7:40 p.m.: Pataki had a bit of a moment when he said, almost Trump-style, that he would have "fired" Kim Davis, the Kentucky clerk. But it wasn't that easy. One of the big complications with her situation was that county clerk is an elected official in Kentucky, so she couldn't simply be fired. That's why the judge had to hold her in contempt and jail her for not following a court order. —Russell Berman
7:37 p.m.: Graham and Pataki are getting buzz for their relatively moderate answers (Graham on immigration, Pataki on Kim Davis), but they're also demonstrating why they're not on the main debate stage—they're out of touch with their party's conservative base. —Molly Ball
7:37 p.m.: Lindsey Graham is doing many things in this undercard debate, and one of them is to dominate the terms of the discussion and serve as a fourth moderator. He forced Rick Santorum to elaborate on his failed immigration plan in the Senate, and he's used CNN's looser rules of engagement to force the other candidates to say whether they'd put U.S. ground forces into Iraq and Syria. —Russell Berman
7:35 p.m.: Call it the Donald Trump effect: CNN’s moderators spent the beginning of the first debate asking questions about the billionaire; and then, when they finally turned to the issues, they began with immigration, which might not be at the center of the Republican campaign if not for Trump. The voices in the GOP who think the party's future relies on winning more Hispanic votes are tonight's first losers. —Conor Friedersdorf
7:33 p.m.: Lindsey Graham was uncharacteristically glum at the last debate, but this time he's feisty and funny, debating immigration (and defending immigrants) in a heated exchange with Rick Santorum. —Molly Ball
All Republican presidential candidates of the last few decades have had to define themselves in the shadow of Ronald Reagan—but not always this directly.
Fifteen hopefuls gather on Wednesday night in Simi Valley, at the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library, to make their case to Republican primary voters that they deserve their party’s nod. In the first debate, at 6 p.m. eastern time, four candidates languishing in the polls tried to convince voters, and their donors, not to write them off. As Russell Berman observed, what that debate lacked in big names it made up in high drama—the candidates could win, like Carly Fiorina, or go home, like Rick Perry.
The other 11 candidates take the stage at the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library at 8 p.m. eastern. There’s no shortage of story lines to follow: Ben Carson is surging, Jeb Bush is faltering, and Rand Paul risks disappearing. But, as Molly Ball memorably put it, the main show tonight will be:
Trump Trump Trump Trump Trump. Trumpety-Trump. Trump-a-Trump; Trump Trump; Trump Trump.
The real-estate mogul has surged to the front of the field. Many pundits, and one Luntz-led focus group, panned his performance in the first debate, but he has only increased his support in the polls since then. He is joined by Carson, a retired neurosurgeon. Together with Carly Fiorina, the former tech executive who won promotion to the main event on the strength of her performance in the last debate, these three candidates who have never held local, state, or federal office now consistently capture the majority of likely Republican voters in state and national polls.