Mike Littwin and James Viser live blog the GOP debate

Mike Littwin

9:37: Who won this debate? Trump had, I think, his best debate. He’s not a good debater but he’s very good, for good and for ill, at being Donald Trump. Cruz was at the center of every question. Rubio looked a little lost for a while until he had his big oppo dump on Cruz. I doubt if this debate changed anything except to reinforce that the race, at this point, is down to these three guys.

James Viser

9:32: Debate Summary:

Carson – Easy to see why lots of people like him, because he’s funny and doesn’t take himself too seriously. However, like Jeb, he didn’t have his needed breakout moment.

Christie – had some great moments, but not sure the New Jersey thing works in Iowa or New Hampshire. We shall see.

Cruz – Raised his stature tonight. He’s getting more likeable with each debate, and articulates conservative principles well.

Jeb – Sorry, but he did not have the breakout moment he needed.

Kasich – My wife thought he already dropped out of the race and wondered why he was on stage.

Rubio – Did good. He’s a contender. His closing statement was extremely strong.

Trump – He’s media savvy, and it shows. With every debate, he’s looking more presidential, and no one should discount the fact he represents Americans who played by the rules and lost in the global economy, and wonder why DC zip codes are some of the wealthiest in the country while the people struggle.

Top 3: Trump, Cruz and Rubio.

Good night all!

Mike Littwin

9:26: OK, Rubio had it wrong. Cruz is angrier.

9:20: Wait, wait – doesn’t someone have another question for Carson?

9:19: Not sure who won the Rubio-Cruz debate. Rubio had all his oppo research – which he couldn’t launch until very late in the debate – but Cruz had amnesty. In GOP world, doesn’t amnesty trump everything else?

9:16: How many more times will we have to say this: Poor Jeb!

James Viser

9:15: Now that we’re talking about privacy rights and encryption on cell phones, I miss Rand Paul’s libertarian voice.

Mike Littwin

9:13: Rubio does a huge slam on Cruz. He should have done this about four or five hours ago. Or whenever this debate began.

James Viser

9:12: Rubio, Cruz and GOP make the connection between immigration policy and national security. The expected rift between the two finally surfaces, and Rubio wins on this one by highlighting Cruz’s change of heart (votes) on several key issues. Rubio shows he’s prepared.

9:05: Christie highlights the problem of sanctuary cities. Given the murder of Kate Steinle, shot dead in the sanctuary city of San Francisco by an illegal immigrant, it’s hard to argue against the point.

9:02: Clear that Rubio is considered a threat, given how the others are trying to beat him up.

Mike Littwin

9:01: Chris Christie on bridges. Funny. Chris Christie on Obama. Childish. Chris Christie on Rubio. “You already had your chance Marco. You blew it.”

James Viser

8:59: The discussion on entitlements is crucial, because it represents the largest allocation of the federal budget and is growing faster than any other spending line item. There’s more to this critical issue, and wish the moderators would have spent more time on it, or saved more time instead of focusing on the gossipy birther issue with Cruz.

Mike Littwin

8:57: The question coming out of this debate: Is Obama a child or a petulant child:

James Viser

8:56: Oh, Christie lands one on Rubio, “You had your chance and you blew it.”

Mike Littwin

8:54: Does anyone understand Cruz’s long argument about how his flat tax argument will straighten out any problems with China? I know it’s getting late, but I was pretty much stumped … OK, now Rubio is explaining it and a debate begins. Thanks for that.

James Viser

8:52: Trump comes out against corporate inversions. Companies are leaving the U.S. That seems to be the opposite of what our government should be promoting. We want U.S. corporations domiciled in America!

8:50: America needs $3.5 trillion in infrastructure improvements.

With $18.9 trillion in federal debt, greater than the value of the entire U.S. economy, there’s no way America can afford to go into even greater debt to make these needed investments. Christie points out the need for public-private partnerships to get the job done, and the importance of employing Americans to do it.

Cruz and Carson promote the Fair Tax, but I have to admit this will be a very hard sell in the general election.

Mike Littwin

8:49: It’s funny — sort of – that no one has mentioned the tanking China stock market or China’s other economic woes, because the theory has to be that the Chinese are kicking Obama butt. The question right now is what do China’s economic issues mean for the US economy.

