UPDATE 8:15 PM PT
Trump: A (Yes, really)
UPDATE 8:10 PM PT
Rand concludes that he'll hold the line on spending.
OH LORD NO JOHN KASICH
Kasich says he'll win Ohio. Which he should, given that he's the governor.
Christie talks about 9/11. As always.
Fiorina talks about 9/11 too.
Jeb says stuff.
Rubio is smooth on the stump, and talks about how America is unique. He looks compassionate.
Cruz looks strong and resolute. Cruz says America can win again.
Carson talks about his travels, and he thanks God he was born here.
Trump says we don't win anymore. That's his stump speech, and he's sticking to it. He channels the feeling of disaster. Nothing works, he says. If he's elected, we will win again, we will win a lot. We'll have a greater country than ever before.
UPDATE 8:00 PM PT
Fiorina talking about North Korea now. She says we have to fight Chinese cyberattacks with retaliation, and we have to take control of the trade routes. Fiorina's fine here, but zzzzzzzzzz
Carson is asked about North Korea, says they're in severe financial straits, and they've built a military rather than feeding people. We can capitalize on that. He says we should use our economic power.
Christie is asked about cyberwar. He says we have an open society. He says China is conducting business to hide things. If they want to attack our personnel records, which they've done, we need to do something in response. He says the Obama administration has betrayed us again. In case you missed it the first time.
Jeb says Christie's right. Now he's talking about zzzzzzz
Hugh Hewitt asks about the nuclear triad. Because that's Hugh's thing. Trump says we have to be careful with nuclear weapons. Trump then says nuclear power is important.
Rubio explains what the nuclear triad is: subs, airplanes, missiles. He says some are more critical than others. Expertise!
Trump is asked about his comments ripping Cruz. Trump says Cruz has a wonderful temperament. He's just fine, don't worry about it. *Smile*
Cruz says that judgments of voters will be who has the experience, judgment to be president. He says everyone is held to the same standard. Cruz says anybody on the stage would be better than Obama or Hillary. He says we can't get distracted by peripheral issues -- we must defeat jihadism.
Hewitt asks about whether Trump will run third party. Trump says he'll run as a Republican. Trump says he's gained respect for Republican leadership, respect in different forms for people on stage. He says he's never done this before. He adds, "I'm totally committed to the Republican Party, I feel very honored to be the frontrunner."
Carson is asked the same question. He says it depends on how the GOP acts, and the GOP will act better now, and they won't be moving to thwart the will of the people.
UPDATE 7:45 PM PT
Carson starts doing his geography routine on Syria to show expertise. Too little, too late.
Paul is asked about Syrian refugees. Paul says Rubio misspoke about the Gang of 8 bill. He says there were no provisions for safety for refugees. He says Rubio sided against a "trust but verify" policy on immigration. He says this goes to national defense. Paul says he has to explain his lack of border security. Pauliacs go nuts.
Rubio says we need to use the laws that exist now. He says it's not that we don't want refugees. It's that we might not be able to. He says if we allow 9,999 refugees and 1 ISIS killer, we've got a serious problem. There's not a single person who can guarantee you're 100 percent right.
Rand says you can give of your own money, but it's not our job to take care of the world's refugees. Nobody in the Middle East is doing anything.
Christie is asked about his comments regarding orphans entering the country, and the Bible welcoming strangers. Christie says this debate stops with the discussions with the FBI. It's about security.
Oh, please, God, not John Kasich.
Kasich does point out that Obama has placed immigrants around the country without state permission. He says the feds have no vetting process. Kasich says people have accused him of having too big a heart.
UPDATE 7:30 PM PT
Jeb: I know what I don't know. He says Trump gets his advice from Saturday morning shows -- cartoons. It's a good joke. But he says that he'd have good advisors, which is a Trump line.
Trump says it's very sad that CNN leads Jeb Bush down a road toward attacking Trump. He says he watched the first debate, and all the questions were about Trump. He says, "Santorum, good guy, Huckabee, good guy, but I thought it was very unfair that virtually the entire portion of the debate was Trump this, Trump that, in order to get ratings. I think it's very unprofessional." This is actually true.
