Donald Trump speaks last night during a rally aboard the USS Iowa battleship moored in Los Angeles harbor. (Mike Nelson/EPA)

THE BIG IDEA: Good morning from California, where the Reagan Library will host tonight’s Trump Show.

The Donald said in Los Angeles last night that he’s ready for the other candidates to attack him during the 8 p.m. Eastern debate. Previewing his message, he promised to make America respected again in the world if elected. What was billed as “a major national security speech” clocked in at just 13 minutes and included no specifics. “We’re gonna make our military SO big and SO strong and SO great and it will be SO powerful that I don’t think we’re ever going to have to use it,” he said on the deck of the USS Iowa. George Short, 73, an Army veteran at the speech, told my colleague Katie Zezima that he supports the billionaire businessman because he’s got “B-A-L-L-S.” That’s a pretty adroit synthesis of what makes Trump so appealing to so many.

CNN wants the candidates to clash. Moderator Jake Tapper is telling people he wants the candidates to go after each other. CNN executives don’t want it to be CNN vs. Trump; they want it to be the field vs. Trump. Tapper’s favorite moment at the Fox debate in Cleveland was when Chris Christie and Rand Paul brawled over national security. “That’s how we’ve been crafting our questions, so that Senator X will respond to what Governor Y said about him or a policy he proposed, and try to encourage them to actually debate Lincoln-Douglas style as much as possible,” Tapper told the New York Times. To the Huffington Post, he described the contest as “a real dogfight.”

CNN’s Jake Tapper (File)

Does tonight’s debate shift the tenor of this race from flashy to substantive? That’s the question animating David Weigel’s preview on the Post’s front page. “For the people who study foreign policy and try to shape the national conversation, the simple answers from Carson and Trump are frustrating — yet totally understandable,” he writes. “The rise of the Islamic State has stoked panic among some conservative voters, but it has not defined their conversations. The GOP’s hawks have tried, with little success, to sober up the base.” Dick and Liz Cheney’s new book, for instance, sold just 14,000 copies last week, according to Nielsen’s BookScan.

Who gets tripped up by questions about U.S. foreign policy? You can count on someone looking unprepared. Hugh Hewitt, the conservative radio host who gets to ask questions, tripped up both Trump and Carson during interviews on his show. Their voters didn’t really care, but the audience will be a lot bigger this time.

Can Trump look like a statesman? He’s a talented showman, but the businessman cannot control the moderators or the producers who choose which camera shots the nation will see. Can the ex-reality TV show star use all the attacks coming his way to make himself look big and his attackers look small?

Will Ben Carson take any heat? He’s now second in every poll, gaining on Trump. Are the moderators going to give him extra scrutiny? Will anyone, particularly Trump, go after the former neurosurgeon? His mild-mannered style has offered a stark contrast with Trump that seems to work for him.

Is Carly ready to rumble? Trump and Carson are the two main outsiders in the GOP field. Fiorina got a bounce after the first debate but she still lags far behind in polling. The moderators will bait her over Trump’s disparaging remark last week about her face to Rolling Stone. She’s alluded to it on the campaign trail in recent days. But the former HP CEO may choose to pivot to policy and try to look substantive rather than getting in a street brawl. Not returning fire would make for less interesting television but could establish her as serious and thoughtful.

How angry will Jeb be? He was tepid and lackluster last time. Now he’s willing, even eager, to attack Trump. But he can’t look too angry if he wants to be presidential. “If fundamental decency is one of his calling cards, and if campaigning joyfully is one of his priorities, can he credibly become an attack dog?” Dan Balz wonders in his preview. “Bush won’t get lost on Wednesday, but he can ill-afford a debate in which he is viewed as just okay.”

Who does not criticize Trump? Ted Cruz will avoid hitting Trump. Rubio has tried to stay out of the fray, and he’ll try to show off some knowledge of foreign policy to assuage doubts about his youth. He wants to look serious amidst the circus. Will John Kasich follow suit?

Can Scott Walker get back into the conversation? He didn’t even use all of his allotted time in Cleveland and his devotion to talking points (he called himself “aggressively normal” at one point) made his performance unmemorable. Several of the Wisconsin governor’s prominent supporters warned Walker beat reporter Jenna Johnson that donations could dry up if he doesn’t do well tonight.

