10:18 p.m. -- So what Donald Trump says he really knows is business, and he says get a 50-state system for offering health policies. He does know business. He is right about that.
There are market-based policies that would help drive down health care costs, and that is one. The failure of Obamacare to include that provision is one of its biggest weaknesses.
And Trump's take on owning politicians -- through donations -- is scary and probably accurate. Few people in the nation are in as prime a position to point it out.
Retired neurosurgeon Ben Carson thinks we ought to tithe, or rather, everyone pays 10 percent of what they earn as a way to simplify the nation's tax system. This is one of those ideas that isn't necessarily bad, but would cut federal revenues tremendously. And no one who supports relatively low flat taxes ever seems to answer that. We can simplify the tax system. We should probably flatten it. But when you work the actual numbers to determine the impact of a flat rate, it's not nearly as attractive as just saying "10 percent."
Common Core has the potential to be Jeb Bush's biggest weakness among Republicans, other than immigration. He makes a strong case for school choice, vouchers and high standards. The issue is whether the federal government should set the rules. The problem is that the federal government provides so much money for education that it can set the rules.
Parsing this out is going to be a huge battleground in this election. But one answer is the one from former Gov. Mike Huckabee: Get the federal government completely out of education.
But that's not ever going to happen.
Off to the economy, and is anyone ever going to explain what he'd replace Obamacare withh They've had six years. Show us a plan. Sell it. Convince us. It's not as if Americans love Obamacare, but....what, already
Gov. Chris Christie makes a very honest point: 71 percent of federal spending is on debt interest and entitlements. It is the only reasonable starting point for a discussion on what to do.
The issue of whether we should raise the retirement age is much tougher than pols like Christie make it sound. Sure, governors and lawyers can probably work until they're 69, but waitresses and construction workers may not be able to.
And that fact has to be recognized.
On Donald Trump and bankruptcies: four times in the past 25 years, and lenders lost billions.
This is a very damaging line of attack that's probably going to get a lot more attention going forward. His lenders are going to speak up. It will be interesting to see what the voters.
Although his answer that the bankers are seasoned and know what they're doing is true. No one is going to cry for them.
But did he just imply he was going to put the nation in a structured bankruptcy. Oy vey!
"Sir, China is on the phone, and China is NOT HAPPY!"
9:52 p.m. -- Immigration maybe the ugliest issue for the Republican Party, and former Gov. Jeb Bush is among the best and most humane GOPers on the issue. That's not unrelated to the fact that his wife, Columba, is from Mexico, but all the Bush politicians have been kind on immigration. His answer in the GOP debate on the fact that he's called illegal immigration an act of love was both compelling and well thought out.
Donald Trump's assertion that immigration is only an issue because he brought it up is....just nuts. Moreover, his claim that the media have misconstrued his statements, which people have watched for themselves on TV and online, is disingenuous.
And, no, he has no evidence the Mexican government is sending criminals across the border to the United States. But he did whip out his first accusation that others are "stupid" at the 26-minute mark.
Unfortunately, I had the three-minute mark in the pool.
Gov. John Kasich has a very winning way. I'm far from the first to say it, but he's definitely a candidate to watch. He managed to touch the GOP base when he said the United States needs to control illegal immigration without being mean or insulting those who are attracted to Trump's message.
Sen. Ted Cruz is probably the most outspoken opponent of a path to legalization for those in the country illegally. The Kate Steinle killing in San Francisco allegedly by a man who is here illegally is an Achilles heel for those who support a path to legalization in both parties. And it's an issue on which politicians like Cruz get to score points.
The segue from immigration is a natural, if a fairly unjustified one, but the spat between Cruz and Christie is....just magnificent.
The balance of constitutional rights and citizen safety is tough, and Sen. Rand Paul is right. But more Americans probably agree with Gov. Chris Christie, who loves the intrusive Patriot Act.
Cruz on destroying the Islamic State in 90 days: You first must utter the words "radical Islamic terrorism."
OK, then whatw
On George W. Bush's war in Iraq, moderator Megyn Kelly turns to Gov. Jeb Bush, who says that Iraq was a mistake that dishonors our dead soldiers. What does that mean. A soldier's honor derives from his acting honorably toward his nation and fellow service members, and meeting his duty. It can't be cheapened by the mistakes of our leaders.
Or by admitting they were mistaken.
9:24 p.m. -- The first question of the first Republican debate of the 2016 race: Is there anyone unwilling to guarantee no third-party campaign if he fails to get the GOP nominationt And billionaire businessman Donald Trump makes the first splash of the night by saying he cannot say he won't run as an independent.
Immediately drawing a fair attack from Sen. Rand Paul, who said Trump buys and sells candidates and may support Democratic frontrunner Hillary Clinton or throw the election to her by drawing off Republican support.
All the early questions are about electability, for retired neurosurgeon Ben Carson, who has never held office; for Sen. Marco Rubio, who has never held executive office; and for former Gov. Jeb Bush, who has to defend his dad and brother.
And of course, Trump, who has said terrible things about women, but scored big laughs with a Rosie O'Donnell deflection. And attacking political correctness.
To be fair, calling women pigs, as Trump has, isn't "politically incorrect," it's horribly wrong.
Sen. Ted Cruz says he's the man who will tell the truth...even if we don't want to hear it.
Gov. Chris Christie diverted a question on New Jersey's credit downgrades with his tale of tax cuts, budget stripping and job creation.
Gov. Scott Walker's pro-life credentials are under attack for being too pro-life, which is kind of unfair. If you think it's murder and oppose it in all cases, that has a certain consistency.
Former Gov. Mike Huckabee, facing essentially the same question, dove into the weeds with a discussion of due-process protections and DNA, but got cheers for it nonetheless.
Paul has to answer for his foreign policy belief that the United States shouldn't just bomb everyone, arm everyone else, and hope they come to like Americans. That position is his best quality in politics and his biggest weakness in the GOP.
And Gov. John Kasich, likewise, had to answer for the smartest thing he's ever done: Taking the federal Medicaid expansion funds that came with Obamacare.
On illegal immigration, Trump says: "If it weren't for me, you wouldn't even be talking about illegal immigration." And Rubio responds that, "The people who never get talked about in these debates are the people who call my office ... They haven't been able to get in, and they wonder if they should come illegally."
The tilt of the questions early on seems to be seeking conflict among the candidates and the candidates and the world (tone was pretty brutal), but each has done fairly well turning to the answers they want to give, regardless of the specific query.
So far, it's a substantive and entertaining debate.
8:02 p.m. -- As the main event Republican debate on Fox News kicks off, let's listen for the slightest, vaguest hint of the "how."
Everyone understands the general "what" that every candidate in the debate wants to accomplish: make America greaterer, which is significantly better than great; reclaim the promise of a bright future and end the horror of a dingy present; and say nay to naysaying.
Many already sort of understand the specific "what" every candidate running for the GOP nod wants to accomplish: cut taxes to the bone, balance the budget, increase spending on defense, secure the border, protect Medicare and Social Security, go steady with Medicare and Social Security, break up with Medicare and Social Security over a silly misunderstanding about vouchers and having to work until you're 70, get government off our backs, simplify the 26,000-page tax code, end the madness, restore America's rightful place as the world leader in all things, rebuild the nuclear family, prevent nuclear proliferation among our enemies....the list goes on and on. But for most of these candidates it's mostly the same list.
So if all the candidates have the same goals for the nation, the only thing worth talking about is how:
- How do they balance the budget while increasing defense spending and lowering taxes
- How do they insure older Americans have health care and a steady income while reining in Medicare and Social Security spending
- How do they make sovereign nations do what the United States wants when it comes to their weapons, trade, treatment of citizens and attitudes toward U.S. allies
- How do they simplify a tax code in which so many voters and companies (seemingly) benefit from the compexities
Everyone also should be listening for anything that really makes any of the candidates come off like campaign-trail crazed ninnies. That, not the promise of policy talk, is what's selling all the popcorn tonight.
But the point is figuring out which candidates would make the best president. Voters don't need to know what the candidates promise to do to decide. Voters need to know how the candidates plan to do what they promise.