Jeb tries to act Trump. Trump mocks him: "You're a real tough guy...I'm at 42 and you're at 3. You're moving over further and further, soon you'll be off the end."
Now Kasich lectures us about what advances the country.
Carson says he's a citizen-statesman, and we don't just need the political class running things. Weak tea. Carson's going to continue to bleed to Cruz.
Rubio avoids answering about a pathway to citizenship. He talks about his personal experience with immigration. He then says we found in 2013 people want security. He says we need eVerify, better border security. Then he says we give everyone a background check, they pay a fine, and they get a work permit, then for ten years, nothing. Then, presumably, CITIZENSHIP. So that's a yes.
CNN immediately turns to Cruz. Cruz says there was a time for choosing on amnesty. Some chose, like Rubio, to stand with Obama and Schumer. Others chose to stand with Jeff Sessions and Steve King and secure the border. Cruz says the front line with ISIS is at Kennedy Airport and the Rio Grande. Border security is national security. He then shreds the Gang of 8 bill. He finishes, "We'll build a wall that works, and I'll get Donald Trump to pay for it."
Rubio tries to say Cruz believes the same thing he does. Cruz rejects that, differentiating between visas and amnesty.
Trump says walls work, and he'll take a hard-line position on immigration. He says we either have a border, or we don't. He ways we want people to come legally.
CNN turns to Jeb to play mother over winning back Hispanics. Jeb says we need more fencing and more border patrol. He says the discussion hasn't helped with Hispanics, but people have some good ideas. Thanks for the vagary, Jebaroo.
UPDATE 7:15 PM PT
Christie says our Iran policy has driven ISIS. He says if you miss Iran, you're missing ISIS. One causes the other.
Paul says it's a huge mistake to get rid of Assad. He says if we had bombed Assad years ago, ISIS would run the entire country. He says we need a realistic policy.
Oh Lord, no, not John Kasich.
Kasich says Assad is an ally of Iran, and they want to extend Shia radicalism all the way across the Middle East. He says we have to punch the Russians in the nose. Their big, fat, ugly noses.
Fiorina says she'd talk to Putin under the right circumstances, but these aren't those circumstances. Putin lied, said Fiorina. She says she'd cut off the money flow, and we must rebuild the missile defense program in Poland and rebuild the Sixth Fleet. She adds, "Hillary and Obama are responsible for the growth of ISIS because they precipitously withdrew from Iraq in 2011...for political expediency."
Christie is asked about imposing a no-fly zone. He says we should impose a no-fly zone.
Paul says this would lead to World War III, and Christie is the candidate for it. He says this is recklessness that leads to war.
Christie vs. Paul on a no-fly zone in Syria pic.twitter.com/Y24TprGwBW— Ben Shapiro (@benshapiro) December 16, 2015
Christie says Obama's reckless, not him. He says if you think a no-fly zone is reckless, that's fine, but 250,000 have died thus far. Something else must be tried. That's not reckless.
UPDATE 7:00 PM PT
Cruz says it would have been better to preserve Qaddafi. He says it's better to back El-Sisi in Egypt. He says we should learn from history. Cruz says you can't topple Assad unless you want ISIS. He says hunt down ISIS rather than creating opportunities for ISIS to take over.
Rubio says Qaddafi was going to go anyway. He said the longer that civil war took, the more militias would be formed. He says Qaddafi is the man who killed Americans over Lockerbie and bombed a cafe in Berlin. He says Qaddafi began cooperating after we toppled Saddam. He says we'll have to work with less-than-ideal partners. But he says anti-American dictators like Assad, if they go, he won't shed a tear.
Cruz says it's more than not shedding a tear. It's actively toppling a government. Where are these mythical moderate rebels. They end up being jihadists. He says Netanyahu has the same view of Assad. He says Israel has no dog in the fight.
