Donald Trump blamed the Bush administration for failing to heed CIA warnings before 9/11; denounced the Iraq War for destabilizing the Middle East; defended the use of eminent domain; promised to save Social Security without trimming benefits; and credited Planned Parenthood for “wonderful things having to do with women's health.”

He’s fresh off a crushing victory in New Hampshire, and the prohibitive favorite in the polls in South Carolina. Will his flouting of Republican orthodoxy sink his chances—or is it his very willingness to embrace these heterodox stances that has fueled his rise?

Even his rivals no longer seem certain of the answer. Jeb Bush, at one point, called Trump “a man who insults his way to the nomination.” He sounded like a man ruing a race that has run away from him.

If Donald Trump willingly raised his own heresies, the rest of the candidates spent their nights gleefully pointing out each other’s divergences from standard conservative positions. Ted Cruz, Marco Rubio, and Jeb Bush again mixed it up on immigration. Bush attacked John Kasich for supporting Obamacare’s expansion of Medicaid. Rubio had to defend using the tax code to accomplish social-policy objectives. Only Ben Carson stayed clear of the fray, but that only served to underline his increasing irrelevance to the race.

Despite the venue’s name—the Peace Center—the debate was the nastiest and most acrimonious of the cycle. (The auditorium takes its name from its generous donors, the Peace family, a fact that hardly diminishes the irony.) The candidates talked over each other and the moderators, hurled charges, traded insults, and made no effort to disguise their mutual contempt.

Looming over the debate was the death of Justice Antonin Scalia earlier on Saturday—a man who reshaped America’s understanding of its Constitution, and whose passing has now reshaped the political landscape. The debate opened with a moment of silence, and the moderators lost no time in asking the candidates for their views on how his seat on the Supreme Court should be filled.

Not by President Obama, it seems. “I think it’s up to Mitch McConnell and everybody else to stop it,” said Trump. “It’s called delay, delay, delay.” One by one, the others voiced their assent. John Kasich decried partisanship, and then called for a partisan delay. Rubio agreed. “We have 80 years of precedent of not confirming Supreme Court justices in an election year,” thundered Cruz. He was brought up short by the moderator, John Dickerson, who pointed out that Anthony Kennedy was confirmed in 1988—an election year. Cruz pointed out that Kennedy was nominated in 1987, although that was still less then 12 months before the election.

If the candidates agreed that one of them, and not Obama, should have the chance to choose Scalia’s successor, it was a rare moment of accord on the stage. They clashed on other issues, from tax plans to immigration to foreign policy—to Donald Trump’s business record.

In a week, voters in South Carolina will head to the polls. It will be a clarifying moment for the Republican Party. Donald Trump is gambling that enough of them will endorse his challenge to the policy establishment’s consensus—or at least, his willingness to offer straight talk—to allow him to add the state to his column. Jeb Bush hopes that enough South Carolinians retain a fondness for his brother, and for the family legacy he represents, to allow him to beat out Kasich and Rubio. Those two candidates are looking to South Carolina to tip the race in their favor, after mixed results in Iowa and New Hampshire. And Ted Cruz is trying to turn this into a two-man race, take down Trump, and wrest control of the Republican Party from the establishment.

If Trump can replicate the results in New Hampshire—as the polls presently suggest he may—it will be more than a personal victory. It would require a plurality of Republican voters in a deeply conservative state to embrace a candidate who has repudiated many of their party’s signature stances. Whatever his showing in the primary, Donald Trump has already shifted the terms of the debate in ways that will long outlast him.

