Whoa! Audacious Trump saying he won’t pledge not to run third party if he doesn’t get the GOP nomination. Good on Rand Paul for jumping in and landing a punch on Trump’s chin: “He buys and sells politicians of all stripes, he’s already hedging his bets on the Clintons.”

This might actually be a fun night.

UPDATE: What is the point of Ben Carson’s campaign? He’s not ready to be president, and is so sleepy.

Rubio is vigorous, aggressive. “If I’m the nominee, how is Hillary Clinton going to lecture me on living paycheck to paycheck. I was raised paycheck to paycheck.”

Good question from Bret Baier about dynastic politics. “I’m my own man,” said Bush, then offered a bunch of facts and figures. I don’t think that he really dealt with what bothers people about the dynastic business.

Megan Kelly brought up ugly things Trump has said about women; Trump cut her off, saying, “Only Rosie O’Donnell.” It was a very funny line, delivered with typical Trumpian bombast. He dismissed Kelly’s hard question as “political correctness.” This guy plays very well on TV, I’ll give him that. He’s going to blow up, but it’s going to be a fun ride until he does.

UPDATE.2: Good, crisp response from Chris Christie. Good questions, by the way, from the Fox panel. Megan Kelly hit Walker with a strong question about abortion, and he didn’t give an inch. Great rhetoric by Huckabee on abortion, but it was meaningless — as if we could overturn Supreme Court precedents legislatively.

Rand Paul comes off ornery as hell.

Megan Kelly poses a hard question to Kasich about expanding Medicaid, and how un-Republican that is. Kasich expected that, and had mostly a good answer, but got tripped up by citing statistics.

UPDATE.3: Trump is unstoppably bombastic on immigration. Doubling down on emotion and outrage, avoiding answering questions. I can report that the people with whom I’m watching the debate are loving Trump, and loving him hard.

UPDATE.4: Kasich: people who just want to tune Trump out are making a mistake. Kasich blew the question about how to handle immigration, though, by talking about all the things he did in Washington, none of which had anything to do with immigration

Rubio more coherent, but not much better in terms of offering a solution tonight. Things must be done, etc. I think I see why Trump is connecting on this. He is the most outraged, and his outrage comes in part from the fact that politicians keep coming up with the same “solutions,” but nothing happens. You don’t get the impression from any of these candidates tonight that they will do anything meaningful about it, except furrow their brows.

Except maybe Ted Cruz, who had the best line of them all: “It’s not a question of stupidity [of US politicians]. It’s that they don’t want to enforce the immigration laws.”

UPDATE.5: Hell of an exchange between Christie and Paul over intelligence gathering, though edifying to neither.

I don’t quite understand this point that Cruz and Jindal keep making, that we won’t destroy radical Islamic terrorists unless we have a president who will call them “radical Islamic terrorists.” Cruz says if you join ISIS, we will kill you. OK, fine — but how are we going to do it? More troops in the Middle East?

UPDATE.6: Barack Obama created ISIS by removing US troops from Iraq, said Jeb Bush. This is the lesson he learned from the Iraq War failure? I find it hard to believe a thing he says about foreign policy.

UPDATE.7: “There is no such thing as a politically correct war,” said Ben Carson. So opposing torture is “politically correct”?

Ben Carson supports torture. Disgusting.

UPDATE.8: So … Trump concedes that he exploited the pay-to-play political contribution system, and that’s why he can fix it? That’s a bizarre statement, but I think this is why he’s making headway as a populist: people have the idea that he’s so rich that nobody can buy him.

UPDATE.9:

Well, aside from Trump? I’d say Ben Carson, who is sleepy and way out of his depth, though not obnoxious. And I’d say Rand Paul, who has been the candidate I’ve been most interested in, is a real disappointment tonight. He seems irascible and petulant in a way that’s not helping him. Chris Christie does too, but we expect that from him.

UPDATE.9: At this point in the debate, Rubio and Bush are the two most plausible presidents of this pack.