Oh no, God, not John Kasich. He says there are moderates. He says he doesn't support a civil war and doesn't want to be the world's policeman. He says the Saudis will do it for us.
Trump is interrupted by a protester. He says we've spent $4 trillion trying to topple people. We should have used that money to fix roads and bridges. Trump says we've done a tremendous disservice to humanity through our policy.
Fiorina says that's exactly what Obama has said. She's amazed to hear that from a Republican. She says Hillary Clinton has gotten every foreign policy challenge wrong.
Trump says people feel differently than Fiorina. He says Libya was a disaster. He says we have nothing for what we've spent. Trump quotes Carson, says he's a "fine man," and then says it was his idea to take the oil.
Carson says no one is better off with dictators. But America needs oxygen before we worry about our neighbors. The Middle East, says Carson, has been in turmoil for thousands of years. For us to think we'll fix that with a couple little bombs and a few declarations is relatively foolish.
Jeb defends his brother's foreign policy.
Paul says regime change isn't a good idea. From chaos you get repeatedly the rise of radical Islam. They're the problem for letting terrorism rise from the chaos.
Cruz tries to talk over Hewitt and Blitzer.
Hewitt says if Assad stays in power, Iran wins. He says how can we be winning if Iran is winning? Trump says Assad is a bad guy. We have no idea who the rebels are. He says we can't be fighting ISIS and Assad, he's fighting ISIS, Iran is fighting ISIS. We have to do one thing at a time. Trump says Lindsey Graham will be fighting another 50 years in the region. He says we have to knock out ISIS first.
UPDATE 6:50 PM PT
Hewitt asks Carson about ruthless war. Carson says, "You have to be able to look at the big picture and understand that it's actually merciful if you go ahead and finish the job rather than death by a thousand cuts." Hewitt asks if Carson's okay with the death of civilians. Carson says "ruthless" isn't the word, but tough and resolute is. Carson is not having a strong night.
Paul is asked if he thinks Republicans have fueled the rise of ISIS. He says toppling Qaddafi was a mistake. He then turns back to smacking Trump. He asks if Trump is going to change the constitution on killing American citizens abroad. Trump says "They can kill us, but we can't kill them?" Trump says he can't imagine anyone booing this. You're objecting to infiltrating their conversations?
Oh God, no, not John Kasich. He says stuff. Rumor is that his father is a mailman.
Rubio is asked about what makes our allies to fight on the ground if they won't fight from the air? Rubio says everyone has lost trust in Obama -- Obama cut a deal with Iran. He says they have as much invested as we do. This isn't true. Saudi Arabia isn't going to get rid of ISIS in favor of Iran.
Fiorina says talking tough isn't the same as being strong...DONALD! She then says we need people who have been held accountable. That's a rip on Rubio. She's lashing out like a crazed spider monkey.
Christie says all these people have been in the Senate, participating in sequestration and cuts to the military. He says that's why people are frustrated. He says the people here act like they're not even there. He says he's been held accountable.
Carson says we should take ISIS' oil, shut down their dispersal mechanisms for money. He says we should cut off their command centers. Do what we did with Sinjar a few weeks ago working with embedded special forces.
UPDATE 6:30 PM PT
Blitzer asks Cruz about his policy. He says we'd bomb ISIS into oblivion. He says use our overwhelming air power. He says during Persian Gulf War, we launched 1,100 sorties per day. Obama's launching between 15-30 air attacks per day. It's "photo op foreign policy." He says we ought to be arming the Kurds. He says it's not a lack of competence preventing Obama from stopping this. It is political correctness. He says the only reason you want to search everyone's cellphones and emails is because of PC. Thank you, Ted Cruz. For the love of God, it's not about Obama sucking at his job. It's about him being good at it.
He says the object isn't to level Raqqa but to kill ISIS terrorists. He says ISIS is gaining strength because the perception is they're winning. That will change when militants around the globe see when you join ISIS, you are giving up your life, you are signing your death warrant.
