Drunkblogging Thursday's GOP Debate

Here we go -- the last debate that matters.

Or does it matter, given that Trump is competitive with Cruz in native Texas and blowing away Rubio in native Florida?

Will Rubio take the gloves off? And if he does, will he take them off eight times?

Will Cruz aim his laser beams at Trump or at Rubio?

What are the other candidates' names again?

Pour a large glass of whatever you're having, and we'll find out the answers soon enough.

I'll do a mini-wrap tonight, and call in hungover tomorrow morning.

Forget Carson and Kasich. They're good men, whatever you might think of their policies, but neither belonged on that stage.

Cruz did well, but probably not well enough to reverse his downward trajectory in the polls. I've long been a supporter of his, albeit an increasingly reluctant one, but he needed to do more tonight than he did.

Rubio shocked the hell out of me. Two, three, four times on the drunkblog and on Twitter I found myself asking "Where was THIS Rubio before?" I asked myself that even more times privately in my thoughts. Whatever you might think of his policies (I'm not a fan), tonight's Rubio came out swinging -- and connected again and again. His performance comes at the perfect time, too, just as he's gaining some traction in a few polls here and there.

But was it enough?

We might not know until Super Tuesday just days from now, and we'll know for sure when the primary vote moves to Florida shortly after.

Which brings us to Trump.

Trump did his Trump thing, and we all know what that is by now. He took some big hits tonight, a couple from Cruz and the rest from Rubio. But -- and this is the vital thing -- he never really lost his stride. That invisible Trumpness wasn't punctured, at least not in a way that appeared on his face, where it could have shattered the hopes of the Devoted.

Trump has so changed the rules of the game that in order to beat Trump, you really have to make him look beaten, to recognize his own loss.

If such a thing is possible, I can't commit to saying we saw anything like that on CNN.

More broadly, what I found most interesting other than the Rubio-vs-Trump exchanges was the Man Who Wasn't There, our Thursday Night Godot.

Where was Barack Obama? Except for some nearly pro-forma foreign policy references (where one can hardly ignore POTUS), there was hardly anything to be heard about our sitting (golfing?) President. Even Rubio's Stump-Speech-O-Matic failed to kick in the typical eleventeen references to our "lame, feeble, consumptive duck."

And this might just be the best news we got out of this debate: While the Democrats fuss endlessly about this and that about Obama's legacy, the Republicans are looking to the future.

I hope you'll drink to that.

I have.

Closing statements.

By longstanding tradition, this is when I leave my desk for a moment and pour a nightcap.

He's not a details guy.

Trump really was asked why he won't build a wall to guard us against the Great White North.

Coo coo coo coo coo coo coo coo.

Cruz and Rubio seem to be catching on, but it also seems to be too little and far too late.

I'm torn here on the Apple vs FBI thing, but I still have to come down on Apple's side. The All Writs Act can't be this broad, or there's nothing a court can't compel.

WTF, Wolk cut off Cruz AGAIN versus Trump.

[MORE CROSSTALK]

[CROSSTALK]