Yoni Appelbaum

It was a remarkable moment when in a heated exchanged between Cruz and Rubio over immigration, Cruz spoke a few words of Spanish. The two Cuban-American senators have up to now not touched, even briefly, on their Cuban heritage during the debates. Cruz’s words may have simply been a jab at Rubio for accusing him of not speaking Spanish, but it also marks a shift in discourse on Latinos, as the party up to now has isolated many of them for its aggressive rhetoric over immigration.
Rubio needed to make a good impression at tonight's debate after the great robot glitch debacle of 2016 last time around. It doesn't look like he made any viral-worthy missteps tonight. Rubio also seemed notably aggressive in some of his attacks, particularly against Ted Cruz.
Many right-wingers on Twitter are saying the debate was awful for Trump. As usual, one hesitates to make such a claim given the track record of such predictions. The winnowing of the field does seem to have put more focus on him. Nobody fades into the woodwork in a 6-man debate the way they do when there are 10 of them on stage.
For a long time, Republican voters have managed to live with the cognitive dissonance of thinking that George W. Bush made a mistake by going into Iraq, where there were no weapons of mass destruction,  but that he is also a good president who "kept us safe.” Tonight, Donald Trump declared not only that Bush erred by going into Iraq, but that he lied about WMDs and failed to keep us safe because 9/11 happened on his watch. How will today’s anti-establishment Republicans respond? What will South Carolinians think? I confess that I don’t know. But the answers to those questions would go a long way toward determining how this debate will affect the Republican race.
Trump: Politicians are all talk, no action. A reference to the congressional budget process! We don't win anymore—health care, ISIS, vets, borders. We are not going to be controlled by special interests and lobbyists. "I'm working for you. I'm not working for anybody else."
Cruz: "Our country literally hangs in the balance." Do you want a conservative—a proven conservative who will stand and fight for you every day? If we nominate the wrong candidate, the Supreme Court will go astray.
Rubio: Wrong is now considered right, right is considered wrong. Things are terrible all around the world. But 2016 can be a turning point. Protect life and marriage. Constitutional rights come from God. A new American century.
Carson basically admits a lot of voters have told him they don't think he's electable. "If all the people who say, 'I love Ben Carson and his policies, but he can't win' vote for me, not only can we win, but we can turn this thing around." Not a great sign for your presidential campaign.
Bush: There will be an unforeseen challenge—a disaster, a pandemic, an attack—so think about who you want to lead us in that situation. "I will have a steady hand" and unite the country around a common purpose. "We led. We ran to the challenge." A servant's heart, a backbone.
Carson: "I, like you, am a member of we the people." America is too good for what's happening to her right now. Vote for me and we can turn this thing around. I will be accountable to everybody and beholden to none.
Ben Carson offers a quote—“Joseph Stalin said if you want to bring America down you have to undermine three things—our spiritual life, our patriotism, and our morality”—only it seems Stalin never said the words that Carson attributes to him.
Kasich says the spirit of America rests in all of us. (Except Jeb, of course, because the spirit of Chris Christie lives in him.)
Kasich: The Lord made all of us special. We're part of a very big mosaic. The spirit of America is in our guts.
Dickerson seemed to concede he wouldn't enforce the 30-second time limit he gave Rubio, either. "I'll ask the question and you do what you want."

Donald Trump called Ted Cruz a liar, a nasty guy. Cruz called Trump thin-skinned, a closet liberal.

I think they're both right.

Spoiler: He went for the Gipper.
Dickerson lobs a softball who’s-your-favorite-president question to Rubio.
I’m not sure Donald Trump is going to win points by saying that he exploited the system “just like the biggest business leaders in the country.” Those leaders belong to the very class that many voters distrust.
Trump is asked if he listens to people who tell him he’s wrong. In response, Trump says, sometimes the experts are wrong and you have to be able to tell them they’re wrong. I’m going take that as a “No.”
Donald Trump promises to stop using profanity. I will read his lips. I predict he will fail.
John Kasich: “I love these blue collar Democrats because they’re going to vote for us next fall.”
Presidential candidate Ben Carson: “I’m not a politician.” Yes, you are!
Marco Rubio gets to talk about whatever he wants. He chooses poverty. His plan: turn it over to states. Of course, many anti-poverty policies are already under the purview of states.
Ben Carson really, really wants to talk now; viewers can hear his pleas off-camera: “I heard my name twice! I heard my name twice!"
In a back-and-forth with Trump on Planned Parenthood, Cruz disputes that the organization has any value. He said he disagrees with Trump's assertion that— putting aside the abortions some clinics perform—Planned Parenthood supports "wonderful things having to do with women's health."