Blitzer tries to start another fight between Rubio and Cruz. Rubio says we can't defeat ISIS just by airstrikes. He says that ground force should be Sunni Arabs. He says we'll have to embed Americans alongside them. He says the airstrikes are important, and our budget cuts have made our Air Force archaic. He says we have to win the propaganda war. We must publicize our attacks to their recruits.
Blitzer tries again to fight Cruz. Rubio agrees to do so, smacks Cruz for voting against the Defense Authorization Act. Cruz says he voted against the Defense Authorization Act for good reason: it included crap. He says ISIS and radical Islamic terrorism will face no more determined foe than he will be. He says one of the problems with Rubio's foreign policy is his support for Hillary and Obama undermining governments that have helped fight radical Islamic terror.
Rubio says if you join ISIS, you lose your rights. He says Hillary's and Obama's strategy is to lead from behind. He says Cruz won't lead at all.
Trump gets a question from the audience -- and it's from someone who worries about Trump's policies about killing the families of terrorists. Trump says families know what's going on. Trump says terrorists care about their families' lives.
Jeb says Trump isn't serious. He points out Trump's inconsistencies on foreign policy; he says Trump is unserious. Trump makes faces. Trump answers, "Jeb is a very nice person. But we need tough people." Trump then silences Jeb when Jeb tries to interrupt them. He says Jeb thinks bringing Muslims in is an "act of love." Jeb says "You can't insult your way to the presidency." Big cheers in Vegas -- not much where I am. He says, "Leadership isn't about attacking people and disparaging people."
UPDATE 6:25 PM PT
Christie talks to the audience, pretends nobody cares what anybody else is saying. That's his usual gambit, and it's getting old. He interrupted another substantive debate to pretend he doesn't get it and just wants to be simple about the issue.
Carson is asked about monitoring mosques and schools. He complains he hasn't gotten to talk. He says, "We have to make sure that any place...it doesn't matter, if there are a lot of people getting there and engaging in radicalizing activity, we have to be considering it. We have to get rid of all this PC stuff." He says worrying about Islamophobia is crazy in a time of war. But he declines to weigh in on Rubio vs. Cruz.
Jeb is asked about George W. saying "Islam is peace." He says W's words are relevant if we want to destroy ISIS. We can't fight peace-loving Muslims. Or something.
Fiorina tries to ape Christie. Then she says we were using the wrong algorithms when it comes to monitoring terrorism. It's not a lack of metadata. She says our bureaucratic processes are inadequate. She says our databases are out of date. She says every parent checks social media and every employer is, but our government can't do it? Our government is incompetent.
Trump is asked about "closing" the internet. He says ISIS shouldn't be using our internet to turn our youths into messengers. He says these are thugs and terrible people, not masterminds. He says we should figure out ways using the private sector. Trump says he'd be open to closing areas where we are at war with somebody. Platitudes upon platitudes.
Oh, sweet baby Jesus, John Kasich. Oh noes.
John Kasich be like pic.twitter.com/nJLIgGuZiG— Ben Shapiro (@benshapiro) December 16, 2015
UPDATE 6:10 PM PT
Blitzer asks Trump about his immigration plans. Trump says it's not about isolation, it's security. "Our country is out of control." He says he'll build a wall; drugs will stop pouring into the country. He says tens of thousands of people with ISIS flags on their cellphones won't be coming in. And if Obama brought some in, they're gone. Tough talk -- Trump's brand.
Blitzer asks Jeb about ripping Trump. Jeb ignores the question, says he wants to fight ISIS abroad. He calls Trump a "chaos candidate" and a "chaos president."
Trump responds by saying Jeb's irrelevant.
Trump to Jeb pic.twitter.com/nbOfddWr6w— Ben Shapiro (@benshapiro) December 16, 2015
Jeb says it's not serious to say to people we're asking for their support that they can't enter the country. He says we need a serious leader.
Blitzer asks Rubio about whether banning Muslims is constitutional. Rubio's wrong on this one. But he continues by saying that the threat is here, from Americans. He says ISIS is popping up everywhere. He says they need to be confronted with serious proposals, and Obama has left us unsafe. Rubio: "He made things worse." Passionate line.
