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What Went Down At The CNN Republican Debate
LIVE

Leave a comment, and send us questions @FiveThirtyEight.

11:06 PM
But Try To Avoid A Battlefield Metaphor

Goodnight; good morning!

That’s a wrap, everybody. I’ve been trying to think of how to describe tonight’s debate succinctly, and I’m … struggling. So, how would you sum up the night’s events?

If you didn’t watch the debate, click here to start at the beginning of our live blog and scroll up. We’ll also have a separate post-debate analysis from Nate for tomorrow morning, so check back with us then. In the meantime, get some sleep!

11:04 PM

Tonight’s debate focused on how America relates to the world. Immigration and foreign policy were the most common topics of questions, and you can give the lead to immigration if you’re willing to lump in questions about how the GOP relates to Latino voters. Foreign policy questions covered Israel, North Korea, and Syria (sorry, Putin!).

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11:01 PM

Rubio and Cruz kept attacking Trump, and that meant that Trump just got to keep on talking. He had more opportunities to speak in response to attacks than all the other candidates put together. We’ll find out soon whether voters liked what they heard from him.

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10:53 PM

One quick note on public opinion on the FBI-Apple dispute: A Pew Research Center poll showed, like the Reuters/Ipsos poll, that Republicans tended to side with the FBI — but unlike Reuters/Ipsos, showed that Democrats support the FBI, too. It’s the latest reminder that different pollsters often get different results on issue polling, which can be very sensitive to how questions are worded.

10:50 PM

Another Cruz ally is jumping on the Glenn Beck train of praising Rubio. Bob Vander Plaats, an Iowa social conservative kingmaker–who was a big part of Cruz’s win in that state–just tweeted out his support for Rubio, along with some praise for Cruz. Little signals like this make one wonder whether or not some of these Republicans are seeing the writing on the wall as far as Cruz’s campaign goes–if he can’t do well in the SEC states, his campaign is toast.

10:49 PM

Pursuant to that question about Puerto Rico: Predictwise currently has odds for all Republican primaries and caucuses through March 6 — and Puerto Rico is the only one where Marco Rubio is currently favored. Rubio has gained quite a bit on Trump overall in prediction markets tonight, however.

10:48 PM

I’m a “fundamentalist.” I think the biggest factor will be the state of the economy, and that’ll determine how likely a change in party power will be. Candidate factors usually only matter at the margins. But we have a couple of … unconventional situations. Ted Cruz is very conservative, maybe too conservative for the electorate in crucial competitive states like Ohio and Florida. And Trump is, well, Trump. Like most political scientists, most of what I’ve said about Trump has been wrong.

10:47 PM

Trump, Rubio and Cruz have had moments tonight when they haven’t exactly looked … presidential. One of them will make it to the general election (presumably); will any of this slap-fighting harm their chances of beating Clinton (presumably)?

10:47 PM

Rubio is right that Puerto Rico is suffering economically: Puerto Ricans left for the U.S. in record numbers in 2014, and in a Gallup poll that December, just 6 percent of Puerto Rican residents said economic conditions were improving.

10:46 PM

“The order is not: put a backdoor in everyone’s cellphone,” said Cruz in response to the question about a court order Apple is fighting. The order, following the San Bernardino terrorist attacks, asks Apple to remove security features in future devices. The ones that exist now are keeping authorities from accessing files on the phone of one of the San Bernardino shooters. Apple says the request is unconstitutional.

First, this court order intersects with questions of digital privacy and product design, but projects the debate into the future iterations of the product. Second and more importantly, it raises the question of what access the government should have to data on devices and platforms, from the iPhone to Gmail. But aside from the question of what’s legal, there’s the matter of what’s actually done. The government has already used hacking techniques to access data on the SIM cards used in most cellphones globally.

10:43 PM

Whether or not complying with the FBI would be “bad for America,” as Tim Cook claims, it would pretty clearly be bad for Apple.

Apple increasingly depends on overseas markets to drive its sales growth, and consumers in many of those markets are concerned about protecting their privacy from governments. As law professor Mark Bartholomew told The New York Times this week, Apple is “playing the long game,” working to develop a reputation for being willing to defend its customers from government snooping.

10:41 PM

More Americans side with Apple than with the FBI in the dispute over whether Apple must unlock a smartphone used by one of the San Bernardino shooters, but a plurality of Republicans disagree with Apple’s opposition to a court order to unlock the phone, according to a Reuters/Ipsos poll. The candidates are taking that position, too.

