The remaining GOP candidates — Trump, Cruz, Rubio, and Kasich — will meet for the 12th debate tonight, just a week after they faced off on the issue that really matters: the size of Donald Trump’s penis. This time, the candidates are descending on Miami ahead of another round of critical primaries on March 15, including two winner-take-all states, Ohio and Florida. Each of those states also happens to be the home of the last Establishment candidates standing — Kasich and Rubio, respectively — and their campaigns probably won’t survive even a second-place finish to Trump.
So watch everyone try, once again, to take down the Donald at 9 p.m. EST on CNN or at CNN.com, and you can tune into Daily Intelligencer’s live-blog below for instant analysis and commentary.
Margaret H: Cruz walks back comment that Trump has the support of voters who have “low information.”
Margaret H: Ted Cruz is also thrilled that we didn’t have the “personal insults and attacks” we saw at the last debates. Suggests he had nothing to do with negative tone, it was all Rubio and Trump.
Margaret H: SE Cupp thinks it’s “just amazing” that Trump is calling for unity a day after people got punched at a Trump rally. So beautiful.
Margaret H: Democrats missed out on “most improved debaters” award because they never resorted to calling each other “Pinko” or “Shrillary” on stage.
Margaret H: Republicans getting kudos for holding a boring debate, not resorting to potty humor and childish name-calling.
Margaret H: Cuomo on debates: “We love ‘em - more, more, more.” Yeah, that pretty much sums up CNN’s stance.
Margaret H: Post-debate Trump says this was an “elegant” evening, “We needed this kind of a debate, we needed this kind of tone.” Like he had nothing to do with QVC presentation and penis remark in last week.
Margaret H: Trump ends by once again encouraging the GOP to welcome his supporters. “The Republican Party has a great chance to embrace millions of people that it’s never know before. We should size that opportunity.”
Ed Kilgore: Trump smart to describe his campaign as adding huge numbers to GOP coalition. Truth is, he represents a lot of people in that coalition who are threatening to leave.
Margaret H: Cruz does Rubio’s line better, notes it’s incredible that the son of a bartender, a mailman, a dishwasher, and a successful businessman can all stand on stage as presidential candidates.
Margaret H: Rubio: “When I’m elected president, this generation will do its part.” In 2020?
Margaret H: Rubio gets in requisite “my dad was a bartender” remark.
Margaret H: Kasich’s final pitch: “I have run an unwavering positive campaign for president of the United States.” “Sometimes being positive isn’t all that interesting, but it’s interesting to my family and supporters.”
Ed Kilgore: Kasich seems to be taking credit for the tone of this debate–and even for it being boring!
Ed Kilgore: Listening to Kasich, kinda wish I had moved from DC to Ohio when he left. Would have been a truly charmed life.
Ed Kilgore: Another fine robotic Rubio Rap on what to compromise on and what to fight on.
Margaret H: Trump: “These super-pacs are a disaster, very corrupt.”
Ed Kilgore: Yeah, Cruz ought to say: “My super-pacs funding comes from a few crazy people down in Texas.”
Ed Kilgore: So Rubio gets to use his stock speech at least one more time.
Margaret H: Trump notes Cruz is always saying he’s the only candidate who’s beat him, but “I beat him in 13 contests. He never mentions that.”
Ed Kilgore: So nothing said in the first hour and 45 minutes is going to be remembered after Hewitt got them into the contested convention stuff.
Marin Cogan: Trump basically dodged the question about whether he’s inciting violence at campaign events, and the other candidates helped him by decrying “violence in general.” What cowardice.
Ed Kilgore: Cruz comes out against the Paul Ryan Solution.
Margaret H: Trump notes that “there are two of us up here who can, and two of us up here who cannot” have enough delegates to win at the convention - but that’s “not meant to be a criticism.”
Ed Kilgore: Hah! I keep saying “few people alive today” attended a contested convention. Shoulda known Kasich, who was probably elected to his first office the day he turned 21, was there in ’76.
