Tonight’s GOP debate is the fifth of 2015, but it’s the first in which TV News talking heads have conceded the “unthinkable”: former reality-TV star Donald Trump could well the party’s nominee. He now is polling nationally at a commanding 41%, despite director Judd Apatow having dismissed him as being most like “the psycho girl” on The Bachelor.

GOP Presidential Candidates Debate In Las VegasJoining Trump in CNN’s primetime debate from the Venetian in Las Vegas: Ted Cruz, Marco Rubio, Ben Carson, Jeb Bush, John Kasich, Carly Fiorina, Chris Christie and Rand Paul.

Since the GOP candidates last debated on November 10, ISIS murdered 130 in Paris, its sympathizers killed 14 in San Bernardino, and jittery Los Angeles Unified School District officials today shuttered all of its schools after receiving an email threat.

In that environment, tonight’s debate is expected to clock a crowd that rivals the first GOP debate on Fox News Channel in August or the second on CNN in September — both of which attracted more than 23 million viewers.

It’s also the first debate in which Cruz has risen to the top of the pile, putting him in Trump’s line of fire. Not coincidentally, Trump last Sunday told FNC’s Chris Wallace that Cruz behaves  “like a little bit of a maniac.”

Lisa de Moraes December 15, 20155:29 pm

Paul Begala from The Venetian in Vegas:

Lisa de Moraes December 15, 20155:31 pm

Donald Trump enjoyed the Kids’ Table debate:

Erik Pedersen December 15, 20155:33 pm

CNN’s “candidate superlatives” from yesterday:

Most likely to succeed: Ted Cruz
Most likely to brawl: Donald Trump & Rand Paul
Most likely to surprise: Chris Christie & Rand Paul
Most likely to fail: Ben Carson

Erik Pedersen December 15, 20155:34 pm

CNN’s moderators tonight are the same as they were in September: Wolf Blitzer, Dana Bash and Hugh Hewitt.

Lisa de Moraes December 15, 20155:36 pm

RNC chairman Reince Priebus on stage, running for re-election: “One thing all of these candidates need on this stage is a competent national party and it’s what we’re working for every single day.” He drops the first H-bomb of the big debate: Every single one of these candidates on stage would be a world better than Hillary Clinton — are you with me?!” 

Erik Pedersen December 15, 20155:36 pm

Earlier tonight, CNN’s John Burman must have wanted to blanch when he read this off the teleprompter: “The Venetian theater was built to house The Phantom of the
Opera
coming to Las Vegas. … Phantom ran for six years here, so is a space
that knows drama. Maybe nothing like tonight – unless they start singin’.”

Erik Pedersen December 15, 20155:38 pm

So … is the really the Potential Veep debate? Cynical, yes, but think about it…

Erik Pedersen December 15, 20155:40 pm

It’s pretty funny to hear Anderson Cooper speaking in the hushed tones of a golf analyst.

Erik Pedersen December 15, 20155:42 pm

Hmmm…

Erik Pedersen December 15, 20155:44 pm

Pretty big cheers for Jeb Bush — are they sure they know who they’re cheering?

Erik Pedersen December 15, 20155:44 pm

Oooh, tepid cheer for Carly Fiorina. 

Erik Pedersen December 15, 20155:46 pm

NORM!

https://twitter.com/normmacdonald/status/676940307745923073

Erik Pedersen December 15, 20155:48 pm

These rules explanations remind me of a host explaining his game show’s rules. THAT explains that ding!-ding!-ding! time bell.

Lisa de Moraes December 15, 20155:49 pm

Opening statements portion of tonight’s activities:
Rand Paul: “We defeat terrorism by showing them we do not fear them. if we ban religions, censor the internet, the terrorists will have won.”

Erik Pedersen December 15, 20155:50 pm

“Arab boots on the ground” — made in China?

Lisa de Moraes December 15, 20155:51 pm

John Kasich: “We are Republicans and they are Democrats but before all of that we are Americans.”

Erik Pedersen December 15, 20155:51 pm

News: John Kasich’s daughter doesn’t like politics. Reaction: I’ll bet he doesn’t like her bands.

Lisa de Moraes December 15, 20155:52 pm

Chris Christie: “America has been betrayed…by the leadership of Obama and Hillary Clinton.” He mulls the terror tomorrow of Los Angeles fathers heading off to work, wondering about the safety of their wives and their children in those schools. 

Erik Pedersen December 15, 20155:54 pm

Come on, Christie: “Think about the fathers of Los Angeles who tomorrow will head off to work and wonder about the safety of their wives and children.”