My colleague David Frum furnishes a metaphor for the night:

Trump is breaking all the debate rules and engaging in a lot of cross-talk.
Donald Trump calls Ted Cruz a “nasty guy” and the “biggest liar."
Shorter Trump on foreign policy: "When you're fighting wars, you're going one way, you have a plan, it's a beautiful plan, you can't lose, the enemy makes a change and all of a sudden you have to change. You have to have flexibility.”
“I like Donald. He’s an amazing entertainer,” Cruz says. How the race has changed: A few debates back we probably wouldn’t have heard the latter part of that.
Here’s the eminent domain attack ad that Ted Cruz ran:
Trump mentions New Jersey and says, as an aside, "too bad Chris Christie's not here." Chris Christie, somewhere in the governor's mansion, loudly sighs.
Donald Trump raising eminent domain in this debate is a huge own goal. What is he possibly thinking? Defending eminent domain cannot possibly help him—at all—in a Republican Party primary.
Among all the debates so far, I prefer the aesthetics of the PBS broadcast, and dislike this CBS approach of running sound-bytes before and after commercial breaks. There’s no way for them to do so neutrally, and no reason to further elevate sound-bytes in a political landscape dominated by them.
Donald Trump’s assertion that he would build consensus through Congress, and is uncomfortable with executive orders, is one of several ways that he departs from the archetype of the classic demagogue.

Ben Carson’s campaign shows a deeply unsettling pattern of operation, raking in an enormous number of donations, and spending much of the resultant cash on fundraising operations and consultants, many of them tied closely to campaign insiders. It’s a thought I can’t shake every time he uses a question to ask viewers to visit his website, which asks for donations—what will these donors receive in exchange for their investment in his increasingly hopeless campaign, and what sacrifices will their donations entail?

As best I can tell, Ben Carson is the one remaining candidate who can’t make a credible case for his space on the stage. Neither his past performance nor his poll numbers nor his resources appear to give him even the most unlikely path to the nomination. And substantively, he isn’t adding a new perspective, as Lindsey Graham and Rand Paul both did prior to dropping out of the race.
Ted Cruz is really trying to make "the Obama economy" a thing.
Ben Carson really wants you to visit his website. He again directs the audience to the site for his policies.
Every debate somebody says Jeb looked alive and I don't see it. This time, I'm going to say it.
Kasich bets dollar to donuts (!) his immigration plan will get through Congress.
John Kasich is tired of the exchange, saying, “We’re fixin’ to lose the election if we don’t stop this."
Jeb Bush refers to Donald Trump as “you know who,” the euphemism used for Voldemort in the Harry Potter books. Ted Cruz would be a Slytherin, I think.
This is a bit of an extended replay of the previous debate where Cruz went after Rubio for immigration and Rubio filleted him for flip-flopping on the issue. But it got a little more heated this time
When Cruz refers to the Senate immigration bill as the "Rubio-Schumer amnesty plan," the crowd boos loudly. "Apparently supported by the donor class," Cruz adds. Looks like Cruz and Trump are in agreement that the audience tonight is made up of hostile establishment-types.
This is a first: Rubio criticizes Cruz for not speaking Spanish, and Cruz responds ... in Spanish.
Cruz: Marco went on Univision—in Spanish!—to promote his amnesty plan. (wink wink)
Ted Cruz highlights that there are sharp differences on amnesty, teeing up his attack on Marco Rubio’s Gang of Eight bill. “Marco has a long record when it comes to amnesty,” Cruz says.
Cruz accuses Rubio of supporting citizenship for “12 million people” in the country illegally. It’s a reminder of just how disconnected from reality the debate over immigration often is. In 2014, for the first time in years, the population of illegal immigrants dipped below 11 million. It’s a shrinking population, not a growing one—but you’d never know it listening tonight.
Rubio offers a definition of amnesty I've never heard pols use before: "Amnesty is the forgiveness of a wrongdoing without consequence." It underlines Rubio's belief that immigrating to this country illegally isn't that "act of love" his opponent Bush once said it is—rather, it's an act as wrong as any other crime.
Donald Trump’s resting duck face when listening to other candidates always cracks me up.
How do you feel about treating people in the shadows humanely? Trump: The Mexicans will pay for a wall.

