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11:35 PM
Good night. Good morning!

That’s it for us tonight, folks. Thanks for sticking with us. We’ll have some separate post-debate coverage later tonight and tomorrow. Go to bed!

UPDATE (Dec. 16, 6:27 a.m.): Nate Silver’s post-debate article calls the debate a “nine-way draw.”

But if you’re reading this the day after, start at the bottom to relive the debate chronologically. And leave us a comment — who do you think won the fifth Republican debate?

11:24 PM

Jeb Bush acquitted himself about as well as he could have, given the scylla and charybdis of seeming like a pushover or seeming like a peevish establishment insider when choosing to attack Trump. But in general, this was another debate that may come back to haunt the party in the general election, as everything at these podiums is clippable for ads, no matter who wins.

11:19 PM

As we’ve mentioned a few times tonight, Marco Rubio was attacked the most by his fellow Republicans, especially by Ted Cruz. This could suggest that other candidates view him as a major threat.

Rubio in the hot seat in the main debate
11:17 PM

CNN’s moderators gave more questions to Trump than any other candidate. And, because many questions addressed to others mentioned him by name, when other candidates mentioned him, he was awarded even more time in rebuttals.

11:08 PM

I’m not sure that Trump got in as many of his trademark zingers in this debate as others, and I certainly think he was stumped on that nuclear question … but I’m also not sure how much of a difference that will make with his standings in the polls. Rubio and Cruz were certainly the targets of a lot of the follow-up questions to clarify positions — and I think they both handled those parries skillfully (mostly by side-stepping). So, they solidified their rising status in the race.

11:06 PM

Several candidates touched on the economy in their opening statements, but there was no repeat in the closings. It’s hardly surprising that tonight’s debate focused on national security in the wake of Paris and San Bernardino. But it’s notable that this debate was held on the night that a budget deal was (apparently) reached, and the day before the Fed will (almost certainly) raise interest rates. The economy will still be an issue in the election. Here’s hoping the next debate gives it some more time.

11:05 PM

Donald Trump apparently believes that if you keep saying something false, it somehow makes it true. He keeps saying that he is beating Hillary Clinton in the polls. Well, Trump has led Clinton in only two general election polls taken since the beginning of November. He has trailed her in 11 polls. Although I don’t believe general election polls at this point are predictive of the outcome, Trump is clearly trailing in more polls than he is leading in at this point.

10:57 PM

I’d asked earlier what question should be put to candidates to test their knowledge of issues. Turns out a good one for Trump was to ask about the nuclear triad. Here’s something he might have wished he’d read before the debate.

10:57 PM

10:56 PM

I don’t think much of Jeb Bush’s chances of winning the nomination at this point. But I also don’t think it matters to Bush if he alienates Donald Trump’s backers, as some people are saying. What Bush wants to do is show the establishment and donors that he can take on Trump down the road. Bush is playing the long game, not the short one.

10:55 PM

Trump has gotten three of the last five questions, catapulting him ahead of his competitors with nine total questions. (Poor Fiorina and Kasich have only five each.)

10:51 PM

10:51 PM

This first-person tale of being hacked/extorted in China is well worth a read. But when it comes to larger data breaches in the U.S., China has often denied its involvement.

10:47 PM

This debate has centered on national security, and it’s puzzling that climate change has hardly received a mention. A study published earlier this year found that global warming helped fuel the war in Syria.

The Pentagon has determined that climate change poses a national security risk, but apparently the GOP candidates didn’t get the memo.

10:47 PM

10:46 PM

One of the most interesting battles between pundits this season has been whether the polls showing Donald Trump leading will be predictive of the eventual voting. I’ve argued “no”because the past hasn’t shown them to be. Instead, I believe, at this point, that Rubio has the best chance of winning the nomination. It seems, rightly or wrongly, that the candidates on stage agree. As Nate just pointed out, Rubio has been attacked the most so far of any of the candidates on the stage.

10:45 PM

My colleague Ella Koeze tells me that Chris Christie has been attacked only three times so far tonight — compared with 22 times for Rubio, 16 for Trump and nine for Cruz. Reminds me a bit of a game of Risk where you have the third- or fourth-strongest army and no one attacks you because you’re not in first or second place. If you’re nevertheless strong enough to mount a threat to win the game, that can become an advantageous position. This is vaguely the path that John Kerry followed to becoming the Democratic nominee in 2004 — he didn’t seem quite threatening enough for anyone to attack him until it was too late.