10:38 PM

Notice how Rubio — in addition to starting his own fights with Trump — has also been trying to butt in on Cruz-Trump arguments. I assume this is tactical: Rubio really wants the headlines to be about how Rubio took on Trump, and not that there was a pile-on against Trump.

10:36 PM

“Can somebody attack me please?” Carson asked plaintively. He’s right that he’s being sidelined by not being picked on. Getting to reply to attacks has accounted for a third of all speaking opportunities, the vast majority of which have gone to Trump. He’s gotten 18 replies to attacks, more than everyone else combined (Rubio and Cruz: 6 each, Kasich: 3, Carson: none).

10:35 PM

Ok, I’m really on a delay here, but Trump just defended Qaddafi and Saddam Hussein. This is pretty interesting in the sense that this has come up before – back when Rand Paul and Chris Christie were still in the race to really represent the anti- and pro-intervention positions. Trump’s not wrong that sometimes a human-rights-abusing dictator can make decisions that benefit the U.S. economically. Many people find that a morally reprehensible position, but 20th-century U.S. history is full of examples where we made that decision. It’s a very uncomfortable point, but it deserves to be made.

10:27 PM

Just a quick note on Trump and the Syrian conflict: he’s said that he supports the Russian air strikes in the country and that’s just fine with him. Only problem? The Russian strikes are also very likely hitting anti-Assad rebels, perhaps more so than they are hitting actual ISIS targets.

10:25 PM

Trump says the Saudis are “making less than they used to” selling the U.S. oil. That’s an understatement. A year and a half ago, oil was selling for over $100 a barrel; today it’s selling for about $30. Meanwhile, the U.S. is importing far less oil than it used to, both overall and from Saudi Arabia in particular. In 2008, the U.S. imported 1.5 million barrels of oil a day from the Saudis; today that’s down to less than a million barrels a day.

10:24 PM

Micah, on the question of whether the Rubio/Cruz attacks on Trump will have any effect: I don’t know if Trump’s numbers will drop. They might — they did after the South Carolina debate, and after the first debate. But remember, in the first four states, a lot of Trump’s voters decided to vote for The Donald MONTHS ago. That’s why I say that the 30 or 35 percent of the vote Trump has averaged so far is more like a floor than a ceiling. The key question might be more about what happens to what I’d call Trump swing voters. Somewhere around 20 to 30 percent of the Republican electorate has a favorable view of Trump, but aren’t voting for him yet. If Trump gets those voters, he’ll win a majority. If they stick with another candidate, the GOP race could drag out for a while, although Trump could still win with his plurality by accumulating lots of delegates. But if most of them coalesce around the same non-Trump alternative — most likely, Rubio — Trump would lose.

10:21 PM
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10:20 PM

If you’ve run out of political jargon to impress your friends with, add BDS — Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions.

As the candidates discuss Israel policy, and whether the U.S. should be a neutral broker in Mideast negotiations, they do so just a day after a major move in U.S. policy. Yesterday, President Obama signed a bill pushing back against an international BDS movement against Israel. “I have directed my administration to strongly oppose boycotts, divestment campaigns, and sanctions targeting the State of Israel,” the President said when he signed the act into law. The law also includes “Israeli-controlled territories,” including settlements.

10:18 PM

I don’t have timestamps, but I can tell you that Carson has gotten only four questions tonight. Cruz, Rubio, and Kasich have gotten seven each from the moderators, and Trump has gotten 13.

10:18 PM

Leah, when was the last time Carson had a chance to speak?

10:17 PM

The candidates are professing their love for Israel in part because most Americans view Israel favorably, making it among the countries with the highest approval rating in the U.S.

10:17 PM

If this debate doesn’t do something to either dent Trump’s numbers or stop any rise, nothing will. Holding down the growth of his popularity will allow for someone to beat Trump once consolidation happens, which it will at some point.

10:16 PM

Rubio and Cruz have landed a lot of blows on Trump tonight, but could it all be beside the point? Trump’s support has proved so durable, and as long as Kasich, Carson, Cruz and Rubio are all in the race, will any of tonight’s fireworks matter?