Is he running against Eisenhower?

Lisa de Moraes December 15, 20155:54 pm

Carly Fiorina says this country needs “a tested leader willing to fight” explaining, lest you wonder,  she’s referring to she who has never held elected office: ” I have been tested. I have beaten breast cancer, buried a child and started as a secretary.”

Lisa de Moraes December 15, 20155:54 pm

Jeb Bush: We must destroy ISIS before it destroys us, by restoring budget cuts to military.

Erik Pedersen December 15, 20155:55 pm

This after the Jersey boy mentioned the LA moms taking their kids to the bus stop. Not only is that very Ozzie & Harriet, doesn’t he know that all LA moms drop their kids off at the roundabout in their Mercedes SUVs. (Sorry, couldn’t resist…)

Lisa de Moraes December 15, 20155:56 pm

Marco Rubio notes he grew up in Las Vegas. Because of Obama, “millions of Americans feel left out in their own country” and are “called bigots because they hold on to traditional values.”

Erik Pedersen December 15, 20155:57 pm

Did Marco Rubio just endorse smoking? Hey kids, have three cigars a day while you cower in your cellar from the terrorists!

Erik Pedersen December 15, 20155:58 pm

Radical Islamic Terrorism — opening for Fall Out Boy on their spring European tour.

Lisa de Moraes December 15, 20155:58 pm

Ted Cruz: We need a president first obligation president keep America safe. if I’m elected, we will hunt down and kill terrorists” and stop terrorist attacks before they happen because we will “not be prisoners to political correctness.”

Erik Pedersen December 15, 20155:59 pm

Ben Carosn just asked for a moment of silence “for the San Bernardino victims.”
No one noticed anything different in his speech pattern.

Lisa de Moraes December 15, 20156:00 pm

Donald Trump: “People like what I say. People respect what I say”

Erik Pedersen December 15, 20156:01 pm

Trump talks about “the Migration.” Was hoping for a “those people” to go with it.

Lisa de Moraes December 15, 20156:02 pm

First question to Trump about his plan to temporarily ban Muslims entering U.S. and plan to deport 11 million people now in this country. Trump: “We are not talking about isolation or religion. We are talking about security. Our country is out of control.”

Erik Pedersen December 15, 20156:03 pm

Trump has been well coached for a response to the Muslin ban question.

Lisa de Moraes December 15, 20156:03 pm

Jeb Bush calls Donald Trump a “Chaos Candidate.”  Trump swings back, saying Bush doesn’t really believed he’s “unhinged” but previously said so because Bush’s campaign is a “disaster.”

Erik Pedersen December 15, 20156:04 pm

Oh that bloomin’ Onion…

https://twitter.com/TheOnion/status/676945047686930432 

Erik Pedersen December 15, 20156:06 pm

The moment Ted Cruz had heard enough and went for his concealed Glock.

Lisa de Moraes December 15, 20156:06 pm

Erik Pedersen December 15, 20156:09 pm

Ted Cruz is soooo conservative…
(How conservative is he?)
He is soooo conservative, he just busted out a century-old quote to burn the Democrats.

Erik Pedersen December 15, 20156:10 pm

Hey Blitzer, don’t tell me I’m “clearly more scared today than any time since 9/11.”

Erik Pedersen December 15, 20156:11 pm

Erik Pedersen December 15, 20156:13 pm

C’mon, gang, let’s have some fireworks already.

Lisa de Moraes December 15, 20156:14 pm

Pick your worst nightmare. Trump: Tens of thousand of people with ISIS flags on their smart phones. Christie: Fathers going to work while their children are attacked by terrorists at school. Carson: America is a deathly ill patient in critical condition. FDR’s grandfather: All horse thieves are Democrats

Erik Pedersen December 15, 20156:15 pm

Camera just caught Ted Cruz drinking water while he watched Marco Rubio talk. Give that director the Emmy!

Lisa de Moraes December 15, 20156:16 pm

Erik Pedersen December 15, 20156:16 pm

Rubio just made CNN execs very sad by saying only “15 million people” are watching. Hell, Anthony Bourdain eating a pickled centipede might be able to draw that many.

Lisa de Moraes December 15, 20156:17 pm

Erik Pedersen December 15, 20156:18 pm

CNN couldn’t afford to put a cough button on the candidates’ mics?

Lisa de Moraes December 15, 20156:20 pm

“If your eyes are glazing over like mine this what like to be on floor of U.S. senate: endless debates about how many angels are on the head of a pin,” snarks Chris Christie.