10:43 PM

In addition to touting favorable real polls on Twitter, Trump loves to tout post-debate “polls” — opt-in, unscientific online polls typically flooded by his supporters so he wins in a landslide. Here’s Drudge Report already taking votes on who won a debate that, Wolf Blitzer terrifyingly just said, is “only just beginning.”

10:38 PM

10:34 PM

People who have penetrated the Internet to write about the debate variously seem to think Donald Trump has done pretty well or fairly poorly tonight. I’m more in the latter camp. But I’m not sure it matters that much. Trump’s success has mostly been despite the debates instead of because of them (a couple of the debates have hurt Trump’s poll numbers — about the only thing that has so far). Instead, Trump succeeds by dominating all the empty news cycles when there’s nothing much going on in the campaign — not when all the candidates have an equal opportunity to make news.

10:33 PM

Jeb Bush just said that the tone of the immigration debate right now will not help bring Hispanics back to the Republican Party. Hispanics have become increasingly Democratic in recent years; they gave Obama 71 percent of their vote in 2012. See how their turnout could affect the 2016 election with our Swing-O-Matic.

10:31 PM

At this point in the debate, Rubio has surpassed Trump as the Republican candidate attracting the most attacks. Despite the interchanges between Jeb Bush and Donald Trump, Rubio has been the target of 20 attacks, tied with Hillary Clinton, while Trump has been targeted in only 16.

10:28 PM

It’s a small point, but one important thing about Marco Rubio’s comments on immigration is that he mentions visa-overstayers, not just border-crossers. The border gets most of the attention — just look at Trump’s talk of building a wall — but a large share of undocumented immigrants in the U.S. entered the country legally and then didn’t leave when they were meant to. Any plan to deal with illegal immigration needs to focus on more than just the border.

10:27 PM

Rubio said immigration reform would mean undocumented immigrants would start paying taxes. They already pay taxes, about $12 billion per year in federal taxes and another $10.6 billion in state and local, according to government estimates.

10:22 PM

Carson’s experience as a neurosurgeon, rather than a politician, is probably working in his favor. From March to September, Pew found that the share of Republicans who preferred “new ideas” over experience grew from 36 percent to 65 percent.

10:21 PM

Trump said that he’s at 42 and Bush is at 3. HuffPost Pollster says it’s 38 and 5. Not great for Bush, sure, but not quite right, either — in other words, a typical Trump poll citation.

10:19 PM

But Clare, hasn’t that been the basic approach of candidates with the last name Paul for the last 15 years? It doesn’t seem to work when you hang your hat on defining/contextualizing/refereeing Republican values — I feel like mostly people just want to hear a discrete thought that fires them up.

10:17 PM

Micah, I think that if you’re a Republican hoping to puncture Trump’s support, one way you might want to frame the basic incoherence of his policy stances is to say that they’re more Democratic than Republican. Since it’s basically a succotash of political beliefs, why not pick the more liberal-seeming ones and tell conservatives that he’s not really one of them?

10:17 PM

I think it’s hard to pull off attacking Trump as a moderate — his rhetoric is bombastic even on his mainstream positions. It seems more promising to attack him as wildly inconsistent than moderately anything.

10:16 PM

Interesting comment from reader Brian Watkins:

Fiorina makes the crucial point we’re going to see more and more in January: Trump is basically a moderate Obamaite Democrat except that he wants to actually enforce immigration laws.

Do people think attacking Trump as a moderate on everything but immigration could work?

10:16 PM

Carl, it is tough for the debaters on the main stage. In the JV debate, candidates got at least 13 questions apiece. On the main stage, an hour and a half in, everyone has had four to six questions.

10:13 PM

This is the fourth straight main stage Republican debate with at least twice as many candidates as the undercard debate. I wonder if the candidates who haven’t gotten much air time during this debate feel any envy for Huckabee and Santorum, who were given so much time to agree with each other.