James Viser

8:45: Rubio is right about tariffs, that the American consumer will pay for them, but Trump counters with the fact that consumers are price sensitive and goods made in China won’t be able to be priced significantly higher.

Good discussion of international trade, tariffs and what is the best way for America to compete in the global economy. GOP wants to make American companies and workers more competitive, which stands in contrast to the Bernie Sanders’ prescription of taxing corporations and the middle class into mediocrity.

8:39: Spoke too soon. Kasich calls for “Open trade, but fair trade.”

Rubio wants America not to have the most expensive business tax in the world. That’s a key ingredient in making America more competitive in the global economy.

8:35: All of the GOP candidates are displaying passion for their country, although some might mistake that for anger. Republicans want someone who will fight for them, who is fired up. Good job candidates! 

8:33: Trump takes on China and its role in the evisceration of the American manufacturing base, which turned the steel belt into the rust belt. Seems like Kasich should own this issue, being from Ohio.


8:31: Jeb: “We need to get the lawyers off the backs of the war fighters.” Agreed.

8:30: Glad to see GOP candidates explaining why we need better screening of immigrants and aren’t afraid of naming the enemy – militant Islamic jihadists (not all Muslims). If all you watched was mainstream media, you wouldn’t get these common sense nuances.

Mike Littwin

8:29: Marco Rubio wants you to know he’s angry. Angrier than anyone. Angrier than the Donald. Angrier than Cruz. Angry, angry, angry.

8:28: More on moderators: Cavuto asks Jeb! if Trump could really be “unhinged” since his poll numbers went up after he called for a Muslim ban.

James Viser

8:27: Trump plays to his strength by criticizing political correctness, and highlighting how it can put people in real danger. Cites the report that neighbors of the San Bernardino terrorists didn’t report them because they didn’t want to be labeled as “racists.” He’s right.

Mike Littwin

8:26: Jeb! to Donald: “I hope you’ll reconsider.” That’s what he said.

James Viser

8:24: Christie just nailed Obama/Hillary: “There are fewer democracies in the world today…” than when Obama took office in 2008. Yep…yep..yep.

Here we go…banning Muslims. Trump owns his position on a temporary hold on allowing Muslims to enter the U.S. until we get better screening. “We can’t be the stupid country anymore.”

Jeb contrasts his position to Trump’s, refines it to those who travel to Syria.

Both candidates get cheers from the audience. Highlights differences in the nuances on immigration, but do primary voters want a nuanced view? Trump makes it simple: “I want security,” and that is a message many in Iowa and New Hampshire want to hear.

Mike Littwin

8:19: Wow, this is just a terrible job by the moderators. The follow-up question usually goes something like this: Thank you, sir.

8:18: Ben Carson discusses military strategy. You don’t really have to say anything more, do you?

James Viser

8:17: Carson doesn’t believe Obama is taking ISIS seriously enough. Couldn’t agree more, and he talks about the need to make the rules of engagement more pragmatic. Seems like a common sense idea during wartime, and stands in stark contrast to the president’s SOTU message.

Mike Littwin

8:15: 2 things:

1. Every Republican goes predictably strong on guns. Clinton is going particularly strong on gun control (or what Dems like to call gun safety). How big an issue will this be in November?

2. Every Democrat watching this debate is asking who is more objectionable — Cruz or Trump.

James Viser

8:11: Kasich highlights why the shale revolution and fracking has made America the world stronger. Oil and gas isn’t going away anytime soon as a primary energy source. The American oil industry made the U.S. more energy independent, which allowed the sanctions on Iran to work and brought the mullahs to the bargaining table. All of that in spite of the Obama administration, not because of it.

8:08: Cruz defends his “New York values” attack on Trump. “Not a lot of conservatives come out of Manhattan.”

Trump invokes William F. Buckley (does anyone under 40 know who Buckley is?) and did a good job talking about 9/11 cleanup. Many Americans have forgotten about the opening salvo in the War on Terror and now militant Islamic jihad.

Mike Littwin

8:06: Trump is ready for New York values. Goes to 9/11 and says how New York wonderfully handled that. Cruz has to applaud. And he says to Cruz: That was a very insulting statement that Ted made. W Trump.

