It's also the first time Donald Trump hasn't participated in a 2016 Republican debate. I'll be live-blogging it here. Keep reloading this post for more updates.
For more live-blogging, check out National Review, TPM, the New Republic, Althouse (my mom), and Alex Knepper.
9:03 — Megyn Kelly starts by asking Ted Cruz about "the elephant not in the room tonight — Donald Trump." Cruz responds: "I'm a maniac. Everyone on this stage is stupid, fat, and ugly. And Ben, you're a terrible surgeon. Now that we've gotten the Donald Trump portion out of the way . . ." [VIDEO.]
9:06 — Marco Rubio says Trump is "the greatest show on earth," but the election isn't about him — it's about America, "the greatest country in the world." He also takes a jab at Hillary Clinton for her recent suggestion that future-former-President Obama could be a good choice for Supreme Court.
9:07 — Jeb Bush: "I kind of miss Donald Trump! He was a little teddy bear to me!"
9:08 — Bush breaks some news: he's part of "the establishment."
9:10 — Chris Christie brushes off a question about whether he's too much about compromising and reaching across the aisle. He says that kind of thing just doesn't matter to the 45-year-old construction worker who's lost money under the Obama administration.
9:11 — Rand Paul is asked if he made a mistake by not getting an earlier start in embracing his father, Ron Paul, who might have caused more of the excitement of his 2008 and 2012 campaigns to rub off on his son.
9:12 — Cruz gives a shout-out to the Pauls for trying to audit the Federal Reserve.
9:13 — Rubio says: "I respect Rand." Rubio's tautological reason for this: "He believes in everything he stands for."
9:16 — John Kasich is asked if he's too establishment. He says he isn't in the outsider lane or the establishment lane; he's in "the Kasich lane." However, he sounds pretty establishment, talking about how he's worked with Democrats and balanced the budget.
9:17 — Carson: "I don't think you have to be a politician to tell the truth. In fact, sometimes it's the other way around." He actually said something a little different because he jumbled his words — staying true to his statement that he wouldn't have any "polished political speeches."
9:19 — Cruz talks about how he's going to destroy ISIL, but denies that he's "talking tough" on ISIL. Rubio responds by saying Cruz's record on military spending is the same as Rand Paul's.
9:20 — Rubio refers to Dabiq, Syria, then clarifies: "Not Dubuque[, Iowa]! I pronounced that incorrectly last time!" Alex Knepper wonders why he'd say that, other than "nerves." My answer: So viewers won't mishear it — especially Iowa viewers who are going to caucus in 4 days.
9:26 — Christie forcefully attacks Hillary Clinton for saying she used a private server for email "for her convenience." "She put the nation's security at risk — for her convenience. . . . Hillary Clinton is not qualified to be president."
9:27 — Cruz tussles with a moderator, Chris Wallace, over whether Cruz is allowed to respond after Wallace's question to Christie mentioned Cruz. Wallace says no, because Christie's answer didn't attack Cruz. Cruz keeps trying to cut in, as if he doesn't understand the rule Wallace explains over and over. [VIDEO.]
9:30 — After Bush criticizes Cruz, Wallace finally lets Cruz respond. But Cruz doesn't have a substantive response — instead, he whines about how many of the questions have asked the candidates to attack him. (This prompts loud booing from the audience.) Wallace retorts: "It is a debate, sir!" Cruz coyly threatens to walk off the stage if there are too many negative questions about him — an allusion to Trump's absence. [Added later: After I point out that Cruz was being facetious, Alex Knepper says, "I thought he was being serious! I guess not. Didn't deliver the line very well." My response: "It's safe to say that if as savvy a political observer as you thought he was being serious, his sarcasm wasn't effective enough to work on prime-time TV a few days before Iowa."] [VIDEO.]
9:34 — Rubio says he's open to closing down mosques, diners, etc. where people are being "radicalized," despite the concerns raised by Megyn Kelly about infringing on the First Amendment right to free speech. Rand Paul strongly disagrees with Rubio.
9:38 — Megyn Kelly asks Ben Carson about a Muslim woman who recently asked Hillary Carson whether America is the best place for her to raise her children. Carson responds toughly: "We need to stop allowing political correctness to dictate our policies — because it's going to kill us if we don't!"
9:49 — Christie is asked if he can name just one thing the federal government does that he doesn't think it should do. "Yeah! Ya want one? . . . Let's get rid of funding for Planned Parenthood." The moderator, Brett Baier, asks if he has "anything bigger than that." Christie says he can't think of anything "bigger than the murder of children in the womb."
