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Donald Trump's Finest Moment

The Republican frontrunner offered a stirring defense of New York, breaking from his usual form on a night when so much else seemed all too familiar.

Chris Keane / Reuters

In a debate filled with barbs, put-downs, interruptions, and insults, Donald Trump didn’t separate himself from the rest of the field by being more combative or more outrageous—although at moments, he was clearly trying. Trump, instead, set himself apart by delivering a ringing defense of the “New York values” that Senator Ted Cruz accused him of embodying. “New York is a great place,” he said. “It's got great people, it's got loving people, wonderful people. When the World Trade Center came down, I saw something that no place on Earth could have handled more beautifully, more humanely than New York.” His tone turned somber:

And the people in New York fought and fought and fought, and we saw more death, and even the smell of death—nobody understood it. And it was with us for months, the smell, the air. And we rebuilt downtown Manhattan, and everybody in the world watched and everybody in the world loved New York and loved New Yorkers.

It was Trump’s best moment of the campaign: a stirring tribute to a cosmopolitan city, and an invocation of national unity, beating back a crude attempt to divide Americans against each other.

What preceded it was less inspiring. Trump stood by his contention that Ted Cruz may not be a “native-born citizen,” and therefore may be ineligible for the presidency. Cruz hotly disputed that, and the weight of the scholarly consensus is firmly on his side. It was vintage Trump: blustering, insinuating, and flat-out fabricating. And it helped make the defense of New York that followed seem even more unusual.

That exchange also stood out because so much of the other drama on the stage Thursday night seemed so familiar. Ben Carson affably flubbed his foreign-policy questions; John Kasich emphasized his record in Ohio and tried to look more serious than his rivals; Jeb Bush delivered solid points in a style that robbed them of most of their impact; Chris Christie talked up his record as a prosecutor while brazenly denying other things he’s done; and Cruz sparred repeatedly with Marco Rubio.

With just a few weeks left before Iowa voters head to the caucuses, almost all of the candidates came to North Charleston, South Carolina, looking to shake things up. For the most part, that failed to happen.

But Ted Cruz, who’s clinging to a narrow lead in Iowa, didn’t just take hits from Trump. The fiercest attack of the night came from Rubio, who rattled off a detailed list of specific stands on which he accused the Texas senator of reversing himself, branding him a cynical opportunist, not a consistent conservative. “I appreciate your dumping your oppo-research folder on the debate stage,” Cruz smirked.

“No, it’s your record,” Rubio shot back.

The debate also featured a war over trade wars. Trump was pressed to defend past comments supportive of slapping retaliatory tariffs on Chinese imports. Instead of backing away from tariffs, he stressed the need for a firm response to the rising power. Economists across the country held their heads, and his rivals gleefully pounced. But as they took turns explaining the economic theory of why tariffs ultimately hurt consumers, Trump simply insisted that he’d be tough enough to make the Chinese crumble. By Friday, there will likely be dozens of columns explaining the downsides of tariffs; whether any of them will dissuade Trump supporters from believing that he alone has the resolve to right America’s trade deficit with China is another matter entirely.

It’s equally fair to wonder whether any of these performances will alter the trajectory of the race. Trump was closing in on Cruz in Iowa even before the debate, and riding high in the national polls. Marco Rubio turned in another superb performance on the stage, but his past skill as a debater has never brought him the surge of support that he needs to challenge the frontrunners. Ben Carson’s fading campaign will continue to fade. Jeb Bush, Chris Christie, and John Kasich are still jockeying for establishment support.

One thing that was different on Thursday night was the audience, generously salted with members of the Republican National Committee, in town for their winter meeting. The presence of the literal Republican establishment didn’t restrain candidates from touting their outsider credentials. But it did reflect the tensions roiling the party, as parts of the crowd cheered loudly for Trump, as others booed.

But if RNC Chair Reince Preibus was worried, he didn’t let it show. “It’s clear we’ve got the most well-qualified and diverse field of candidates from any party in history,” he tweeted afterwards. The field may be yuuge, but the candidates are the best. The head of the Republican establishment adopting the argot of Trump seemed a perfect end to the night.


