Boulder might be the most relaxed city to host a presidential debate so far this in this campaign, but the stage at the Republican debate Wednesday night was anything but chill.
Hosted by CNBC, the debate was billed as focusing on economic policy, but the most important thread running through it was rancor. Candidates yelled at moderators. Moderators yelled at candidates. Jim Cramer and John Kasich yelled at, well, everyone. There were interruptions, anger, and frustration. And from Jeb Bush, there was an offer of a “warm kiss.” Maybe you had to be there—though it didn’t make a great deal of sense at the time, either.
The two candidates to thrive were a pair of senators who have been slowly but clearly gaining strength over the last few weeks: Marco Rubio and Ted Cruz. Rubio has emerged as something of a bettor’s favorite: Though he still lags in the polls, pundits who assume Donald Trump and Ben Carson can’t win have tabbed him as the man to benefit. He showed why his political abilities are so well regarded. The polished, poised Rubio repeatedly turned what might have been tough questions around on the questioner.
Pressed on why he had missed so many Senate votes and why a Florida paper had called on him to step down, he offered an answer about liberal media bias. When Jeb Bush tried to step in to pile on, identifying himself as a disgruntled constituent, Rubio steamrolled him with ease. Rubio also drew a question—yet again—about his own financial difficulties. Having gotten the question many times, he parried it with delight, saying it proved that he understood the troubles of everyday Americans in today’s economy. “And I make a lot more than the average American. Imagine how hard it is for people making $50, $60,000 a year,” he said.
Cruz was also in fine fettle, delivering strong answers. The Texan offered far more specific economic policies than any of his rivals, though some of those ideas were politically risky or economically suspect. Cruz recommended partially privatizing Social Security, an idea that was roundly rejected when President George W. Bush attempted it. He called for auditing the Federal Reserve—stealing thunder from Rand Paul, who stood elsewhere on stage—and for abolishing the IRS, replacing it with a postcard-sized tax return. Somewhat bizarrely, Cruz also appeared to call for a return to the gold standard.
But Cruz skipped a chance to deliver a specific answer about the budget deal under consideration in Congress right now—as did most of his fellow candidates. While the candidates discussed jobs and income inequality, their prescriptions tended toward the superficial: Get government out of the way, they said, and growth would follow. Perhaps the only policy that united most of the candidates was the need to protect existing federal entitlements for today’s seniors.
Carly Fiorina, who proved to be one of the strongest debaters in the last two meetings but has fallen off the map since the last debate, was comparatively subdued and didn’t dominate as she did before. She called for a three-page tax code (to the moderators’ incredulity), on populist grounds. She attacked Hillary Clinton, and yet again, she defended her record at HP, where she was fired by the board. Moderators seem to insist on asking this question over and over, even though her answer has remained consistent—that she was sacked in a political struggle and did what was needed to save the company.
Ben Carson was also, as usual, subdued—though so far it’s worked for him. Carson has been shaky when discussing policy, but he mostly managed to avoid potholes. However, when pressed by Becky Quick on the fact that his plan would create huge deficits, he insisted it wouldn’t, saying growth would replace it—the classic Laffer Curve argument. But his answer doesn’t conform with any serious analysis. Carson also parried a question about Mannatech, a questionable supplement company for which he cut ads, by saying it was a liberal attack and that he wasn’t really involved. That worked on stage, but it’s likely to bring new, unwelcome scrutiny to his relationship with Mannatech—a story that, by the way, was broken by the conservative National Review.
This wasn’t Donald Trump’s night: He remained silent for long stretches, and much of the time he spent didn’t make him look good. After he denied to Becky Quick that he’d criticized H1B visas, Quick came back after break and pointed out that she read the quote on Trump’s own website. (Whoops!) Early on, Trump attempted a return to his political roots—way back in June!—with a stirring rant about the need to secure the border, the issue that took him to the top of the polls. Yet just as he delivered a strong defense of progressive taxation at the last debate, Trump sounded like a liberal Democrat on campaign finance Wednesday night: “Super PACs are a disaster, they're a scam, they cause dishonesty, and we've got to get rid of them.”
Weirdly, Trump came prepared with a double-barreled set of attacks on Kasich, the Ohio governor. Kasich’s debate strategy seemed to be to build on comments he made earlier this week, when he complained, “I’ve about had it with these people.” Kasich was ready for a fight, and the first question of the night went to him—for unclear reasons, it was the classic interview question about what one’s greatest weakness is. Kasich ignored the prompt and offered a jeremiad against the unseriousness of his rivals. (To be fair, most of the other candidates also ignored the question and just gave their opening statements; only Trump really complied, saying he was too trusting.) Kasich tried to maintain this Howard Beale act throughout the debate, but he seemed to gradually lose energy as it failed to bring him much speaking time. Also struggling to get screen time were Huckabee, Christie, and particularly Paul.
But the real mystery Wednesday night was Jeb Bush. The onetime frontrunner has been in near free-fall the last few weeks, and over the weekend huddled with his family in Houston to try to salvage his campaign. His aides offered two hints about his strategy going forward: Let Jeb be Jeb, and attack Rubio. How did that play out Wednesday? Bush’s only real attack on Rubio was handily shut down early, and he never tried again. But if letting Jeb be Jeb meant Bush wouldn’t try to radiate any more energy than he had before, the candidate followed it to a ‘T’. He seemed a bit bored and listless; his answers meandered here and there. While Huckabee, Christie, and Paul lashed out at moderators for not giving them more questions, Bush seemed resigned to it.
Bush did deliver one truly memorable quotation—though memorable isn’t always a good thing. When asked whether he’d accept a deal that offered $10 in spending cuts for $1 of tax increases, he replied: “You find me a Democrat for cutting spending $10, I’ll give ’em a warm kiss.” It seemed to capture many of the criticisms of Bush’s campaign—a little forced, a little awkward, and worst of all, tepid rather than hot. Many pundits predicted that if Bush didn’t deliver a strong performance tonight, it might be the death knell for his campaign. He’d better hope they were wrong about that—because this was not a strong performance.
10:32 pm: In a debate about the economy and economic policy there were lots of potential topics and opportunities for some granular detail about ways to speed up the growth, improve wages, and work on inequality. But other than intense battling about tax plans and some conversation about social security and Medicare, candidates barely even formulated a full thought, let alone a concrete policy proposal, for many important topics. —Gillian White
10:28 pm: For viewers who stuck with the debate through its second half, Christie also had a solid performance after not getting much air time at the outset. His eruption on fantasy football won big cheers and should get a fair amount of replay in the coming days. —Russell Berman
10:26 pm: This debate revolved around more policy issues than the last few gatherings for either side. I suspect the biggest moments of this debate will emerge over the next few days as the candidates' claims are weighed, both against their policies and against reality. —Matt Ford
10:26 pm: One persistent complaint from Republicans has been that one of the RNC's signature reforms this cycle was to get more conservative media involved in the debates—but so far, the conservative participants seem to be mainly window dressing. —Molly Ball
10:25 pm: Rubio and Cruz seemed to do themselves the most good. They were quick on their feet, detailed, and effectively bashed the media to the crowd's delight. Rubio got the best of Bush, while Cruz's defense of his rivals will go over well with Republicans who don't consider him a team-player. Then again, Ben Carson has risen in the polls after each of the first two debates despite criticism from pundits, so maybe his quieter performance will be well-received by voters again. —Russell Berman
10:23 pm: Kudos to Larry Kudlow for candor. Asked what he thought of the debate his network just held, he replied, "Well, it wasn't everything I thought it would be." —Russell Berman
10:22 pm: Jeb Bush had a rough night, while Ted Cruz and Marco Rubio are going to leave the stage smiling. Bush, who has rarely been at his best on the debate stage, tried to knock down Rubio, who’s been challenging him for establishment support. But he may have hurt himself more than he helped, as Rubio deftly fended off his blows, leaving Bush looking more hapless than ever. Ted Cruz returned to form, offering fiery attacks before an appreciative crowd. And Marco Rubio looked poised and polished. —Yoni Appelbaum
10:21 pm: Kasich: "I was on Morning Joe at a town hall..." He says he told a young person it's still possible to be optimistic. "We need to have stronger families. We need to know who our neighbors are. ... America is great from the bottom up, and the bottom up is us."—Molly Ball
10:20 pm: Bush's closing remarks seemed rushed, and his voice came off extremely monotonous. I'm not one to judge a person by the way he or she speaks, but I found myself waiting—even hoping—for any bit of inflection in his tone, especially after Christie's rousing tone and Rubio's lilting cadence in their respective signoffs. —Marina Koren
10:20 pm: Huckabee: "I know to a lot of people in the media this is just a game and we're the players...sometimes we're held up in contempt by people who write columns." He says the candidates are motivated by leaving a better world for their kids. "Think long and hard why we're here and hopefully you'll know we're not here for ourselves."—Molly Ball
10:19 pm: Bush: "I will change the culture in Washington just as I changed the culture in Tallahassee, and I will do so by bringing people together." —Molly Ball
10:19 pm: Rubio: "America doesn't owe me anything. I have a debt to America I'll never repay." He says he's running for president not just to save the American dream but to expand it. —Molly Ball
10:18 pm: Trump: "Our country doesn't win anymore." He cites trade, ISIS, the Iran deal. Then cites his success in negotiating down the length of the debate! A crowd pleaser. —Molly Ball
10:18 pm: The "liberal media" and the "out-of-control” size of the federal government seemed to be the biggest targets of the night. —Tyler Bishop
10:18 pm: Trump: I made the debates short again.
