox” is an important qualifier here, because that network’s agenda contributed significantly to the kind of questions asked, which also led to expectations about the kind of answers expected. Can you imagine CNN or CBS moderators asking the candidates, “Have you received a word from God about what you should do first?”

What all of them would do first amounted to a barrage of negativity: defund Planned Parenthood, repeal Obamacare, cancel the Iran treaty, reverse every “illegal and unconstitutional” executive order issued by Obama, build a wall to step illegal immigration. The only positive was building up our military so we could beat the crap out of ISIS. The lack of apparent comprehension or willingness to address the complexity of any of the many problems facing our country was across-the-board and total. There wasn’t a scintilla of difference among the ten on any major issue. Yes, Chris Christie and Rand Paul argued over blanket wiretapping by the government in a demagogic exchange that diminished both of them, but that was a sideshow.

Since there could be no points awarded on substance, the lasting impact of the debate, if any, will have to do with style. My personal take is that Marco Rubio won here. He was good-looking, calm and articulate, with an appealing personal story and nice smile. As regards personal story, however, almost all the candidates touted their humble backgrounds as a substitute for policies assisting the lower and middle class – also, undoubtedly, as a dig at front-runners Bush and Trump. Scott Walker and Ted Cruz struck me as smarmy. John Kasich stood out as possibly reasonable, and, because he is so new on the scene, perhaps has the most to gain. Jeb Bush looked surprisingly uncomfortable, but we tend to forget that neither his father nor his brother was a polished politician. Paul and Christie both had odd-looking hair and gave the impression of being minor-league call-ups. You had to wonder what Ben Carson was doing there – even his pleasant demeanor was out of place. Mike Huckabee is a seasoned TV performer and it showed, but he has been around this track before and his appeal to Evangelicals limits him. Which leaves the Donald, who was his insulting, arrogant self. In fairness, the moderators seemed intent on picking on Trump, knowing that would produce the best theater; he certainly rose to the challenge.

The hope, for the Republicans at least, is that the debate will start to winnow the unwieldy field of 17 and/or burst the boomlet for Trump. This may not happen just yet, but the experience did succeed in winnowing viewership of future debates by at least one.