Donald Trump promised to fund social spending by cracking down on “waste, fraud, and abuse.” Is that practical? They’re real problems, as Eric Schnurer wrote in 2013. But even bringing them down to private-sector levels isn’t going to solve the structural problems these programs face.

Unless the political world has been turned upside down, South Carolina Republicans will punish Donald Trump for blaming 9/11 on George W. Bush and calling the former president’s team a bunch of liars. (Note: The political world has been turned upside down.)

Bush won the South Carolina primary in 2000, rebounding from a stunning loss to John McCain in New Hampshire. The Bush family has deep ties to the state and its community of troops and veterans.

CBS debate moderator John Dickerson mischievously asked Trump whether he still thought Bush should be impeached. Trump didn’t quite answer the question, but he accused the Bush administration of knowingly deceiving the nation about the existence of weapons of mass destruction in Iraq.

“They lied!” Trump bellowed.

Lashing back was Bush’s brother, former Florida Governor Jeb Bush, who said that while Trump was building a TV reality show, George W. Bush was “building a security apparatus.”

Once again, Trump has crossed a line that conventional wisdom would suggest is too far. Attack prisoners of war. Mock the disabled. Swear in public. "I could stand in the middle of 5th Avenue and shoot somebody and I wouldn't lose voters," Trump said in Iowa.

We’re about to find out if he’s bulletproof in South Carolina.

The moderators are doing a good job of pointing out that almost every candidate has departed from WSJ-editorial-board free-market dogma on fiscal policy in one way or another.
Kasich is hardly alone—almost every GOP governor in a blue or purple state has accepted the Medicaid expansion or tried to, including Chris Christie.
The Wall Street Journal’s Kimberley Strassel outlines a potential attack against Rubio: the idea that his tax plan adheres to liberal principles. Strassel asks Rubio to defend the fact that his tax plan has the highest tax rate of any candidate, and questions his rationale for suggesting he'd use the money to pay for a tripling of the child tax credit. "Normally, it's liberals who like to use the tax code to influence social policy," Strassel says.
Medicaid expansion is the thing conservative policy wonks hate, hate, hate about Kasich's record. He has plenty of practice defending it, but there are a lot of people on the right (e.g. Erick Erickson) who will never, ever consider him because of it.
This confrontation between Jeb Bush and John Kasich on Medicaid funding is interesting, as the two are the last remaining governors in the race and are both vying for the backing of the establishment.
Jeb Bush is being much more assertive in this debate than in prior debates.
Kasich expanded Medicaid in his state under the Affordable Care Act, and is asked to defend how much it costs. He disputes that the costs to Ohio are too high, and says expansion helps the mentally ill, the working poor, and those with serious illnesses, like cancer. And he insists expansion hasn't hurt Ohio's bottom line: Ohio has a surplus, has fewer taxes, "and frankly we leave no one behind."
As Marco Rubio talked about the importance of family formation, and said that the most important role of everyone on stage was as parents, I wondered if we’ve ever had a president without children. The answer, as best I can tell checking quickly, is that Presidents James Buchanan, James Madison, and George Washington are the only ones who did not have biological children.
Kasich: When you give the addicted treatment, you stop the revolving door to prison.
Marco Rubio: “Parenting is the msot important job that we’ll ever have. My tax plan… creates an additional child tax credit…I’m going to have a tax plan that’s pro-family… You cannot have a strong country without a strong family." For more on the Florida senator’s tax plan, here’s Derek.

Ted Cruz’s insistence that his tax plan isn’t a Value Added Tax is akin to his repeated efforts to redefine carpetbombing—no matter how many times he says it, or how emphatically, he’s stuck trying to redefine how everyone else has always used these terms. His flat tax would be applied to businesses, but would function as a steep, and highly regressive, sales tax. It’s striking that he refuses to defend it for what it is, and instead persists in attempting to redefine well-established terms.