10:09 PM

This fight over whether dictators are good is fascinating and all, but meanwhile CNBC is reporting that there’s a $1.1 trillion budget deal. That’s a genuinely important piece of news.

10:08 PM

Carly Fiorina seeks to align herself with women … but in opposition to one, Hillary Clinton, who “has gotten every foreign policy challenge wrong,” in Fiorina’s words. Yet oddly, there are a few donors who want a woman in the White House so much that they are funding both campaigns.

10:06 PM

I think Bush is doing reasonably well too. In part because he’s realized that the longer the back-and-forth goes with Trump, the better off you tend to do. Also helps Jeb that this doesn’t seem to be a pro-Trump crowd tonight.

10:06 PM

Jody, I’ve seen that sentiment on Twitter. But I think — purely speculatively — it’s more likely to hurt Trump than to help Bush much.

10:06 PM

I think he’s done better, Jody, though he still seems to only plan through his first put-down and to back off when his target pushes back.

10:06 PM

Am I the only one — and, judging from Twitter I may be — who thinks Bush is doing … kinda all right tonight? He’s had the two most sticky jabs at Trump — “Chaos Candidate” and “You’re not going to insult your way to the presidency.” And every time Trump has insulted him in return, it’s been met by lots of boos. And Bush is the only one to have articulated coherent pushback to the Trump ban proposal. Am I crazy?

10:04 PM

It’s interesting to note what is basically a backlash to U.S. support for the Arab Spring that is happening on the debate stage right now with a couple of candidates. Trump and Cruz have both basically said they wish that the old regime of dictators were back in place. That’s quite a turnaround from the Bush Doctrine era. Rubio, it should be noted, pushed back hard on the idea that leaders like Saddam Hussein and Qaddafi would be better American allies.

10:04 PM

Ted Cruz just cited Israeli Prime Minister Bibi Netanyahu to back up his argument on Syria. There may not be a more popular politician among Republicans than Netanyahu. His net favorability in an April Quinnipiac survey was +63 percentage points. In the most recent Quinnipiac poll, no Republican candidate for president had a net favorability above +58 percentage points.

9:55 PM

It’s certainly deliberate — in her opening statement, she talked about how she had been called “every B-word in the book,” which is her not only calling out the fact that she’s a woman, but also tying her executive toughness in, which is something she’s brought up the couple of times that she’s talked tonight.

9:55 PM

She really does seem to be exploiting that. I’m curious to see if it pays off.

9:55 PM

Clare, Fiorina has been a little more explicit than in recent debates about highlighting that she’s the only woman running in the GOP primary. Do you think it’s a deliberate strategy? Is it a smart one?

9:54 PM

The trouble with Chris Christie’s “I’ve got it done” argument is that his actual record in New Jersey is pretty mixed. For all his tell-it-like-it-is bravado, he has engaged in the same kind of budgeting trickery as past governors, and he’s done little to get the state’s deficit under control.

9:53 PM

This has been the most polite debate to date — only one interruption in the first hour. Bush took a crack at interrupting Trump, but he backed off when Wolf Blitzer told them to take turns and play nice.

9:53 PM

Carson, Christie, Fiorina and Kasich have gotten fewer chances to talk because their opponents haven’t found them worth insulting. Meanwhile, Trump has gotten five additional opportunities to speak when he’s bad-mouthed by other candidates.

9:52 PM

Farai, no wonder candidates take vague punches at political correctness: When it’s not defined, most Americans say political correctness is a problem. It’s become an ambiguous phrase with negative connotations, vague enough that most people can say they oppose it.

9:49 PM

My boy Chris Christie is all about New Hampshire. He has done nothing to hurt himself here. He’s doing fine.

9:49 PM

Harry, your boy Chris Christie has disappeared.

9:46 PM

9:46 PM

One of my maxims is: Anything that can be the best of both worlds can inherently also be the worst of all worlds. And it feels like there’s been a little bit of that at work with Cruz tonight. He’s certainly not taking the fight to Trump. But, when he’s confronting Rubio, he’s speaking in clichés rather than seeking to persuade the segment of the party that might be on the Cruz-Rubio fringe and wants a relatively serious foreign-policy debate.

9:43 PM

Despite Bush’s repeated attempts to label Trump as not serious and not capable of fighting Islamic State competently, most Republicans say in polls that they are confident in Trump’s ability to handle terrorism.

9:42 PM

I tend to dislike questions that test specific knowledge — who is the president of X country — and would rather have questions that set up opportunities for candidates to express values and policies. If they dodge, that’s on them, and on us, to score that as a negative. Nevertheless, it was pretty stunning to watch Wolf Blitzer ask Ben Carson a question that was, essentially, “were you paying attention to the last exchange” and have Carson take a pass.

9:42 PM

I think Cruz being pushed on whether or not he would “carpet bomb” places like Raqqa that have civilians was a place where we saw sleight of hand happening from the candidate side of things. His answer was vague, and that he would only bomb places where Islamic State was, but Raqqa is filled with fighters as well as civilians. In other words, a moral gray area, and he skirted that question by saying he would just do more bombing runs than the Obama admin is.

9:41 PM

Hearing candidates dodge and sometimes seemingly misunderstand questions at some of these debates makes me want to see occasional questions that test their knowledge. What question would you ask them to show they know their stuff well enough to be president?

9:40 PM

Ben, I agree that metadata isn’t a voting issue now, and probably won’t become one. But I think it sounds odd to suggest to voters that the debate is meaningless Senate gobbledegook. Most people by now understand this issue and expect the candidates to take a position on it, one way or the other.

9:39 PM

There have been five mentions of the phrase “political correctness” so far — one by Ben Carson and four by Ted Cruz, who said: “The problem is because of political correctness, the Obama administration, like a lot of folks here, want to search everyone’s cell phones and emails and not focus on the bad guys, and political correctness is killing people.”

9:37 PM

Ted Cruz just made a reference to “political correctness.” According to an October Fairleigh Dickinson University poll, 53 percent of Americans and 80 percent of Republicans agreed with Donald Trump’s statement that “a big problem this country has is being politically correct.” That’s quite high given that the question prompts people to think about Trump, and he is not anywhere close to being that popular with Americans or Republicans in particular.

9:36 PM

It may be true that polls show Americans don’t like bulk data collection, but I’m skeptical they’ll vote on the issue. Whereas I could see them voting on national security writ large. In fact, terrorism and national security have now supplanted the economy as the top issue in the race, according to the latest polls.

9:33 PM

Clare, it’s worth pointing out, as Harry did in the undercard debate, that invoking George W. Bush is a good call with Republicans — his favorability rating was at 67 percent in October. And on top of that, Pew has found that “American Muslims are even more likely than Muslims in other countries to firmly reject violence in the name of Islam.” About 81 percent say that suicide bombings or similar acts are never justified.

9:30 PM

Christie is apparently making the argument that the bulk collection of all Americans’ phone data is trivial and uninteresting to the public — as meaningless as “angels dancing on the head of a pin.” But after the revelations of the NSA’s work began to emerge from the Edward Snowden leaks, most Americans did oppose bulk collection, according to a USA Today/Pew poll. It’s one thing to take a position for or against collection; it’s another to suggest the matter is meaningless, as Christie and Carson seemed to do.

9:29 PM

Micah, I wonder if the whole governor thing isn’t kind of a myth. Just two of the past 10 Republican nominees for presidents have been governors. (Although a couple of others had other types of executive experience.)

9:28 PM

I know Republican voters like outsiders, but is there evidence that they’re sympathetic to this argument Christie made, and Bush made, indirectly — that being a governor is better experience for becoming president than being senator? Being a governor didn’t help Rick Perry or Scott Walker.

9:28 PM

I’ll re-up something from the undercard debate earlier tonight when Lindsey Graham went all-out about extending an olive branch to American Muslims. President George W. Bush’s post-9/11 statements were just brought up in a question to Jeb for their noticeably different tenor from this year’s debate. This is from a statement Bush made on September 20, 2001:

“I also want to speak tonight directly to Muslims throughout the world. We respect your faith. It’s practiced freely by many millions of Americans, and by millions more in countries that America counts as friends. Its teachings are good and peaceful, and those who commit evil in the name of Allah blaspheme the name of Allah.”

9:27 PM

At some point, I’m betting that this primary becomes about being electable. Chris Christie has helped himself on that end with these debates. He’s seen the greatest positive change in his net favorability rating since July among any of the major party candidates, according to Gallup. Marco Rubio, another strong debater, has actually seen his net favorability drop by a percentage point.

9:25 PM

The backdrop to the current questions about surveillance and metadata use have, as a backdrop, a 2013 Supreme Court ruling called Clapper v. Amnesty. The Court ruled that possible government surveillance — and any possible harm — was not enough to give standing to the case pursued by Amnesty International as counsel for a variety of human rights lawyers and other plaintiffs. A few months later, Edward Snowden leaked the data files that showed the extent of the U.S. surveillance, not just of the calls of non-citizens or people making calls abroad, but of all Americans, a use for which the program was not designed. This May, the surveillance program was ruled unconstitutional. After a six-month sunset period, the program expired in late November.

9:24 PM

As one of only two governors on the main stage tonight, it makes sense for Chris Christie to go after the Senate as a talk-shop where no one has to make a real decision. But that argument hasn’t seemed to carry much weight so far this year. At one point there were nine current or former governors pursuing the Republican nomination. Christie and Jeb Bush are the only ones left with much shot of winning.

9:24 PM

Carson is right! Cruz, Christie and Rubio all got two questions directed at them each before he got even one.

9:20 PM

Rubio just mentioned 15 million viewers — a lowball estimate compared with the first two Republican debates, but more than the last two. The two most recent debates, though, were on business channels CNBC and Fox Business. The first two, with more than 23 million viewers each, aired on Fox News and CNN. So Rubio might have sold tonight’s audience a few million short.

9:16 PM

Debate 101: Attack the premise of the question if you don’t like it! That’s what Cruz just did to Dana Bash. In case you’re interested in his history as a college debater, here’s something.

9:16 PM

Cruz’s paraphrase of FDR’s Republican grandfather, Delano, saying all horse thieves are Democrats but not all Democrats are horse thieves may be the nicest thing anyone says about Democrats in tonight’s debates. The quote comes from a different time with a similar tone of political rhetoric: “The common thread that runs through the GOP’s history seems to be opposition to whatever the Democrats stand for,” according to a 2003 BusinessWeek book review that also quotes Delano.

9:13 PM

Yup, as we’ve sometimes seen in the past, the better a candidate is doing in the polls, the more reluctant they seem to be to go after Donald Trump. You could argue that it’s sort of a sign of confidence — Rubio and Cruz seem to think they’re doing well enough as it is, while Bush needs to shake the race up. (We’ll have to see what Christie does.) Still, it’s not like Cruz and Rubio are doing amazingly well in the campaign. The whole debate has felt a little flat so far, which might not be a bad result for Trump since he came in with a lot of momentum.

9:13 PM

But don’t expect anyone to oppose the fundamental spirit of Trump’s proposal — just its practical value or a few problems around the edges. Because the party base has solidified around the idea that Muslims can’t be trusted, the candidates are forced to follow in Trump’s footsteps.

9:12 PM

This is a pretty elaborate theory, but I wonder if, at some point in prep, Cruz’s advisers said to him, “If Jeb or someone else goes hard after Trump, then back off.” In other words, let the more desperate candidates take it to The Donald. That said, kudos to Bush for offering the closest thing to a coherent argument for why banning Muslims would make us less safe.

9:12 PM

Harry, it seems clear that they’ll choose when to based not on the extremity of his proposals but on the right political timing. So at this point, they might be waiting for the first votes to come in.

9:11 PM

So, if Cruz and Rubio won’t go after Trump now, is there a point when they will?

9:11 PM

Right. I think the whole idea of “drafting” off of Trump’s supporters is something that the Cruz, and now Rubio, campaign has cottoned on to. It’s basically: Express sympathy for people’s fears (which Trump has given voice to) and then talk about why the fears are a result of Obama administration policies. But Rubio was also noting in there that Trump’s ban on Muslims’ coming into America just wasn’t practical.

9:10 PM

Rubio seems to be actively avoiding going directly at Trump. Ted Cruz — less surprisingly — is doing the same.

