Live Blogging the Republican South Carolina Debate

As we settle in for tonight’s critical Republican debate, here are the things I am looking for:

1. Donald Trump the Debater is a remarkably different animal than The Donald I see on the campaign trail. In debates, Donald has preferred to stay above the fray, avoiding the personal attacks that characterize his stump speeches unless he is attacked first. One of his harshest critics on the debate platform has been Rand Paul – but the Randy Man has left the building. So that leaves Jeb! to take The Donald on directly – a tactic that so far has not yielded positive results. I expect The Donald to stick with the laid-back, play-it-safe strategy and retaliate only if attacked.

2. Ted Cruz’s lead in Iowa is slipping, although he is still slightly ahead of The Donald in the aggregate polls in this crucial (for Cruz) caucus state. The question is whether to take the gloves off and come at The Donald directly. In recent campaign appearances Cruz has begun referring to The Donald’s “New York” values, a not-so-subtle effort to weaken Trump’s standing among social conservatives who are an important voting bloc in Iowa. Look for Cruz to hold back unless The Donald comes at him with the birther remarks, or questions regarding the Goldman Sachs loan, in which case I expect Ted to retaliate by questioning Trump’s social conservative bona fides.

3. Rather than attack Trump, it is far more likely that the Republican establishment foursome of Bush, Christie, Kasich and Rubio will train their fire on each other, in an effort to consolidate support behind one of them as the Donald alternative in New Hampshire. Already Cruz and Rubio have clashed over immigration and I expect that they will again go at it on stage tonight. The others, however, have largely avoided direct attacks on each other, although their respective Super Pacs have shown no such hesitation. Rubio’s Super Pac has unleashed an ad criticizing Christie’s record as NJ governor, while Bush’s has been targeting Rubio’s “no show” Senate voting record. With about three weeks to go before the New Hampshire primary, there’s a lot at stake here for all four candidates. At least one and possibly two face the prospect of getting winnowed in the Granite State.

4. In contrast to the CNBC debate debacle, the Fox moderators have done a good job in previous debates avoiding “gotcha” questions, sticking to issues, and generally not becoming part of the story. With only seven candidates on stage, there should be more time for substantive responses. However, much depends on what questions are asked. Certainly the Cruz loan issue will come up, although I will be surprised if he hasn’t prepared a response. But what other issues will drive the debate?

5. The debate is taking place in South Carolina, which will hold its Republican primary 11 days after New Hampshire. Carson is hoping to do well here among social conservatives if Cruz stumbles in Iowa, so a strong debate performance is probably a necessity. However, even that may not be enough to prevent him from getting winnowed if he finishes near the bottom in Iowa, which looks very probable based on the latest polling.

6. Jeb! is clearly playing a long game, hoping his money and organization will enable him to survive early defeats. But if his poll numbers drop too far, the big donors will begin moving their money to other candidates. So he’s also banking on a strong performance tonight.

I’ll be back on shortly before 9 p.m.

Matthew Dickinson January 14, 201611:47 pm

That’s it …. signing off for the night.

Matthew Dickinson January 14, 201611:45 pm

Reminder: I hope to see you all again on Sunday for the Democratic debate.

Matthew Dickinson January 14, 201611:42 pm

Time to break out the single malt. Remember my usual reminder: there’s the debate you watched, and then the debate the media will tell you you watched. They aren’t always the same. If I can, I’ll post a quick summary of what the Twits on the Twitterverse are saying.

Matthew Dickinson January 14, 201611:35 pm

Ivanka whispering in Trump’s ear as they walk off stage – I’m guessing reminders about what to say during the spin room.

Matthew Dickinson January 14, 201611:34 pm

One thing that I think hurts Kasich – he makes constant reference to his long government experience but – as with his reference to Strom – in so doing he reminds viewers that he’s part of the establishment – but the older establishment!

Matthew Dickinson January 14, 201611:33 pm

And now on to the spin room!

Matthew Dickinson January 14, 201611:26 pm

Finally, the Donald: after surviving the initial testy exchange with Cruz, he came on strong by doing what he does best – speaking in simple terms about basic issues in terms that Joe Sixpack understands, and at a level of generality that makes it hard to critique him.

Matthew Dickinson January 14, 201611:24 pm

Rubio had a very good night as well, although I do wonder that he sometimes comes across as so polished that he loses Joe Sixpack.

Matthew Dickinson January 14, 201611:23 pm

Cruz had one good exchange early with Trump, but he overreached with the NY values exchange, and seemed uncharacteristically subdued their after. Rubio’s late piling on really sealed the deal tonight.

