Highlights from the debate:
The main event featured the top 10 contenders: Donald Trump, former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush, Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker, former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee, Dr. Ben Carson, Texas Sen. Ted Cruz, Florida Sen. Marco Rubio, Kentucky Sen. Rand Paul, N.J. Gov. Chris Christie, Ohio Gov. John Kasich.
An earlier debate featured the candidates trailing in the polls: Texas Gov. Rick Perry, former Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum, Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal, former Hewlett Packard CEO Carly Fiorina, South Carolina Sen. Lindsey Graham, former New York Gov. George Pataki, and former Virginia Gov. Jim Gilmore.
Christie and Paul faced off over NSA data collection and terrorism.
The Biggest Moments From The First GOP Presidential Debate
The first contest with the top contenders in the Republican field was a rollicking, lively two-hour event that revolved around Donald Trump — and the confrontations either with him or between other Republicans on the political issues that have animated the party the last two years.
Fox News, led by moderators Megyn Kelly, Chris Wallace, and Bret Baier, let the action play out — often letting one Republican jump into the fray and attack another. They challenged the candidates on Common Core (the education standards that put Jeb Bush at odds with many in his party), Medicaid expansion (likewise for John Kasich, the hometown Ohio governor), and immigration (many candidates). And they aimed rhetorical fire at Trump's business record, comments about women, and more.
The results were fights between a number of candidates, and most notably an extended, intense argument over the NSA surveillance program between Chris Christie (for it) and Rand Paul (against it).
God made an appearance in tonight's debate by way of a viewer question submitted via Facebook to the candidates:
Three Republicans were asked about marriage equality and said nothing bad about gay couples.
Former Gov. Mike Huckabee, Gov. John Kasich, and Sen. Rand Paul were asked questions about same-sex couples' marriage rights — declared to be a nationwide right this June.
Kasich said that while he opposed same-sex couples' marriage rights, "The court has ruled," noting he since went to the wedding of a friend who is gay. If one of his daughters told him she was a lesbian, he said he would love her unconditionally: "I'm gonna love my daughters no matter what they do."
Paul, asked about religious liberty concerns raised in light of the ruling, started out by noting, "I don't want my marriage or my guns registered in Washington." Pointing to an incident where pastors' sermons were subpoenaed in Houston, he said that went too far. He did not mention those subpoenas were later withdrawn.
Earlier in the debate, Huckabee had been asked whether his views on marriage equality and abortion would make him unelectable. Although he gave an extensive answer regarding how his abortion views might effect his candidacy, he said nothing about the marriage portion of the question.
Trump vs. Fox News
Three of the network's biggest names — Bret Baier, Megyn Kelly, and Chris Wallace — set the agenda early and hard, going after Trump on his dalliance with a third-party run, his sexist comments about women, and his assertion that Mexico is purposefully sending rapists over the border. Read more.
Huckabee and abortion
Earlier in the debate, when asked about his position on abortion and the recent bill pushed by Republicans in Congress to defund Planned Parenthood, former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee suggested that the next president should do something "even more bold" and outlaw abortion completely. We now "clearly know that that baby inside the mother's womb is a person at the moment of conception ... because of the DNA schedule that we now have clear scientific evidence on," Huckabee responded, referring to the fact that a fetus's full DNA is present immediately after conception. This fact has been known since the discovery of DNA, Forbes science reporter Matthew Herper pointed out on Twitter.
Huckabee went on to suggest that this "proof" of personhood means that a fetus should be protected by the 5th and 14th constitutional amendments.
Constitutional and bioethical law expert Dawn Johnsen told BuzzFeed News that Huckabee's position on abortion is opposed to even that of Supreme Court Justice Scalia.
"Those justices who would overrule Roe [v. Wade] say it should be left to legislatures," Johnsen said. Huckbee's position suggests abortion should be illegal everywhere, which is "clearly not supported by any theory of constitutional interpretation," she said.
Huckabee has made similar arguments against abortion in the past, even going so far as to say he would not rule out the use of federal troops to prevent abortion.
“Only ISIS is responsible for the terrorism.”
Rand Paul said in Thursday's primetime Republican presidential debate that "only ISIS is responsible for the Rand Paul said in Thursday's primetime Republican presidential debate that "only ISIS is responsible for the terrorism" and the "depravity."
The statement contradicts years of prior foreign policy statements by Paul, who in the past has said that American foreign policy was a leading cause of terrorism. Read more.
I said, "Be at my wedding."
Everyone tuning in hoping to hear outrageous Donald Trump statements tonight were not disappointed. First, he declared that he had given money to every candidate on stage tonight. A number of them shook their heads or said that was not true.
Then, he said he had given money to Hillary Clinton and told her she had to come to his wedding. "With Hillary Clinton? I said, 'Be at my wedding,' and she came to my wedding. You know why? She had no choice because I gave."
"Thank you, Megyn, I wasn't sure I was going to get to talk again.”
A lot of people on Twitter were wondering where Ben Carson had gone during this debate, and apparently he was worried, too. But he didn't seem quite prepared to answer a question on waterboarding. "There is no such thing as a politically correct war," he said.
Trump: "If it weren't for me you wouldn't even be talking about illegal immigration."
In the opening segment of the debate, immigration came up and there were fireworks. Jeb Bush was asked about his comments that undocumented immigrants coming to the country is "an act of love." Bush said he stands by those comments, and that the majority of them want to protect their families, but he said the border must be secured.
Trump was then asked to respond to Bush's comments condemning his remarks that Mexicans coming to the U.S. are criminals and rapists. Trump puffed out his chest and said the reason illegal immigration is being discussed is because he brought it up, which is not true at all, but entertained the crowd.
He also said, "I was at the border, border patrol people that I deal with, that talk to, they say this is what happening because our leaders are stupid, our politicians are stupid."
"We have to build a wall, and it has to be built quickly. And I don't mind having a big beautiful door in that wall," he said.
Trump on calling women "fat pigs": "What I say is what I say."
Debate moderator Megyn Kelly hit Donald Trump with a question about his ad hominem attacks against women. "You have called women fat pigs, dogs, slobs, and disgusting animals," Kelly said, questioning whether Trump had the temperament to be president.
"Only Rosie O'Donnell," Trump replied.
"Frankly, what I say — it's fun, its kidding — what I say is what I say," Trump continued. "We have a good time. What I say is what I say. And honestly, Megyn, if you don't like it, I'm sorry. I've been very nice to you, although I could probably maybe not be, based on the way you have treated me. But I wouldn't do that."
"I think the big problem this country has is being politically correct," Trump said. "I've been challenged by so many people, and I don't frankly have time for total political correctness. And to be honest with you, this country doesn't have time either. This country is in big trouble. We don't win anymore. We lose to China. We lose to Mexico both in trade and at the border. We lose to everybody."
Watch the video here:
O'Donnell tweeted her reponse:
Marco Rubio says that if this is a résumé contest, Hillary Clinton will win.
"If this election is a resume competition, then Hillary Clinton is going to be the next president," Rubio said, adding it needs to be an election about the future, not the past.
Who will not support the nominee?
The candidates are asked if they will unequivocally pledge their support to the eventual nominee. And Donald Trump is booed for saying he will not take that pledge.
Rand Paul says Trump buys politicians and is already hedging on a running a third-party campaign, which he says will help Hillary Clinton and the Democrats.
As the debate gets going tonight, this is a precarious time for Rand Paul. The head of his super PAC was indicted on Wednesday. McKay Coppins reports:
The federal charges announced Wednesday against Jesse Benton mark a jarring, high-profile flameout for the long-serving Rand Paul adviser and top-flight Republican operative who was hailed until recently as a rising star in the party — a grim political trajectory that many in Paul's orbit now tell BuzzFeed News their candidate seems doomed to follow.
In interviews Wednesday with more than half a dozen people close to Paul — including current staffers, top fundraisers, and key allies — Benton's indictment was cited as evidence of deeply rooted problems in Rand Paul's campaign, from organizational dysfunction to personal failures of judgment by the candidate himself.
Benton, who runs the pro-Paul super PAC, was indicted on Wednesday for concealing payments to an Iowa state senator in exchange for the senator's endorsing Ron Paul in 2012.
Carly Fiorina: Victor
Fiorina, the former CEO, was the standout at the early debate — which was mostly characterized by difficult questions and languid answers from the second-tier candidates. But the consensus on Google search and on Twitter was pretty clear:
Fiorina probably got the most time from the moderators (including extended time in a closing statement) — and she used it the best, packing concise details on policy, and especially the Iran deal, into clean answers. She also effectively went after Donald Trump for his past Clinton support, and Hillary Clinton herself.
Jindal's favorite phrase makes an appearance.
Jindal just remarked that Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton are turning "the American dream into the European nightmare," a line he has used, um, before.
Perry says Trump is this cycle's Giuliani.
"Well, when you look at the celebrity of Donald Trump, then I think that says a lot about it," Perry said Thursday. "One thing I like to remind people is back in 2007, Rudy Giuliani was leading the polls for almost a year. I would suggest a part of that was his celebrity." (Read more.)
"The Happy Hour Debate" begins.
The seven candidates who didn't make the cut for the main debate are on the stage before a near-empty room in Cleveland now. The first question went to Rick Perry, who had a pretty rough outing the during the 2012 GOP debates. Perry says he is now ready to be president.
Everyone's trying to improve their poll numbers in the early debate, but especially these few:
Both Bobby Jindal and Rick Perry (who was just cut off by John Kasich in the top 10 debate) have spent considerable time campaigning in Iowa this year, and will likely continue campaigning even with their lower numbers. Both are pursuing a socially conservative electorate that Rick Santorum — also on stage in the earlier debate — carried to great effect in the 2012 election.
Likewise, Carly Fiorina — the only woman running for the Republican nomination — would like to make the top field (and Republican leadership would like to see her there).