9:52 — Why does Bush always seem to get the questions about minor issues? He's asked about statehood for Puerto Rico. Earlier, he was asked about allegations that the Wounded Warrior Project spends too much of its money on itself. In an earlier debate, he was asked about whether to regulate betting on fantasy football.
9:59 — Megyn Kelly plays a long clip show of Rubio in about 2009 talking about how phrases like a "path to citizenship" are "code" for "amnesty." Then Kelly suggests he then supported amnesty once he later became a Senator. Rubio denies he's flip-flopped. Bush responds that he's "kind of confused" by what Rubio's said — although Bush admits: "I supported you, 'cause you asked me to!" Bush also plugs his book on immigration — "You can get it for $2.99 on Amazon!" [A little later, an Amazon reviewer gave the book 1 star for being much more expensive than $2.99.]
10:04 — Kelly plays a clip show of Cruz talking about what he now claims is a poison pill he used to kill Rubio's immigration reform. In the clip, Cruz passionately declares: "I don't want immigration reform to fail! I want immigration reform to pass!" After the clip, Kelly asks a devastating question: "Was that all an act? It was pretty convincing!" Cruz starts his response by talking about the short word count of his amendment to the bill relative to the long length of the bill. How many voters really care about those kinds of legislative metrics? [VIDEO of the Cruz and Rubio clip shows.]
10:08 — Paul and Rubio both say Cruz is lying on immigration. Rubio to Cruz: "You want to trump Trump on immigration! We're not going to beat Hillary Clinton with someone who's willing to say or do anything to win an election!" Cruz responds with back-handed compliments about Rubio: "He's very charming. He's very smooth." [VIDEO.]
10:10 — Christie says it's fine for Rubio or Cruz to "change their mind," but the difference is that Christie, as a governor, will "admit it."
10:12 — Carson seems so irrelevant by this point.
10:17 — Bush takes a veiled shot at Trump: "This is bean bag compared to what the Clinton machine is going to do to the Republican nominee."
10:17 — For the second time, Rubio criticizes Hillary Clinton's comments about the possibility of appointing Obama to the Supreme Court. I understand why he's bringing it up, but is that really important enough to be his repeated refrain in this debate?
10:19 — Rubio: "I think Bernie Sanders is a good candidate for president — of Sweden!" [VIDEO.]
10:20 — Christie is asked about the New Jersey bridge closing scandal. He says three investigations were done and showed: "I knew nothing." [But WaPo's Fact Checker says only one of the investigations reached that conclusion.]
10:25 — The moderator announces that they're going to start talking about "social issues" to appeal to evangelicals. This is where I tune out . . .
10:30 — Rubio: "I will always allow my faith to influence everything I do."
10:38 — Kasich might be the best-qualified but the least interesting to listen to.
10:43 — Rand Paul is asked if we should hold Hillary Clinton responsible for Bill Clinton's behavior toward women. Paul says if any CEO acted toward a 22-year-old intern the way Bill Clinton acted toward Monica Lewinsky, the CEO would be fired and never hired again. Paul suggests that this could make it harder for Hillary Clinton to call for women's rights, but he doesn't address the tougher issue of whether Hillary had any role in enabling or defending Bill's treatment of other women.
10:56 — Christie starts his closing statement with something he's said in a previous debate — that on September 11, 2001, he didn't hear from his wife for hours, while she was trapped in her building near the World Trade Center, and he had to contemplate the possibility of becoming a single father of three. "I've faced it. I've prosecuted terrorists."
10:56 — Bush has a bad habit of tripping over his prepared words. He's just not a compelling speaker, and he's running against several compelling speakers.
10:58 — In Cruz's closing statement, he mentions that it's now going to be "up to the men and women of Iowa to decide." The phrase "men and women" has long been used to refer to the military, but I feel like this election it's been used to refer to voters more than ever before. Has "people" become a bad word?
The Washington Post lists the "winners and losers." I agree that Cruz was one of the latter:
Cruz did the thing I hate the most in debates -- complain about the rules -- when he tried to game a bit more talking time and got shut down by moderator Chris Wallace. The Texas Senator's joking threat that if he kept taking incoming from the other candidates he might leave the stage (Donald Trump reference!) fell flat. He was on the wrong end of a scolding by Paul over his conservative righteousness. And, time and time again, Cruz found himself insisting that on a panoply of issues -- military spending, immigration etc. -- everyone was either wrong about his position or didn't understand it well enough. That's too much defense for Cruz to play -- especially in a debate without Trump.