10:15 PM

On the question of Donald Trump’s electability … well, we’re probably going to have about 6 million posts about that if he wins the Republican nomination. It would be foolish to say that Donald Trump could never become president. He could also lose in a landslide. But it’s important to keep in mind that so far, Trump’s popularity is concentrated among an enthusiastic plurality of Republican voters, rather than the broader American population. In fact, only about 35 percent of Americans overall have a favorable view of Trump. Those numbers haven’t really changed since Trump announced his presidential bid in June.

10:14 PM

A report last week showed the rewards and risks that other candidates face when attacking Trump. The College of William and Mary and FairVote released results from an unusual poll among Republicans and independents conducted both just before and after the Iowa caucuses, asking respondents to rank all 11 candidates who remained back in more innocent times when nearly a dozen people thought they could be the Republican nominee. The poll found that Trump’s lead over Rubio narrows to 8 percentage points when all other candidates drop away, and that Cruz overtakes Trump in a one-on-one. That’s the upside of attacking him: Both Rubio and Cruz likely will look good to many voters when on the attack. (Those numbers might look better for Rubio now and worse for Cruz, based on more traditional polling numbers.)

But even back when the race had 11 candidates, Trump was the last choice of more than one in five voters. That suggests that plenty of voters already strongly opposed Trump back when no one was attacking him, so they may not be that many people who can be moved by the attacks.

10:11 PM

This is the first debate where I can remember Trump being pushed this far back on his heels. Rubio and Cruz, who I’m pretty sure did have a little pow-wow before this, are really going after him hard on the idea that he doesn’t have a solid, workable plan for any of the proposals that he’s offered up during his campaign. The two senators are really just trying to stanch the bleeding of their electoral support. One thing we do know is that once you’ve made up your mind to vote for Donald Trump, you’re likely going to stick with him, so Cruz and Rubio are really aiming their performances tonight at those Super Tuesday undecided voters, who, seeing Trump win the last few contests, might figure that he’s actually a viable candidate. They’re hoping those people think differently after tonight.

10:09 PM

In our elections podcast we do a segment called “good use of polling or bad use of polling,” where we evaluate how candidates or the media talk about poll numbers. Suffice it to say, we were taking notes during that last Trump/Cruz exchange.

10:07 PM

Cruz tried to bring the discussion back around to Hillary Clinton, possibly because other attacks against Trump seem to be making little impact on his swagger. This is first time Clinton’s name has been emphasized tonight. There have only been two passing mentions so far, as the candidates have mostly been talking at and over each other.

10:06 PM

General-election polls aren’t worth much yet, but for what little they are worth, Clinton is leading both Trump and Cruz by 5 percentage points in the average poll of those respective hypothetical matchups.

10:04 PM

Trump cites the polls more than any other candidate — which isn’t surprising because he’s leading in so many of them. Less surprising: He cites ones that are more favorable to him than the polling average.

10:04 PM

Trump has three times referenced his net worth of $10 billion, and twice said he is worth more than $10 billion. As has been a theme during his public life, his claimed fortune is far more vast than others’ estimates of his fortune.

10:02 PM

In non-Republican news, a WBUR poll just came out showing Hillary Clinton leading Bernie Sanders in Massachusetts, which votes on March 1. Other polls of Massachusetts have shown Sanders ahead, but Massachusetts is one state that Sanders will need to win to have a credible shot at the nomination.

Trump has a big lead over Rubio — 40 to 19 — on the Republican side of the WBUR poll.

10:00 PM

Does Trump really get audited every year? It’s not that far-fetched. The Wall Street Journal this week reported that the IRS is increasingly auditing Americans who report $1 million or more in income. Roughly 10 percent of such returns got audited last year.

10:00 PM

It’s typical of Trump to criticize Hugh Hewitt for his show’s low ratings — he did it back in September, too. That sort of criticism is no surprise to Trump’s more than 6 million Twitter followers, who regularly read his attacks on media on the basis of their small audiences.

9:59 PM

If Rubio or Cruz wins the nomination, reaching out to the broad demographic of Latino-Americans may require some uncomfortable conversations about ethnicity, immigration privileges, and tensions between different Latino groups.

