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Updated 7:56 PM |

What Went Down At The CNN Republican Debate

Filed under 2016 Election


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Micah Cohen 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!

fstone538 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!).


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.

Carl Bialik 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.

Clare Malone 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.

Nate Silver 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.

Julia Azari 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.

Micah Cohen 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)?

Carl Bialik 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.

Farai Chideya 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.

Ben Casselman 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.

Carl Bialik 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.

Nate Silver 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.

Leah Libresco 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).

Julia Azari 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.

Clare Malone 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.

Ben Casselman 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.

micahscohen 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.

Twitter 10:21 PM

Farai Chideya 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.

Leah Libresco 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.

Micah Cohen 10:18 PM

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

Carl Bialik 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.

Harry Enten 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.

Micah Cohen 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?

Nate Silver 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.

micahscohen 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.

micahscohen 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.

jody538 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.


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