And then there were five.
Tonight, we see the smallest field of potential Republican presidents: Donald Trump, Ted Cruz, Marco Rubio, Ben Carson and John Kasich.
Will everyone go after the frontrunner? Or will Rubio and Cruz fight amongst themselves?
First, some housekeeping. In terms of who stands where, Trump will be at center stage, with Cruz to his left and Rubio to his right. Carson and Kasich will be on the ends. The venue tonight is the University of Houston, and CNN is joined by Telemundo and the Salem Media Group.
Wolf Blitzer (left, outside the debate hall this afternoon) is the moderator, with Telemundo’s Maria Celeste Arraras, Salem talk radio host Hugh Hewitt and CNN chief political correspondent Dana Bash asking questions.
This is the debate, by the way, that was originally scheduled to be hosted by NBC–at least until the Republican National Committee dumped the network in frustration after the widely criticized CNBC debate in October.
Alright. On with the
8:36 p.m. ET: It Begins After a very dramatic CNN intro and an appearance by President George H. W. Bush, the candidates have taken the stage and the national anthem has been sung. Let’s do this thing.
9:00 p.m. ET: Fights Between Rubio and Trump and Cruz and Trump A feisty series of questions have pitted the top three candidates against each other, with Carson and Kasich on the sidelines.
Some journalists have noted that this is one of the first times Donald Trump has been attacked on his business record:
Actually fascinating to see what a debate looks like when Trump is pressed on his actual business record and "university" marketing.
— Ari Melber (@AriMelber) February 26, 2016
Rubio just landed more jabs on Trump in one minute than he's landed the entire campaign.
— Nicholas Thompson (@nxthompson) February 26, 2016
Rubio is doing everything he can to make Trump mad, to make him lose his temper.
— Chris Cillizza (@TheFix) February 26, 2016
9:10 p.m. ET: Who Is Screaming? The fiery nature of the debate has produced some raucous responses from the crowd, and many on social media have been distracted by one person in particular. But who is she?
Someone find the banshee now. And profile her. Now. #GOPDebate
— Dan Zak (@MrDanZak) February 26, 2016
9:19 p.m. ET: I Don’t Believe Anything Telemundo Says Asked about a Telemundo poll that suggests Trump can’t win with Hispanic voters nationally, Trump tells Maria Celeste Arraras “I don’t believe anything Telemundo says.”
The Telemundo anchor pushed back. “For the record, you have said publicly that you love Telemundo in the past.”
9:25 p.m. ET: Hot Dog! Once you see it, you can’t un-see it. Is the CNN graphic behind the candidates actually a hot dog? YOU DECIDE.
#debate hotdog pic.twitter.com/6FmfCj0L14
— James Poniewozik (@poniewozik) February 26, 2016
9:35 p.m. ET: Fruit Salad Asked about appointing a new justice to the Supreme Court, Ben Carson suggested he would look at the “fruit salad” of a potential justice’s life.
Ben Carson: "The fruit salad of their life is what I will look at." pic.twitter.com/JMNTJTLXp7
— POLITICO (@politico) February 26, 2016
9:51 p.m. ET: Let Them Fight As the candidates ignore time limits and fight back and forth, both Dana Bash and Wolf Blitzer have attempted to push the debate forward. Blitzer at one point said to the candidates, “all of you agreed to the rules, I want to move on.” But not everyone watching thinks that’s wise.
CNN needs to get out of the way of this debate and let it happen like @chucktodd and @maddow did in NH #GOPDebate
— James Pindell (@JamesPindell) February 26, 2016
If Wolf breaks up another good brawl I'm going to pay the screamer to rush the stage #GOPDebate
— Melissa Francis (@MelissaAFrancis) February 26, 2016
10:00 p.m. ET: Trump Slams Hewitt When Hugh Hewitt asked a question of Donald Trump, the frontrunner complained. “I know I’m here for the ratings, but it’s a little bit ridiculous.”
Trump then took a shot at Hewitt, whose show he appeared on:
Trump: "Very few people listen to you"
Hugh Hewitt: … pic.twitter.com/sewfykgUt1
— Sarah Parnass (@WordsOfSarah) February 26, 2016
10:20 p.m. ET: Who’s Coughing? The phantom cougher is, sources say, Dr. Ben Carson.
Someone please give Ben Carson a cough drop and then kindly escort the good doctor off the stage.
— McKay Coppins (@mckaycoppins) February 26, 2016
10:25 p.m. ET: Talk Time The focus has been on Trump, who has been taking shots from his left and right, and the talk time analysis shows it:
Talk times per @barbarasprunt
— Domenico Montanaro (@DomenicoNPR) February 26, 2016
10:39 p.m. ET: The Debate, In One Clip There’s been fighting for time, fighting among the candidates, a ringing bell, and Wolf Blitzer trying to maintain control. Missed it? It looked a lot like this:
These guys. #GOPDebate pic.twitter.com/ju4I0DeGZo
— Chris Geidner (@chrisgeidner) February 26, 2016
10:50 p.m. ET: Final Statements This has been quite a night. Who won? Who lost? And what will the ratings be for this one?
The debate is finished. Go in peace.