Erik Pedersen December 15, 20156:21 pm

Not sure what Chris Christie knows about being on the floor of the United States Senate…

Lisa de Moraes December 15, 20156:23 pm

Carson complains to Wolf Blitzer he hasn’t been asked enough questions, while others have been asked several, “So please try to pay attention to that.”  Sleepy wants to be poked more often.

Erik Pedersen December 15, 20156:24 pm

Torn about whether Fiorina’s dress is more Nancy Reagan or Tiger Woods on the Sunday of a major.

Erik Pedersen December 15, 20156:27 pm

Fiorina busts out an Obamacare website slam. Very cutting-edge — she’ll do anything to stump on her tech record.

Lisa de Moraes December 15, 20156:28 pm

Fiorina: “Every parent checking social media and every employer” but the government cant? And, to make sure we remember her tech background, she gives us the first time any presidential administration has been criticized for using “the wrong algorithm.”

Erik Pedersen December 15, 20156:28 pm

Trump says the media should “stop referring to these guys as masterminds.” All snark aside, I’ve never agreed with a Trump statement more. 

Erik Pedersen December 15, 20156:29 pm

Once against, Kasich leads the league in being emphatic.

Erik Pedersen December 15, 20156:32 pm

Cruz just triggered someone’s drinking game with tonight’s first mention of political correctness.

Then he said it twice more. You gotta SLAM that Bud Light, Chauncy!

Erik Pedersen December 15, 20156:33 pm

Sometimes the jokes write themselves…

Lisa de Moraes December 15, 20156:33 pm

Cruz is asked about his “carpet bomb ISIS” line.  He instead give us a better catchphrase: “Political correctness is killing people.”

Erik Pedersen December 15, 20156:34 pm

Rubio vs. Cruz is becoming the main event tonight. Who will be the first to refer to the other as Mr. Vice President?

Lisa de Moraes December 15, 20156:37 pm

Is this GOP debate the best recruiting tool ISIS could have hoped for? Every one of these guys talks like they’re 20-feet tall.

Erik Pedersen December 15, 20156:38 pm

First Facebook question of the Big Show is  about Trump’s “let’s get the jihadists’ families” line and gets typically vague response from the billionaire. Bush jumps on it likes a flaming paper bag on a doormat on Halloween.

Erik Pedersen December 15, 20156:39 pm

Belligerent Trump finally rears its head! Where you been??

Erik Pedersen December 15, 20156:40 pm

Bush: “Donald, you’re not going to be able to insult your way to the presidency.”

Reaction: Great line, Jeb, but he just might.

Lisa de Moraes December 15, 20156:42 pm

 Bush finally gets the right script for going after Trump.  Trump comes back with his usual response about Bush being nice guy but not tough enough for the job.  But this time Bush has his comeback: “Donald you’re not going to be able to insult your way to the presidency.” 

Lisa de Moraes December 15, 20156:43 pm

Erik Pedersen December 15, 20156:44 pm

Hugh Hewitt’s question to Carson about whether he could be “ruthless” enough to kill children as collateral damage in war just got a bigger boo than an ISIS balloon at the Macy’s Day Parade would.

Lisa de Moraes December 15, 20156:45 pm

“So, they can kill us, but we can’t kill them?” Trump complains when Paul notes that Trump’s plan to “close the internet” would violate the First Amendment, and Trump’s plan to kill ISIS family members would violate the Geneva Convention.

Lisa de Moraes December 15, 20156:51 pm

Fiorina uses her one glass ceiling card for the night.The GOP debate is not the place to go heavy on the Margaret Thatcher gag: “If you want something talked about, ask a man. If you want something done, ask a woman.” 

Erik Pedersen December 15, 20156:53 pm

Wolf Blitzer just said — at he 90-minute mark — “Stand by, we’re only just beginning.”

Erik Pedersen December 15, 20156:54 pm

And here’s the inevitable ad for Michael Bay’s Benghazi movie.

Erik Pedersen December 15, 20156:56 pm

My esteemed college Lisa disagrees, but I swear the the guy in the VoteEnergy.org had who says “A more secure America” sounds EXACTLY like Bernie Sanders. Replay it and listen, willya? 

And he kinda looks like Wolf Blitzer. 
Lisa de Moraes December 15, 20156:58 pm

Is Rubio chewing gum?

Erik Pedersen December 15, 20156:58 pm

With all the Middle East focus tonight, America’s buddies such as China, Russia and North Korea are lovin’ it.