Matthew Dickinson January 14, 201611:22 pm

Bush started slowly but he really came on strong. This has been a very good night for him. I think he pulled ahead of Kasich and Christie in the fight for the third position in NH. If so, he looks to pick up their support looking down the road.

Matthew Dickinson January 14, 201611:20 pm

Kasich was knowledgeable, steady, and highlighted his governing experience. The problem is that he’s been this way in every debate, and he hasn’t broken through yet.

Matthew Dickinson January 14, 201611:19 pm

Final statements coming up. I’m going to take the opportunity to make some initial judgments before the statements. Carson simply didn’t do enough to change his downward trend. I’d like to see Carly replace him on the main stage for the next debate. Christie’s act wore thin as the night went on, particularly after the mask slipped and he crossed over into bully territory with his smackdown of Rubio.

Matthew Dickinson January 14, 201611:14 pm

Another strong repartee by Bush, this time with Cavuto. He’s come on strong tonight.

Matthew Dickinson January 14, 201611:13 pm

Cruz not really given enough time to respond there. On the whole, after scoring initially against The Donald very early tonight, Cruz has been on the defensive most of the night. It will be interesting to see how this affects his polling.

Matthew Dickinson January 14, 201611:12 pm

At least half of what Marco said is false – so does that mean half is true?

Matthew Dickinson January 14, 201611:11 pm

Rubio been holding his anti-Cruz diatribe to the end, but what a load!

Matthew Dickinson January 14, 201611:10 pm

The more Cruz and Rubio focus fire on each other – the better for Trump, and Jeb!

Matthew Dickinson January 14, 201611:09 pm

By the way, was that a “We want Rand” chant? Or was it “We aren’t Red?” – I couldn’t tell.

Matthew Dickinson January 14, 201611:07 pm

Seems to me that Kasich and Bush are fighting for grownup/establishment candidate slot. So far, they have avoided attacking each other, but it’s not clear to me how long that will last.

Matthew Dickinson January 14, 201611:05 pm

Wait – this isn’t ending at 11? I’ve been holding off on my scotch, but this is pushing my limits!

Matthew Dickinson January 14, 201611:04 pm

Moderators have been generally good tonight at asking straightforward questions, rather than trying to trip candidates up.

Matthew Dickinson January 14, 201611:01 pm

The Donald just scored by both answering the question and bringing his family into the equation.

Matthew Dickinson January 14, 201611:01 pm

Maria giving Trump one more opportunity to remind voters that he’s rich.

Matthew Dickinson January 14, 201610:57 pm

Btw, that was a very detailed, substantive debate on tax plans between Rubio and Cruz – I think Rubio got the better of it, but it’s always hard to tell how Joe and Jane Sixpack do when candidates get into the policy weeds.

Matthew Dickinson January 14, 201610:56 pm

Christie to Rubio: “You had your chance, Marco – you blew it.” Classic bully – I don’t think that helps his cause. He’s not having a great night.

Matthew Dickinson January 14, 201610:49 pm

Carson has been thoroughly eclipsed tonight largely because he just doesn’t come across as credible on many issues.

Matthew Dickinson January 14, 201610:48 pm

Of all the candidates on the stage tonight, Bush has made the most tangible overtures to South Carolina voters.

Matthew Dickinson January 14, 201610:40 pm

Despite my earlier critique of Jeb!’s debating style, he’s actually having a good night; after a shaky start, he’s getting his points across, and really staking out the adult-in-the-room establishment position opposite The Donald.

Matthew Dickinson January 14, 201610:39 pm

We are actually having a real debate here on trade policy.

Matthew Dickinson January 14, 201610:37 pm

If you listen closely, almost every one of Rubio’s points begins by mentioning a “failed” Obama policy. Every one.

Matthew Dickinson January 14, 201610:35 pm

Cruz has just about disappeared from the stage after his exchange with The Donald.

Matthew Dickinson January 14, 201610:33 pm

Trump, again, manages to get his point across in a way that Joe Sixpack can understand, even if Neil Cavuto can’t.

Matthew Dickinson January 14, 201610:29 pm

Hmmm…. not sure examples of two would-be terrorists getting arrested makes the case Cruz is trying to make.

Matthew Dickinson January 14, 201610:26 pm

Kasich and Christie trying to split the difference by focusing on “Syrian” refugees.

Matthew Dickinson January 14, 201610:26 pm

That exchange between Jeb and The Donald really gets at the internal struggle in the Republican party. Jeb’s answer nuanced, moderate – Donald a simple declarative assertion. Which view wins out?

Matthew Dickinson January 14, 201610:22 pm

Jeb trying to play the grown up here,. This may be his best moment of the debate.