9:09 PM

Marco Rubio said that the reason Republicans support Trump’s proposal to ban Muslims is because President Obama has made Americans feel unsafe. As I wrote in our live blog of the undercard debate, a March Reuters/Ipsos poll found that Republicans ranked Obama as the biggest threat to the U.S.

9:08 PM

The candidates are walking a fine line on Trump’s proposed ban on Muslim immigration. Even before the San Bernardino attack, a large majority of Republicans — and a substantial share of Democrats, too — had negative views of Muslims. And early polls have shown strong support for Trump’s plan among Republicans. But Trump’s proposal is less popular among all voters and could be risky in a general election campaign.

9:03 PM

As I noted in the JV debate earlier tonight, people aren’t “pouring across the border” anymore. Net undocumented immigration has been close to zero in recent years, and as of 2014, more Mexicans were leaving the U.S. than entering it.

9:02 PM

PSA time: Of the 1.6 billion Muslims on the planet, more than 60 percent live in Asia. There are more Muslims in India and Indonesia than in the Middle East and North Africa combined.

9:01 PM

A quick note on Cruz’s and Rubio’s opening forays — Rubio’s framing of conservative voters being “called bigots because they hold traditional values” in his initial statement is, I think, a smart way to perhaps be talking to people who are liking Trump right now. And Cruz, of course, made sure to mention the idea that “political correctness” is getting in the way; he’s doing the same thing.

9:00 PM

There’s a good chance at least one of these nine candidates will no longer be a candidate by the next debate. Earlier today, Nate, Clare, Micah and Harry conducted a dropout “draft.” They’ll get points for the fastest to drop out. Here’s how much their teams are worth on Predictit’s market for the next Republican candidate to drop out:

Clare: 56 cents
Micah: 32 cents
Harry: 17 cents
Nate: 14 cents

8:59 PM

A lot of people wonder what can be won or lost at these debates. It should be pointed out that even when a candidate “wins the debate” and gets a bounce, the bounce means nothing if you don’t make it stick. According to HuffPost Pollster, Carly Fiorina jumped from 2.7 percent to 11 percent in September thanks to strong debate performances. She’s now down to just 2.1 percent and has little chance of winning the nomination.

8:57 PM

It’s interesting that several of the Republican candidates have touched on the economy in their opening remarks. On paper, the economy is doing pretty well — well enough that the Federal Reserve is expected to raise interest rates tomorrow for the first time since 2006. But the recovery hasn’t felt strong to many Americans, and voters routinely report feeling uncertain about their economic prospects. So many people watching will probably agree with Jeb Bush when he says the economy is “under water.”

8:55 PM

As the main stage debate just gets going, here’s what our political team will be looking for:

8:55 PM

Well, I don’t think very much, Micah. According to a Monmouth University poll out today, 75 percent of Republicans want to send ground troops to the Middle East to fight Islamic State. It could get Rand Paul a few votes, but far, far from enough to win the nomination.

8:54 PM

Harry, how much room is there in this GOP primary for Paul’s more isolationist foreign policy views? Paul was having trouble finding an audience before San Bernardino and Paris; does he have any chance to gain a foothold now?

8:53 PM

I would love to see Pew refresh/redo its deep dive on party affiliation, from April of this year. It shows the ways different demographics (including by race and religion) tend to trend by party. Although Asian-Americans and Latino-Americans lean Democratic, a quarter of each broad demographic favors the GOP. Other parts of the study chart affiliation by certain religions — including evangelical Christians, Mormons and Jews. But not Muslims … and I’d love to see them add Muslims to their research.

8:50 PM
The Republicans' five-ring circus
8:48 PM
Media coverage of Donald Trump broke this chart
8:47 PM

For the first time since 9/11, Americans give our country a negative rating on responding to terrorism, according to a Pew Research Center report released today. Also from the report:

Just 37% approve of the way Obama is handling terrorism while 57% disapprove, the lowest rating of his presidency for this issue. Terrorism has reshaped the public’s agenda, both at home and abroad. Currently, 29% cite terrorism (18%), national security (8%) or ISIS (7%) as the most important problem facing the country today. One year ago, just 4% of the public cited any of these issues.


