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Josh Marshall

Josh Marshall is editor and publisher of TalkingPointsMemo.com.

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The big takeaway from tonight's debate - perhaps 'confirmation' is a better word for it - is that Donald Trump can turn the bully boy shtick on and off like a spigot. Watching this debate was like being transported back to the pre-2016 GOP debate world where one candidate ranting "Little Marco" ten times or another putting up his hands to show how big they were was essentially unimaginable. The tone of this gathering made it seem almost unthinkable again.

As everyone has noted, Trump is now trying not only to pivot to the general election but reassure GOP party stakeholders with his restraint and smother his competitors with talk of unity. I thought Trump and Cruz did very well for themselves but in very different ways. Trump owned his frontrunner-dom, didn't deign to rise to the taunts of his competitors and didn't let the moderators - especially Dana Bash - orchestrate a confrontation. He didn't allow himself to get knocked off that game. A bit more tired by the end of the debate, he was a little less able to keep attack Donald under wraps. But overall, he kept it cool and restrained. He kept to his plan.

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10:59 PM: This was one of my favorite moments of the debate: When Donald Trump rebranded "majority" as an artificial, arbitrary number.

If two of us get up there, I would say this -- if Marco, if the governor, if Ted had more votes than me in the form of delegates, I think whoever gets to that top position as opposed to solving that artificial number that was set by somebody, which is a very random number, I think that whoever gets the most delegates should win. That's what I think. "

10:34 PM: Trump knows he can turn this audience to his side on protestor beatings.

"We have some protesters who are bad dudes, they have done bad things. They are swinging, they are really dangerous and they get in there and start hitting people. We had a couple big, strong, powerful guys doing serious damage."

10:37 PM: Ted Cruz is an consummate bullshit artist. But on the hand raising stuff, that was some quality bullshit.

10:40 PM: I was beginning to worry that the crowd beatings story wasn't going to get mentioned at all. But Tapper did it in a pretty comprehensive way.

10:44 PM: Getting a bit tired, rowdy boy Trump seems to be reemerging.

9:49 PM: Shorter Rubio: We need to reach out to the world's Muslims, building bridges, so our missionaries can bring them to Jesus.

9:53 PM: Trump seems to think that the Geneva Conventions etc are something that Congress passed.

9:58 PM: It's almost sublime the levels of evil sliminess that Ted Cruz is able to achieve.

10:00 PM: I love how Marco Rubio, gentile doofus, is the arbiter of what constitutes "anti-Israel."

10:02 PM: Hugh Hewitt is like one of those fastidious ideologue characters out of 1984 and other such mid-century totalitarian dystopian novels.

10:12 PM: A rare good moment for Rubio.

10:15 PM: Looks like civil Trump may be fraying a bit.

10:20 PM: This an amazingly disingenuous tirade of nonsense from Rubio on climate change. There's some great, macabre joke to be made about this line about "government can't pass a law to change the climate." Amazing that somewhat is running for president can spout such a nonsense.

10:25 PM: Cruz seems to be relying on votes of millennials who were not alive in 1981.

10:26 PM: Trump knows he can really on the authoritarianism of his core supporters.

9:26 PM: Good Lord. No Dana, Social Security won't "run out of money" in twenty years. Simply wrong. Terribly misleading. Totally irresponsible.

9:29 PM: There's quite a lot of truth in what Trump is saying about federal contracting and bidding. But sort of terrifying to think of Trump bidding out military or social spending contracts.

9:30 PM: There's our first tell: Trump just ignored Rubio's attack.

9:30 PM: Cruz endorses Bush Social Security phase out plan. Awesome.

9:31 PM: Dana Bash basically trying to goad Trump into fights with Cruz and Rubio.

9:33 PM: This is becoming a taunt match. Like baiting a dog. Who can get Trump to pounce.

9:34 PM: "We're all in this together." ... Trump is basically rubbing the civility into the faces of Rubio and Cruz at this point.

9:36 PM: My very early read here is that Trump and Cruz are doing well for themselves. Kasich and Rubio are dying. Trump is ahead. So he just needs to cruise and if possible start to soften his image. Cruz's angle is not so much to attack Trump as to keep talking to the audience as a staunch conservative. There's a big anti-Trump audience out there. He wants to get them. Kasich is doing fine but he doesn't stand out as much against the backdrop of a calmer, more civil debate. Rubio can't really be the calm guy or the attack dog. He's done.

9:06 PM: Rubio's not doing terribly but putting on the kind of performance that basically made it impossible for him to ever breakthrough. Tired mainline GOP talk from the last two decades, bland, with none of the anger or ideological force which is the coin of the realm this year.

9:09 PM: These foreign worker hiring out-source consultancies is a fascinating subject. I'm glad I learned about it from Rubio. But his campaign's dying. He needs to talk about something besides an obscure point that doesn't have real political traction in any way.

9:14 PM: Introducing new policy wonk Trump. (Almost a firmware upgrade.)

9:16 PM: Wait, did anyone see Trump crack that coke out from under the lectern while Ted was talking?

8:42 PM: So the big line tonight is that Trump is going to try to 'go presidential', calm down the tone and start pivoting to the general. That makes sense. And it does seem like Trump will try to do that. I'm skeptical he'll be able to do that. Kasich won't pull a Rubio 3.0. That's not his brand. Rubio will have a hard time given all the grief he's been getting over the Rubio 3.0 debacle. But Cruz has lots of incentive to hit Trump hard - not on silly Rubio stuff but on red meat ideological orthodoxy. I tend to doubt Trump can resist the characterological drive to strike back.

8:47 PM: I guess Reince Priebus is not part of the #NeverTrump movement. (I'm among the half hour hostage of CNN like you are.)

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