The majority of Latino Americans are of Mexican descent, followed by Puerto Ricans (who are immediately eligible to vote if they move to the U.S. mainland), and Cubans. But today, there’s a debate over who gets right-of-way at the border. Cuban immigrants are offered a path to legal residency immediately, which is different not only than most Latinos but most immigrants from other parts of the world. The U.S., for the moment, has no plans to change policy, but some now argue the entry and accommodations offered to Cubans should be phased out since the U.S. has re-opened its embassy. Also, the Cold War tensions with the island have eased because the Soviet Union no longer subsidizes the Cuban economy… and, well, the Soviet Union no longer exists.

One new twist: tensions at cities along the U.S./Mexico border, including Laredo, Texas, have seen tensions and protests over how Cubans are treated compared to other immigrants. President Obama is scheduled to visit Cuba next month — the first time in 88 years a sitting President will visit the nation.

9:56 PM

Moderator Wolf Blitzer asked Trump: “If you eliminate [the Department of Education and the EPA], that’s $76 billion. The current deficit is $544 billion. Where are you going to come up with the money?” That’s a throwback to an earlier debate era, when deficit questions were more the norm than the exception.

9:55 PM
When Did The GOP Get So Focused On Immigration?
It seems like we spent about the first half hour of this debate on immigration. Is this normal? A quick glance at GOP debates 16 years ago reveals that no one mentioned immigration, like, at all. The only person who brought it up really was Gary Bauer, who was a pretty minor candidate. This changed in 2008, and Republican primary debates have featured quite a bit of immigration discussion ever since. Below is a very rough measure of this, with a raw count of debate mentions of the words “immigrant” and “immigration” during each primary season.

There are two takeaways from this. First, Trump isn’t totally responsible for a pivot toward this issue for Republicans. It’s not clear whether economic decline, national security concerns, or the exposure of intra-party fissures after Bush’s attempt at immigration reform are the cause of this (or some combination). But there’s a big change between 2000 and 2008.

Before we let Trump and the current field off the hook, though, we should also observe that this year’s debates have almost caught up to 2012 in terms of numbers of immigration references – in half as many debates. If the field continues to look like it does, I think we can expect to catch up with the 2008 numbers fairly quickly.

YEAR NUMBER OF GOP PRIMARY DEBATES MENTIONS OF THE WORD IMMIGRATION OR IMMIGRANT MENTIONS PER DEBATE (ROUNDED)
2000 11 2 0.2
2008 16 293 18
2012 20 218 11
2016 9* 191 18

*Excluding this one

9:53 PM

There’s significant disagreement among economists about how much various candidates’ tax plans would cost. But there’s essentially no disagreement over Trump’s plan. All credible estimates find it would cut government revenue by trillions of dollars. (Cruz and Rubio’s plan would lead to significant, though somewhat smaller, cuts as well.)

9:52 PM

If you think that Marco Rubio is doing well tonight, you’re not alone–Glenn Beck thinks so too, and he took to Twitter to say so. One thing, though: Beck endorsed Ted Cruz last month. Awkward?

9:46 PM
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9:46 PM

Kasich said, “It’s easier to interpret the Dead Sea Scrolls than to understand your hospital bill.” Without getting into interpretation of the scrolls — which are beautiful — Kasich has a point on hospital bills. Steven Brill wrote the longest single-author article Time Magazine has ever printed in 2013 about the inscrutability of American medical bills.

9:45 PM

Has “Obamacare” really led companies to cut back workers’ hours, as Marco Rubio said? Perhaps, but the effect has been very small. Virtually all of the employment growth during the recovery has been full-time; part-time employment is basically flat. But the so-called employer mandate, which requires most companies to offer health insurance to anyone working at least 30 hours a week, seems to have led employers to cut the hours of workers who are already near the 30-hour cutoff. A year ago, I estimated the cuts affected a few hundred thousand people, small in the context of millions of total jobs. But the people affected are disproportionately low-wage workers and women.

9:40 PM

Some of his blows have landed better than others, but another reason why it’s been smart for Rubio to attack Trump is simply because Rubio has made himself the focal point for the Trump opposition: a way out of the game-theoretical trap Republicans have found themselves in throughout the campaign where there’s been no clear Trump alternative even when polls suggest Trump would be vulnerable one-on-one.

9:40 PM

Just 6 percent of Republican voters in an October Quinnipiac poll said it was the most important issue in their vote for president. The economy is of far greater importance.

9:39 PM

Harry, does Obamacare have the same salience for Republican voters it did in 2010? Or 2012 or 2014?

