Whatever it was, it wasn’t a debate. CNN didn’t want a debate. They wanted a mud fight. And that’s exactly what they got.

 CNN set it up that way, delaying the first debate for 15 minutes until Trump’s car arrived at the Reagan Library. They used the first four questions in the junior varsity debate to get candidates to respond to something Trump had said earlier, then stretched the second debate out for three insufferable hours, milking every last possible sponsor dollar out of Donald Trump as long as they had him on stage.

 Everybody watching had their instant takeaways. Here are mine. Donald Trump didn’t lose any ground, but he didn’t gain any, either. Trump practically disappeared. Trump has peaked. The downward slide begins.

 Carly Fiorina helped herself the most. She’s the new Republican pit bull; quick on her feet, but too angry and hard-edged to go the distance.

 It was do or die for Jeb Bush. He didn’t die, but he didn’t do that well, either. Well enough to remain a serious candidate, but not well enough to establish himself as the strong favorite.

 It was also do or die for Scott Walker, and he did die.

 Among lower-tier candidates, Christie, Marco Rubio and John Kasich made best use of their time.

 That’s not the case with Ted Cruz, who came across as being against everything and for nothing.

 Mike Huckabee was there for one purpose: to defend Kim Davis. He did. End of story.

 Instead of covering the debates, CNN and FOX ruled them. They alone decided to hold not one debate, but two.

 It’s an outrageous new development in American politics: Before one vote is cast for 2016, we’ve empowered TV networks to decide who’s serious and who’s not, thereby eliminating several candidates before they even have a chance to make their case.

 Maybe I’m old-fashioned, but I prefer running presidential campaigns the old-fashioned way: Put all candidates on stage at the same time. Let voters decide who the serious candidates are. Not the networks.

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