UPDATE.10:

UPDATE.11: Four Trump business bankruptcies. Why trust him to run the nation’s business? Trump has nothing but bluster and bloviation on this question. Chris Wallace pressed him on a particular case, which lost a fortune for investors, and cost 1,100 jobs. Trump used that as an example of his success, and besides, the people who loaned him money, they’re “killers.”

A priceless line: “This country owes $19 trillion, and it needs somebody like me to straighten out this mess.”

Trump is like the lead character in a Muppet movie directed by Oliver Stone.

UPDATE.12:

True, very true. Alas… . Reader Father Frank comments: “I enjoyed the Christie/Paul sparring match, but I believe Paul has a decent head on his shoulder, and would help himself greatly if he came across less bitchy.”

UPDATE.13: Hey Trump, when did you actually become a Republican? asks Megyn Kelly. “I’ve evolved on many issues over the years, and you know who else evolved over many years? Ronald Reagan evolved.” Good grief.

UPDATE.14: That’s a good question from Kelly to Kasich: If one of your kids were gay, how would you explain to them your opposition to gay marriage? He whiffed on the philosophical side, but the rest of his answer was great, saying that it’s ridiculous to say that you hate people who disagree with you: “God gives me unconditional love, and I’m going to give it to my family, my friends, and the people around me,” Kasich said. Yes, this.

Disappointing answer from Rand Paul about religious liberty and gay rights. I think he’s got the right instincts, but that answer wasn’t worth much.

UPDATE.15: Total dodge by Rand Paul on why he changed his mind on defunding Israel.

UPDATE.16:

Nothing alienates me more from the Republican Party than hearing Republicans talk about war and foreign policy.

UPDATE.17: Poor Kasich. I think he’s probably a good man and a competent governor, but he was just dying on that God answer. I was hoping that he would break out tonight, but I think he’s going to remain dead in the water, in the polls. On his final answer, I don’t know why politicians think it helps them to recite their resumes. People want vision, not statistics.

Ben Carson is not going to be on the stage at the next debate. He’s just not up for this. I think he’s a good, even great, man, but he is not called to the presidency. Give the Carson slot to Fiorina in the next debate.

Rand Paul says, “I’m a different kind of Republican.” That’s true, but we didn’t see nearly enough of that tonight. I don’t think he helped himself this evening.

Chris Christie didn’t help himself either, but he probably didn’t hurt himself, as Kasich and Carson did.

Ted Cruz grates, but for people who like that kind of thing, he is very much the kind of thing they like. He’s going to do well.

Mike Huckabee — man, I miss the Huck of 2008. I like him a lot, but he’s a TV host. He’s not going anywhere. Cruz is going to get a lot of the votes that would have gone to Huckabee.

Scott Walker did nothing for himself tonight, but he didn’t hurt either. He needs to be bolder in the next debate.

Trump is Trump.

Marco Rubio struck me as the most presidential tonight — him, and Jeb Bush. Bush is the Romney of this field. He’s respectable, solid, a plausible nominee, but nobody actually loves him. Rubio, I think, has more fire in his belly. He had the best night.

The big winner overall tonight was Carly Fiorina, who suddenly seems interesting. After tonight, Huckabee, Kasich, and Carson fade. Christie, Paul, and Walker need to step up their game greatly. No one needs to do this more than Jeb Bush; if he were not a Bush, and wasn’t sitting on top of a massive pile of donor money, he would be an also-ran. He just seems so tired, so last-decade.

I was startled by Cruz. I cannot abide the man as a politician, but I think he’s going to go far. When Trump blows up, his people are going to default to Cruz, I think.

So, Rubio. He came across as serious, solid, and fresh.

By the way, Frank Luntz’s focus group started out with a big number of Trump supporters, but Trump’s performance tonight alienated almost all of them. Said he came off as bombastic, shallow, and mean, said these people. “All he did was point at himself and have nothing to say about anything,” said one man. See, I’ve thought this all along, and it’s nice to see others seeing it, at last.

“He showed himself for what he is: he’s a casino owner,” said a woman.