9:38 PM

What has “Obamacare” accomplished?  So far it has brought health insurance to 9 million Americans who didn’t previously have it. But there are still 33 million people living in the U.S. (citizens and non-citizens) who don’t have health insurance. Of course, one reason for that is Republican opposition to the law: Close to 4 million people fall into the so-called Medicaid gap in states that have declined to expand access to Medicaid under the law. Those states, all with Republican governors, have higher uninsurance rates across the board.

9:36 PM

Trump’s rhetoric on Planned Parenthood is fascinating, and offers a glimmer of the hodge-podge of political views he’s held over his lifetime. During this 2016 run, he’s taken the standard Republican line that he would defund Planned Parenthood because the group provides abortions, but Trump went on tonight after giving that answer, to offer a line about the organization that you hear most often from Democrats, that it provides cancer screenings and regular checkups for many women. Moments like that stick out in this group of Republicans.

9:33 PM

As the candidates debate the fate of the Supreme Court, many existing cases will end up in a 4-4 tie, leaving lower courts’ decisions intact. In some cases, like affirmative action, that may favor liberals; and in others, like a Texas abortion case, it may favor conservative positions. Anecdotally, in my conversations with voters, the fate of the Supreme Court nominations comes up heavily. But most Americans, according to a brand new Pew research study, don’t know much about the court or how it works, and 20 percent didn’t know Justice Scalia was conservative.

9:31 PM

Is replacing Scalia on the Supreme Court a case where the hyperbole of its importance is warranted? Seems like Scalia’s replacement really does have the potential, depending on who’s confirmed, to reshape the court, and therefore the law?

9:30 PM

Here’s that epic Ted Cruz 21-hour-and-19-minutes Senate-floor speech favoring the defunding of Obamacare that Trump mocked.

9:27 PM

It’s probably worth re-emphasizing how few Hispanics have actually voted for Donald Trump so far. In Nevada, 8 percent of the turnout was Hispanic, according to the entrance poll, and 45 percent of those Hispanics voted for Trump. Based on a caucus turnout of about 75,000 Nevadans, that works out to about 2,700 Hispanics in a state that has around 800,000 of them.

9:26 PM
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9:25 PM

Trump quickly backed off his comment that he doesn’t believe anything Telemundo says, adding that he loves it. That’s wise if he wants to protect what he claims is his popularity among Hispanics (disputed by a Telemundo poll): Telemundo’s popularity has been rising in recent years.

9:24 PM

Ross Douthat was right when said on Twitter, “If you aren’t interrupting, you’re losing.” Questions have made up less than half of candidate’s opportunities to speak so far in this debate. Interruptions have accounted for more than 15 percent of all chances candidates have had to speak, and everything else has been replies to attacks.

The result: Trump has spoken more than twice as often as Cruz and one and a half times as often as Rubio. (Let’s not even mention Kasich and Carson, who have spoken less than once per seven times Trump has opened his mouth).

9:23 PM

Ted Cruz says the “Obama economy” has been bad for Hispanics. That depends on which numbers you look at. Hispanics have a higher unemployment rate than the overall population (5.9 percent vs. 4.9 percent) and lower median incomes ($42,491 vs. $53,657). But they have made faster gains on both measures during the recovery.

9:21 PM

There are different thoughts on that, but I’d be careful on this one. The reason is that “Hispanic” is a catch-all phrase for people from different countries. Mexican-Americans are far more liberal than Cuban Americans, who, like Cruz and Rubio, are far more conservative than most other Hispanic groups. Then again, as our own Dan Hopkins pointed out, it’s possible that Cruz or Rubio is able to perform better with Hispanics than another Republican would, as Cruz did in 2012.

9:20 PM

Could Cruz and/or Rubio help the GOP make inroads with Hispanic voters?

9:19 PM

Every single question so far has been on immigration, with the only possible exception being the question to Trump about whether he would start a trade war with Mexico. But since that was a follow up to how he planned to make them pay for a border wall, I’m inclined to count it.

9:18 PM

Leah, immigration has dominated this debate so far, right?

9:16 PM

Nate, it’s remarkable that there’s anyone left who hasn’t Googled Trump — he’s dominated the Republican race’s search traffic for months.

9:15 PM

Marco Rubio just railed against President Obama’s Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, which allows certain undocumented immigrants who arrived as children to be exempt from deportation, saying, “DACA is an executive order that is unconstitutional. I will cancel it on my first day in office.”  But Obama’s executive order is just one in a long line of presidents using executive orders to act on immigration.

9:14 PM

People at home are listening to Marco Rubio: there was a huge spike in Google search for Donald Trump after Rubio asked viewers to look up Trump’s history of hiring undocumented Polish workers.

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9:06 PM

John Kasich says the U.S. shouldn’t deport millions of undocumented immigrants, but should build a wall to prevent more of them coming in. Donald Trump says “Mexico will pay” for his proposed border wall and that “it will work.” It’s important to note, though, that border-crossing is only one way that people end up in the U.S. illegally. A 2013 report from the Pew Research Center found that a growing share of undocumented immigrants – perhaps a third to half — are people who entered the country legally then overstayed their visas.

9:04 PM

One thing I’ve noticed here is that Trump’s theme is to divert to an attack as quickly as he can. That’s really annoying for someone watching for analytical reasons, but it’s probably good priming — reminding the audience of Rubio and Cruz’s worst qualities. Cruz, in contrast, is really hammering this idea of “doing what you’re elected to do.” That’s been an especially important trope for Republicans for a couple of years now (think the Tea Party-Freedom Caucus, Grover Norquist pledges) — but it hasn’t gotten them all that far.

9:03 PM

The attack on him for hiring non-citizens seems like it’s a cousin to the attacks on Romney for firing people through Bain. And those seemed to land!

9:03 PM

I’m not sure they are hitting, but it’s about time someone is throwing them.

9:02 PM

To some extent Trump has been attacked so little over the course of the campaign that we don’t have a lot of evidence for which types of attacks work and which don’t. To be honest, you might as well throw your whole playbook at him, up to the point where you begin to look unfocused or desperate.

9:02 PM

Yeah, both Cruz and Rubio are going after Trump on immigration tonight in a way that makes me wonder if there wasn’t some discussion of this beforehand. I think that’s a smart move, taking him on his principal issue and picking away at it in a more exacting, academic way.

9:00 PM

Does the “soft on immigration” argument seem like a fruitful line of attack on Trump?

8:59 PM

Ted Cruz mentioned that Trump fired Dennis Rodman on “Celebrity Apprentice” in 2013. That didn’t stop Rodman from endorsing Trump last July. That’s no minor endorsement: Our colleague Ben Morris thinks Rodman might be the most valuable NBA player of all time.

8:56 PM

Here’s the New York Times report about Trump’s hiring practices that Trump and Rubio are squabbling about. And here’s what Trump said about The New York Times in a debate last month: “It’s The New York Times. They’re always wrong.”

8:53 PM

That’s right, Micah. The number of Mexican immigrants moving back to Mexico outnumbered those moving the other way by 140,000 from 2009 to 2014, according to the Pew Research Center. These days more immigrants are entering the U.S. from Asia than from Latin America.

8:52 PM

Carl, hasn’t net immigration from the southern border basically fallen to zero?

8:51 PM

8:48 PM

The case for holding back would be that Rubio is doing OK, making progress in the polls against Ted Cruz, perhaps even enough to knock Cruz out on March 1. So Rubio could keep his favorables high and save the fight with Trump for later. Twenty-four hours ago, I might have found that case more convincing, but Trump had a pretty good day in the polls in a way that the media’s making a big deal of, and which risks lowering the morale of Rubio’s supporters.

8:46 PM

Perhaps that he first wants to knock Cruz and the others out of the race, consolidate much of their support, then go after Trump.

8:44 PM

Ill-formed notions that going negative hurts candidates. I don’t think there’s clear evidence for this. Maybe some mixed evidence from studies of ads.

8:44 PM

So everyone seems to think Rubio should attack Trump ASAP. Then what’s the Rubio campaign’s rationale for holding back?

8:41 PM
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8:37 PM
Time For Rubio To Take On Trump

I asked my Twitter followers earlier today whether they thought Marco Rubio would attack Donald Trump in tonight’s debate. Rubio’s campaign had signaled to reporters that he wouldn’t attack — but of course, such signals can be sent out with the intent to deceive.