Pew Research Center

8:46 PM

One measure of a candidate’s support during presidential primaries — and, often, a good predictor of which candidates will succeed — is endorsements, particularly those from elected officials. But Republican politicians have been slow to give out endorsements this year. In contrast to the flood of endorsements for Hillary Clinton, Republicans have seen only a trickle; the story so far has not been how many endorsements the candidates have, but how few. Jeb Bush has been at the top of our endorsement leaderboard since August, and, while Marco Rubio has shown some signs of challenging him for that spot, the Republican establishment has yet to settle on a favorite.

The Endorsement Primary
8:43 PM

If you got all your polling news from Donald Trump’s Twitter account, you’d think he was polling even better than he is.

8:42 PM
This One Counts For Rubio

It’s easy to overhype the importance of debates, but this one comes at what seems like an inflection point in the campaign. Donald Trump and Ted Cruz will get most of the attention, but I agree with Allahpundit that the real focal point could be Marco Rubio. Rubio has made some progress in polls, along with fundraising and party support. But he hasn’t quite had a breakthrough, and we’re seeing more and more concerns about his potentially weak ground game and why, given the lack of alternatives, the GOP establishment isn’t mobilizing behind him more quickly.

Some of these concerns are overwrought, no doubt. It’s also possible that the Rubio campaign is downplaying expectations. Moreover, it’s not clear who the establishment would turn to apart from Rubio: Chris Christie, Jeb Bush and John Kasich would all seem to have at least as many flaws. Still, I can imagine a strong performance tonight catalyzing a more emphatic turn toward Rubio, or a weak one compelling the establishment to give Christie and other alternatives a much longer look.

8:39 PM
The GOP race in Iowa (varsity debaters)
The GOP race in New Hampshire (varsity debaters)
8:36 PM

One other note on the economic context for tonight’s debate: Tomorrow, the Federal Reserve is widely expected to announce that it is raising interest rates for the first time since 2006. Most of the Republican candidates are probably happy about that; conservatives have been urging the Fed to raise rates for months or even years. But it’s a bit of a tricky issue for Republicans because the Fed’s actions signal that policymakers are becoming more confident in the health of the economy. That isn’t exactly the tune GOP candidates have been singing on the campaign trail.

8:34 PM
Will Terrorism Push The Economy To The Sidelines?

In our 2016 “big issues” preview story last month, I wrote the following:

“After two straight elections dominated by economic issues, 2016 is shaping up to be … another election dominated by economic issues.”

That seemed like a safe enough bet at the time. But that was before terrorist attacks in Paris and California thrust national security and foreign affairs back to the top of the agenda. In a Wall Street Journal/NBC News poll released Monday, 40 percent of Americans listed terrorism as their top concern, up 19 points from April. The economy, which had long been the top issue, fell to a distant second place.

It remains to be seen how durable national security is as an issue. It’s possible that if there are no more attacks, voters’ interest could fade. But with recent headlines dominated by Donald Trump’s plan to ban Muslim immigration (and, today, by bomb threats in Los Angeles), terrorism doesn’t seem to be going away as an issue anytime soon.

That probably means that after two debates focused (at least in theory) on economic issues, tonight’s debate will devote less time to taxes, jobs and related issues. That’s understandable, but it’s also unfortunate. The Republican candidates have significant differences on domestic policy issues, and debates offer a rare opportunity to explore them.

8:31 PM

So how are people spending the intermission between debates? Here’s what I’m up to:

8:31 PM

Obama was the No. 1 recipient of attacks in the undercard debate, but Donald Trump, rather than Hillary Clinton, came in second. It will be interesting to see if the animosity continues into the main stage debate.

8:26 PM
Welcome To The Big Show

A lot has changed since the last Republican debate. The terrorist attacks in Paris and in San Bernardino, California, have reshuffled the campaign — as tonight’s undercard debate made clear — putting terrorism, and foreign policy more generally, at the top of voters’ list of concerns.

Meanwhile, Ted Cruz has surged in Iowa. Ben Carson has fallen. Donald Trump is still leading in national polls, and Jeb Bush is still “leading from behind.”

We’ll have a ton of analysis as tonight’s main stage debate unfolds, so stay with us; if you have a question or comment, leave it here or tweet us @FiveThirtyEight.

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