10:17 pm: Fiorina has stagnated in the polls, and she acknowledges it. But then she shifts to the message that she began her campaign with months ago, saying that she is best positioned to take Hillary Clinton on directly. —Russell Berman
10:16 pm: Fiorina: "What we need now is a proven leader who has produced results. ... I may not be your dream candidate just yet but I can assure you I'm Hillary Clinton's worst nightmare." It’s an interesting acknowledgement of her struggles to catch on. —Molly Ball
10:16 pm: Cruz: "Everyone talks about the need to take on Washington. The natural next question is, who has already done so?" He points to his leadership against Obamacare, "amnesty," and Planned Parenthood. "I will always keep my word and fight for freedom.” —Molly Ball
10:15 pm: Christie has really mastered his ability to look directly into the appropriate camera at the appropriate time. —Gillian White
10:15 pm: Christie: "Are you fed up with how Washington wastes your money? ... You need to elect someone who's deadly serious about changing this culture." —Molly Ball
10:14 pm: The people of the Twitterverse aren’t the only ones wondering where Bush has gone in this debate. Politico reports that Bush’s campaign manager, Danny Diaz, engaged in a “heated confrontation” with a CNBC producer outside the ongoing debate. “It’s a poorly managed debate,” a Bush campaign staffer told the publication, citing speaking time. According to running counts by NPR, Bush has barely spoken compared to his contenders, only beating Rand Paul. —Marina Koren
10:14 pm: Paul's closing statement: "I want a government so small you can barely see it." Decries the congressional budget deal and promises to filibuster it. "Enough's enough."—Molly Ball
10:12 pm: Rubio steps in to point out that the Republicans are talking about entitlement program changes for future generations, not for current recipients. He notes that his mother is on Medicare and gets a big laugh when he adds, "I'm against anything that's bad for my mother.” —Russell Berman
10:11 pm: This is Carson's pared down idea for Medicare. His idea has been to move from the social safety net of Medicare to a Health Savings Account program, which would provide individuals with $2,000 each year, a plan that Trump initially agreed with. But the plan is super controversial and has incited tons of backlash at the idea of defunding a program that provides tens of millions of seniors with coverage, leading both Carson and Trump to soften their stance on the HSA switch. —Gillian White
10:11 pm: Republicans also seem to have noticed that Hillary Clinton has solidified her status as the Democratic frontrunner since the last debate. There have been very few mentions of Bernie Sanders and his socialism, but plenty of harping on her. —Russell Berman
10:10 pm: You can't blame the CNBC moderators for its focus on economic and fiscal issues tonight, but it hasn’t made for great debating. Or, as Trump might say, it's "low energy."—Matt Ford
10:08 pm: There hasn't been too much talk of the soon-to-be speaker of the House, Paul Ryan. But he would love working with many of these candidates—with the notable exception of Mike Huckabee—who are endorsing specific changes to Medicare and Social Security. Ryan is the GOP's leading voice on entitlement reform. —Russell Berman
10:04 pm: Chris Christie’s answer on climate change displays why he might be a formidable general-election candidate. He accepts that humans play a role, that that the science should not be disputed, and that something that should be done about it. But he disagrees with most Democrats on the federal government’s proper role in fixing it—that it shouldn’t really have one. That’s a strong conservative principle that doesn’t necessarily alienate moderate voters. The political reality, though, is that he’s probably going to be swallowed up by this field long before he would get a chance to make that case. —Tyler Bishop
10:03 pm: Clearly, we have moved beyond the Tom Brokaw-led era of idolizing the "Greatest Generation" of World War II heroes who gave birth to the Baby Boomers. Rand Paul just blamed them all for having too many kids and bankrupting the country in the 21st Century. —Russell Berman
10:02 pm: While he seemed more interested in scoring points with the audience during the fantasy-football question than answering it, Christie is currently fighting a lawsuit from the big four national sports leagues and the NCAA over the law that legalized sports betting in New Jersey, which he supports. —Matt Ford
10:01 pm: Meanwhile, the Kansas City Royals posted four runs in the bottom of the 5th inning, to take a 4-1 lead. (You’re welcome.) —Yoni Appelbaum
9:59 pm: Bush looked almost giddy about getting a question about fantasy football. This was going to be an answer he wouldn't fumble! He went on to brag that he's 7-0 in his league, but the good feeling was cut short when Chris Christie bashed the moderators for asking questions about fantasy football when "we've got ISIS and al-Qaida attacking us." Huge applause for Christie, back to the background for Bush. —Marina Koren
9:59 pm: Jeb Bush fields a question on fantasy football, and brags that he’s got Patriots tight end Rob Gronkowski on his squad. But it’s Chris Christie who delivers the Gronk spike, slamming the question as trivial. For Bush, it’s just another missed opportunity on a night of disappointments. —Yoni Appelbaum
9:57 pm: Great play by Christie there, as Jeb meanders around explaining that he isn't sure whether the government should regulate fantasy sports. Christie interjects angrily: "Wait a second. We've got $19 trillion in debt...and you're talking about getting the government involved in fantasy football?"—David Graham
9:55 pm: Chris Christie hits President Obama for not supporting law enforcement and blames this lack of support for a supposed rise in crime. But even FBI Director James Comey acknowledged that he had no clear proof to back up any claims of a "Ferguson effect," and the evidence from other sources is dubious at best. —Matt Ford
9:51 pm: John Kasich denounced the legalization of marijuna in Colorado in strong terms, warning of the dangers of sending mixed signals to kids on drugs. At least one watcher wasn’t amused. Erstwhile Trump adviser Roger Stone quickly tweeted:
Hypocrisy ? I fired John Kasich from the 1976 Reagan Campaign ... For selling pot to other field men— Roger Stone (@RogerJStoneJr) October 29, 2015
It’s not a claim that could be quickly verified. —Yoni Appelbaum
9:48 pm: Mike Huckabee reveals he’s wearing a Trump tie tonight. A chorus of other candidates chime in. Is it made in China? Mexico? (It’s not clear where Huckabee’s tie hails from, but much of the Trump collection is, in fact, made in Mexico.)—Yoni Appelbaum
9:48 pm: Not much conversation thus far about job creation other than Trump's declaration that he's created tens of thousands of jobs. Would've expected that idea to be sold harder this go around. —Gillian White
9:47 pm: Donald Trump calls gun-free zones “target practice for the sickos and the mentally ill.” He says he’d change the policies at Trump resorts that currently bar firearms. —Yoni Appelbaum
9:44 pm: I'd like to see a pollster ask this question of voters: When a candidate says they plan to abolish the IRS, do you believe them? Or do you think they're just trying to be amusing? The line always gets a big applause, but it may be the single most unrealistic campaign proposal you'll ever hear. —Russell Berman
9:42 pm: There was a candidate who wanted to complexify the tax code: Lincoln Chafee had a plan to add a new bracket for high earners. But he's out of the race now. —Molly Ball
9:41 pm: Everyone seems to have ideas about how to simply the tax process—like really simplify it. Earlier in the night, Fiorina said regulations should be long enough to fit on three single pages. Cruz now says citizens should be able to fill out their taxes on a postcard. —Marina Koren
9:40 pm: If the presidential candidates get rid of the IRS, as Ted Cruz just urged, who will register their superPACs for tax-exempt status? —Matt Ford
9:39 pm: Cruz: Let's eliminate the IRS and have everyone do their taxes on a postcard. —Gillian White
9:38 pm: Rand Paul apparently didn't learn the rules about who gets to follow up. Becky Quick shuts him down: "It was at the moderator discretion." But Quintanilla, a softie, lets him talk anyway. —David Graham
9:36 pm: As Jeb Bush spoke about the economy, a sidebar appeared on the screen that described him as "Barclays' Consultant: '08-'14" and "Lehman Brothers Consultant: '07-'08." —Matt Ford
9:34 pm: Huckabee totally just three-upped Joe Biden by calling for a cure not only for cancer but for heart disease, Alzheimer's, and diabetes as well. —Russell Berman
9:34 pm: Huckabee's answer on how he'd reduce income inequality involves reducing regulation, getting government out of the way, and improving public health. —Gillian White
9:32 pm: Huckabee compared today's runaway blimp to the federal government "full of gas, destroying everything in its path." Not bad! —Molly Ball
9:31 pm: "Crap" isn't really a swear, but it sounds like one coming from mild-mannered Ben Carson. —Russell Berman
9:31 pm: Carson: "All of this too big to fail stuff, and picking winners and losers, this is a bunch of crap." —David Graham
9:31 pm: My colleague Peter Beinart noted earlier this week how Trump and Carson could benefit from the backlash against corruption and Trump’s comments on super PACs is perhaps a reminder of that. In a New York Times survey, 80 percent of Republicans said “money has too much influence” in America’s political system. Such a large majority, certainly gives Trump something to tap into there. —Priscilla Alvarez
9:31 pm: It’s been more than a century since the Republican Party tied its fortunes to the gold standard, as Ted Cruz just tried to do. The last time around, Democratic nominee William Jennings Bryan thundered back:
We will answer their demand for a gold standard by saying to them: “You shall not press down upon the brow of labor this crown of thorns; you shall not crucify mankind upon a cross of gold."
Bryan, of course, went on to lose. But there’s reason to doubt this will be a winning issue for the GOP in the 21st century, as it was in the 19th. —Yoni Appelbaum
9:29 pm: Ted Cruz just did something quite at odds with his Washington outsider persona: He called for the creation of a "commission" to study monetary policy. As Barack Obama pointed out in 2008, commissions are what D.C. politicians propose when they don't actually have a solution to a problem. (Obama then went on to create several of them as president.) —Russell Berman
9:29 pm: Ted Cruz has been openly going after Rand Paul's voters lately, and his call to audit the Fed was a frontal appeal for their support. —Molly Ball
9:28 pm: The moderators asked Ben Carson about his relationship with Mannatech, a controversial medical supplement company. Carson downplayed his ties to the company and even says they used his image on their homepage without his permission. But Carson has worked with the company since 2004 and even appeared in videos on their behalf in recent years. Expect this to be an issue for the current Iowa frontrunner tomorrow. —Matt Ford
9:27 pm: Rubio is the first to bring up Benghazi, and he accuses Hillary Clinton of lying. But he says she'll get away with because of the press: "Democrats have the best super PAC: the mainstream media." —David Graham
9:26 pm: It's Trump the liberal populist again: "Super PACs are a disaster, they're a scam, they cause dishonesty, and we've got to get rid of them." This is as strong as anything the Democrats said in their debate. —David Graham
9:24 pm: Donald Trump tries to make some news, noting that he’s been outspent to this point. “I will be putting up tremendous amounts of money,” he says. But this is a promise he’s made before, and he has yet to pony up the cash necessary to mount a television-advertising campaign. —Yoni Appelbaum
9:23 pm: A Cruz-Rubio ticket would be an interesting combo. Many Democrats seem to fear Rubio in a general election, but would love nothing more than to run against Cruz. —Russell Berman
Cruz-Rubio 2016 Rubio-Cruz 2016 Either way, America wins.— Erick Erickson (@EWErickson) October 29, 2015
Erick Erickson says Rubio and Cruz are winning, and many others seem to agree. —Molly Ball
9:20 pm: Here’s some background from the National Review on Mannatech, the questionable supplement company Ben Carson was just asked about. —David Graham
9:19 pm: "It's those people who are trying to divide us who are the enemies," Ben Carson just said. It’s a hilariously ironic statement. Like my favorite Tom Lehrer line: "I know there are people who do not love their fellow human beings, and I hate people like that!" —Molly Ball
9:18 pm: Ben Carson says he believes the Constitution "protects everyone, regardless of sexual orientation." At face value, this is broader than existing laws in most states, which don't protect LGBT employees from firing or housing discrimination. —Matt Ford
9:17 pm: Fiorina goes after Hillary Clinton in an answer to a question about women in the workplace, something that worked well for her in the last debate. “It is the height of hypocrisy for Mrs. Clinton to talk about being the first woman president,” she said, “when her policies have been demonstrably bad.” —Marina Koren
9:17 pm: Cruz's answer on the gender wage gap encapsulates the frustration many Republicans have with their party at the moment. He began by saying it's something to be addressed but then pivoted to blaming Democrats and never got around to offering a conservative solution. —Russell Berman
9:16 pm: Carly Fiorina, whose campaign has been so buoyed by her terrific debate performances, seems somewhat subdued tonight. —Molly Ball
9:14 pm: John Kasich's biggest conservative plank—and the thing that he hopes will bring conservatives to look past his heterodoxies on Obamacare and other things—is his balanced-budget amendment. He talks about it at every turn, but it's hardly made it into the conversation so far. —David Graham
9:13 pm: John Kasich came out on stage hopping mad and channeling his anger. I'd say that an hour or so in, he's down to "somewhat annoyed." —David Graham
9:11 pm: What is it with all these bartenders who turned out future Republican politicians in the middle of the 20th century? Marco Rubio, Lindsey Graham, and John Boehner all had fathers who either owned or tended bars. —Russell Berman
9:10 pm: The moderators are now discovering what Jeb Bush learned at his considerable expense: Rubio is not only prepared for attacks, he relishes them, using them to showcase his narrative. —Yoni Appelbaum
9:09 pm: At this point, questions about Rubio's financial struggles are just a gift. He's really polished his answer about he didn't inherit money and understands the struggles of everyday people. —David Graham
9:08 pm: Fiorina explaining crony capitalism: "Government causes a problem and then steps into solve a problem." She says big government is behind big banks, big drug companies, and student-loan escalation. —Gillian White
9:08 pm: That awful answer just encapsulated Jeb Bush's terrible inability to ad-lib. Awkward, nonsensical, kind of gross. He just doesn't think on his feet well. He seems to be groping for words, and then he finds exactly the wrong ones. —Moll Ball
9:05 pm: It's pretty remarkable that Chris Christie describes David Petraeus' low-key plea deal as an example of overzealous prosecution. Most observers thought Petraeus got off easy for sharing classified information with his mistress. —David Graham
9:02 pm: Jim Cramer starts posing questions. His over-animated, melodramatic, oddly loud questions feel out of place. But his questions themselves are sharp, pressing Carson on federal intervention to bar price-gouging for lifesaving drugs, and former prosecutor Christie on going after GM executives. —Yoni Appelbaum
9:01 pm: Commentators on Twitter are roundly panning the debate so far, with conservatives up in arms at the perceived liberal bias of the questions and politicos of all stripes rolling their eyes at this bankruptcy question, which we've heard Trump answer many times before. —Molly Ball
9:00 pm: Right, Trump got all the sound-bites he'll need out of this debate in the first 10 minutes. They'll be replayed so many times that viewers will think he spoke much more than he did. —Russell Berman
8:58 pm: Trump has actually never had a great debate performance. He's always erratic and only intermittently engaged. But he seems to understand that people remember the parts where they saw you, not the parts where they didn't. —Molly Ball
8:57 pm: Molly, that's completely right. But one candidate I didn't expect to disappear so quickly—Donald Trump. Once Trump got that random dig in at Kasich, he faded quickly. Much of that can be attributed to the moderators' line of questioning. In previous debates, some moderators seemed almost transfixed by Trump, asking him question after question and framing inquiries to others in the context of Trump's remarks. Are we nearing the Trump flame-out? —Marina Koren
8:57 pm: With 10 candidates onstage, it's always going to feel like someone is disappearing. It’s not the candidates' fault. —Molly Ball
8:55 pm: One clear sign of the demographics of the contemporary GOP? Ted Cruz’s forthright proposal to leave benefits intact for today’s seniors, gradually reducing them for the generations that are presently working to fund those benefits. That’s a proposal likely to be received very differently by younger voters than current retirees. —Yoni Appelbaum
8:54 pm: We're in Colorado, so it was only a matter of time before someone made a pot brownie joke. Didn't see it coming from Ted Cruz, though. —Marina Koren
8:54 pm: Christie and Huckabee agree that the government has lied to American people about social security and stolen their money. But neither are providing details about how to fix the problem of a dwindling retirement funds. —Gillian White
8:53 pm: But Huckabee is not alone. Kasich defended medicare and medicaid earlier, and Trump regularly promises to keep Social Security intact. —Molly Ball
8:51 pm: Paul: "You know what I'm worried about? Not keeping the government open. I'm worried about bankrupting the American people." —David Graham
8:51 pm: A reminder that Ted Cruz was on the debate team at Princeton. Sure, he once read Green Eggs and Ham from the Senate floor in the middle of a government shutdown, but no one can deny he's good at this—especially after witnessing Bush's weak attempt to rebuff Rubio a few minutes ago. Bush may be polling ahead of Cruz, but Cruz is orating ahead of Bush. —Marina Koren
8:51 pm: Paul says that the debt ceiling conversation should be used as a time to force budgetary reform. But says that hasn't and probably won't happen. —Gillian White
8:50 pm: Cruz also claimed the primary was not a cage match, but if this isn't an enclosed battle from which only one person emerges alive, I don't know what it is. —Molly Ball
8:49 pm: Ted Cruz's all-out assault on the media is entirely about starting the long process of trying to win back the love of Republicans who think his antics have gone too far and hurt the party. By defending his GOP rivals and attacking the soft target of the media, Cruz makes a small gesture toward party unity. —Russell Berman
8:49 pm: This is the heat of irony: Cruz gets huge cheers for tearing into the media, complaining that the media wants the candidates to tear into each other rather than discuss substance. But Cruz uses up his time without ever answering the question asked—which was a substantive one about the debt ceiling. —David Graham
8:47 pm: The much-hyped Bush-Rubio showdown is going to be one of the big moments out of this debate, and the near-universal consensus seems to be that Rubio won it handily. Bush is just not a nimble debater, and once he'd gotten his prepared line out, he wasn't equipped to respond to Rubio's parry. —Molly Ball
8:46 pm: The candidates seem to be competing for the affections of the crowd, and viewers at home, by attacking the one thing they can all agree to hate—the media. Ted Cruz delivers a particularly withering fusillade, drawing raucous cheers while evading questions. CNBC had billed this as a debate in which its moderators would grill the candidates; instead, it’s the candidates who are roasting the moderators. —Yoni Appelbaum
8:45 pm: Fiorina keeps getting asked about her firing at HP—and it's particularly pointed here, on CNBC. Her answer remains fairly consistent: We did what we had to do to save the company, it could have been much worse, and my firing was all about politics. —David Graham
8:43 pm: Fiorina is questioned about her leadership skills, based on the poor stock performance of HP during her tenure. Continuing a long tradition, she compares leading the United States with leading a private company. —Gillian White
8:43 pm: I didn't hear any cheers for Bush's attack on Rubio. But Rubio got cheers for accusing Bush of playing politics by attacking him. —Molly Ball
8:42 pm: Rubio gets asked about today's blistering editorial from the Fort-Lauderdale-based Sun Sentinel that called for him to resign, saying that the lawmaker's focus on his campaign has eclipsed his Senate responsibilities. Rubio indeed has one of the worst voting records in the Senate. In 2014, he ranked among the top 15 lawmakers who missed the most votes. Since January, he has skipped nearly a third of the votes the chamber has held; between July and September, he missed more than half. The question created a great opening for Jeb Bush to—finally, he must be thinking—speak. (Earlier today, the super PAC supporting Bush’s campaign launched a Twitter account called @IsMarcoWorking, created for the sole purpose of trolling Rubio.) —Marina Koren
8:41 pm: Hillary Clinton and her Republican rivals each have distinct ways of playing the victim. Clinton often blames questions about her record and judgment on Republicans out to get her. Rubio quickly blamed criticism of his lackluster voting record in the Senate on "media bias." In front of a friendly debate crowd, it worked: He got a huge cheer. —Russell Berman
8:41 pm: Jeb Bush challenged Rubio’s poor attendance in the Senate, but Rubio shot back.“I’m not running against Governor Bush. I’m not running against anyone on the stage. I’m running for president,” Rubio said, grabbing the high ground and deflecting the attack. But somehow, he still hasn’t answered the question: Does he hate his job in the Senate? —Yoni Appelbaum
8:39 pm: Ah, there's Jeb Bush: He jumps in to shiv Rubio for not showing up for votes, saying he's a constituent and he voted for Rubio. This is the angriest we've seen Bush in some time. —David Graham
8:39 pm: Marco Rubio also pivots to media bias instead of answering whether he hates his job as senator, drawing enthusiastic applause. —Priscilla Alvarez
8:38 pm: Rubio gets a question challenging him for missing votes and suggesting he's a "young man in a hurry," which he deftly turns around: "That's what the Republican establishment says, too. Why don't you wait your turn?" He says there's no time to let the old bipartisan consensus continue. —David Graham
8:37 pm: Fiorina still isn't giving concrete detail on tax policy. Simplifying the tax code is something that just about everyone can agree on, not a great point on which to differentiate herself. —Gillian White
8:37 pm: Ted Cruz is ready with his tax reform plan, which he says will cost "less than $1 trillion" when scored in a way that incorporates projections of economic growth. (Democrats say it's fuzzy math.) But he quickly discovers the difficulty of announcing a complex economic proposal in a 60-second debate answer, and the moderators cut him off. —Russell Berman
8:36 pm: Carl Quintanilla is incredulous that Carly Fiorina thinks she can reduce the tax code from 70,000 pages to three. Her response is that that's essential to allow the little guy to understand the code. —David Graham
8:34 pm: We're not even half an hour in and the personal attacks are coming. Trump attributes Kasich's placement on the debate stage—at the end of the row of lecterns—to Kasich's poor showing in the polls. The Bush camp has hinted all day that the former governor will go after Marco Rubio tonight, but neither has had a chance to talk much yet. Expect more hits like Trump's.—Marina Koren
8:34 pm: Carson has clearly been rehearsing his numbers for tonight. Refuses to let it go. —Gillian White
8:33 pm: Trump goes after Kasich for Ohio's fracking boom and his time with Lehman Brothers, again demonstrating an encyclopedic command of oppo on the other candidates. Last time he went after Carly Fiorina in similarly specific terms. For a candidate who seems to be playing it by ear, Trump actually studies quite a bit. —Molly Ball
8:33 pm: Trump evidently brought lots of talking points to attack Kasich, for some reason: He says Ohio's economic success is just a result of fracking, and then he attacks Kasich for his time at Lehman Brothers on the eve of the economic crisis. —David Graham
8:32 pm: Kasich says that Carson's 10 percent tithe plan is "just crazy". He is really trying to take his stand here on economic expertise. Trump is first to bring up his relationship to Lehman Brothers. —Gillian White
8:32 pm: John Kasich's early Halloween costume is evidently Howard Beale: He's mad as hell, and he's not gonna take it anymore. —David Graham
8:31 pm: Can anyone recall the last time a candidate interrupted a moderator while he tried to give that candidate a chance to talk? I'm looking at you, Kasich. —Marina Koren
8:31 pm: Depending on how you feel, this debate is either utter chaos or great entertainment. The moderators and candidates are at each other's throats, cutting each other off and interrupting each other. —David Graham
8:31 pm: Carson also says that all his math works out. I look forward to seeing that on paper. —Gillian White
8:30 pm: To add to David’s point, Ben Carson kept his cool as Becky inquired about his tax plan. That demeanor is what has helped him surge in the polls, as of late. —Priscilla Alvarez
8:29 pm: Becky Quick asks Carson about his plan to cut taxes to 10 percent and how that wouldn't massively increase the deficit. This is a big test for Carson, who's accused of being a lightweight on policy. Carson says his rate would be 15 percent, and that he would close the hole by closing loopholes and driving the economy—a classic Laffer curve argument. Quick basically just shoots him down, telling him he's wrong. That's something new.—David Graham
8:28 pm: John Harwood is about to be a household name, thanks to the inevitable PR war that Donald Trump will wage against him after that opening line of questioning. —Russell Berman
8:28 pm: Moderator John Harwood starts the real questions by asking if Trump is running a "comic-book version" of a presidential campaign. Trump, who sparred with CNBC about the debate format over the past week, says the question "wasn't asked very nicely" before delving into his stump issues of corporate inversions and a wall with Mexico. —Matt Ford
8:27 pm: The irony is that the job interview question is traditionally a test of a candidate's ability to deflect a question—“my weakness is I care too much” being the classic answer—but these guys couldn't even do that well. —Molly Ball
8:26 pm: Trump is back to basics here, with a long spiel about border security—the issue that originally brought him to the top of the polls. —David Graham
8:26 pm: Trump starts out talking about the growing number of corporate inversions, and how his plan, which includes lower overall and corporate tax rates, can bring money and business back to the U.S. —Gillian White
8:25 pm: Rand Paul also eschews the prompt, opting to blast the budget deal the House voted on today, vowing to begin a filibuster tomorrow. —David Graham