Can any of the four guys in the undercard debate use it as a springboard? CNN changed the rules to get Fiorina on the main stage. Rick Perry dropping out Friday and Jim Gilmore not making the cut means only four will be on stage at 6 p.m. Eastern. Will anyone pay attention? Bobby Jindal has relentlessly ridiculed Trump in recent days (releasing blistering web videos), but those punches won’t carry quite the same weight without Trump there to respond. Also present: Lindsey Graham, Rick Santorum and George Pataki.

Three final questions, from Dan Balz’s curtain-raiser

  • Can Kasich continue to be a distinctive presence — conservative and pragmatic at the same time?
  • Who can consolidate conservative evangelicals —Cruz or Mike Huckabee?
  • Chris Christie and Rand Paul tangled in Cleveland, but does either gain by going after the other?

After tonight, the next GOP debate is not until Oct. 28. It will focus on economics, air on CNBC and take place at the University of Colorado in Boulder. The first Democratic debate is Oct.13, in Las Vegas, on CNN.

WHILE YOU WERE SLEEPING:

Jimmy and Rosalynn Carter answer questions from the public during an event at The Carter Center in Atlanta last night. (Reuters/Tami Chappell)

Jimmy Carter says he has undergone his second of four treatments for cancer without any “ill effects.” Speaking in Atlanta last night, he joked that the most challenging part of his treatment has been the 64 ounces of liquid that doctors have directed him to drink each day, down from 84 ounces. “Instead of getting productive work done, I spend a lot of time in the restroom,” he told a crowd of 400. (Michael Alison Chandler)

Joe Biden called Trump’s message “SICK” last night (and not in the positive way that kids sometimes use the word…). At a Hispanic Heritage Month reception at his D.C. home, the VP predicted that the anti-immigration rhetoric will ultimately fail. “There’s one guy absolutely denigrating an entire group of people, appealing to the baser side of human nature, working on this notion of xenophobia in a way that hasn’t occurred in a long time,” Biden said. “Folks, the American people are with us. I know it doesn’t feel that way, but I’m telling you, I’m telling you the American people agree with us.”

First in 202: A poll of independents for NARAL Pro-Choice America tests the statements that leading Republicans candidates are making on abortion. They’ll help the group make the case that independent voters in six key battlegrounds are less likely to support the leading GOP figures in a general election once they’ve heard the comments being made during the primaries. The poll from Greenberg Quinlan Rosner was conducted in Colorado, Florida, Iowa, Nevada, Ohio and Virginia. Read a two-page memo here.

A new poll from WBUR finds that Trump only leads Carson by 4 points in New Hampshire, 22 percent to 18 percent. Fiorina is third with 11 percent. Jeb and Kasich tie at 9 percent for fourth. A national CBS/NYT poll yesterday put Trump at 27 percent, to 23 percent for Carson. In a promising sign for the establishment, two-thirds of Republican primary voters said it is too early to say for sure whether their mind is made about which candidate they will support. A robopoll from the Democratic firm Public Policy Polling yesterday showed that Trump leads even in Florida, getting 28 percent, but Carson is in second at 17 percent. The home state candidates trailed behind, with Bush at 13 and Rubio at 10.

— Spin du jour—“Hillary Clinton’s lead over Bernie Sanders cut by half” is the headline on CBS’ story about its national poll with the New York Times. Clinton spokesman Jesse Ferguson tweeted a link to the same numbers: “BREAKING — New CBS/NYT poll shows Clinton leading Dem primary by 20 points (47-27).” They’re both right, of course, but Hillary’s week of bad polling continues. A Monmouth University survey of New Hampshire found Sanders ahead by 7 (43-36), with Joe Biden at 13 points. Bernie even led among women by 4 (42-38).