Margaret H: Kasich invokes Ronald Reagan, as he loves to do, arguing that party unified after 1976 GOP convention fight.
Jonathan Chait: Okay, so all four candidates are cool with Trump inciting violence.
Ed Kilgore: Rubio has recaptured his Aspirational Patriot rap at this late date.
Margaret H: Rubio tries to get in on that pro-police message. “I’m concerned about violence in general in this society and the first people facing that are our law enforcement officers.” People are angry, but leadership is about using the anger “to motivate us.”
Ed Kilgore: Kasich seems to think block grants are the answer to quasi-fascist impulses at Republican rallies.
Margaret H: Trump says everyone’s “having a good time” when they pledge to vote for him, media twists it into Nazi comparison.
Margaret H: But Cruz goes on to knock Trump for asking people to raise their hands and pledge their support to him, says candidates should be pledging support to American people.
Margaret H: Cruz suggests violence at Trump rallies is somehow Obama’s fault. “We’ve seen for seven years a president who acts like he’s above the law.”
Ed Kilgore: So Cruz is blaming violence at Trump rallies on Obama.
Ed Kilgore: Took Trump a while, but smart to segue from violence at his rallies to respect for the police.
Margaret H: Trumps pivots to praising police.
Margaret H: Tapper reads various Trump quotes in which he promotes violence. Trump shakes his head, and crowd cheers.
Marin Cogan: Trump finally being asked about the violence at his campaign events. This is an example of a great gotcha by Jake Tapper.
Margaret H: Trump asked about violence at his rallies. Has he done anything to create that tone? “I hope not. I truly hope not.” Goes on to note that people come to his rallies with “tremendous passion” and “anger.”
Ed Kilgore: To be clear, all these candidates were given every opportunity to call each other liars, con men, choke artists, etc. Cruz’s hackneyed attack on Trump’s contributions to Democratic pols closest we really saw to blood.
Ed Kilgore: So Trump just has to get through another half-hour without losing it.
Margaret H: Tapper and Trump are arguing over whether calling a leader “strong” is a compliment.
Jonathan Chait: Kudos to @jaketapper for asking first climate change Q of the Republican campaign and clarifying with a follow-up on Rubio’s evasion.
Margaret H: Cruz says Obama has made U.S. a “laughing stock” worldwide, started out presidency by going on an “apology tour.” Foreign relations can change “overnight,” just as it did when Reagan took office. That’s why on his first day in office Cruz will “rip to shreds” the Iranian nuclear deal.
Ed Kilgore: Do any of these birds have a clue about international public opinion with respect to the U.S.? Do they really believe toughness is the only thing the world wants from America?
Ed Kilgore: Rubio seriously trying to claim he opposes climate change action because he loves po’ folks so much. Has nothing to do with the fossil fuel industries, of course.
Margaret H: Rubio: “I am not going to destroy the U.S. economy for a law that will do nothing for our environment.”
Jonathan Chait: My head is exploding at Rubio’s climate answer.
Margaret H: Would Rubio tell Republican Mayor of Miami, who endorsed him, that he’s wrong on climate change? “I would say to him that there is no law that they want us to pass that would have any impact on climate change.”
Ed Kilgore: So Rubio’s willing to spend God knows how mucy money for catastrophic disaster mitigation but won’t touch fossil fuels.
Margaret H: Rubio: “sure the climate is changing and one of the reasons is because the climate is always changing.”
Margaret H: Uh oh, they’re asking Republicans about climate change.
Margaret H: Kasich channels W.: “Mr. Putin, you’d better understand, you’re either with us or against us.”
Ed Kilgore: Cruz really does seem to believe “Americans’ just means the conservative GOP base.
Margaret H: President Cruz would also cut ties with Cuba.
Margaret H: Pressed on what he means by making a “better deal” with Cuba, now that it’s already done, Trump says, “I would probably have the embassy closed, until such time that a really good deal would be made.”