My personal view is that it’s time for Rubio to attack. There are a few reasons why:

  • If you’re going to portray yourself as the anti-Trump candidate — indeed, if you’re going to suggest that other candidates should drop out so that you can take on Trump one-on-one — it’s probably time to start actually being anti-Trump.
  • The current storylines for Rubio are pretty bad. Trump is increasingly viewed as the inevitable nominee, and the media is sick and tired of Rubio’s second place “wins.” A lot of this is silly and premature, but these debates are important partly because of the way they affect the media narrative. Right now, the media is like a pack of vultures circling around the non-Trump candidates. “Rubio takes fight to Trump” would be a better headline.
  • Somewhat contrary to the conventional wisdom, Trump has actually wobbled when attacked in debates before. In particular, he lost several points after the South Carolina debate after Jeb Bush attacked him, which cut into his margin of victory there.

Besides, Rubio’s almost certainly going to have to attack Trump sooner or later — so why not start now? To use a football analogy, the situation is like that of a football team that scores a touchdown after trailing by 15 points early in the fourth quarter. The correct move in this case is usually to go for the two-point conversion right away, since you’ll probably need one sooner or later and it increases your strategic flexibility later in the game. Instead, NFL teams usually kick the extra point. That guarantees they’ll keep it as a “one-score game,” but lowers their probability of eventually winning. Rubio, likewise, doesn’t need to merely stay close to Trump — he eventually needs to overtake him, and he probably requires a more aggressive strategy.

8:36 PM

Micah and Harry, I actually think watching to see HOW people attack Trump is key. Will someone like Kasich try to plump up his own executive record next to Trump’s? Will Rubio wade in more? Etc, etc. It will be telling to see how people choose their angles.

8:32 PM

What I’ll be watching for: Is anyone going to go after Trump? Specifically will Rubio go after Trump? Rubio will have to at some point, so why not now? At least (as one wise person told me) if you go after him now, you’ll get a better idea of what sticks and what doesn’t. Moreover, I do agree that the media doesn’t give Rubio enough credit for his performance so far, but if he doesn’t win a single state on Super Tuesday, it’s going to look very bad.

8:31 PM

Harry, what are you going to be watching for tonight?

8:31 PM
The RNC Shows Up

Politico reports today that some Republican National Committee leaders are feeling at least a little confident in their ability to use their resources to rein in Trump if he’s the GOP nominee. The national party organization hastens to remind us of the information and campaign infrastructure it can provide. It’s not clear what the leadership will be able to do in the event of a Trump nomination, but the Politico piece reminds us that the RNC and the Democratic National Committee are like the scenery in a play: Not the main event, but certainly part of the production. As a result, the national committees are often overlooked by media and scholars alike. The “parties as networks” school downplays their importance, and decades of political science research casts party organizations as weak and ineffectual.

However, the party organizations have reasserted their role in national campaigns. And they’ve been fairly visible during the 2016 campaign. (Though not usually favorably.) This might be a positive development – not just for formal party leaders, but for those who think that a bigger role for them might lead to more moderate candidates, and for observers who’d like to know more about what national party committees actually do. But it also means that national party committees will need to face the blame they are owed for electoral strategies that sought votes by appealing to racial resentment, including their willingness to let independent groups do the dirty work of stuff like racially inflammatory advertising. The RNC has also allowed a decentralized primary process, giving lots of autonomy to the states to allocate delegates as they wish – something that’s likely to benefit Trump. In other words, if the party organizations want to save the day, they also need to take responsibility for helping to create the current state of affairs.

8:30 PM
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8:28 PM
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8:27 PM
Some Supporters Of Each Candidate Disapprove Of The Emancipation Proclamation

Julia, Jody, it’s not just Trump who’d have to answer to supporters who say they disapprove of the Emancipation Proclamation. Among Ted Cruz’s supporters, 15 percent disapproved of it — just 5 percentage points fewer than among Trump’s supporters. So did 9 percent of supporters of Ben Carson, the lone African-American candidate in the race, as did 5 percent of Marco Rubio’s supporters and 3 percent of John Kasich’s supporters. The question didn’t name the proclamation, instead asking about “the executive order which freed all slaves in the states that were in rebellion against the federal government.” Also, the sample sizes are small, and for some candidates the percentages are so low that they might reflect people misunderstanding the question or mistakenly choosing an answer they didn’t intend to.