GET SMART FAST:

  1. Facebook said it’s working on a dislike button. “Not every moment is a good moment,” wrote Mark Zuckerberg. “If you share something that’s sad, like a refugee crisis that touches you or a family member passes away — it may not be comfortable to like that post.” Facebook may offer a button to express “empathy” or give users the chance to pick from a menu of “more options.”
  2. The Mississippi professor who police say killed his live-in girlfriend and then gunned down a fellow professor in his campus office on Monday called police to tell them about the first killing and later vowed that he would not go to jail. He pulled his car over as police closed in, ran into a wooded area and apparently shot himself. (T. Rees Shapiro)
  3. The DHS inspector general found lapses in internal computer systems used by the Secret Service and ICE during an audit. (Reuters)
  4. Hewlett-Packard Co. is preparing to shed up to another 30,000 jobs. Fiorina, who cut more than 30,000 jobs before she was fired a decade ago, might get asked about this tonight. (AP)
  5. General Electric announced plans to send 500 jobs overseas and blamed Congress’ failure to reauthorize the Export-Import Bank.
  6. The Vatican welcomed the Iran nuclear deal.
  7. The last remaining woman in training at the Army’s grueling Ranger School has been held back from graduating, but she could still become the third female soldier to complete the course later this fall. (Dan Lamothe)
  8. Seattle’s five-day teacher strike is over.
  9. Mitch McConnell plans a third Senate vote on the Iran deal Thursday, after the second one failed yesterday. He wants to tie the release of Iran’s prisoners (including the Post’s Jason Rezaian) and their acknowledgement of Israel’s right to exist as a condition for approval of the Iran deal. The vote is going to fail, but McConnell wants to score as many political points on the issue as he can; the deadline for congressional review of the agreement is Thursday.

POWER PLAYERS IN THE NEWS:

  1. Obama nominated Robert Califf to run the FDA. The 63-year-old joined as deputy commissioner in March after more than 30 years as a prominent cardiologist and medical researcher at Duke University. (AP)
  2. Senate Majority Whip John Cornyn asked Attorney General Loretta Lynch to appoint a special counsel to investigate Hillary’s e-mail server. (Politico)
  3. Sixty-three percent of Americans say Kentucky clerk Kim Davis should be required to issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples regardless of her religious objections, according to our Post-ABC poll.
  4. Diane Rehm ripped into Martin O’Malley for running late to his interview on her show yesterday morning. Instead of appearing in the studio, as planned, O’Malley called from his car. She began the interview by upbraiding him about punctuality, which she said is a reflection of whether people can trust a candidate. (Baltimore Fishbowl)
  5. The Kremlin denied that Vladimir Putin called Elton John, who has said he wants to talk to him about gay rights, after the musician wrote on Instagram that the Russian leader had reached out by phone. (BBC)
  6. Correct the Record, one of the main pro-Hillary super PACs, attacked Bernie Sanders by tying him to the new leader of the United Kingdom’s Labour Party. Sanders quickly raised money off the attack.

WAPO HIGHLIGHTS:

— Planned Parenthood is a symbol. This is the reality of one Ohio clinic,” by Monica Hesse: “This clinic sees nearly 7,100 patients a year, most of them young and poor. The clinicians administer 3,400 pregnancy tests, write 2,900 prescriptions for birth control and provide 13,200 screenings for sexually transmitted infections to the women and men walking into a boxy building between a restaurant-supply store and a used-car dealership. Inside the clinicians’ office, a ­pamphlet on the wall reads ‘Bomb Threat Checklist.’ Like nearly half of Planned Parenthood’s facilities nationwide, Akron doesn’t perform abortions. Three of the organization’s 27 centers in Ohio do.”

— Hungary shuts key refugee route amid widening clampdowns across Europe,” by Robert Samuels, Michael Birnbaum and William Booth: “A main gateway to central Europe slammed shut Tuesday as Hungary closed its border to refugees, finishing work on a 100-mile fence spooled with razor wire and arresting more than 150 desperate migrants who tried to sneak across. Within hours, a tent city sprouted on the Serbian side in another potential flash point of misery and anger…Restrictions took hold across Europe from west to east even as E.U. leaders bickered over a German-led plan to resettle up to 160,000 refugees across 22 member countries. But none of the pushback against the refu­gee tide matched Hungary’s in scope or ambition.”