Jonathan Chait: Pretty effective tag-team by @DanaBashCNN & Rubio to expose Trump’s total lack of knowledge on Cuba.
Margaret H: Trump wants a “much better deal” with Cuba, but as usual our negotiators “don’t have a clue.”
Margaret H: Rubio says Obama “asked nothing in return and we are getting nothing in return” for opening diplomatic relations with Cuba.
Ed Kilgore: Wonder why Bash didn’t add Pope Francis to the list of people Rubio and Cruz disagree with on Cuba?
Margaret H: Rubio says he’ll give Bernie Sanders credit for helping to pass the VA accountability bill.
Jonathan Chait: Trump claims we’re not attacking ISIS’s oil because of carbon footprint. Going to guess that’s false, and will resonate perfectly.
Margaret H: Would Kasich put 20,000 or 30,000 U.S. troops on the ground to fight ISIS? He wants an Arab coalition, troops on the ground - we need “shock and awe” - then we let the regional powers redraw the map in the region.
Ed Kilgore: Huh? Trump suddenly for ground troops to fight ISIS? That’s news, isn’t it?
Ed Kilgore: I’m sure a lot of viewers think of Hewitt as a probing substantive questioner, but he’s really operating as an ideological commissar.
Margaret H: Cruz says if a military commander recommended putting U.S. boots on the ground to fight ISIS, he’d send them.
Ed Kilgore: So Rubio and Kasich both on record now opposing Middle East peace deal. I’m sure Cruz will make sure we know he agrees at some point.
Margaret H: Kasich: “I don’t believe there is any long term permanent peace solution, and pursuing that is the wrong thing to do.” Solution is to arm Israelis.
Jonathan Chait: Rubio would break from modern US policy history by openly opposing a negotiated settlement between Israel and Palestinians.
Ed Kilgore: Not sure Trump gets that this argument over Israel is not for the benefit of Jews, but of conservative evangelicals.
Margaret H: Rubio: “there is no peace deal possible with the Palestinians at this moment.”
Ed Kilgore: What Trump’s saying on being honest broker between Israel and the Palestinians used to be bipartisan conventional wisdom. I remember George W. Bush saying same thing as Trump during the 2000 debates.
Jonathan Chait: Trump on Israel actually makes a little sense, compared to the blatant pandering by other candidates.
Margaret H: Trump mentions for the first time on debate stage that his daughter, son-in-law and grandchildren are Jewish.
Margaret H: Cruz deeply offended by Trump saying he wants to be “neutral” in conflict between Israel and Palestinians.
Margaret H: Cruz knocks Trump again for merely yelling “China bad, Muslims bad.”
Jonathan Chait: Aaand there’s Rubio promising to torture suspected terrorists in Guantanamo again.
Margaret H: Trump says terrorists have “no rules, no regulations” we’re working on a different set of parameters. While U.S. has to obey laws, “We have to be able to fight on at least somewhat equal of a footing” – with world’s most brutal terrorists – otherwise we’re being “suckers.” Audience member hoots.
Ed Kilgore: I’ve said this before, but Trump speaking directly to Jacksonian id of millions of people when he talks about killing families of terrorists. There’s a reason My Lai baby-killer William Calley was a hero down in Georgia where I come from.
Margaret H: Trump asked how he’s going to order the military to kill families of terrorists, as that is a war crime.
Ed Kilgore: Love Kasich’s very middle American term “reapprochement.”
Margaret H: “Governor Kasich, do you think Islam hates us?” Imagine if Kasich of all people actually said “yes.”
Ed Kilgore: “Do you think Islam hates us.” Not a terribly well-framed question, is it?
Margaret: Rubio: “I’m not interested in being politically correct, I’m interested in being correct.”
Margaret H: Trump says Rubio is being “politically correct” he “likes to solve problems.” There is “tremendous hatred” coming from the Muslim world. We better solve the problem before it’s too late.
Marin Cogan: How nice of Rubio to defend Muslim American veterans. What about the non-veterans, though?