8:05: Cruz doesn’t hold back on New York values. “Not a lot of conservatives come out of Manhattan.”

8:02: Christie has to squirm on guns. So he calls Obama a “petulant child” and says we’re going  to kick “your rear end out of the White House,” even if he’s not actually running.

James Viser

8:00: Rubio, “ISIS does not get their guns from a gun show.” Very true.

Rubio missed an opportunity to more forcefully bring up Obama’s and Hillary’s advocacy of Australian and UK gun control laws, both of which involved confiscation of civilian firearms.

Democrats love to say that they respect the Second Amendment for “hunting” and “self-defense,” but fail to understand the original intent of the Second Amendment. They dismiss concerns by saying, “No one is coming for your guns,” and then turn around and advocate for civilian firearm confiscation like that in the UK and Australia.

Yes, the Democrats are coming for your guns!

Mike Littwin

7:57: Poor Jeb! He says that we shouldn’t pay attention to negative ads, like, I guess, all the negative ads he’s running. Jeb! is so far behind that no one even bothers to attack him.

James Viser

7:56: Here we go….guns.

Jeb explains why extending background checks is not the panacea the gun control lobby claims it is. Obama bypassed Congress to extend the same background check passed by every mass shooter.

Cheers for mental health reform. Excellent, it is time for this, because mass shooters aren’t people who just had a bad day at the office and snapped.

Trump comes out staunchly pro-Second Amendment. He needs to do that, given some of his past comments on gun rights.

Trump nailed it – “It’s people who are pulling the trigger.”

Getting to see the root cause of mental health get some attention on the national stage.

Mike Littwin

7:53: The fact-checkers are going crazy on the Christie response to Rubio. Didn’t he support Sotomayor? Didn’t he write a check to Planned Parenthood? Didn’t Christie suggest a .50 caliber ban? Does he think politics is bean bag?

James Viser

7:52: Break Time Assessment.

Rubio is demonstrating why Christie, Kasich, Bush and Carson need to gang up on him. He’s smart, articulate and passionate. Importantly, he is doing the best job refocusing on the Democrats.

Trump vs. Cruz – I gotta give the nod so far to The Donald. Cruz is cool under fire, but Trump did exactly what he needed to do – be the ambassador of the anxiety and frustration felt by working and middle class voters who feel like they lived up to their end of the bargain and haven’t gotten ahead in the global economy.

7:47: Kasich knows Bernie, Bernie will not be president of the United States.

Fifty and 51 year olds can be retrained? There’s hope for me yet!

Kasich builds on Rubio’s theme that ours may be the first generation to hand a worse economic future to their children. This is a big deal, and its real. Need to put more rungs back on the socioeconomic ladder, not subjectively cut the ladder down to size, based on some politician’s opinion.

“We don’t hate the rich, we just want to be the rich,” says Kasich.

Mike Littwin

7:46: Trump gets in his moment – which he needed – by gladly accepting being called angry. Being angry, and tapping into voter anger, is his entire campaign. Embracing it was a very Trumpian move.

7:44: Now it’s Rubio v. Christie, in which Rubio defends his ad slamming Christie. And Christie hits back pretty hard. Christie wins exchange. That’s something Rubio cannot afford.

James Viser

7:43: Rubio is a great salesman, builds a compelling case and sense of urgency. This guy will get people to the polls!

Christie really needs to breakout tonight, as does Jeb. Christie highlights his executive credentials, which admittedly, voters prefer to elect governors to the presidency over senators.

Carson does it again, brings some good humor to the process. Like that he doesn’t take himself too seriously (listening candidates?)

7:39: Rubio turns the debate back to Obama and unpopular Democratic policies. He just refocused the debate on the big picture – winning the presidency in 2016. Nice work, Marco!

Big cheers for Nikki Haley on her home turf.

Trump shows why he’s popular in responding to the anger question. People who don’t understand why he is leading don’t understand just how angry people are who feel like they played by the rules and lost in the global economy. And, they aren’t going for Bernie Sanders, because the middle class wants a hand up, not a hand-out.

Mike Littwin

7:35: Crowd booing Trump on birther issue. Someone finally takes on Trump in a debate in a real way. This can’t be good for the Donald.

James Viser

7:33: Cruz just evoked his inner solicitor when confronted with the eligibility issue. Now you can see why he has argued in front of the Supreme Court. Turns it back on Trump. Wow, Cruz did a good job “Trumping,” that is, turning back an attack on his opponent.

We were all expecting Trump vs. Cruz at some point, and now we have reached it.

Mike Littwin

7:30: Now Cruz gets the birther question. He takes a hit at Trump and gets him where he lives – in his poll numbers. So let the debate finally begin.

James Viser

7:28: Cruz made a good case in defending himself on the NY Times “hit piece,” but took to explain it took time away from issues. Such is politics in a hyper-partisan world. 

Cruz as natural born citizen…or not….waiting for it…”declatory judgment” comment coming from Trump, I can feel it.

Mike Littwin

7:25: Cruz gets question on New York Times piece on the Wall Street loans he failed to disclose and calls it a hit piece. That’s the answer you’d expect. What I didn’t expect was Fox Business to then cut to commercial before anyone else could get in a word.

James Viser

7:21: Rubio makes a forceful call that Hillary is disqualified, based on her lies to the Benghazi families. Hard to argue with that.

Barack Obama believes America is an “arrogant power,” not a great power. Which is why he has gone on a worldwide apology tour. Yep, that’s the view from the right.

Rubio isn’t afraid to name the enemy – militant Islamic jihadists.

Carson’s self-deprecating manner is refreshing, but foreign policy isn’t his strong suit, but he has brushed up. Today’s war is no longer between the mechanized armies of nation states, and we are all threatened by asymmetrical warfare waged by radicalized individuals and rogue nations. Good on ya, Ben!

Mike Littwin

7:18: Is it just me, or did anyone else remember that Ben Carson is still in the race?

7:17: Marco Rubio gets question on whether ISIS is a threat like Germany or Japan in WWII and says that Hillary Clinton should be disqualified as president.

James Viser:

7:15: Kasich on jobs growth and the economy: “I’ve done it,” and “Ohio!”

Christie on when to use military action to restore order. Christie says we need to strengthen our alliances around the world. Very true, many of our allies are wondering if America has their back. That’s a prescription for chaos, and as Rubio has mentioned in the past, a world without American influence is a more brutal and dangerous place.

Jeb gives a better performance than he has in the past. He really needs to stand out tonight, otherwise the donors’ wallets may close.

Oh, he went there. Jeb lands a solid punch on Hillary. If she’s elected, she’ll be going between the White House and the Court House.

Mike Littwin:

7:14: Jeb! begins by saying we were better off before Obama. You know, like when there was a Bush as president.

James Viser: 

7:09: Pre-debate, Reince Priebus talks about building a national infrastructure of voter data and a party that candidates can “plug into.” That is essential, and the GOP is playing catch-up on developing the critical technology needed to market their message, high-grade their efforts and mobilize the vote. This is incredibly important (listening GOP donor class?).

I am jealous of Cavuto’s hair. Oh well, time to focus.

This debate likely to be between two groups: Trump vs. Cruz, and everyone else trying to take out Rubio.

I am still surprised that Scott Walker isn’t on the stage. He seemed like the perfect principled conservative candidate.

Jobs and Growth – In SOTU, Obama said, “We have the strongest most durable economy in the world.”

Cruz takes first shot, and he’s right that a) we’ve got the lowest labor participation rate in decades and b) wages have been stagnant for past 20 years.

“Next Commander In Chief is standing on this stage.” Well said Ted. Nice contrast to the weakness we’ve seen on the Iran Deal.

Mike Littwin: 

7:07: 2 things: Taking question on the economy, Ted Cruz gets in first show of (mock?) outrage over Iran and promises “full force and fury” if it happens when some Republican is president.

7:04: I don’t know about you, but Lou Dobbs is very, very excited about the debate tonight. (He’s also really unhappy with Nikki Haley’s SOTU shot at Donald Trump. Apparently, given Haley’s latest comments, he’s not alone.)

Intro: If you like the nasty, this should be the debate for you. Or maybe not.

We’re only 17 days from the Iowa caucuses, and soon we’ll have real votes instead of just endless polls. But the real story is that, as we head for the first real votes, we have no idea who is going to win.