Hewitt asks Cruz about how he disagrees on his Muslim immigration proposals. Cruz says we understand why Trump has said what he has: Obama's doublespeak. Cruz then says his own plan is better than Trump's. Cruz quotes FDR's grandfather: "All horsethieves are Democrats, but not all Democrats are horsethieves." He then adds that not all Muslims are the problem: focus and defeat radical Islamic terror. He says it's not a war on religion, but an ideology.
Fiorina says she's running because she wants solutions. We don't need lawyers (Cruz) or entertainers (Trump). She's obviously looking for establishment backing. Then she starts babbling about various internet startups and when they started. Nobody knows what she's talking about.
Christie says fear is the new normal under Obama and Hillary. He then says Hillary will repeat Obama's strategy. People are scared. He says we need a president who understands what actionable intelligence looks like. He's a louder Rubio, with less rhetorical chops.
Now John Kasich. Oh, sweet baby Jesus, no.
John Kasich has one volume pic.twitter.com/QP64wKFADP— Ben Shapiro (@benshapiro) December 16, 2015
Bash tries to trap Cruz by asking him why he backed Obama's bill to stop use of certain tools in law enforcement. Cruz says she is misconstruing the bill -- it actually broadened some powers while limiting others. The USA Freedom Act allows cellphones and internet phones being covered. Cruz says "whenever anything bad happens, they focus on law-abiding citizens." FACT CHECK: True.
Rubio says Cruz was wrong to vote for the bill. He says they exploit loopholes. He says we need more tools, not less tools -- he says the metadata program was a valuable tool.
Cruz says what Rubio knows what he's saying isn't true. Quotes Mark Levin saying Rubio's attack ads are false. The old program covered 20-30 percent of phone numbers, the new program covers nearly 100 percent.
Rubio then says he can't discuss classified information. He says there's nothing under this bill we couldn't do before, but it took away a valuable tool.
Paul then chimes in. He says we're not safer for bulk collection of records. He says we're not spending enough time getting specific information on terrorists. He says what could have stopped San Bernardino would have been stricter controls on who came. He says Rubio has opposed immigration reforms that would have stopped this. He quotes the Gang of 8 bill. Brutal rip. He says Rubio's the weakest on immigration.
Rubio responds: Only 10 people voted for Rand's bill. He says the metadata program is more strict than what regular law enforcement agencies have now.
Paul fires back: My program would have stopped immigration from high-risk terrorist countries. All our terrorists have come through legal immigration. "To defend the country you have to defend the border."
UPDATE 6:00 PM PT
Paul opens. He rips Trump for wanting to "shut down that internet thing." He rips Rubio for "boots on the ground." He says that we need to not cave to terrorism by violating our rights. We do need to kill terrorists occasionally, Rand.
Kasich says he asked his daughter if she likes politics. She says no because it's too loud. John, do you own a mirror?
Christie: "America has been betrayed." It's a strong opener. He talks about the LAUSD shutdown based on a terror threat. He talks about families worrying about their children being safe. This resonates. Rand's isolationism doesn't.
Fiorina: She says she's angry at what's happening to the country. She says it's time to take the country back, but then adds that "bombast and insults won't take it back." That's a slap at Trump. She says our problems can be solved by a tested leader willing to fight for the character of the nation. She's talks about her experiences: she's had breast cancer and buried a child. But that's not particularly useful political experience. If her argument is experience, it falls flat.
Jeb: Our nation is under attack, Hillary's under investigation. Funny line. He says we need strong leadership. Only one problem.
Jeb Bush gives his opening statement and America already be like pic.twitter.com/xFx6LE0C5G— Ben Shapiro (@benshapiro) December 16, 2015
Rubio talks about how he grew up in Vegas. He tells a great story. And he feels reassuring. Applause in the room where I sit at the Nixon Library.
Cruz says America's at war. He says our enemy isn't violent extremism. It is radical Islamic terrorism. Obama won't utter its name. He says that every Republican is better prepared to keep the nation safe than Obama or Hillary. Cruz again running as the uniter. Smart.