8:24 pm: Ted Cruz gets a quick laugh with some self-deprecation. His biggest weakness: "I'm too agreeable," he quipped. —Russell Berman
8:23 pm: So far, Trump—who said he was too trusting—is the only candidate to really make much effort to answer this question and actually identify a weakness. —David Graham
8:22 pm: Bush's statement that his weakness is his inability to fake anger suggests that maybe he came out of several days of soul-searching determined to stay the course, not to try too hard to respond to the attacks on his "low energy" by overcompensating. —David Graham
8:21 pm: There was reportedly a big fight between the candidates and CNBC about whether they would have the opportunity to deliver opening statements. CNBC apparently won, but the result is that many of these candidates are just deflecting the first round of questions and cutting straight to their talking points. —Russell Berman
8:19 pm: The first question is the classic interview question: What's your biggest weakness? John Kasich gets it and immediately goes off script, delivering a jeremiad about his opponents as unprepared and unserious for discussing entitlement cuts. —David Graham
CNBC is a hot mess— Philip Rucker (@PhilipRucker) October 29, 2015
How bad is CNBC's vamping ahead of this debate? Even straight-news reporters are blasting it as atrocious. The Washington Post's Philip Rucker, for example: "CNBC is a hot mess." —David Graham
8:10 pm: This is a big night for CNBC, with the cable-news network expected to smash audience records. It seems to be using the chance to put some of its on-air personalities on display, featuring a roundtable discussion before the candidates take the stage. Whether the audience will find this compelling enough viewing to come back to the network after tonight remains to be seen. —Yoni Appelbaum
7:58 pm: In the undercard debate, each low-polling candidate offered his diagnosis for what's wrong with the Republican Party. To Bobby Jindal, it's that Republican leaders don't fight hard enough for their principles. To Rick Santorum, it's that candidates don't sufficiently emphasize family issues. To Lindsey Graham, it's that Republicans don't offer realistic solutions to problems like climate change and immigration. To George Pataki, it's that they question "accepted science." Perhaps it's not surprising that none of these men is polling well—loyal Republican voters probably don't love being told their party is pathological. —Molly Ball
When the Republican candidates gather on Wednesday night for their third round of debates in Boulder, Colorado, they’ll be 5,430 feet above sea level. It’s a field full of outsiders whose campaigns are taking off, once high-flying candidates brought low, and obscure hopefuls struggling to gain altitude. The challenge they’ll all face is keeping their economic messages firmly grounded in the concerns of ordinary Americans.
The debate, hosted by CNBC, has a theme: “Your Money, Your Vote.” It’s expected to focus on economic issues, and the questions may be more policy-oriented than in previous encounters, giving the candidates a way to showcase their proposals as they compete to attack President Obama’s record in office.
The hopefuls take the stage on a day chock-full of economic news. The Federal Reserve announced its intent to keep the federal funds rate near zero, where it’s been for 83 consecutive months. A two-year budget deal sailed through the House. It included a number of measures that may surface in the debate, including a provision raising the debt ceiling through the end of President Obama’s term in office and a reprieve for the Export-Import Bank, a favorite target of small-government conservatives.
Since the candidates last squared off in California in mid-September, Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker has bailed out of the race, and the field gained a new frontrunner. A CBS/New York Times poll released Tuesday found Ben Carson with a national lead, pulling ahead with 26 percent of the vote to Donald Trump’s 22 percent. It came on the heels of other polls, showing Carson with the lead in Iowa.
Carson, drawing on a strong strain of black conservatism, is delivering a message that resonates with evangelical voters, even as their support for Trump erodes. But even as he rises in the polls, questions swirl around his campaign’s peculiar finances. Carson hauled in an eye-popping, field-topping $20.8 million in the third quarter, mostly in small-dollar donations, but 54 cents of every dollar he raised was spent on fundraising. As my colleague David Graham reports, that’s raising eyebrows:
Many strategists say direct mail is an important part of a diversified strategy. Other operatives, though, when discussing the Carson campaign, use words like “grifters” or “unconscionable.” They complain that Carson’s fundraisers appear to be reaping small-dollar donations from atypical donors and true believers while doing little with that money to build the infrastructure to win the nomination.
As the two outsiders dominate the race, a third struggles to regain her footing. Carly Fiorina soared after the each of the past two debates, but has struggled to stay in the spotlight in between. She’ll be trying to recapture the enthusiasm her earlier appearances sparked.
Jeb Bush’s once impressive campaign has continued to falter, opening the way for Marco Rubio to contend for the support of the Republican establishment. They’ll also be joined on stage on Wednesday by Texas Senator Ted Cruz, Ohio Governor John Kasich, former Arkansas Governor Mike Huckabee, and Kentucky Senator Rand Paul.
Earlier in the evening, four candidates who did not qualify for the main event battled for attention: Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal, South Carolina Senator Lindsey Graham, former New York Governor George Pataki, and former Pennsylvania Senator Rick Santorum.
You can find out more about all the candidates by using our 2016 Election Cheat Sheet. —Yoni Appelbaum