The Donald has the polls. Just ask him. Ted Cruz now has the inside lane on the outsider vote, and although Trump has retaken the polling lead in Iowa, Cruz is still the favorite. And Rubio has a hold, so far, on the Establishment lead, with Christie, Kasich and Jeb! still arguably alive.

And so, you’ll certainly see Rubio hit hard — by Christie (last heard saying Hillary Clinton would pat Rubio on the head and then cut his heart out), by Jeb! for his Senate attendance record, by Cruz for his immigration record.

Jeb!, meanwhile, will get one final pre-Iowa chance to show that he’s not the greatest flop in the race. Last heard from, he was saying that The Donald has an order in from the jerk store.

But for the Fox Business Network debate to be really hot, Trump and Cruz have to engage with each other. We know the story of the bromance and how they’ve turned into frenemies, but what we don’t know is what they’ll do together on a stage while everyone is watching.

Cruz can out-debate Trump, but Cruz is suddenly vulnerable. It’s not just the birther story, which Trump has somehow made seem semi-credible. It’s The New York Times story that Cruz, the anti-Wall Street, anti-big-bank populist, borrowed money for his 2012 longshot Senate race — money that he didn’t bother to report. The loans were from Wall Street’s Goldman Sachs (where his wife works) and big-bank Citibank. Cruz says his failure to report the loans was an oversight. But where Trump comes in – if he dares — is to say that Cruz has hidden the fact that he’s in the pockets of the same Wall Streeters he’s always railing against. You know, the people like Donald Trump.

You can be pretty sure Rubio will bring this up, although who knows who will get the first shot? That could be the race within a race.

And that’s where the nasty will certainly come in. But there are dangers here. Just how nasty is anyone willing to be in taking on Cruz, the champion debater and the politician who eats nasty for breakfast? That’s where this Charleston, South Carolina debate may be decided. And maybe Iowa and New Hampshire, too.

James Viser:

I have to clean out the mental holiday cobwebs for the first GOP debate of 2016. This will be the first of two debates before the Iowa Caucus on February 1 — the first time actual voters will weigh in on who’s the next president. I’m looking forward to seeing how the candidates will differentiate themselves.

At this stage of the cycle, the GOP leads on both quantity and quality. That there are 14 strong candidates still in the Republican race demonstrates the deep bench of talent that the Party can draw from, standing in stark contrast to the Democratic lineup of just three. In addition, there are 12 scheduled GOP debates, as compared to six for the Democrats. Holding more debates over a longer period of time helps showcase the diversity of both ideas and candidates in a Republican Party united on principles and values.

It is unfortunate that Rand Paul decided to boycott the undercard debate. Carly Fiorina demonstrated how a shining performance in the undercard can elevate a candidate to the main event — although she has fallen in recent polls. Paul is an intelligent and powerful ambassador for the growing libertarian movement within the GOP. He will be missed.

I will be looking to see how so-called “establishment” candidates will contrast themselves to the “outsiders.” In this election cycle, the GOP grassroots is in protest mode and tired of politics as usual, very similar to what’s happening on the Democratic side, given the increasing popularity of Bernie Sanders.

This is a competition, after all, and the first real votes are only weeks away. So candidates will be seeking a breakout moment, something to push them over the top in a crowded field of talented people. I’m looking forward to more sparring between the candidates, as they jockey to lead the pack into the Iowa Caucus and New Hampshire primaries.

Let the debate begin!

Photo credit: jinterwas, Creative Commons, Flickr

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  1. Nice work gentlemen. The “Live Blogging” interface is a little confusing and cumbersome but your comments were fair and well thought. Would have rather just followed you both on a Twitter feed.

  2. Thanks for the feedback. We’re working on a better interface — which might include a live Twitter feed, which we’ve used in the past.

  3. Mr. Viser: “At this stage of the cycle, the GOP leads on both quantity and quality. That there are 14 strong candidates still in the Republican race demonstrates the deep bench of talent that the Party can draw from, standing in stark contrast to the Democratic lineup of just three.”

    That comment made me question a number of other judgments in this live blog. “Quality” is in the eye of the beholder – but I only know of 12 candidates still running – and that includes Gilmore, who has never qualified for any debate.

    In that “deep bench,” 6 have never held any Federal office; 7 have never been re-elected to any post; 3 have never served in any elected capacity.

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