The Most Boffo Lines From Saturday's GOP Debate


As the Republican presidential field narrows, the remaining seven candidates who made it onto ABC News’ debate stage were locked in constant competition for the spotlight Saturday night. It made for some particularly pointed exchanges, half-baked policy plans, and a lot of applause lines that didn’t quite land.

Editors' Blog

Making Sense of the Last NH Debate

This was a debate in primary colors. There's little doubt who did well or who didn't. The real question is what effect if any it will have on Tuesday's vote.

In terms of the debate, there's little question Marco Rubio had the worst of it. I don't know if it will do him any good. But Chris Christie simply eviscerated Rubio. He came after him on each of the signature issues - scripted, accountability, immigration. If we judge him on his ability to achieve a specific aim, this was unquestionably Christie's best debate. The most memorable moment, of course, was Christie coming at Rubio about being scripted and having Rubio go off balance and keep returning to the same verbatim scripted answer. As they always say in writing classes, don't say, show. Christie showed. That's what made it devastating. Christie demonstrated his point better than saying it a thousand times.

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GOP Debate Blogging #(Something+1)

10:13 PM: Rubio campaign pushing out on all cylinders that he's coming in second in a Google poll of who's winning the debate.

10:15 PM: Rote memory of stump speeches is how you end up saying the Air Force is about to be as small as it's been in a hundred years.

10:23 PM: "Lovemember" is the best new word of this debate.

10:43 PM: One thing that seems very clear coming out of this debate is that Cruz's team worked with him to tone down his tone compared to the Iowa. He came off very badly, notwithstanding the win.

10:47 PM: Just after the debate on ABC, all the ABC pundits agreeing the Rubio had a terrible night.

GOP Debate Blogging

9:18 PM: Here's Rubes' epic repeat the same stump line three times moment.

9:26 PM: Yep, Cruz does not know what carpet bombing means.

9:30 PM: Debaters have allowed Rubio to get back to scripted lines. Curious whether they'll come after him again.

9:34 PM: Starting to feel like the major players feel like they made their points or did what they needed to do and are now hanging back.

9:40 PM: For all the bad things I've said about Ted Cruz over the last couple years, I don't think I've ever heard him stumble over his words or be at a loss for words. I think he found himself halfway through that torture answer and realized, wow, I'm lost here. This sounds terrible. So he stopped for a moment to try to think how to talk his way out of his answer. It was neither principled nor hardcore in terms of torture and the rule of law. He was lost. I've never seen him lost before.

9:45 PM: I'm getting the sense that Christie feels like if he goes after Rubio again it'll seem like bullying or maybe even a war crime.

9:47 PM: Here's the write up of the second time Christie went after Rubio, this time over his explanation of abandoning his own immigration bill.

9:50 PM: I've give him this. This story of his sister is a strong moment for Cruz. Sort of ruining it now (from my POV, not necessarily his audience) by pivoting to immigrant bashing. But, a strong moment for Cruz.

9:52 PM: Christie also has a very strong moment on drug overdose issue, demonstrates his key argument: that he has real world experience, has been accountable for solutions.

That Was Lively

I think we can say with some confidence that each candidate realized that everything was on the line in this debate. Trump was very strong for the first hour. But I'm curious how the last five minutes is going to play. I do not think I've ever seen a candidate attack the audience at the debate before.

The big loser so far is Rubio. Everybody wanted to go after him today. And he gave them lots of material to work with in real time.

Rubes Floundering Live Blog

8:54 PM: Rubio having a very hard time reacting on his feet, even to this immigration question.

8:55 PM: Christie basically disemboweling Rubio at this point.

8:56 PM: "that was tried" - Rubio talking about himself in the passive voice.

8:58 PM: I don't know if it'll help him. But Trump has gotten much better at debating. And he seems to have come into this debate realizing he needs to do everything he can to steady his campaign.

9:01 PM: Here's that bizarre Ben Carson moment from the beginning of the debate.

9:05 PM: Back to dominance Trump.

9:05 PM: I will say I think that's the first time I've ever seen a debate participant attack the audience.

GOP Mega-Debate Blog

8:18 PM: So, yes, we're trying to figure out what the hell was going on with Ben Carson.

8:20 PM: "I talked about Muslims. We have a problem."

8:21 PM: For Trump, I think that was a pretty strong opening.

8:22 PM: Seems pretty clear that Cruz got briefed on very bad polling about himself.

8:25 PM: I'd say Ted Cruz is off to a really tough beginning of the debate.

8:26 PM: Here's our definitive timeline of the Cruz/Carson debacle. Is Ted telling the truth?

8:31 PM: I don't think this is the best way for Rubio to convince people he's not repeating lines that he's learned by rote.

8:33 PM: Rubio's killing himself here. No one spontaneously repeats the verbatim line over and over and over like this.

8:37 PM: It was hard to keep up with all that was going on there. But I think that was one of those very bad spontaneous moments for Rubio. Christie (and others) have been pushing this line that Rubio is green, scripted and protected. Rubio couldn't have illustrated that better than by trying to recover by going back to the identical pre-fab stump speech line three times in a row. Rubio defended himself from the charge that he's just an automaton who can only give a stump speech by retreating again and again to his stump speech. And Christie was quick on his feet enough to catch it in real time.

8:45 PM: If Rubio's boxing right now he really, really needs the round to end.

Tonight's Debate

We will of course be bringing you live coverage of tonight's Republican primary debate in New Hampshire. You expect the hosting networks to say things like this and even the candidates. But I think there's a good argument that this will be the most important debate of the GOP primary campaign.

There are many more primaries to go of course and many more debates. But a number of candidates are just barely hanging on. Really every candidate aside from Trump, Rubio and Cruz. Depending on how things pan out on Tuesday, even one of them could be kicked off the island.

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I Have A Theory

As I mentioned yesterday, Iowa seldom determines New Hampshire - quite the opposite, if anything. But I can't think of an Iowa winner who's gotten less bump or media fawning or anything from an Iowa win than Ted Cruz, especially an upset win. Occam's Razor, everybody hates Ted Cruz. But now there's a poll showing his support collapsing in New Hampshire - so total anti-bump. But I wonder if there's something more to it.

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An outlier or a trend? Polls as recently as just a day earlier show Hillary Clinton maintaining a sizable nationwide lead among Democratic primary voters. But a poll out from Quinnipiac this morning shows Bernie Sanders pulling into a virtual tie Clinton 44, Sanders 42. That would needless to say be a very big deal. Just yesterday Reuters/Ipsos had a 15 point Clinton lead and PPP had a 21 point Clinton lead.

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