I'll be live-blogging the debate here. Keep reloading this post for more updates. This will be the first Republican debate since Jeb Bush dropped out.
For more live-blogging, check out National Review, TPM, and the New Republic.
The candidates walk out one by one, standing in front of the lecterns. Trump shakes hands with Cruz and Rubio. Former President George H.W. Bush is in the audience.
8:43 — Ben Carson uses his opening statement to address all the other candidates by name and say we won't solve America's problems by "trying to destroy each other."
8:44 — John Kasich gives us a pep talk: "Shoot for the stars! America's great, and you can do it!"
8:45 — Marco Rubio says this is the time for the Republican party to decide whether it's going to be a party that appeals to America's "hopes and fears" (Rubio) or its "angers and fears" (Trump).
8:45 — Ted Cruz starts out: "Welcome to Texas!" (The debate is in Houston.)
8:46 — Donald Trump begins his opening statement predictably: "My whole theme is: Make America great again." Our borders are "like Swiss cheese."
8:47 — Wolf Blitzer asks Trump about Cruz's claim that Trump is for "amnesty," since Trump would deport all illegal immigrants but then let "the good ones" come back to the US. Trump says: "He was in charge of amnesty! He was the leader!" Cruz responds by simply defending his own policy on illegal immigration, without taking the bait to attack Trump.
8:50 — Rubio on Trump's immigration stance: "A lot of these positions that he's taking are new to him." Rubio says Trump criticized Mitt Romney for talking about "self-deportation" in 2012. Trump says: "I criticized Mitt Romney for losing the election. . . . He ran one terrible campaign!" Rubio says Trump is the only person on the stage who's hired people from other countries — for "jobs that Americans could have filled." Trump has a biting comeback that Rubio should've predicted: "I'm the only one on the stage who's hired people! . . . You haven't hired one person in your life!" [VIDEO.]
8:55 — Cruz does his usual attack on Rubio for being part of the "Gang of 8," which fought for "amnesty." But he adds a new attack against Trump for "funding the Gang of 8" — 3 Democratic Senators and 2 Republican Senators. Trump's retort to Cruz: "I get along with everybody; you get along with nobody."
8:57 — Both Rubio and Cruz gang up on Trump over a $1 million court judgment against him for hiring people illegally.
8:58 — When Trump attacks Cruz for improprieties in financial disclosures, Cruz tries to respond, but Wolf Blitzer cuts him off to ask Kasich a question. Blitzer should have let Cruz respond — he's entitled to respond to a direct attack. Yet Cruz doesn't complain (possibly because he doesn't have much of an answer — I believe he's admitted to those improprieties).
9:02 — Blitzer asks Trump how he'll make Mexico pay for the wall, when the current Mexican administration and former Mexican presidents has said that will never happen. "I will — and the wall just got 10 feet taller! . . . Mexico will pay for it, because they're not doing us any favors. . . . It's a small portion of the kind of money we lose and the deficits we have with Mexico." Blitzer asks if he'd start a trade war with Mexico over it, and Trump admits: "I don't mind a trade war!"
9:06 — Rubio says if Trump builds a wall, he'll use "illegal immigrant labor" to do it. Rubio asks Trump: "Why don't you make it in America?" Trump: "You don't know anything about business!" Rubio: "I don't know anything about bankrupting four companies!" Rubio says if Trump hadn't inherited $200 million, right now, he'd be "selling watches in Manhattan." Rubio also lets us know that Trump took $36,000 in tuition for "a fake university" called Trump University.
9:14 — Rubio points out that there are two Hispanic candidates and one black candidate on the stage, and declares: "We are the party of diversity, not the Democratic party!" Of course, the two Democratic candidates would be the first female president or the first Jewish president.
9:19 — Trump is asked about a Telemundo poll that says 3 in 4 Hispanic voters have an unfavorable view of him. "First of all, I don't trust anything Telemundo says. . . ." He points out that he won among Hispanics in Nevada. The moderator points out that he once said he loves Telemundo. Trump agrees: "I love Telemundo."
9:22 — Cruz is asked if we can trust Trump to nominate conservative Supreme Court Justices. Cruz already said in the last debate that Trump would nominate liberal Justices, but he doesn't repeat that tonight. Trump reminds us that Cruz supported President Bush's nomination of Chief Justice John Roberts, who was twice in the majority upholding Obamacare. Cruz says Trump would "cut a deal" on "religious liberty."
9:30 — Trump doesn't back down from his defense of Planned Parenthood in the previous debate: "Millions and millions of women are helped by Planned Parenthood . . . but I would defund it because I'm pro-life."
9:33 — Carson says Congress should "correct what the Supreme Court has done" on same-sex marriage (it's not clear how).
9:34 — Rubio attacks Trump for his recent (odd) statement that he likes the individual mandate in Obamacare. Trump says the "pre-existing condition" rule of Obamacare is the one part he'd keep. Of course, that doesn't explain Trump's previous statement, since the pre-existing condition rule is different from the individual mandate.
9:37 — Trump on health care: "I know the insurance companies! They're friends of mine! One of them's in the audience — he was laughing at me! He's not laughing so much anymore! Hi!"
9:37 — Rubio starts out his response on health care by saying: "Donald probably doesn't know about this, because he doesn't follow this issue very closely . . ."
9:39 — Rubio calls out Trump for repeatedly saying he's going to get rid of the barriers preventing health insurance for being sold across state lines: "Now he's repeating himself!" Trump: "I don't repeat myself! I don't repeat myself! . . . Here's the guy who repeats himself! I watched him repeat himself five times four weeks ago!" Rubio: "I saw you repeat yourself five times five seconds ago! . . . I see him repeat himself every night! . . . Everyone's dumb; he's going to make America great again; we're going to win, win, win; he's winning in the polls . . ." [VIDEO.]
9:43 — Kasich says he'll "damp down the cost of health care." Shouldn't that be "tamp down"?
9:45 — I'm not paying attention to Carson's spiel on health care. He's no longer relevant.
9:47 — Cruz paints Trump as a liberal: "He says Planned Parenthood is wonderful. . . . For decades, Donald has been advocating socialized medicine." Cruz says he's a contrast because he'd repeal Obamacare. Of course, Trump says he's against "socialized medicine" and Obamacare. Trump says he'll "make great deals" on health care, and he won't "let people die in the streets." Rubio is aghast at Trump's statement about not letting people die in the streets: "That's what Democrats say!"
9:51 — Trump is asked how he'll cut down on the debt. "Waste, fraud, and abuse." (Of course, every politician claims to be against government waste — that's easier said than done.) And he'll abolish the Department of Education and the EPA. Wolf Blitzer points out that abolishing those agencies would save less than $100 billion, which won't go very far.
9:55 — Trump is asked about Romney's recent statement that Trump should disclose his tax returns. "You don't learn anything about someone's wealth from tax returns. You learn it from a statement," which he filed on time. Also: "I'm being audited now, so I can't give [my return] until that's finished."
9:57 — Trump shoots down Hugh Hewitt while he's just starting to ask Trump a question: "Are you going to ask anyone else a question?! Every single question goes to me?! I know I'm good for ratings, but this is ridiculous!" Then Trump gratuitously says no one listens to Hewitt's radio show.
9:59 — Rubio goes back to the debt issue, saying Trump didn't give a "serious answer" on the debt.
10:01 — Cruz says Trump won't be able to attack Hillary Clinton over the Clinton Foundation, since Clinton would come back that Trump donated to her. Then Cruz brings up Rubio's earlier point about Trump University — and adds that a trial in a "fraud case" over the university has been scheduled for July, and the mainstream media will have a field day covering Trump's testimony. Trump says it's a frivolous lawsuit that he'll easily win; he could've settled it, but wanted to go to trial "on principle."
10:11 — Trump is asked about his previous statement that he'd be "neutral" as between the Israelis and Palestinians. Trump stands by his statement, saying it would undermine his negotiating position if he made it clear from the outset he was taking a side. "It doesn't do any good to start demeaning [Israel's] neighbors."