Lisa de Moraes December 15, 20156:59 pm

Lisa de Moraes December 15, 20157:01 pm

Cruz goes after the tweener girl vote, calls moderate Muslims “purple unicorns.”

Patton Oswalt weighs in:

Erik Pedersen December 15, 20157:02 pm

Nice try, heckler. This ain’t the place.

Erik Pedersen December 15, 20157:06 pm

Oh, NOW a Bush is advocating “a strategy to get in and a strategy to get out.”

Lisa de Moraes December 15, 20157:07 pm

Ben Carson gets a question! Is Middle East better off with dictators? Answer: No one ever better off with dictators. When plane and oxygen masks drop, put on yours first then help others. “We need oxygen now and to start thinking about the needs of the American people. The Middle East has been in turmoil for thousands of years.”

Erik Pedersen December 15, 20157:09 pm

Cruz refuses to be played off! Blitzer refuses his refusal!! 

I think Hollywood finally has solved the casting for that inevitable Clash of the Titans reboot.

Lisa de Moraes December 15, 20157:10 pm

Erik Pedersen December 15, 20157:10 pm

Forgot Kasich was there…

Erik Pedersen December 15, 20157:11 pm

Fer crissakes, someone get Carson a lozenge.

Lisa de Moraes December 15, 20157:13 pm

Fiorina back to saying she knows Vladimir Putin even though she met him in a green room.

Erik Pedersen December 15, 20157:13 pm

Why didn’t Blitzer just let Fiorina answer that Facebook question? It was a good, well-phrased question (if read to quickly). Was his extra verbiage necessary?

Erik Pedersen December 15, 20157:14 pm

Risking war with Russia! NOW we’re talkin’. I need a minute to pop some corn…

Erik Pedersen December 15, 20157:16 pm

Paul just drew the Jersey Death Stare from Christie with, “I think if you’re in favor of World War III, you have your candidate.”

AND A BRIDGE SHUTDOWN SLAM!!

Erik Pedersen December 15, 20157:16 pm

Christie wisely opts to spit out the hook.

Erik Pedersen December 15, 20157:19 pm

Trump back on the “it’s unfair” kick. It’s played, Donnie boy. Move on.

Erik Pedersen December 15, 20157:22 pm

It’s been bugging me — who does Hugh  Hewitt remind me of? The winner: 1980 presidential candidate John Anderson. (Hi, Mom.)

Erik Pedersen December 15, 20157:24 pm

Is this the first non-war/terror question of the night?

Erik Pedersen December 15, 20157:25 pm

Reagan! And another drinking game is poked.

Erik Pedersen December 15, 20157:26 pm

Annnnnd back to The Politics of Fear. That didn’t take long, Sen. Cruz.

Lisa de Moraes December 15, 20157:27 pm

Brawl breaks out when Trump complains that CNN keeps asking questions  “Mr. Trump said this. Mr. Trump that.” He calls it “very unprofessional.” Bush dusts off Obama’s gag: “If you think this is tough, think what it’s going to be like dealing with Putin”. “Oh yeah, you’re a real tough guy,” Trump snarls. “I’m at 42 and you’re at 3 —  pretty soon you’re going to be off the air.” Fiorina jumps in: “This doesn’t do a thing to solve the problem.”  Ratings gold.

Erik Pedersen December 15, 20157:27 pm

It’s official: This is the Cruz-Rubio Debate. Might as well just keep that split screen up for the duration.

Erik Pedersen December 15, 20157:30 pm

“Walls do work — all you have to do is ask the people in Israel.” 

Erik Pedersen December 15, 20157:32 pm

Wolf to Ben: Are camps a permanent solution to the refugee crisis? 

Rambling answer, but I think he’s saying they are.

Erik Pedersen December 15, 20157:34 pm

Rubio is nothing if not quick on his feet.

Erik Pedersen December 15, 20157:35 pm

Will this thing bleed into the late local news in the East?

Erik Pedersen December 15, 20157:37 pm

Christie just stared into the wrong camera to make his point to the people. We’d call it a rookie mistake, but…

Erik Pedersen December 15, 20157:38 pm

Kasich’s hand gestures constantly look like he’s showing you this size of that trout he landed last summer.

Lisa de Moraes December 15, 20157:39 pm

Facebook questions that keep interrupting the debate are coming from a whole other astral plane. University of Texas student tells us the Bible says we must welcome refugees.