Carson asks for a moment of silence in honor of the San Bernardino victims. He says our country is at war against radical Islamic jihadists -- he says our existence depends on winning the war. He talks about facing life and death situations as a neurosurgeon. "Right now, the United States of America is the patient, and the patient is in critical condition, and will not be cured by political correctness, and will not be cured by timidity." Great line.
Trump says his entire campaign has been about building the military, fighting foreign adversaries, rips the Iran deal. He mentions how he's center stage: "People saw it, people liked it, people respected it." He says people like what he says again about radical Islamic terrorism. He says we've opened a big discussion.
UPDATE 5:50 PM PT
Ted Cruz lookalike pic.twitter.com/NgpDSdjqHn— Ben Shapiro (@benshapiro) December 16, 2015
Rand Paul lookalike pic.twitter.com/hQyundxm3s— Ben Shapiro (@benshapiro) December 16, 2015
Jeb Bush lookalike pic.twitter.com/iuPmN8dvbK— Ben Shapiro (@benshapiro) December 16, 2015
John Kasich lookalike pic.twitter.com/Hexged8jYR— Ben Shapiro (@benshapiro) December 16, 2015
Ben Carson lookalike pic.twitter.com/PjWdAHLMvP— Ben Shapiro (@benshapiro) December 16, 2015
Marco Rubio lookalike pic.twitter.com/VYWWTVPqnI— Ben Shapiro (@benshapiro) December 16, 2015
Carly Fiorina lookalike pic.twitter.com/4cMHt1VYDg— Ben Shapiro (@benshapiro) December 16, 2015
Donald Trump enters pic.twitter.com/fn53ByhQWm— Ben Shapiro (@benshapiro) December 16, 2015
UPDATE 5:40 PM PT
Best tweet of the night thus far:
Oh good; the stupidest man in Celebrity Jeopardy! history set to moderate a presidential debate.— Phil Kerpen (@kerpen) December 16, 2015
UPDATE: 5:30 PM PT
According to those who watched the debate, all the headlines went to a very colorful Lindsay Graham, who said he missed George W. Bush, called for boots on the ground in Syria, suggested that we give the jihadis their desired virgins. He wins. The prize: nothing.
Tonight marks the final Republican debate of 2015 from the Venetian in Las Vegas, hosted by CNN. The undercard, which could be termed the Debate of the Walking Dead, features former Governor Mike Huckabee (R-AR), Senator Lindsey Graham (R-SC), former Governor George Pataki (R-NY) and former Senator Rick Santorum (R-PA). Their combined polling average: 2.7 percent, with 2 percent of that coming from Huckabee.
We won’t bother liveblogging that mess.
At 6:00 PM PT comes the main show, starring CNN’s Wolf Blitzer; according to Politico, he has a fight night planned:
Several campaign aides told POLITICO they expect CNN to begin the debate by pitting individual candidates against Trump – perhaps by asking if they condemn his controversial proposal to ban Muslims from entering the United States. The tactic would be designed to hook viewers from the get-go.
Dana Bash and Hugh Hewitt will be the other two moderators. Bash is a committed liberal; Hewitt is a Republican radio host on the Salem Radio Network. In the last CNN debate, Hewitt got to ask only a few questions. We’ll see if that changes tonight.
The main stage participants will feature nine candidates. Here they are, with their Real Clear Politics poll averages:
Donald Trump: 33.0 percent
Ted Cruz: 16.1 percent
Marco Rubio: 12.6 percent
Ben Carson: 12.0 percent
Jeb Bush: 4.0 percent
Chris Christie: 2.9 percent
John Kasich: 2.3 percent
Carly Fiorina: 2.3 percent
Rand Paul: 2.1 percent
Those numbers look different in Iowa, where Cruz leads the Real Clear Politics polling average with 26.4 percent, Trump following closely at 25.4 percent, and then Marco Rubio at 12.9 percent leading the rest of the pack.
Check all night for live updates.