Jonathan Chait: Rubio used to take hard line on Muslims. Now much more moderate. But does not attack Trump’s bigotry.
Margaret H: Rubio notes that Muslim-Americans serve in the military, and love this country, which apparently needs to be stated.
Ed Kilgore: Very clever of Rubio to use Christian missionaries as victims of Trump’s anti-Muslim rhetoric.
Margaret H: Trump asked if he really thinks all Muslims hate America. “I mean a lot of them” Audience laughs.
Ed Kilgore: Taking Trump out of the equation, there hasn’t been a breath of disagreement among the other three candidates.
Ed Kilgore: So it’s pretty obvious all four candidates have independently concluded a nasty debate will ill-serve them. That or they all got sealed orders from the Koch Brothers.
Margaret H: Cruz: “We’ve got to get beyond rhetoric of China bad and get to how you’d actually solve the problem.” Saying things like “China bad” is basically Trump’s entire campaign strategy.
Ed Kilgore: Trump understands that most people do not believe in the economic theory of comparative advantage.
Margaret H: Lack of fighting in this final GOP debate is so confusing. It’s like Britney Spears going on a farewell tour and refusing to do any song that came out pre-2008.
Ed Kilgore: OMG, haven’t heard a reference to the Smoot-Hawley tariff (which Cruz just cited) in a presidential debate in many years! Yes, this is the wonkiest debate ever.
Jonathan Chait: Ted Cruz: “Smoot-Hawley led to the Great Depression.” This is the insane supply-sider alternate history of the 1930s.
Eric Levitz: If Trump is a fascist con-man on the verge of taking over the party, civility is secondary to communicating the threat he poses. If Trump isn’t a fascist con-man, why not rally around him since he’s the clear favorite?
Eric Levitz: Interesting to hear Trump praise civility. I actually think there’s reason to believe the attacks from the last couple debates had some marginal effect on his numbers. At this point, a civil debate, rather than a three-on-Trump fight, seems clearly advantageous to the front-runner.
Ed Kilgore: Kasich losing control of his speaking volume again. Really conspicuous with the subdued tone of this debate.
Margaret H: Did CNN record this debate three months ago when Cruz was trying to stay friendly with Trump and everyone else was afraid to really go after him?
Marin Cogan: Did Trump just really decline an opportunity to bash Cruz? Weird.
Ed Kilgore: Now Trump pulls back from attack on Cruz and Bash gives up. Yeah, the fix is in.
Margaret H: Trump: “we’re all in this together … so far I cannot believe how civil it’s been up here.”
Jonathan Chait: Trump “we’re all in this together.” Praises civility. He’s stealing Kasich’s message!
Margaret H: Trump says, “if you look back to Iowa, Cruz did change his stance on ethanol quite a bit.” When asked to respond, Cruz does a half shrug, says it’s hard to imagine how Trump is going to take on the lobbyists in Washington.
Ed Kilgore: Bash begs Cruz to attack Trump. Just won’t go there. Ah, but now he cuts loose after Trump slurs his ethanol position!
Margaret H: 32 minutes into the debate, candidates have attacked Democrats several times, but not each other. When asked if he was making a comparison between Trump and Clinton, Cruz refused to take the bait.
Jonathan Chait: Cruz: “There are bureaucrats who are killing prosperity. I know who they are. I will find them, and I will fire them.” He knows them?
Ed Kilgore: Amazing to me that Republican SocSec plan as explained by Rubio and Cruz hasn’t changed a bit since Bush proposed–and then had to abandon it–in 2005.
Ed Kilgore: So Rubio says not doing entitlement reform makes you a liar, Cruz says it makes you a poor leader.
Eric Levitz: Interesting that Trump isn’t heretic enough to say, let’s raise the social security tax cap. Can’t imagine he’d lose many voters arguing that people like him should pay more into the system.
Ed Kilgore: Trump’s doing the same old song and dance with a different tone and without the insults.
Jonathan Chait: Trump’s plan to make Social Security solvent is to collect tribute from other countries.
Ed Kilgore: Wow. Having just cited one imaginary source of budget savings (waste, fraud and abuse) Trump is now citing another: foreign aid!
Margaret H: Bold move for Trump to accuse Democrats of being boring 30 minutes into the least feisty GOP debate in ages.
Ed Kilgore: You’d think Social Security is a topic on which Trump would quote some polls. He really should.
Jonathan Chait: Trump drops truthbomb on the Democratic debate: “It’s a very, very boring thing to watch.”
Marin Cogan: Trump truth bomb: Democrats are “very very boring to watch”
Marin Cogan: So, Trump is thinking of Carson for secretary of education? At least it’s not secretary of state.
Margaret H: Rubio says it would be a graduating scale, can’t give specific age on when people would be able to retire.
Eric Levitz: In these discussions about raising the retirement age, important to remember that not everyone does white collar work and not everybody is living longer.
Ed Kilgore: Well, that’s a pretty good test of Rubio’s strategy tonight: he says anyone opposing “entitlement reform” is a “liar.” Trump is opposed to “entitlement reform.” He’s not finishing the syllogism.
Margaret H: Asked, “What should new retirement age be?” Rubio pivots to explaining generally why we need to tweak the Social Security system. “I’m against any changes to Social Security that would be bad for my mother.”
Jonathan Chait: Rubio: “If I were still in the Senate…” His term lasts almost another year!
Ed Kilgore: Hilarious that GOpers don’t want feds involved in education but think of federal education grants as “blackmail.” Why can’t the states just turn down the money? Aren’t most Republican states turning down Medicaid expansion dollars?
Margaret H: Cruz: “One silver lining of Obama abusing executive power is that everything done with executive power can be undone.”
Margaret H: Cruz: “Common Core is a disaster,” in his first days in office he’ll direct the Department of Education to do away with it.
Ed Kilgore: Correct Republican answer to Tapper’s point on state provenance of Common Core standards is that Obama’s bribing states to accept them via federal grants. Not a very compelling argument, but that’s what they’ve got.
Margaret H: Trump confirms Ben Carson is endorsing him, says they had a long chat about education earlier today. So did he promise Carson can be education secretary, not surgeon general?
Ed Kilgore: Can’t believe Trump spoiled Carson’s surprise tomorrow!
Eric Levitz: From a certain angle, Trump’s “I was a businessman” excuse contains an implicit critique of market dynamics - in order to compete, businesses are forced to seize any advantage they can, however unethical.
Margaret H: Rubio’s happy his parents are here, though they probably wouldn’t be allowed in under the immigration policies he advocates. Article Link
Ed Kilgore: What Rubio is doing by saying policies under which his parents entered the country should be revoked is usually called “pulling up the ladder.”
Margaret H: Donald Trump is acting so presidential right now that he makes Ronald Reagan look like the Donald Trump who talked about his penis in the last debate.
Ed Kilgore: Gotta say, substance aside, these guys are all pretty smooth so far tonight. Trump mostly using complete sentences. Almost feels like we need Ben Carson back to say something strange.
Ed Kilgore: Ah, I see, the H1B thing IS an issue on the I-4 corridor, with Disney workers!
Margaret H: Trump says H-1B is very bad, and should be ended - but he uses it anyway because he’s a smart businessman.
Jonathan Chait: Trump leans right into the idea that he’s a ruthless business who will take advantage of bad laws. It’s a part of his appeal, not a strike against him.
Margaret H: Kasich says 11 million undocumented immigrants in U.S. should get a “path to legalization, not to citizenship.”
Ed Kilgore: Kasich panders to the Croatian-American vote.
Jonathan Chait: If Kasich was running for President of Croatia instead of the US, it would be a huge win for both countries.
Ed Kilgore: Really wonder how Rubio’s long disquisition on H1B visas plays on the I-4 corridor.
Margaret H: Questioned about support of H-1B visa program, Rubio says it only takes jobs away from Americans if companies abuse it, like Disney did.
Ed Kilgore: My God, is Rubio attacking Mickey Mouse?
Eric Levitz: Man, country club Republicans don’t really have a voice in this debate about trade.
Margaret H: Risky strategy from CNN. Viewers came to see another insane GOP debate. Will they stay for a calm discussion of trade deals?
Eric Levitz: Trump says no one else on the stage knows how to change our trade deficit. Apparently, he aims to keep it that way, by not telling us how he’ll do it.
Jonathan Chait: Kasich, Trump, Rubio and Cruz all agree that we can have fairer trade deals with more exports. Nobody defending free trade per se. Interesting for a GOP debate.
Ed Kilgore: TPA is not a trade agreement, Senator Cruz. It’s Trade Promotion Authority.
Margaret H: “Why should voters trust that Trump will run country differently than how he’s run his businesses?” He argues - very calmly - that he understands how business works, unlike others on stage. Trump’s clearly trying to prove that he can be presidential … the most presidential candidate since Abe Lincoln, in fact.
Jonathan Chait: Ed, “horny-handed” always sounded to me like a barely veiled reference to masturbation.
Eric Levitz: Seems like there’s bi-partisan agreement that: Free trade = Fair trade = !!
Ed Kilgore: Good test of this debate’s civility: will anyone mention that the horny-handed son of toil John Kasich worked for Lehman Brothers between elected gigs?
Margaret H: In his opening statement, Trump points out that he’s bringing new people to the GOP, people who have never voted before. “I think, frankly, the Republican Establishment should embrace what’s happening.”
Jonathan Chait: Trump’s opening statement actually sounds as if he prepared it, which is unusual.
Ed Kilgore: When I’m world dictator I will ban use of the word “about” (as with Cruz’s comment that “this debate is about…”) by politicians to announce: here comes my message!
Margaret H: In opening statement Rubio says this is the most important election of our lives, “what’s at stake is our identity as a nation and as a people.” No dramatic declaration that he’s joining forces with Cruz … so far.
Ed Kilgore: Kasich does a pretty good job of presenting the theory of subsidiarity. You can tell he was raised Catholic.
Jonathan Chait: The big conservative rumor today is that Cruz and Rubio will somehow join forces. Not that likely to happen, but keep an eye out for cooperation, or a lack of attacks between them: Article Link
Ed Kilgore: So one of this year’s great accomplishments for the GOP is lending respectability to the Washington Times.
Ed Kilgore: Would mention that any pre-convention rules changes have to be ratified by the convention itself. So this only works if Trump doesn’t have a majority or a plurality and an ally.
Margaret H: Now we’re observing a moment of silence for Nancy Reagan.
Eric Levitz: Hard to imagine changing the rules to thwart Trump at the convention without Priebus’s support. If Establishment is truly #NeverTrump, linging up behind Cruz is looking more and more like their only option
Margaret H: Candidates are taking the stage, just 24 minutes after CNN told us the debate would start.
Ed Kilgore: Jake Tapper was the moderator in the first CNN Republican debate (if you can remember that far back), and was very good at getting the candidates to snarl at each other.
Ed Kilgore: Reince Priebus just compared the 2016 general election to the Revolutionary War. Guess who gets to play the Brits?
Ed Kilgore: Would note Tapper was the moderator in the first, really savage, CNN debate. Every question was a quote of something nasty one candidate had said about another.
Ed Kilgore: Priebus just analogized the 2016 general election to the Revolutionary War. Guess who gets to play the Brits.
Margaret H: Reince Preibus: “This party is going to support the nominee 100 percent, whoever that is.” Not a good sign when a party chairman has to say that.
Ed Kilgore: So I guess Carson is endorsing Trump to apologize for letting Cruz steal his caucus-goers and win Iowa.
Margaret H: Hoping for a Trump Steaks question tonight. The American people deserve answers.