Carly Rocks

Carly Fiorina / AP

There's one story out of the CNN Republican debate, and that's Carly Fiorina. The cable network expanded the ranks of GOP candidates to include her in the primetime debate, and she made the most of the opportunity. She did what no one thought was possible: She beat Donald Trump in the television game with her retort to his comments about her physical appearance. And she did more than that: She gave crisp, strong, visceral answers on questions regarding national security, abortion, and the economy. Conservative audiences have been thrilled at Fiorina's appearances for months. Tonight she showed the nation that she is articulate, capable, passionate, and fearless. She displayed more thumos than many of the men on stage.

Fiorina has a fascinating speaking style. She's clipped, emphatic, almost rote in her delivery. But it comes across as though she's entirely committed to telling you what she's thinking at any given moment. I can't think of a more affecting statement from a politician I've heard than the one she gave on the Planned Parenthood scandal. When you combine that with how she destroyed Donald Trump when she was asked to comment on his remarks about her appearance, I expect the Republican audience of this debate to move to her in swarms.

What also makes Carly fascinating is that she's gotten to this point without ever holding office and without a huge profile among Republicans. Ben Carson has been a grassroots favorite since he rebuked President Obama at the National Prayer Breakfast years ago. Donald Trump is Donald Trump. And Jeb Bush is the frontrunner's frontrunner—the son and brother of presidents. Carly? She was a surrogate for McCain in 2008 and a failed candidate for senate in California in 2010. And now she's on the Republican main stage, outperforming two term governors.

I'd say Chris Christie, Ted Cruz, Marco Rubio, and Jeb Bush also had strong debates. But debates basically serve to propel second-tier candidates to the top. That's what happened with Ben Carson last time. And it's what's going to happen to Carly Florina now.