Donald Trump says that by eliminating “waste, fraud, and abuse,” he will save Social Security. The nation’s actuaries collectively put their heads on their desks.
In this 2014 poll, 63 percent of Republicans said the Iraq war wasn't worth the cost
How well will Trump’s attacks on George W. Bush play out for him in South Carolina? Perhaps not as well as he might think. A majority of the state’s Republicans actually back the former president.
And it’s almost surreal to see the long overdue grappling with 9/11 and the response to it framed around whether George W. Bush “kept us safe” or not, Yoni. Even if we don’t count the roughly 3,000 Americans who died on 9/11—and I’m not sure why we would—George W. Bush’s insufficient planning for Iraq, and his failing strategy there for years, resulted in thousands more Americans coming home in body bags. Even given the invasion of Iraq, he didn’t keep our troops as safe as he might have.

“I just wish we hadn’t run so fast into politics,” Ohio Governor John Kasich said of the response to the death of Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia. Then he urged Republican senators to block whomever Barack Obama nominates to replace Scalia. Because, politics.

Obama can’t be trusted to make a good pick, Kasich said.

CBS moderator John Dickerson opened Saturday night’s debate by questioning several GOP presidential candidates about the balance of power in shaping the Supreme Court. This immediately became clear: What’s good for the GOP goose is not good for the Democratic gander.

Former Florida Governor Jeb Bush said the context of Supreme Court picks he supports a “strong executive.” That is, apparently, unless the chief executive is Barack Obama, who Bush said in incapable of choosing a nominee with “consensus orientation.” Bush said he would do so.

Donald Trump was asked: Should a Supreme Court vacancy emerge in his final year as president, would he nominate a replacement? Of course he would, Trump replied, and he suspects Obama will put forward a nominee.

Not that Trump wants Obama’s pick to get a fair hearing. “Stop it,” he told GOP senators. “It’s called delay, delay, delay.”

This is an astonishing moment. The modern Republican Party, to some substantial extent, redefined itself around 9/11. Whether the Bush administration might have done more to prevent that attack, and whether it responded appropriately to its aftermath, have been subjects that are largely off limits. Now the Republican frontrunner, fresh of a crushing victory in New Hampshire, has laid the blame for those attacks squarely at the feet of George W. Bush—who, he charges, didn’t listen to the warnings of his own CIA—and repudiated the invasion of Iraq that followed as a disaster.
Ouch. Rubio is up with a burn for Al Gore who, if he's watching, is probably surprised his name got brought up at all. Rubio says he thanks God all the time it was George W. Bush in the Oval Office on 9/11 and not Gore.
Kasich sounds very much like the George W. Bush of 2000, who also ran against "nation-building." In fact, when Kasich ran for president in 1999, Bush pushed him out of the race in large part because their messages were so similar
Marco Rubio on George W. Bush: “He kept us safe.” Donald trump: “The World Trade Center came down."
"It's bloodsport for him, he enjoys it and I'm glad he's happy about it," Bush says of Trump's penchant for insulting him. He adds that he's "sick and tired of him going after my family. My dad is the greatest man alive in my mind." Bush adds that he's proud of what his brother did to build a security apparatus to keep us safe.
Outside the debate hall, I can’t imagine that Jeb Bush will endear himself to GOP primary voters by extolling two presidents that they aren’t crazy about.

The audience seems to be on Jeb's side here, but he's essentially taking a policy point by Trump and turning it into a personal insult to his family, without addressing the decisions at issue.

Trump: That was a bad war. Jeb: How dare you be mean to my relatives.