Erik Pedersen December 15, 20157:39 pm

Blitzer just used the “we’re only just beginning” line AGAIN. One hundred and thirty minutes in. Even the crowd gave tepid applause that time.

Erik Pedersen December 15, 20157:43 pm

Was hoping for a gun-control question when they get back from that ad break featuring another Hateful Eight spot.

Lisa de Moraes December 15, 20157:44 pm

To combat Kim Jong Un, Fiorina said she would call in the Japanese, the Chinese, the Australians.  Noticeably absent from her call list: Seth Rogen and James Franco.

Erik Pedersen December 15, 20157:45 pm

Debate. Over.

Lisa de Moraes December 15, 20157:48 pm

Christie’s strategy for combating Chinese hacking: Embarrass its political leaders with their Facebook drunk photo

Erik Pedersen December 15, 20157:49 pm

Hillary Clinton email snap. Bush is killin’ it! Yawn.

Erik Pedersen December 15, 20157:50 pm

That was the longest CNN has gone without showing Trump’s face since July.

Lisa de Moraes December 15, 20157:53 pm

Dana Bash tries to get Trump to repeat his line on FNC’s Sunday Beltway show about Cruz acting like a “maniac.” Trump pats Cruz on the back and says he has a “wonderful temperament. Don’t worry about it.” Dana, disappointed: “Okay”

Erik Pedersen December 15, 20157:53 pm

Speaking of cage matches…

Lisa de Moraes December 15, 20157:54 pm

Dana Bash continues this CNN debate low point, begging Cruz to go after Trump. Cruz instead shows off his champion debating style, throwing up a fog of rhetoric. 

Erik Pedersen December 15, 20157:55 pm

We’re at the 2 1/2-hour mark, CNN. Remember how pissed the Donald got when your first one went three hours? Careful, careful…

Erik Pedersen December 15, 20157:57 pm

First commercial break that Wolfie didn’t lead in to with “we’re just getting started.” This is a Good Sign.

Lisa de Moraes December 15, 20157:57 pm

In biggest moment of the debate, Trump passes loyalty test: “I really am,” Trump said, when Hewitt challenged him to say whether he’s ready to commit to remaining with the Republican party.  “I’ve gained great respect for Republican leadership.. and for, in different forms, everyone on the dais. I’ve never done this process before.. I will tell you, I am totally committed to the Republican Party.  I feel very honored to be the frontrunner…. I will do everything in my power to beat Hillary Clinton.”
 

Erik Pedersen December 15, 20157:57 pm

First commercial break that Wolfie didn’t tease with “we’re just getting started.” This is a Good Sign.

Lisa de Moraes December 15, 20157:58 pm

Carson joined in, saying RNC chair Reince Priebus assured him the Washington Post reporters got it “all wrong” when it reported on plans for a brokered convention.

Erik Pedersen December 15, 20157:59 pm

That sound you just heard was the GOP’s money men crying out in horror as Trump vows to see this race through as one of them.

Erik Pedersen December 15, 20158:00 pm

Closing statements begin.

Paul: “The greatest threat to our national security is our debt.” 

Erik Pedersen December 15, 20158:01 pm

Kasich: “No Republican has never been elected president of the United States without winning Ohio.”

Would he really win his home state?

Erik Pedersen December 15, 20158:02 pm

Christie: “Something something something 9/11 something something I will protect America something.”

Lisa de Moraes December 15, 20158:02 pm

 Fiorina: I too remember September 11,” when she put into place new security measures at HP. Beat Clinton.

Lisa de Moraes December 15, 20158:04 pm

Rubio: New American century.

Erik Pedersen December 15, 20158:04 pm

Bush: “Which candidate will keep your family safer?” Then a three bumbles and fumbles.

Was certain he was going to wrap with “That’s all, folks.”

It probably is…

Lisa de Moraes December 15, 20158:05 pm

Cruz: Judgment, strength, clarity, trust, me, Reagan.

Lisa de Moraes December 15, 20158:05 pm

Carson: I’ve traveled to 58 countries.

Lisa de Moraes December 15, 20158:05 pm

Trump: Our country doesn’t win any more.

Erik Pedersen December 15, 20158:10 pm

That’s a wrap — except for the post-debate extend-o-interview with Trump. 

Erik Pedersen December 15, 20158:12 pm

Trump: “I’ve gotten to be the fair-haired boy.”
Must. Resist. Cheap. Joke.

Lisa de Moraes December 15, 20158:42 pm

Democrats respond:

Lisa de Moraes December 15, 20158:44 pm

More Democratic response: