After finishing second in Iowa, chastened Donald Trump has returned to the flock for tonight’s debate, conceding that his boycott in principle against mean-girl Megyn Kelly and her Fox News boss might not have served him well in that states caucuses.

Donald TrumpTonight’s debate should be a yeasty brawl. Trump will accuse Ted Cruz of voter fraud, Jeb Bush of having a Mommy fixation and Marco Rubio of having one canned speech in his repertoire. Meanwhile, Rubio has picked up the endorsement of former candidate Rick Santorum, who then failed to recall any Rubio accomplishment in an interview.

Extra points if Trump works into the conversation that New Hampshire Dem front-runner Bernie Sanders is following the billionaire’s lead later tonight when he appears on Saturday Night Live with his doppelganger, Larry David.

abclogoMeanwhile, Carly Fiorina will stay at home and tweet bitterly about “media bosses in New York” — ABC is hosting tonight at St. Anselm College in NH — who are “stealing” the New Hampshire primary by denying her a podium onstage, thereby “rigging the game.” Ben Carson, Chris Christie and John Kasich made the cut, however. And like Santorum, Rand Paul suspended his campaign after being an also-ran in Iowa.

ABC News anchor-in-chief and Sunday Beltway show wonk George Stephanopoulos will not moderate, having recused himself in May when it came to light he’d donated about $75K to the Clinton Foundation a couple years back. Instead, This Week co-anchor Martha Raddatz is moderating with World News Tonight anchor David Muir in the Battle of the Hoodies:

Follow along as we call the action.

Erik Pedersen February 6, 20165:08 pm

Favorite hyperbolic line of ABC’s voice-over intro: “On the eve of the biggest football game of the year, the biggest debate of the season.”

Lisa de Moraes February 6, 20165:09 pm

ABC modestly refers to it as epic debate. Before it begins

Erik Pedersen February 6, 20165:09 pm

We’ve confirmed that there is no truth to the rumor that Peyton Manning and Cam Newton turned down ABC’s offer to join the debate.

Lisa de Moraes February 6, 20165:10 pm

Hillary Clinton jumps right in:

Erik Pedersen February 6, 20165:11 pm

According to ABC’s Swiss-timed countdown clock, we are T-minus 8 minutes to liftoff.

Erik Pedersen February 6, 20165:13 pm

Far more advertising than analysis in ABC’s pregame show — wonder how much those spots were going for?

Erik Pedersen February 6, 20165:14 pm

The latest ABC poll:

Lisa de Moraes February 6, 20165:15 pm

Lindsey Graham and John McCain should not attempt comedy

Erik Pedersen February 6, 20165:16 pm

Lots of subplots tonight:

Can John Kasich kick things up a notch and move firmly into the top tier?

Lisa de Moraes February 6, 20165:17 pm

Ben Carson missed his introduction?

Erik Pedersen February 6, 20165:17 pm

Can Ted Cruz build on his Iowa momentum?

Erik Pedersen February 6, 20165:17 pm

Trump missed his cue, eh? Not very presidential.

Erik Pedersen February 6, 20165:18 pm

Uh, paging John Kasich?

Lisa de Moraes February 6, 20165:19 pm

Backstage drama at the debates! Ben and Donald Trump hold back to make sure they make Loretta Young entrances. Debate moderators say it’s the whole field when Kasich has not been introduced. “What about Kasich” says Rubio. “Oh yeah,” says Muir.

Erik Pedersen February 6, 20165:19 pm

Certainly the least organized introductions of the debate season. Not an auspicious start.

Erik Pedersen February 6, 20165:20 pm

First question to Trump involves nuking Denmark. Guess it can’t be the happiest country on Earth if it’s not ON Earth anymore.

Erik Pedersen February 6, 20165:21 pm

Lisa de Moraes February 6, 20165:22 pm

How many ABC News logos can they jam on screen

Lisa de Moraes February 6, 20165:22 pm

Erik Pedersen February 6, 20165:24 pm

The Donald is the only one who refers to himself in the first person. Gotta believe that’s enough for some undecideds to join him.

Erik Pedersen February 6, 20165:25 pm

It wouldn’t be a GOP debate if Ben Carson didn’t whine about some slight by the moderators. Yawn.

Lisa de Moraes February 6, 20165:26 pm

Cruz’s Iowa rannygazoo: “Today is 105th birthday of Ronald Reagan. I will not speak ill of another Republican,” says Ben Carson.
Cruz: “Ben. I’m sorry.” Then blames CNN again.

Erik Pedersen February 6, 20165:27 pm

Brooke Baldwin took such umbrage on-air about Cruz “throwing CNN under the bus” this week. Wonder how she’ll react to this.

Lisa de Moraes February 6, 20165:29 pm

Ben Carson nails Cruz and exonerates CNN saying they corrected tweet within a minute. 

Erik Pedersen February 6, 20165:30 pm

Biden bashing is sooo 2008.

Or 1988.

Lisa de Moraes February 6, 20165:31 pm

Chris Christie goes in for the kill on Rubio: “You weren’t even there to vote for it. That’s not leadership — that’s truancy.”

Erik Pedersen February 6, 20165:32 pm

Christie’s latest slap at the Boy in the Bubble?

Erik Pedersen February 6, 20165:33 pm

Sorry, couldn’t resist:

Erik Pedersen February 6, 20165:34 pm

Christie relentless in Rubio bashing. And me without a bucket of popcorn.

Lisa de Moraes February 6, 20165:34 pm

Christie hammering Rubio: “That’ what Washington DC does. Drive by shot at beginning” followed by “memorized 25 second speech.”  It doesn’t solve one problem for one person.”Then Rubio does it — again!  Christie has spoiled Marco Rubio’s speechifying pattern. He’s toast.

Erik Pedersen February 6, 20165:35 pm

Cue Carson complaint about being left out in 3 … 2 … 1 …

Lisa de Moraes February 6, 20165:35 pm

Muir and Raddatz have this deer caught in headlines look….

Erik Pedersen February 6, 20165:36 pm

Was kinda expecting Barbara Bush to be at Jeb’s side tonight.

Erik Pedersen February 6, 20165:37 pm

The also-rans continue throwing haymakers at Rubio. Does he have a canned speech for that?

Lisa de Moraes February 6, 20165:37 pm

Jeb Bush ties Rubio to Obama, saying we already elected “soaring eloquence” and look where that got us.

Erik Pedersen February 6, 20165:38 pm

Oh come on — let’s not fret about North Korea. We all know this is really what goes on over there:

Lisa de Moraes February 6, 20165:41 pm

Raddatz disgusted Cruz won’t declare war on North Korea

Erik Pedersen February 6, 20165:43 pm

Kasich is allowed to go way past the Ding.

Erik Pedersen February 6, 20165:44 pm

Huh?

Lisa de Moraes February 6, 20165:44 pm

Kasich eggs on Japanese to go after North Korean missiles. At least Kasich is the first governor on stage who has not cited storm cleanup as the qualification to be president.

Erik Pedersen February 6, 20165:45 pm

Trump might as well say, “I’m going build a wall around North Korea and get China to pay for it.”

Lisa de Moraes February 6, 20165:45 pm

Wow — did Trump just argue for diplomacy?

Erik Pedersen February 6, 20165:46 pm

This likely is the first time this election cycle that we’ve heard Marco Rubio say, “Donald Trump is exactly right.”

Lisa de Moraes February 6, 20165:46 pm

Rubio, defensive:

Lisa de Moraes February 6, 20165:47 pm

Erik Pedersen February 6, 20165:48 pm

Christie knows exactly when to look straight into the camera.

Lisa de Moraes February 6, 20165:48 pm

Lisa de Moraes February 6, 20165:49 pm

Christie likens North Koreans to Jersey mob.

Lisa de Moraes February 6, 20165:50 pm

Lisa de Moraes February 6, 20165:51 pm

Erik Pedersen February 6, 20165:52 pm

Erik Pedersen February 6, 20165:55 pm

Here is who we get to pay for the border obstacle:

Lisa de Moraes February 6, 20165:56 pm

Christie pulls out his little hatchet again and whacks Rubio again. Christie is the Nailer in Chief tonight….

Erik Pedersen February 6, 20165:57 pm

ABC deploys the B-Team.

Erik Pedersen February 6, 20165:58 pm

Not fuzzy math: Free enterprise + health care = $400 tongue depressors.

Lisa de Moraes February 6, 20165:59 pm

We don’t know exactly what is Trump’s new health care plan but he made very clear,  “We’re going to take care of people that are not dying on the street.”

Erik Pedersen February 6, 20166:00 pm

Is that ration-al, Ted?

Erik Pedersen February 6, 20166:00 pm

Could someone call on the Good Doctor for the health care question, please?

Lisa de Moraes February 6, 20166:00 pm

Erik Pedersen February 6, 20166:00 pm

Ah, ask a silly question…

Lisa de Moraes February 6, 20166:01 pm

Dr. Ben Carson asked about health care; complains he did not get asked about North Korea

Erik Pedersen February 6, 20166:02 pm

How much is brain surgery under you Health Empowerment Account, Doctor? Better not take your kid to urgent care when she has strep throat so you can save up just in case.

Lisa de Moraes February 6, 20166:04 pm

Only real estate mogul could make passionate defense for eminent domain….

Erik Pedersen February 6, 20166:05 pm

My guess is when Chris Christie hears the phrase “Eminent Domain,” he thinks of this:

Erik Pedersen February 6, 20166:08 pm

The boo birds vs. Trump:

Lisa de Moraes February 6, 20166:09 pm

Jeb fires back that Trump tried to use eminent domain to take an old lady’s home for a limo parking lot in Atlantic City.  Trump tells Jeb to shsssh while he’s talking. Trump gets booed. Loud.
“That’s all of his donors and special interest groups,” Trump says, now speaking directly to the viewing audience, explains the hall at debates are packed with donors and special interest execs.  “The reason they’re not loving me is I don’t want their money,” Trump says to explain the loud booing. “I’m going to do the right thing for the American public!”
This is the best dysfunctional family’s Thanksgiving dinner – ever.

Lisa de Moraes February 6, 20166:10 pm

Lisa de Moraes February 6, 20166:11 pm

George Stephanopoulos Interstitial: Never seen Rubio more rattled than when Christie exposed his rhetorical tricks.

Lisa de Moraes February 6, 20166:12 pm

While Stephanopoulos talking about rattled he is, Rubio begins fundraising:

Erik Pedersen February 6, 20166:14 pm

Lisa de Moraes February 6, 20166:15 pm

How much of that Twitter conversation about Rubio is positive?

Lisa de Moraes February 6, 20166:17 pm

Erik Pedersen February 6, 20166:18 pm

Hey Donald, how will you “bring jobs back from Mexico” when there’s a 40-foot wall between us?

Erik Pedersen February 6, 20166:21 pm

Kasich talking billions — Trump suddenly more interested.

Erik Pedersen February 6, 20166:24 pm

The crowd responds to Jeb saying “we need more millionaires.” OK.

Erik Pedersen February 6, 20166:26 pm

Exactly how would the New Jersey canary in the coalmine die? By garrote?

Erik Pedersen February 6, 20166:27 pm

Jihadist University hasn’t won an away game all year. #NoNCCATourneyBid

Erik Pedersen February 6, 20166:30 pm

ISIS’ “sophisticated network of radicalizing people here in the homeland and around the world”:

Lisa de Moraes February 6, 20166:31 pm

Erik Pedersen February 6, 20166:33 pm

Leave it to Trump to invoke Patton and MacArthur

Lisa de Moraes February 6, 20166:36 pm

Doesn’t Trump do that every debate?

Lisa de Moraes February 6, 20166:37 pm

“None of us up here is a military expert. We act like we are. ” Ben Carson speaks truth to wanna-be power.

Erik Pedersen February 6, 20166:38 pm

If torture is wrong, why do we have three GOP debates in the next 20 days?

Lisa de Moraes February 6, 20166:39 pm

Ted Cruz knows the definition of torture.  Asked if he would bring back waterboarding: “I would not bring it back in any widespread use” — why was that a laughline on the audience? Is the hall packed with Waterboarding Industry Trade Association?

Erik Pedersen February 6, 20166:39 pm

Where Doc Carson got his hand gesture habit?

Lisa de Moraes February 6, 20166:39 pm

Trump said “medieval times are coming back. ” Hey! Leave the dinner theater out of this!

Erik Pedersen February 6, 20166:40 pm

Waterboarding — cool! That’s when you skim along the wet sand at the beach, right? Sign me up!

Erik Pedersen February 6, 20166:42 pm

I guarantee Jihadist University offers Waterboarding Practice 101. Probably upper division course, too.

Lisa de Moraes February 6, 20166:42 pm

Erik Pedersen February 6, 20166:43 pm

That’s two mentions of the Second Amendment, if you’re scoring along at home.