8:25 PM
The Cruz-Rubio-Trump Axis

Well, at least one political science prediction has stayed true this election: After the early contests, the field has winnowed. Tonight’s debate will take place without Chris Christie or Jeb Bush – two candidates who, as of the end of 2015, had more endorsements from Republican elected officials than every other candidate. But the actual voting has left Donald Trump, Ted Cruz and Marco Rubio as the main contenders.

It’s pretty clear that the party’s elites – however late and tentatively – have cast their lot with Rubio. But as a couple of people have pointed out, eventually he’s going to need to win a primary. Something to note here is that if Cruz and Rubio were one candidate, that candidate would be in first place. Trump would be playing the same role that Bernie Sanders is for Democrats – doing well enough to make the frontrunner have to try, but not actually winning.

As a result, it’s hard for me not to see Cruz, and his supporters, as pivotal here. He’s had some nasty exchanges with both Trump and Rubio. I suspect the Rubio campaign is probably thinking about the kinds of goodies it could offer Cruz to leave the race. And I wonder if the RNC and others are exerting pressure on him. But even if that is happening, and even if Cruz cared enough to respond, could he really guarantee that his supporters would back Rubio at the polls?

This brings us back to the question of how much control elites really have over this process. And to the fact that if Cruz and Trump were the same candidate, that candidate would be crushing Rubio.

8:20 PM
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I’ll echo Julia’s sentiment that I’d like to have someone — either a candidate or, hey, the moderators! — bring up some of the troubling polling we saw this week describing the bigoted views of a significant portion of Donald Trump supporters.

This polling was so troubling, in fact, that we convened a special podcast today to discuss the numbers. As Harry Enten pointed out, if John Kasich doesn’t take the chance to press Trump on some of these trends, then it’s unclear what role he’s going to play. It’s both strategically savvy (if you can say there’s a Kasich strategy still to be had) and the morally right thing to do.

Listen to the podcast below, and cross your fingers that the difficult facts around race and bigotry our country is grappling with get addressed head on.

8:14 PM
The Question I Hope The Moderators Will Ask

Normally, I’m not a big fan of “so-and-so said this, how do you react?” questions in these debates. Arguably, these were part of the approach that allowed the Trump candidacy to flourish in the late summer and early fall. But tonight I’d really like the moderators to ask the candidates – especially Trump, but not only him – to address the survey results that show some supporters who disapprove of the Emancipation Proclamation. This gets at three issues I think are important: race, presidential power and accountability. (Meaning, can or should we hold candidates accountable for what their supporters say?)

What’s not very encouraging, though, is that we’re likely to hear what we have heard all season. Rubio and Kasich will disavow racist ideas. Trump will deny. Ben Carson will talk about astronauts and string cheese. The interesting wild card is Cruz, who I suspect will divert any questions about whether Trump – or others in the party — have cultivated racial resentment among supporters – toward an answer that makes the issue about executive orders, not about the thorny race questions that it’s becoming increasingly clear that the party will eventually need to face.

8:10 PM
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7:53 PM
They're Back! And So Are We.

Welcome all, to the umpteenth 2016 presidential debate [annoying editors note: actually, the 10th Republican debate], this time, a showdown between the GOP candidates, a.k.a., the Thrilla-in-a-Place-That’s-8,000-miles-away-from-Manila: Houston, Texas.

It’s been a while since we’ve seen our motley crew. OK, not that long, but in the intervening 12 days, Jeb Bush has dropped out of the race after a poor finish in South Carolina, leaving frontrunner Donald Trump bereft of his favorite punching bag. He will have to settle for pillorying Marco Rubio, Ted Cruz, John Kasich and Ben Carson.

Trump is coming off commanding wins in South Carolina and Nevada, and he’s the favorite in most of the upcoming Super Tuesday contests. While Trump is likely to continue tonight with his DJ Khaled-esque rhetoric of winning, what should we be looking from the others on stage? To see if they attack him head-on, for one thing. The last debate got heated, and not just because of Trump — Rubio sniped that his fellow Cuban-American, Cruz, couldn’t understand Spanish.

On the topic of Cruz, the Texas senator is in a tight spot these days. He didn’t do as well as he might have with South Carolina’s evangelicals, and as our own Dave Wasserman points out, his campaign’s delegate math is looking increasingly nonsensical. And in Rubio’s case, while the mainline-Republican endorsements keep rolling in, he has yet to log an actual first-place finish in the primary, which, let’s politely say, complicates things for him.

Stay with us all night for charts, wisdom, and kvetching!

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