Friends, shall we take a moment and evaluate this moment in history? Here we are, on the verge of a Republican presidential debate that, just as the pundits predicted months ago, does not include a man named Donald Trump.
Of course, they only got that right on a technicality, of course, as Trump is still very much in the race, and still very much the frontrunner. He’s just not intending to be on the debate stage tonight (unless, of course, he shows up).
In this ever so odd campaign, tonight is fittingly fraught with suspense and drama–most of it the product of a frenzied 48 hours of back-and-forth between Trump and Fox News.
So tonight, we have a Republican debate without the Donald. He’s holding his own rival event, and should events warrant, we’ll include updates from that rally/town hall/speech/charity event here.
Our immediate objective is to follow along with the Fox News debate, which features–despite the best efforts of Trump–Megyn Kelly, along with Bret Baier and Chris Wallace as moderators. How will they address the elephant in the room (who is not in the room)? We shall soon find out.
So, there’s nothing left to do but follow the wise words of TV great Tom Snyder, who would likely have enjoyed all of this: “Fire up a colortini, sit back, relax, and watch the pictures, now, as they fly through the air.”
9:03 p.m. ET: First question–from Megyn Kelly–is about Trump’s absence and goes to Ted Cruz. “Let’s address the elephant who is not in the room,” she says, and asks Cruz what Trump’s decision says to voters. Cruz then dropped a series of insults on the candidates. “Let me say I’m a maniac and everyone on this stage is stupid, fat, and ugly. And Ben, you’re a terrible surgeon. Now that we’ve gotten the Donald Trump portion of the debate out of the way…”
Clearly, Cruz must have known this was coming:
— Stefan Becket (@becket) January 29, 2016
9:28 p.m. ET: Chris Wallace shuts down Ted Cruz, who insists on responding to a previous comment. “I know you like to argue about the rules, but we’re going to conduct a debate.”
9:30 p.m. ET: Cruz again complains to Wallace, this time about the tone of the questions. “If you guys ask one more mean question, I may have to leave the stage.”
Annnnnnnd, that didn’t take long:
— Ann Telnaes (@AnnTelnaes) January 29, 2016
9:55 p.m. ET: Headed to a break, Megyn Kelly teases questions on immigration, and “something you’ve never seen before.” WHAT IS IT?
10:00 p.m. ET: Megyn Kelly plays a series of clips of Marco Rubio saying he would never support amnesty, then confronts him on his Senate voting record, asking if he flip-flopped. When he pushes back, she’s having none of it.
I think Megyn Kelly could easily kick Marco Rubio’s ass
— Taegan Goddard (@politicalwire) January 29, 2016
Megyn Kelly pushes Rubio hard on immigration and amnesty, reminds him of his past statements. This is a problem. #GOPDebate
— Ken Rudin (@kenrudin) January 29, 2016
Yep RT @JohnJHarwood: This exchange with Kelly is not benefiting Rubio
— amy walter (@amyewalter) January 29, 2016
The clips–and Kelly’s tough questioning–seem to have put the candidates on the defensive, and have viewers commenting.
Um these clips are devastating
— Ari Melber (@AriMelber) January 29, 2016
Ask not who the C-SPAN clip comes for. It comes for you.
— Lizzie O'Leary (@lizzieohreally) January 29, 2016
These Fox videos are both a) excellent and b) ROUGH for the candidates.
— Chris Cillizza (@TheFix) January 29, 2016
10:20 p.m. ET: Google, a partner in tonight’s debate, has crunched the numbers and found interest–we’ll know more about the ratings tomorrow–seems clear: the debate’s driving more searches than Donald Trump’s rally:
— GoogleTrends (@GoogleTrends) January 29, 2016
— Jim Roberts (@nycjim) January 29, 2016
On Twitter, people are still talking about Trump:
— Sahil Kapur (@sahilkapur) January 29, 2016
10:58 p.m. ET: Even before the debate ends, the reviews are being published. Here’s Ron Fournier writing in National Journal:
Will ducking the debate hurt Trump’s standing with parochial Iowa voters or embolden his iconoclastic brand? I trust Trump on this one: He said, “Who the hell knows?”
What I do know: Thursday night was a nightmare for the GOP – another step toward what appears to be a deep and enduring split between the party’s establishment and its angry insurgents, a rude and unruly political circus that reaffirms for independent voters their worst impressions of the Grand Old Party.
11:00 p.m. ET: Our debate is over. Go in peace.