10:15 — Rubio condescends to Trump, which has been his strategy all night: "He might not realize it, but saying he'd be neutral is an anti-Israel answer. You cannot be an honest broker in a dispute where one said has been acting in bad faith." Trump comes back that he has negotiating experience and Rubio doesn't. Rubio objects: "The Palestinians are not a real estate deal, Donald!" Trump: "A deal is a deal." Rubio: "A deal is not a deal when you're negotiating with terrorists!" [VIDEO.]
10:18 — Kasich is asked if his previous statements in support of "regime change" in North Korea means he'd go to war with the country. Kasich resists the question: "I don't have to say exactly what that means. I have been doing foreign policy a long time. You don't have to spell everything out. . . . I have put it on the table that I would love to see regime change in North Korea."
10:22 — Carson lists all the issues he hasn't been asked about, so the moderator says, "This is your moment!" So he goes through his answer to all those issues. On taxes, he talks about being audited by the IRS. "They didn't find anything, because I'm honest. The IRS is not honest, and we need to get rid of them."
10:29 — Cruz accuses Trump of "writ[ing] checks to politicians that are undermining Israel" for 4 decades. Trump doesn't deny that, but says he's very pro-Israel, and Cruz is "a politician — all talk, no action." Trump points to Rubio and says, "He can't win for the obvious reason," then points to Cruz and says, "He can't win because he's a liar." Carson chimes in: "Can somebody attack me, please?" Cruz retorts: "Falsely accusing somebody of lying is itself a lie, and it's something Donald does daily!" Trump uses that as an opportunity to bring up the Cruz campaign's false statement on the day of the Iowa caucus that Carson seemed to have dropped out.
10:34 — The debate completely breaks down as Trump, Cruz, and Rubio all talk over each other for minutes on end. Cruz says Trump has been funding "liberal Democratic politicans" for 4 decades. Trump points out that he funded Cruz. Rubio: "He never funded me!" Trump agrees — he didn't want to fund Rubio — but points out that Rubio sent his book to Trump with a signed note saying Trump was "doing great." Rubio: "Yeah, on your reality TV show!" [VIDEO.]
10:38 — Rubio is asked about the Justice Department's request to Apple to unlock the iPhone of one of the San Bernardino killers. "Apple doesn't want to do it because they think it hurts their 'brand.' Well, let me tell you, their brand is not superior to the national security of the United States of America." Cruz says Rubio has come around to Cruz's position on that issue, but was wishy-washy at a recent town hall.
10:40 — Kasich says Obama should have brought Apple and the government into a room and "locked the door" till they reached an agreement on the iPhone.
10:41 — Trump is asked why we don't need a wall on the Canadian border in addition to the Mexican border. Trump says we don't have as many problems with Canada — and it would be physically harder to build that wall.
10:49 — In his closing statement, Carson tells us to "think about": "What kind of person do you want your children to emulate?" He turns his palms to us, with his arms outstretched, and alludes to his career as a neurosurgeon: "These hands, by the grace of God, have saved many lives." I wonder if he knows this will be his last debate — and that was his swan song.
10:51 — Rubio uses his closing statement to urge us to "get rid of this silliness — this looniness!"
10:53 — Trump lists his goals (e.g. "getting rid of Obamacare and replacing it with something so much better") and closes by saying: "I will get it done. Politicians will never get it done."
The New Republic's Alex Shephard has a sharp analysis:
Everyone is going to say Marco Rubio won this debate. He took the fight to Trump. And he sidelined Ted Cruz, making this look like a two man race, not a three (or five, I guess) man race. This was a big narrative win for Rubio. . . .
It’s possible that his performance will check Trump’s momentum, but Trump’s support, as many polls have shown, has largely calcified: Many of Trump’s many, many supporters decided to vote for him long ago. And in terms of policy, Rubio and Cruz both spent most of their energy attacking Trump from the right, which doesn’t touch his greatest strength as a candidate.
[quoting a tweet by Jamelle Bouie:] Trump is strong with moderate and liberal Republicans, and working-class Reps. "We're not going to let them die in the streets" is for them.
While it’s true that Trump didn’t have a great debate performance, it’s also true that he rarely does. He doesn’t have to: His rallies are treated as national events, and he’s miles ahead of his opponents as a campaigner.