John Dickerson reacts to sniping between Bush and Trump by turning to Kasich to weigh in as if to say, “Okay reasonable guy on stage, speak temperately for a moment, please."
Kasich is trying to position himself as the voice of reason: "This is just nuts," he says, responding to the Trump-and-Jeb tete-a-tete.
Donald to Jeb: “The World Trade Center came down during your brother’s reign. That’s not keeping us safe."
Trump's vociferous opposition to the war in Iraq is an underrated element of his appeal. One wonders whether this was a factor in Rand Paul's inability to get traction in the race.
Donald Trump: “They lied. There were no weapons of mass destruction.”
Donald Trump: “Obviously, the war in Iraq was a Big. Fat. Mistake.”
Trump acknowledges his lack of support in the audience by touting his self-funding bona fides.
Jeb Bush just made an apparently unintentional prediction, about Trump: "This is a man who insults his way to the nomination." I guess Jeb’s not expecting to win.
“This is from a guy who gets his foreign policy from the shows,” says Jeb Bush in a jab to Donald Trump, adding later, over Trump’s remarks,  “This is a man who insults his way to the nomination.” The two have tangled in the past, but we’re seeing a renewed energy from Bush, who at times has appeared defeated in other debates.
Ted Cruz again pledges to rip up the nuclear deal with Iran on day one if he is elected, and asserts that negotiating with Iran is impossible. So he would do what, exactly?
Dickerson is on fire! He shuts down the Jeb-Trump squabbling by saying, “I’m going to ask Ted Cruz a question now—who is also running for president."
The Republican County chairs in South Carolina were each handed "dozens" of tickets to tonights debate, according to published reports, and passed them out to loyal party workers. It's no suprise, then, that the audience seems quite friendly to candidates like Jeb Bush—and hostile to Donald Trump.
“We need to make it clear to Russia what we expect,” Kasich says, adding that he would arm Ukraine. The Ohio governor, who comes into the debate after a second-place finish in New Hampshire, may have more time to speak tonight after the departure of Chris Christie this week. But can he secure a strong footing tonight to sail through South Carolina next week?
Kasich on foreign policy and coalition building: "I think we have an opportunity as America to put something really great together again." Is that like Making America Great again, only without quite the same ring to it?
Jeb Bush just conflated "a policy of containment with ISIS” and leaving Assad, an enemy of ISIS, in place. These are not the same thing.
“Dr. Carson, sorry to wake you, our patient is about to die. What should we do?” “Something that’s never been done before."
John Dickerson does some interesting linguistic jujitsu by trying to turn Carson’s ability to perform brain surgery after a 2 a.m. phone call into a liability.
Carson takes a page out of Bernie Sanders' book when he defends his lack of political background: He says judgment, not experience, is key. Sanders has said that his judgment trumps Clinton's experience on issues of foreign policy.
"Thank you for including me in the debate,” Carson says, a regular joke from the neurosurgeon on the stage in recent debates.
Marco Rubio’s ability to speak national-securityese serves him well when he follows Donald Trump speaking on the same subject.

Ted Cruz says that there’s no precendet for a Supreme Court appointment in the last 80 years. The moderator challenges him on that, pointing out that Justice Anthony Kennedy was confirmed in 1988. Cruz shoots back that he was nominated in 1987.

The facts? Kennedy was nominated by Ronald Reagan on November 30, 1987, and confirmed by the Senate on February 3, 1988. So he was nominated—and confirmed—with less than a year to go before an election. It’s hard to see why that’s not a relevant precedent, despite Cruz’s protestations to the contrary.

Donald Trump declares that one of the first questions he’ll ask his national security advisers is “what we want to do.” Also, “how hard to we want to hit.” Naturally, I’m totally reassured about his preparedness to be Commander in Chief.
Cruz presents a dire case for conservatives hoping the next nominee will share their beliefs: He suggests that "we" would be giving the court away for a generation to liberals if President Obama's nominee is confirmed.
Jeb Bush urges a “consensus pick” for SCOTUS. Will he commit to that standard if elected?
Rubio, like some of his fellow contenders, says the president shouldn’t nominate someone. This debate is an important one for the Florida senator, who earlier this week blamed his weak primary results in New Hampshire on a poor performance at the last Republican debate, pledging to change his strategy. Whether he can divert from canned lines tonight remains to be seen.
Rubio presents his vision for the next Supreme Court nominee: another Antonin Scalia. "We need to put people on the bench who understand the Constitution is not a living, breathing document," who are originalists.
The idea that a justice shouldn't be appointed out of deference to the will of the people is at least arguable. but the idea Carson's putting out, that there should be no nomination because of some sort of yearlong period of national mourning, is weird.
Ben Carson notes the average life expectance when the Constitution was written—he put it at age 50—and argues that the meaning of a lifetime appointment to the Supreme Court has changed. There’s some truth to that, but it shouldn’t be overstated. The lower average life-expectancy had more to do with more people dying at birth than the folks who made it to old age dying decades sooner.
“Here’s my concern about this,” says Kasich. “The country is so divided right now, and now we’re going to see another partisan fight take place.” He asks Obama not to nominate anyone, and if he must, choose someone who would receive unanimous consent. It’s impossible, though, to imagine any candidate right now receiving the unanimous consent of the United States Senate. It’s remarkable to see a candidate decrying partisanship with one breath, and then attempting to hold the Supreme Court hostage to partisanship in the next.
John Kasich, asked about Scalia’s death, notes how quickly Scalia’s death spiraled into a political fight not 24 hours after his death. Kasich pledges that the country, under his administration, wouldn’t be as divided.
"This is a tremendous blow to conservatism, it's a tremendous blow, frankly, to our country," Trump says on the death of Scalia. He adds it's up to Mitch McConnell and Congress to stop it. "It's called, delay, delay, delay," he says to applause.
After declaring that Barack Obama shouldn’t nominate a new Supreme Court Justice, Donald Trump acknowledges that he totally would do so in President Obama’s place.
Trump says if he were president right now, he'd try to nominate a justice "and I'm absolutely sure President Obama will try and do it." He says he hopes Senate will "do something about it." It's up to McConnell and other senators "to stop it."
The debate tonight kicks off with a moment of silence in memory of Justice Antonin Scalia.
Apparently determined not to repeat the fiasco at the last debate, the moderators tonight started their introductions with the candidates already out on the stage, instead of asking them to enter from off in the wings.

The fighting will be fierce tonight at the Peace Center.

But the battle between the six remaining Republican candidates for president at the Greenville, South Carolina, auditorium is no longer the night’s biggest news. It has been overshadowed by the death of Justice Antonin Scalia, the conservative icon on the Supreme Court who reshaped America’s understanding of its Constitution.

Senators Ted Cruz and Marco Rubio, who would be asked to vote to confirm or reject President Obama’s nominee to replace Scalia, both said that the nomination should be made by the next president, a sentiment that Ben Carson quickly echoed. John Kasich, Jeb Bush, and Donald Trump all issued statements mourning Scalia’s passing, but were notably silent on the process of naming his replacement. That question is sure to be central to the debate.

The candidates last met a week ago in New Hampshire. That primary winnowed the field, with Chris Christie, the combative governor of New Jersey, and Carly Fiorina, a former Hewlett-Packard executive exiting the race. They were followed out the door by Jim Gilmore, who ended his quixotic quest for the White House on Friday.

This debate comes a week before the South Carolina vote. The state’s Republican electorate is different than those the candidates faced in Iowa or New Hampshire—divided between upcountry evangelicals, the more moderate party establishments in the midlands around the state capital, and the northern retirees in the coastal low country.

Two recent polls paint similar pictures: Trump enjoys a commanding lead, followed by a closely bunched pack. Ted Cruz is at the front, trailed by Marco Rubio, Jeb Bush and John Kasich, with Ben Carson in a distant sixth.

The fight between Rubio, Bush, and Kasich to consolidate establishment support may prove particularly bruising. Rubio finished first among the three in Iowa; Kasich finished second to Trump and far ahead of the other two in New Hampshire; and now Bush has pinned his hopes on a strong showing in South Carolina. His older brother, President George W. Bush, will join him for a Charleston rally on Monday, and his campaign and super PAC are flooding the state with ads.

The candidates are looking to punch their tickets in South Carolina, before moving on to Nevada the following week. The race remains tightly contested, and with the sudden vacancy on the Supreme Court, its stakes seem higher than ever.

You can follow every twist and turn of the race with our 2016 Distilled election dashboard, find out more about the candidates by using our 2016 Cheat Sheet, and see how viewers are responding to the candidates with our real-time emoji tracker. And follow along with us, as we live-blog all the action in Greenville.

Yoni Appelbaum