The much-anticipated Republican presidential debate Thursday night had some fireworks from the ever-controversial Donald Trump, but a pair of political experts said that didn't necessarily make him the winner. They were also split on how Gov. Chris Christie did, or if he helped his chances of moving up in national polls or in New Hampshire.

Republican presidential candidates (L-R) New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, Donald Trump and Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker (Chip Somodevilla, Getty Images)

"It's not clear if there was an absolute winner," said Patrick Murray, director of the Monmouth University Polling Institute. "There were certain candidates who did well. (Former Florida Gov.) Jeb Bush started off slow, but picked up steam as time went on."

Sen. Marco Rubio of Florida came across as the most likable Republican in the field, Murray said, and he thought Christie had a surprise performance.

"I think the moderators actually threw (Christie) a gift, setting him up against (Kentucky Sen.) Rand Paul on a national security issue, which is the No. 1 issue that Republican voters are telling us pollsters they're using to decide who they want to support as the nominee," Murray said. "Rand Paul is obviously on the wrong side of that issue."

Murray called the back-and-forth between Christie and Paul the only exchange of the night where two candidates truly opposed each other. Murray gave Christie a grade of A for his performance, based largely on his face-off with Paul.

The winners were the nine candidates on the stage who were not named Donald Trump, according to Peter Woolley, professor of political science at Fairleigh Dickinson University. He thought those other candidates got the chance to let voters get to know them. Woolley was lukewarm on Christie.

"Chris Christie did OK. He didn't do better or worse than any of the other candidates," Woolley said. "He didn't particularly help himself. He didn't particularly hurt himself. Did he stand out among all those candidates who were equally well-practiced? No, he did not."

Woolley agreed the Christie-Paul exchange was one of the more memorable moments from the debate, but he didn't think it was so clear-cut that Christie came out on top. He said it will be interesting to see how each candidate does in the first few post-debate polls.

The volley between Christie and Paul started with a question from Megyn Kelly, one of the Fox News moderators:

MEGYN KELLY: Alright gentlemen, we're going to switch topics and talk a bit about terror and national security. Gov. Christie, you've said that Sen. Paul's opposition to the NSA's collection of phone records has made the United States weaker and more vulnerable, even going so far as to say that he should be called before Congress to answer for it, if we should be hit by another terrorist attack. Do you really believe you can assign blame to Sen. Paul just for opposing the bulk collection of people's phone records in the event of a terrorist attack?

CHRIS CHRISTIE: Yes, I do. And I'll tell you why. Because I'm the only person on this stage who's actually filed applications under the Patriot Act, who have gone before the federal -- the foreign intelligence service court, who has prosecuted and investigated and jailed terrorists in this country after Sept. 11. I was appointed U.S. Attorney by President (George W.) Bush on Sept. 10, 2001, and the world changed enormously the next day, and it happened in my state. This is not theoretical to me. I went to the funerals. We lost friends of ours in the Trade Center that day. My own wife was two blocks from the Trade Center that day at her office, having gone through it that morning. When you actually have to be responsible for doing this, you can do it, and we did it for seven years in my office, respecting civil liberties and protecting the homeland. And I will make no apologies, ever, for protecting the lives and the safety of the American people. We have to give more tools to our folks to be able to do that, not fewer, and then trust those people and oversee them to do it the right way. As president, that is exactly what I'll do.

RAND PAUL: Megyn, may I respond to him? May I respond?

KELLY: Go ahead, sir.

PAUL: I want to collect more records from terrorists, but less records from innocent Americans. The Fourth Amendment was what we fought the Revolution over. John Adams said it was the spark that led to our war for independence. And I'm proud of standing for the Bill of Rights, and I will continue to stand for the Bill of Rights.

CHRISTIE: And Megyn? Megyn, that's a -- that, you know, that's a completely ridiculous answer. "I want to collect more records from terrorists, but less records from other people." How are you supposed to know, Megyn?

PAUL: Use the Fourth Amendment!

CHRISTIE: What are you supposed to -- how are you supposed to --

PAUL: Use the Fourth Amendment!

CHRISTIE: No, I'll tell you how you do it.

PAUL: Get a warrant!

CHRISTIE: So you go --

PAUL: Get a judge to sign a warrant!

CHRISTIE: When you -- you know, Senator...

KELLY: Gov. Christie, make your point.

CHRISTIE: Listen, Senator, you know, when you're sitting in a subcommittee just blowing hot air about this, you can say things like that. When you're responsible for protecting the lives of the American people, then what you need to do is to make sure --

PAUL: Here's the problem --

CHRISTIE: Is to make sure that you use the system the way it's supposed to work.

PAUL: Here's the problem, Governor. Here's the problem, Governor. You fundamentally misunderstand the Bill of Rights. Every time you did a case, you got a warrant from a judge. I'm talking about searches without warrants.

CHRISTIE: There is no --

PAUL: Indiscriminately of all Americans' records, and that's what I fought to end. I don't trust President Obama with our records. I know you gave him a big hug, and if you want to give him a big hug again, go right ahead.


KELLY: Go ahead, Governor.

CHRISTIE: And, you know -- you know, Sen. Paul, the hugs that I remember are the hugs that I gave to the families that lost their people on Sept. 11. Those are the hugs I remember. And those had nothing to do with politics, like what you're doing by cutting speeches on the floor of the Senate and then putting them on the Internet within a half hour to raise money for your campaign, and while still putting our country at risk.