Matthew Dickinson January 14, 201610:21 pm

Here’s where I miss Randy Man’s presence – his was the most articulate voice for limiting U.S. military intervention over seas.

Matthew Dickinson January 14, 201610:20 pm

This was a softball for The Donald – his comments about temporarily banning Muslims from entering for security reasons plays really well with his voters.

Matthew Dickinson January 14, 201610:18 pm

Christie attacking Putin, one of the Donald’s friends.

Matthew Dickinson January 14, 201610:17 pm

Can’t say that Carson hasn’t had the opportunity to shore up his sagging national defense reputation.

Matthew Dickinson January 14, 201610:14 pm

Meanwhile, Rand is popping up on line with his own one-on-one interview. The Donald wishes you were here Randy Man!

Matthew Dickinson January 14, 201610:12 pm

At this point, nothing has happened in my view to shake up the current standings in the race. Iowa is still likely to be a dead heat between Cruz and the Donald, at least based on what has been said so far. Both have scored.

Matthew Dickinson January 14, 201610:11 pm

Kasich continually harps on his previous experience in Congress, but I’m not sure that is actually helping him in the current political climate.

Matthew Dickinson January 14, 201610:09 pm

Kasich throws out his own South Carolina tie – Strom Thurmond – but that seems to date him to another era.

Matthew Dickinson January 14, 201610:07 pm

First time I’ve ever seen Cruz essentially silenced in a debate. Score one for The Donald.

Matthew Dickinson January 14, 201610:05 pm

I’ll say it again: Trump is underestimated in this format. And, unlike Jeb, he’s gotten better.

Matthew Dickinson January 14, 201610:04 pm

Trump clearly prepared for the New York line and one ups Cruz here.

Matthew Dickinson January 14, 201610:03 pm

Key line of the night from Cruz: “Those aren’t Iowan values.”

Matthew Dickinson January 14, 201610:03 pm

As I suggested, Cruz gets an opportunity to use the “New York” values line against Trump. (Fox loving the split screen here.)

Matthew Dickinson January 14, 201610:00 pm

Note that the assertion that “mass shootings” are up depends in large part on how one defines “mass shootings” – are we including gang warfare? Overall gun violence is declining.

Matthew Dickinson January 14, 201610:00 pm

Christie has been using the “petulant child” line very frequently of late. Interesting that he doesn’t deny signing some gun control legislation but instead makes it an issue of executive action versus working with a legislature.

Matthew Dickinson January 14, 20169:57 pm

Moderators doing a good job letting the candidates talk, which automatically means pundits will critique them for not following up.

Matthew Dickinson January 14, 20169:56 pm

Trump used to be for stronger gun control (which he admits) but his views have changed (which he also admits).

Matthew Dickinson January 14, 20169:54 pm

One of Bush’s stronger answers – once in a while he ups his debate game but he doesn’t do it consistently.

Matthew Dickinson January 14, 20169:53 pm

With shoutout to Haley, Bush remembering that South Carolina is a crucial early primary state, and reminding us that he is still hoping to be the establishment candidate.

Matthew Dickinson January 14, 20169:49 pm

If you listen to what Kasich says, it is surprising he’s not doing a bit better in New Hampshire – seems like a candidate who should do well there. Not sure if it is the understated presentation, or simply that there’s too many candidates occupying the same lane.

Matthew Dickinson January 14, 20169:47 pm

Interesting how Twitter denizens completely misread why Trump is effectiveness – he actually came out very well in the exchange with Cruz. You have to see his audience at campaign events to understand this.

Matthew Dickinson January 14, 20169:46 pm

Are Bill Clinton’s past indiscretions a suitable topic? Crowd screams “yes!”

Matthew Dickinson January 14, 20169:43 pm

Bernie still not getting any respect. Same as on the undercard – all three candidates said they were most qualified to beat Hillary – no one mentioned Bernie.

Matthew Dickinson January 14, 20169:42 pm

Carson has his funnybone tickling tonight! “I was mentioned….he said everybody!”

Matthew Dickinson January 14, 20169:41 pm

This exchange between Rubio and Christie is about New Hampshire. And frankly, being viewed as not too conservative may play a bit better there. It worth remembering that 40% of potential voters in NH are not affiliated with either party, and therefore can vote in either primary.

Matthew Dickinson January 14, 20169:37 pm

Trump made this same point about anger at his NH rally – he called it a “positive anger” there.

Matthew Dickinson January 14, 20169:36 pm

Crowd on Cruz’ side, but Trump actually came out well in that exchange with the type of voters who are looking for a non-politician. Pundits often overrate importance of smooth debating style.

Matthew Dickinson January 14, 20169:34 pm

Time for the moderators to step in here. Or other candidates.

Matthew Dickinson January 14, 20169:33 pm

What people don’t realize about Trump is that underneath the bombast he makes points that resonate with lots of voters.

Matthew Dickinson January 14, 20169:31 pm

And here it is – the specter of the law suit.

Matthew Dickinson January 14, 20169:30 pm

Cruz is one smooth debater. But Trump will throw the Democratic attack angle out now. I’m not attacking Ted, but the Democrats will.

Matthew Dickinson January 14, 20169:29 pm

Finally, as I anticipated, Cruz has taken the gloves off and gone after the Donald. Look for Donald to respond by bringing up the Democratic attack angle. Remember, Iowa is at stake here.

Matthew Dickinson January 14, 20169:27 pm

Cavuto doing The Donald’s work for him here by asking the birther question. So right out the chute Cruz gets the two zingers he knew were coming.

Matthew Dickinson January 14, 20169:25 pm

Cruz’ attack on the “liberal” media is reminiscent of Newt’s generally effective strategy in 2012 – it kept him in the race far longer than he probably deserved.

Matthew Dickinson January 14, 20169:24 pm

So far a remarkably tame affair. I’m surprised, frankly. Underwhelming performances compared to the undercard.

Matthew Dickinson January 14, 20169:22 pm

It will be interesting to see if anyone else on the panel follows up on this story – now is the time to take the gloves off.

Matthew Dickinson January 14, 20169:21 pm

Cruz has to be ready about the loan question. Looks like he’s going to try to make this out to be a liberal hit piece.

Matthew Dickinson January 14, 20169:20 pm

Kind of macabre for The Donald to essentially tell some of the victims that they aren’t long for this world.

Matthew Dickinson January 14, 20169:19 pm

The beginning of Carson’s drop in the polls was driven by national security concerns. He’s clearly trying to fight back against the idea that he’s not prepared to be Commander-in-Chief, but it may be too late.

Matthew Dickinson January 14, 20169:17 pm

Carson unspools his prepared one-liner, followed by a truly creepy laugh…

Matthew Dickinson January 14, 20169:15 pm

So, what’s the strategy behind not asking a question of the purported front runner 17 minutes into the debate?

Matthew Dickinson January 14, 20169:14 pm

I don’t mean to be unduly critical, but he just doesn’t project well in this type of format. But the “White house to the court house” line scores with the audience!

Matthew Dickinson January 14, 20169:13 pm

Jeb! – as inarticulate as ever.

Matthew Dickinson January 14, 20169:12 pm

Interesting that Republicans are trying to link Clinton to Obama – even as Clinton is working just as hard to create the same linkage in the Democratic race.

Matthew Dickinson January 14, 20169:11 pm

Christie with a brief aside noting that “lots of things have been said about me” – see the Super Pac attack ads.

Matthew Dickinson January 14, 20169:10 pm

“Storytime with Barack Obama” – expect lots of prepared applause lines throughout the night.

Matthew Dickinson January 14, 20169:08 pm

I’m frankly surprised that Kasich gets the second question – not Trump.

Matthew Dickinson January 14, 20169:06 pm

You knew the “humiliation” of American sailors would figure prominently in tonight’s debate – the Fox talking heads were previewing this topic earlier tonight. For Democrats, of course, the story is that they were released without incident – a sign of warming relations with Iran.

Matthew Dickinson January 14, 20169:04 pm

Fortunately, the candidates have a bit more response time – 90 seconds – than in some previous debates.

Matthew Dickinson January 14, 20169:03 pm

Still not sure why they couldn’t have added the three undercard candidates to the main stage tonight.

Matthew Dickinson January 14, 20169:02 pm

I expect Rand (the Randy Man) Paul to be chiming in online somewhere, somehow, during the debate. In his absence, who is The Donald going to ridicule?

Matthew Dickinson January 14, 20168:57 pm

Remember, if you don’t have The Cable, you can get a live stream of the debate here:

Matthew Dickinson January 14, 20168:53 pm

Lindsey Graham just got introduced – it has to be bittersweet for him, not being on the debate stage in his home state.

Matthew Dickinson January 14, 20168:51 pm

And, right on cue: the Rubio Super Pac just ran a blistering ad attacking Jeb!’s “train wreck” of a campaign. But will the gloves come off tonight on stage? I have to think the governors and senators are going to wratchet up the attacks on each other.


  1. Certainly not unduly critical of Jeb!. Each debate I’ve been more surprised by how much he struggles to string a coherent sentence together.

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