Byron York, Washington Examiner:
ATLANTA — It’s likely the Donald Trump melodrama is the only news you’ve heard from the RedState Gathering of conservatives in Atlanta. But something unusual happened here, and it had nothing to do with Trump.
A parade of Republican presidential candidates marched through — Chris Christie, Rick Perry, Bobby Jindal, Marco Rubio, Carly Fiorina, Mike Huckabee, Ted Cruz, Jeb Bush, Scott Walker — and not one of them bombed. Not one underwhelmed, disappointed, or mailed it in. Instead, the GOP hopefuls were sharp, fired-up, and focused, even as the embarrassments of the latest Trump controversy threatened to overshadow it all.
Why were they so good? Here’s a theory: The candidates prepared like crazy for the recent Cleveland debate, honing their arguments, finding the most effective way to express their positions. Most of that material was never used — there was no time, given the constraints of a big-field debate. Plus, they were terrified of making a mistake in front of the huge Fox News audience. So now, with all that preparation, and with more time — and without the crushing pressure and nerves of the debate — they’re letting go with their newly-polished best stuff.
Ted Cruz staffers privately complain that when he gives a knockout speech, it’s often dismissed because Ted Cruz is expected to give a knockout speech. That’s what he did Saturday. The Texas senator focused on a theme of conservative authenticity that deeply resonated with the RedStaters.