Erik Pedersen February 6, 20166:44 pm

Trump’s next book: “Iran’s Nukes: The Art of the Bad Deal”

Erik Pedersen February 6, 20166:46 pm

John, are you not hearing the bell? 

Lisa de Moraes February 6, 20166:47 pm

Jeb: first GOP candidate who can count past second amendment, skips ahead to No. 10.

Erik Pedersen February 6, 20166:53 pm

“Cross-border enforcement without the cooperation with the Mexico government”?

Erik Pedersen February 6, 20166:54 pm

Exactly what is that other lapel pin on Christie?

Erik Pedersen February 6, 20166:57 pm

Who had 6:57 PM in the “Benghazi” pool?

Erik Pedersen February 6, 20166:59 pm

Seeing that Jack Hanna ad makes me miss David Letterman.

Lisa de Moraes February 6, 20167:00 pm

Ted Cruz vowed earlier to destroy Jihadist University. “Jihadist University” is now trending. Best line in that Twitter conversation so far: “Not gonna lie, I would be willing to attend Jihadist University if it means no debt after graduation.”

Lisa de Moraes February 6, 20167:02 pm

George Stephanopoulos Interstitial: “It’s Revenge of the Governors” night!  says Jonathan Karl.

Erik Pedersen February 6, 20167:05 pm

How long is this thing going tonight? We’re nearing the tw0-hour mark, and David Muir promised lots more in the pre-commercial tease.

Lisa de Moraes February 6, 20167:07 pm

Erik Pedersen February 6, 20167:10 pm

Zika virus? Run for your lives!

Erik Pedersen February 6, 20167:11 pm

Americans canceling their dream Olympic trips?

Erik Pedersen February 6, 20167:12 pm

Never enough talk about bodily fluids at these things.

Erik Pedersen February 6, 20167:14 pm

Applause tonight pretty much defined by one word: “smattering.”

Erik Pedersen February 6, 20167:17 pm

Hey guys, exactly how are we gonna PAY for all this military buildup? 

Anyone? Anyone? Bueller?

Lisa de Moraes February 6, 20167:20 pm

Jeb Bush on veteran who VA administrators declared dead when he is not. “I met him. He’s voting for me and he’s likely to be alive.”  Bush: grateful for live voter. 

Lisa de Moraes February 6, 20167:21 pm

Lisa de Moraes February 6, 20167:22 pm

Erik Pedersen February 6, 20167:22 pm

College credit for military service? Let’s call it the Ex-G.I. Bill.

Erik Pedersen February 6, 20167:27 pm

First trip to marriage equality issue this GOP debate season, I believe

Erik Pedersen February 6, 20167:28 pm

“Democrats are the extremists on the issue of abortion,” Rubio charges.

Lisa de Moraes February 6, 20167:28 pm

Rubio blasts Dem debate moderators for not yet asking candidates questions about abortion.

Lisa de Moraes February 6, 20167:29 pm

Lisa de Moraes February 6, 20167:31 pm

Call the Superbowl question? Really?

Lisa de Moraes February 6, 20167:32 pm

Lisa de Moraes February 6, 20167:37 pm

Lisa de Moraes February 6, 20167:39 pm

CLOSING STATEMENTS!!!

Kasich:  Stories. Hugs. Tears. Positive message. I will come back to New Hampshire if you vote for me

Lisa de Moraes February 6, 20167:41 pm

Bush: Ronald Reagan birthday.  Peace through strength. Make America safer, stronger, freer. Hi Mom.

Erik Pedersen February 6, 20167:42 pm

Christie: “You’ve gotten to know my heart.”

Lisa de Moraes February 6, 20167:43 pm

Rubio: Kids with me on campaign trail. Absentee father. My age.  Vote for me and unite this party. Beat Hillary Clinton. Single greatest nation in history of mankind.

Lisa de Moraes February 6, 20167:45 pm

Trump tells Cruz of his gag about being leader in Iowa: “That’s because you got Ben Carson’s votes by the way.”  Our country doesn’t win any more. China killing us on trade. If I’m elected we will win and we will win and we will win.

Erik Pedersen February 6, 20167:46 pm

Carson inspirational closing-statement line: “Guess what, I’m still here.”

Erik Pedersen February 6, 20167:51 pm

Cruz: Anyone remember that I won Iowa the other day?

Erik Pedersen February 6, 20167:52 pm

That’s it for us tonight. Thanks for playing along.