This live blog has concluded

I'll be curious to see how GOP voters react to Ted Cruz's performance. Even though the constitutional law is on his side, I thought his assertion that even Trump wouldn't be eligible for the president came off as too-clever-by-half. Trump's shutdown of the Texas senator on the "New York values" quip might've been his strongest punch yet in the debates. And Cruz also didn't respond very strongly to the 95 theses that Rubio nailed to his door—replying that only half of them were false. Will all this cut into Cruz's lead in Iowa? We'll find out soon.

As I saw it, the three leading candidates—Trump, Cruz, and Rubio—all had their moments during a debate that stretched nearly 2 and a half hours. Cruz excelled in the first half and 'won' his fight with Trump over his eligibility. Trump had a good moment invoking 9/11 to defend his "New York values" against Cruz's attack. And toward the end of the night, Rubio unleashed a well-executed attack on Cruz's flip-flopping over immigration. That said, it's unclear that any of those moments will change the dynamic of the race. Bush, Carson, Kasich, and Christie didn't make much of an impression, and they were lagging in most polls as it is. Nor was there much of a substantive debate over policy, unlike some of the previous Republican debates.

My closing thoughts will be brief tonight, because I have no idea how Republican voters will respond to that display. But I will say this: Ben Carson just isn’t going to win. There’s no chance. And even beyond him this field needs to be winnowed.

Trump: "I stood yesterday with 75 construction workers. They're tough they're strong they're great people." They had tears running down their faces because of the humiliation by Iran. "It was a terrible sight, a terrible sight. ... If I'm president there won't be stupid deals anymore. We will win on everything we do."

Cruz: Benghazi, betrayal, a commander-in-chief who won't say radical Islamic terrorism. "I want to speak to all of those maddened by political correctness. ... this will end." If I'm elected, soldiers and policemen, I will have your back.

Ted Cruz uses his final statement to pitch the new Michael Bay film, "13 Hours," whose trailer played during the commercials. Synergy!

Rubio: Our rights come from God. Free enterprise. Individual liberty. The American miracle. But this country is changing. We're being left behind and left out because we elected a president who wants to change America and make it more like the rest of the world. "That's why 2016 is the turning point in our history."

"I ask you to join me in truth, and honesty, and integrity," Carson says, right before making a sales pitch for his website: ""

Carson: Americans are discouraged and angry. We will heal and inspire.

Chris Christie says he loves this country. If not for the flag lapel pin on his suit I wouldn’t be sure if he was telling the truth. But with that piece of political flare proudly displayed on his very clothing who can doubt him?

Christie's slogan: Make America Exceptional Again.

Christie: Obama lives in a fantasyland. This country is not respected. Taxpayers are being pushed backwards, and the president doesn't understand. "We need a fighter for this country again … fighting for justice and to protect people from crime and terrorism ... someone who will fight Hillary Clinton."

Jeb Bush: I’m a safer bet than Donald Trump.

Bush: "Who can you count on to keep you safer, stronger, and freer?" I got results in Florida. I have a plan. I am a candidate of substance. "I ask for your support to build together a safer and stronger America."

Kasich: People feel disempowered. My father was a mailman. I'm for the regular people. "That's who's in my mind's eye. ... I will continue to fight for you."

We’re one corporate deal away from debate questions like, “According to data from McDonald’s, home of the McFlurry, American families have less to spend on discretionary items, like golden French fries or savory McRibs, than they have in a generation…"

Cruz actually said only half of Rubio's attacks were false, which seems like quite an admission!

Jeb Bush uses the spat between Marco Rubio and Ted Cruz as an example of the “mess in DC."

Cruz says Rubio's claims of Cruz's flip-flopping are "flat-out false." Lots of boos from the audience.

Here's the Cruz-Rubio clash we've been waiting for all night. Cruz: “I appreciate you dropping your oppo research folder on me.” Rubio: “It’s your record."

Rubio unleashes a well-prepared litany of alleged flip-flops on immigration from Ted Cruz, calling his "consistent conservatism" into question.

Cruz has been getting away with having it both ways on immigration for a while now. Rubio—potentially the most vulnerable candidate on this issue—is calling him out on it very effectively.

"The entire system of legal immigration must now be re-examined," says Rubio, who's still trying to shake off the ghost his 2013 immigration proposal, which was widely unpopular with conservatives and has provided some good fodder for his opponents this cycle.

Cruz says he stood with Senator Jeff Sessions and "led the fight" to stop the Gang of Eight bill. That's not how Sessions saw it at the time, as this excellent piece makes clear.

A remarkable moment, as John Kasich—known for his temper and acerbic personality—makes the case for calm, measured leadership.

John Kasich now channeling South Carolina governor Nikki Haley, who is in the audience tonight. Haley called for unity in her GOP response to the State of the Union, saying: "When the sound is quieter, you can actually hear what someone else is saying. And that can make a world of difference." Kasich echoes that with his own call for unity: "As president of the United States, it's all about communication, folks, it's all about getting people to listen to one another's problems. When you do that you will be amazed at how much progress you can make, and how much healing we can have."

Rubio tries to explain his shift away from the 2013 Senate Gang of Eight bill by saying that immigration is now a security issue, not a jobs issue. But it ignores the fact that after 9/11, and even before that, security was a big part of the concern about liberal immigration policy.

True to form, the Republican candidates lose all skepticism of government employees as soon as they’re given a badge and a gun, whereupon they become the salt of the earth, bereft of bad actors, and deserving of the benefit of every doubt. But transfer one of those police officers to the IRS…

"This is a guy who just believes that law enforcement are the bad guys," Christie says of the president, before launching into an attack on so-called sanctuary cities. "This president allows lawlessness throughout this country."

Christie adds a new twist to the Ferguson effect by attributing a purported national rise in crime not to Black Lives Matter protesters, but to Obama's two attorneys general and the Obama administration overall.

There appears to be a "We want Rand" chant that erupted in the debate hall, referring to Rand Paul, who was excluded from the debate for low poll numbers.

Chris Christie says that Obama gives the criminal the benefit of the doubt… and then references the beer summit, when a black professor was detained for trying to get into his own house!

Trump, on conflicts of interests: “Run the company, kids, have a good time. I’m gonna do it for America.”

Here’s a line from the Lincoln-Douglas debates that one of the candidates can draw on this evening: "MY FELLOW-CITIZENS: When a man hears himself somewhat misrepresented, it provokes him-at least, I find it so with myself; but when misrepresentation becomes very gross and palpable, it is more apt to amuse him.” If Jeb Bush said that I think I would find him a lot less affected.

“We have seniors out there who are scared to death, because…” Chris Christie begins, but fails to complete the sentence correctly–– “…because they are spending too much time watching alarmist cable news."

"It's not the evil rich people, it's the evil government," Carson says, in an effort to draw a contrast between the worldview of Bernie Sanders and Hillary Clinton and his own. It's an interesting way to sum up the left-right split this primary season.

Christie, mocking Cruz and Rubio for debating like they're on the Senate floor, continues tonight's governors-versus-senators subplot.

"Now you already had your chance, Marco, you blew it," says Christie when Rubio tries to cut in.

Marco Rubio says something anathema in a Republican primary: You can't eliminate the IRS. Somebody has to collect the taxes.

Another throwback. Ted Cruz vs. Marco Rubio. This time, on tax plans. Immigration, which the two have consistently gone head-to-head on and tackled in the last debate, has yet to be mentioned.

It would be pretty cool if the ghost of Ronald Reagan materialized on stage and said, “Although I didn’t pay for this microphone, I believe I was mentioned, Neil."

Marco Rubio opposes a VAT tax because it could be raised in the future by Democrats. Of course, any tax could be raised if Democrats have the votes to raise taxes...

Chris Christie endorsed corporate tax repatriation—bringing back money from overseas in exchange for a one-time tax break—as a way to pay for infrastructure, which is an idea that's gained some traction in Congress. The problem, according to infrastructure advocates, is that it isn't a longterm solution but a one-time fix.

The first invocation of Reagan comes one hour, 51 minutes into the debate.

Carson: “If my mother were Secretary of the Treasury, we would not be in a deficit situation.”

Attacking the president's executive actions has been a favorite line of criticism from Republican candidate's tonight. Marco Rubio says he would go after the Environmental Protection Agency, except in his telling EPA really stands for "Employment Prevention Agency." The candidates aren't talking about climate change during this debate, but Rubio's promise to take down EPA is a veiled threat against the president's climate agenda, given that most of what the administration has achieved so far in curbing greenhouse gas emissions has come as a result of EPA regulations.

There’s something disturbing about tonight’s repeated references to the first black president of the United States as a child. There are better ways to attack his record.

Ted Cruz says that China is running over President Obama “like a child.” Are children unusually run-overable?

Jeb Bush: “We need someone with a steady hand being president of the United States.” -1,000 points from neurosurgeon Ben Carson for not jumping in!!

There was a trade war over trade wars on stage just now. Trump understands trade, but he also understands audiences—and he’s unrelenting in his attacks on China, and the need to take a harder line. Other candidates—Kasich, Rubio, Bush, Cruz—try hard to deliver textbook explanations of the dangers of tariffs. But for Trump, this is all about showing toughness toward a rising China. And he seems to carry a large chunk of the crowd with him.

Yeah, but he doesn’t want the whole job. Just the negotiator part. Then again, he does want to throw fabulous balls for foreign dignitaries

I think the big, classy name for that job is "Secretary of State," Conor!

It seems like what Donald Trump wants, more than anything else, is to negotiate with China and other foreign nations. If offered a hypothetical “Negotiator-in-Chief” job I wonder if he’d gladly drop out of the presidential race and do that, provided that he was allowed to record, edit, and televise the sessions on NBC at his discretion.

The candidates are asked where they stand on admitting Syrian refugees to the U.S. Kasich says he would pause the program, and Christie stands by his comments that the U.S. should not take any Syrian refugees.  The U.S. is expected to take in 10,000 refugees, far less than Canada and some European nations.

One thing Cruz and Trump can agree on tonight? Bashing The New York Times.

Ted Cruz reiterates his proposal to revoke the citizenship of Americans who travel overseas to fight ISIS, which runs counter to past Supreme Court rulings that bar Congress from involuntarily denaturalizing American citizens.

Ted Cruz declares that President Obama "acts as an apologist for radical Islamic terrorism.” I’m not sure that “pants on fire” is strong enough to convey the brazenness of the lie. Can we add a new category?  Brooks Brothers on barbecue? Necktie on Napalm?

His method of coming back to bashing Obama for once referring to ISIS as a JV team—months before the group emerged as the most violent jihadist organization—is also a crowd-pleaser.

Marco Rubio isn’t wrong when he declares that ISIS is perpetrating horrific human rights abuses abroad.

Trump: “There's something going on. And it's bad.”

That invocation of inchoate fear is a perfect encapsulation of his campaign.

"We have to find out what's going on," Trump says when asked about his calls to ban Muslims from entering the U.S. He likes to repeat that line when asked about foreign policy and the threat of terrorism. It's such a vague promise, yet so far it has resonated with an electorate gripped by fear over the possibility of more terrorist attacks.

I wondered whether police killings would come up in tonight’s debate, which is being held in North Charleston, where the officer who shot and killed Walter Scott faces murder charges. Trump just declared, “The police are the most mistreated people in this country.” I suppose that counts.

Jeb Bush points out that Donald Trump’s ban on Muslims coming to the United States would weaken our hand with allies and prevent fighters helping us with ISIS from coming here. I’m surprised no one has instead talked about the Muslim translators who helped American troops in Iraq and Afghanistan, and are in danger of being killed for helping us if not allowed to claim political asylum here.

Even the wording of Jeb Bush's criticism of Trump shows why he is trailing in this race. "Donald, I hope you'll reconsider." That seems way too polite for this year's GOP primary crowd.

Jeb Bush calls Trump’s comments unhinged, and draws applause from the crowd, too. This crowd may tip toward the establishment, but there are enough Trump supporters tonight for its divided responses to mirror the party’s broader splits.

Trump keeps mentioning the support of his "Muslim friends." I wonder if any of them will ever come forward publicly?

When Donald Trump takes a long, detailed question, and answers with a flat, “No,” it draws cheers every time. In this case, he’s asked whether he wants to reverse his proposal for banning Muslims from entering the United States. There have been boos from this crowd tonight, but it’s hushed as he refuses to back away from bigotry, and cheers when he’s finished.

Chris Christie suggests that Syrian refugees should “stay in Syria,” which is effectively to say, they should remain in place while they are slaughtered.

Christie is asked whether he’d want to remove Assad; instead, he focuses most of his fire on Hillary Clinton. (He does, in the end, endorse the idea that Assad needs to go, too.)

The moderator just presumed that the right thing to do is removing Assad from power––but Ted Cruz, Donald Trump, and perhaps others on that stage disagree, and believe the U.S. should focus on fighting ISIS in cooperation with Russia.

A clever question, praising Lindsey Graham in front of a hometown crowd, and then inviting Ben Carson to disagree with his plan to send 20,000 troops to fight ISIS. But it produces the usual results, with Carson offering a rambling string of vague generalizations in lieu of foreign-policy specifics.

Lindsey Graham was never able to make the main stage debate, but he gets a shout out in the crowd after exiting the race.

John Kasich on foreign policy: “It’s strength, but you gotta be cool.” Fonzie for President!

John Kasich name-drops Strom Thurmond in front of this South Carolina crowd.

It may be difficult to argue that Iran "provoked" the U.S. without cause as the boats drifted into Iranian water due to a navigational error, as Ash Carter said earlier today.

Donald Trump’s defense of New York values may be the most skillful invocation of 9/11 on a Republican debate stage, which is saying something, since there’s nothing GOP primary candidates like to invoke more.

In a two-way race between Trump and Cruz, Trump probably has the edge right now in the New York primary.

Trump, pressed to defend New York, falls back on 9/11. Usually, when the attacks are invoked in these debates, it’s a cheap trick. But tonight, it’s Trump’s finest moment. He reminds the audience of a moment when all Americans felt a deep solidarity with the people of his city.

Ted Cruz's definition of "New York values" is basically "You know it when you see it.”

Cruz's "not a lot of conservatives come out of Manhattan" is a nice echo of Trump saying not a lot of evangelicals come out of Cuba

Cruz is asked what he means when he accuses Trump of holding New York values. “I think most people know exactly what New York values are,” says Cruz. It’s a remarkable spectacle—a candidate for president implying that being a citizen of its largest city is somehow un-American.

Chris Christie vows to kick President Obama out of the White House—just as his term is ending and he’s leaving voluntarily.

Marco Rubio suggests that more people are going out and buying guns under the Obama presidency because they're afraid that the president wants to take guns away. He's not wrong. When Americans fear the government may be on the verge of confiscating guns, they rush to buy more. The latest example of that came earlier this month. Gun sales rose dramatically after the president announced executive actions aimed at expanding background checks.

"This guy is a petulant child," Chris Christie says. Then he adds, "Mr. President, we're not against you. We're against your policies."

During last week’s gun forum hosted by CNN, Obama described what Marco Rubio just said—that the president would take everybody’s guns if he could—as a conspiracy theory.

Yes, Conor—but it'll be really interesting to see if Donald Trump still holds that skepticism about executive orders come 2017 if he's elected.

Am I wrong to be relieved to hear Donald Trump speaking against executive orders and in favor of Congressional lawmaking?

The stress on the vital importance of mental-health care is a welcome development; Trump is absolutely right that states have shifted resources away from treatment in the past several decades. But better mental-health care is unlikely to curb gun violence, because very little of it is committed by the mentally ill. There’s a basic disconnect between these answers and the data.

For not being a politician by trade, Ben Carson evaded giving a direct answer on that question about whether Hillary Clinton is an enabler of sexual misconduct pretty deftly.

I don't think Ben Carson ever mentioned the Clintons in that direct question about the Clintons. Definitely a different kind of Republican....

Carson gets asked whether he thinks Hillary Clinton is an enabler of sexual misconduct because of husband Bill. He pivots to rhetorical questions about how mad everyone in the country is. "Here's the real issue: is this America anymore? Do we still have standards? Do we still have values and principles? ... We need to start once again recognizing that there is such a thing as right and wrong."

The penalty for brazen political lies in New Jersey should be a televised dunk tank with The Situation throwing submarine sandwiches at the target.

Christie claims he never supported Sotomayor or wrote a check to Planned Parenthood. Both of those claims are pretty easily debunked. But he talked about donating to Planned Parenthood in 1994; and here he is supporting Sotomayor's nomination.

That .50 caliber ammo ban that Christie just took credit for stopping? He was the one who proposed it.

And just like that, a question on Bernie Sanders. Kasich says that if Sanders is the Democratic nominee, Republicans will "win every state." But polls show that Sanders actually outperforms Clinton and is defeating Republican candidates handily.

Once again, the Republican candidates don't seem to care that Bernie Sanders is catching up with Hillary Clinton. All the attacks are on her, and none are on him. At what point does that change?

Rubio goes after Christie for his since-vanished support for Common Core and some donations he made to Planned Parenthood. Christie shoots back. "Two years ago, he called me a conservative reformer that New Jersey needed," Christie says of Cruz. "That was before he was running against me.”

Jeb Bush says that everyone on that stage is better than Hillary Clinton. In the privacy of a voting booth, would he really vote Trump or Carson over Clinton? I am not convinced.

“Neil, I was mentioned, too,” interjects Carson. “You were?”

“Yeah, he said everybody.”

Well, good for Carson. As long as the moderators are going to construe the rules this absurdly, he might as well get a word in.

I’m not a fan of these last three questions. There’s no need to adjudicate the birther nonsense on the debate stage. And who cares if Nikki Haley appeared to take sides in a State of the Union response, or whether Donald Trump is angry? Who cares if Chris Christie is saying Marco Rubio is slimy? These are all issues that can be dealt with in the course of everyday campaigning. If Fox Business moderators are going to inject conflict into the debate, it should be in service of forcing the candidates to articulate important differences that they wouldn’t otherwise address, or that are particularly important for the American people to hear about more.

The audience here in Charleston is pretty rough on Trump, booing and jeering him. That might be because of the fact that many debate attendees are Republican National Committee members here for the winter meeting that's being held concurrently.

Trump rarely seems like he prepares for the debates, but he seemed quite ready for that question and delivered an eloquent response.

The camera pans to South Carolina governor Nikki Haley as Trump is asked to respond to her GOP response to the State of the Union, which called on the public not to give in to angry and divisive rhetoric. Trump seems unwilling to go in for an attack. "First of all Nikki said I'm a friend of hers," Trump starts. "We're friends, that's good." He continues on to say he's "very angry" because "our country is being run horribly.”

"I will gladly accept the mantle of anger," Trump says in response to Nikki Haley.

Is Cruz eligible to be president? Earlier today, we published a detailed legal memorandum written by Bryan Garner, editor in chief of Black's Law Review, and a distinguished research professor of law at Southern Methodist University. It’s the most thorough exploration of the legal questions I’ve seen—and tries to put the matter to rest once and for all. You can read it for yourself.

"I hate to interrupt this episode of Court TV, " Rubio interjects to laughs.

A masterful move by Cruz, who thanks Trump for "offering" him the vice-presidential slot and then offers to reciprocate, which would make Trump president if Cruz does in fact get disqualified

"I'm not going to take legal advice from Donald Trump," says Cruz.  Ladies and gentlemen, the bromance between these two is officially, very publicly, over. Done. Dead.

"I'm not bringing a suit, I promise!" Trump tells Cruz. "But the Democrats are going to bring a suit."

"Why are you raising this issue now?" Trump: "Because now he's doing a little bit better!"

Donald Trump was a birther in the original sense—that is, he professed that he doubted President Obama’s gift certificate. The GOP electorate has made him the frontrunner anyway. So it’s interesting to see Trump get booed in this debate for raising the issue with respect to Ted Cruz. The most ingenious part of Ted Cruz’s response was to highlight that he believes missionaries born abroad would be eligible to be president of the United States. The most fascinating part of the exchange is watching Trump deal with being booed during his response.

This is really the first time we've seen Trump and Cruz spar on a primary debate stage. During the last debate, the candidate's relationship seemed to have started to fray and there was plenty of speculation that there might be a fight, but that fizzled. Now, however, the two candidates seem ready to really go after each other.

Trump: "This isn't me saying it, because I don't care. I think I'm going to win this fair and square."

Cruz notes that some who’ve weighed in have gone so far as to suggest that both parents of a candidate would need to be born on American soil; Trump’s mother was born in Scotland. “On the issue of citizenship, Donald, I’m not going to use your mother’s birth against you. You’re an American, as is everyone else on this stage.”

"Since September the constitution hasn't changed, but the poll numbers have": Cruz on the birther issue, which he notes Trump has flip-flopped on.

Cruz gets asked about his undisclosed $750,000 loan from Goldman Sachs used to finance his election to the Senate. “Thank you for passing on that hit-piece on the front page of The New York Times,” he says. This has been a favorite tactic of Cruz’s, pivoting from the specifics of any charge he faces to attack the establishment. “Yes, I made a paperwork error, disclosing it on one piece of paper instead of the other,” he says. That’s not going to cut it. Elections experts have called it a clear violation of the rules, of the sort that’s generally sanctioned.

When Ben Carson got a question on foreign policy, he went off on a bit of a tangent. He rattled off a laundry list of threats that seems designed to show that the candidate has studied up. Hard to imagine, however, that Carson didn't lose the audience when he said that "we have enemies who are obtaining nuclear weapons that they can explode in our exo-atmosphere."

Ted Cruz has just become the first presidential candidate to highlight the fact that his critics compare him to a demonic spirit––this by way of the now familiar “the media is awful” sidestep, where GOP candidates turn any attack on them into a referendum on the media. This invariably draws applause from folks in the room at debates. I wonder how it plays with the folks at home.

Jeb Bush says that America should not be the world’s policemen. But in most every instance of controversy over whether the U.S. should deploy troops to police the behavior of other nations he favors military intervention. He doesn’t merely want the U.S. to be the world’s policeman. He wants it to be stop-and-frisk policing.

Jeb Bush goes for the jugular, attacking Hillary Clinton who he says "would be a national security mess,” adding that if she’s elected, “She might be going back and forth between the White House and the Courthouse”.

Chris Christie says that in his administration, “tin-pot mullahs” would know better than to seize American craft. In 2001, early in the administration of George W. Bush, China held 24 American airmen for 11 days, until Bush apologized. Compared to that, the prompt return of the unharmed sailors looks less like a humiliation than a triumph.

Chris Christie says that if he is the Republican nominee, Hillary Clinton won't get "within 10 miles of the White House." Fact check: Clinton owns a home in northwest D.C. which is definitely within 10 miles of the White House, so that will be a tough promise to keep.

Chris Christie derisively dubs President Obama's State of the Union address, "story time with Barack Obama"

Fox has Facebook, but Rand Paul is live-tweeting the debate from Twitter's office in New York. And, for good measure, he's streaming himself tweeting on Periscope, too.

Ted Cruz implies that if Americans are captured during his tenure, he would go to war rather than allow them to be photographed on their knees. Beyond a needless war, the result would likely be the deaths of the hypothetical prisoners. No president in history has ever behaved in the way Cruz suggests, because it is bellicose nonsense.

Politico had an interesting interview with Ted Cruz about his debate strategy, in which he admitted that he deliberately does not answer the moderator's question right away so that he can ultimately have more speaking time. He demonstrated that right off the bat, answering a question on the economy by talking about Iran's detaining of 10 U.S. Navy sailors.

“According to our Facebook research, jobs is one of the biggest issues…” solemnly intones Fox Business’s Maria Bartiromo. Some things don’t require Facebook research to understand.

Wondering where Rand Paul is? The Kentucky senator didn't qualify for tonight's primetime debate, and refused to take part in the less prestigious "happy hour" debate that wrapped earlier in the evening. Not surprisingly, the candidate will still try to make his voice heard. According to his campaign, Paul will be taking to Twitter when the debate starts to react to his rivals on the main stage.

Greetings from Charleston, where I just watched the undercard debate so you don't have to. It featured Carly Fiorina, Rick Santorum, and Mike Huckabee—Rand Paul also qualified, but declared it beneath his dignity to participate. All three candidates had an edge of desperation as they struggled to insist they're relevant despite voters' clear lack of interest in what any of them is selling. Fiorina focused on contrasting herself with Hillary Clinton; Huckabee and Santorum both styled themselves as champions of working people. Santorum was even shoutier than usual, which is saying something. Without Lindsey Graham to crack jokes, the undercard was painfully short on entertainment value—the best line of the night was probably Santorum saying he'd take Paul's time. In short, if you missed it, you didn't miss much.