— Obama and China: trying to play well with a close frenemy,” by David Nakamura: “When Chinese President Xi Jinping arrives in Washington next week, President Obama plans to welcome him with a 21-gun salute on the South Lawn and a black-tie state dinner, the highest level of diplomatic pageantry for a foreign leader. But some in Washington are calling on Obama to keep the cork in the champagne…Lawmakers in both parties want a tougher U.S. policy. ‘We should not roll out the red carpet for him,’ said Sen. Marco Rubio…West Wing advisers called such a move unthinkable at a time when the White House is counting on Beijing’s commitment to a major agreement to slash greenhouse-gas emissions by 2030 and its backing of the U.S.-led nuclear accord with Iran.”

SOCIAL MEDIA SPEED READ:

— ZIGNAL VISUAL: Carson, Fiorina and Kasich rising. Analyzing the media coverage and social media chatter around the 2016 presidential race, our analytics partners at Zignal Labs see the same thing that the national polls reflect: As of now, this is a race between Trump and everybody else. Here’s a list of total mentions for all the GOP contenders since Trump declared his candidacy on June 16:

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While Trump remains in a category of his own, no candidate has had a more dramatic spike over the last month than Carson. The retired neurosurgeon’s rise in the polls coincided with increased media interest. From Aug. 14-29, Carson had 208,000 total mentions across all media. From Aug. 30 to Sept. 14, that number jumped to more than 309,000 – a 35 percent increase in interest over the last two weeks.

While some candidates like Rick Perry and Rand Paul faded, there are signs of potential strength for Cruz and Bush. Despite falling to single digits in the polls, there is still intense interest on broadcast and social media in the Texas senator and the former Florida governor. Nothing Trump-like, of course, but it’s still pretty high. Here is a list of the most frequently mentioned GOP contenders across all media over the past 30 days.

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Debates have been known to make or break a candidate. Just ask Rick Perry, who was mortally wounded by his “oops” moment in 2012. In this crowded and disparate field, debates can focus media attention. The last Happy Hour debate made a star out of Fiorina. And Kasich has emerged as strong as he is in New Hampshire partly because of his heartfelt answer on gay marriage last time. This chart shows how the last debate spiked interest in both Fiorina and Kasich:

–Pictures of the day:

Twitter noticed that a picture posted Friday by Louisville Mayor Greg Fischer was apparently taken in a toilet stall:

“Some sort of giant worms or maggots seems to have infected the Capitol Dome,” tweeted Rep. Jared Polis (D-Colo.), labeling it a #metaphor:

First Lady Michelle Obama hosted Queen Letizia of Spain for tea on what happened to be the queen’s 43rd birthday:

–Tweets of the day:

Marco Rubio found himself in hot water after slamming Florida State University on Iowa’s KXNO. “I think there has to be a school where people who can’t get into Florida can go to college,” he joked Friday.

The president of FSU, a supporter of Jeb Bush, fired back at Rubio. “He’s a nice kid,” said John Thrasher, who served with Rubio in Florida legislature, told the Tallahassee Democrat. “I’m sure he’s frustrated by his low standing in the polls, which I believe could be a reflection of where he got his education.”

Rubio defended the comment on Twitter:

Donald Trump touted his position in the GOP presidential field:

Former Obama adviser Dan Pfeiffer said he feels uncomfortable attending Wednesday night’s Republican debate:

Former Rep. John Dingell (D-Mich.) expressed doubts about tuning in, leading to this exchange with follower Tammy Gordon:

–Instagrams of the day:

The White House posted a picture of an aurora as observed from the International Space Station:

Chief RNC strategist Sean Spicer tried In-N-Out Burger for the first time ahead of the GOP debate:

“Being out on a picket line and standing with workers is what I do,” Bernie Sanders wrote alongside the video below:

GOOD READS FROM ELSEWHERE:

Wall Street Journal, “Records show scant Reagan-Trump ties,” by James V. Grimaldi: “Aides in the Reagan White House, peppered with invitations to Trump events, mostly kept the real-estate mogul at arm’s length, except when they were trying to stop his donations to Democrats or soothe his ‘large ego,’ as one memo put it…One month after Mr. Reagan announced his candidacy on Nov. 13, 1979, Mr. Trump, his parents, sister and brother each made the maximum federal campaign contribution allowed—but not to Mr. Reagan. The Trumps all gave to the re-election campaign of Democratic President Jimmy Carter, according to Federal Election Commission records. FEC records show no donation from Mr. Trump to Mr. Reagan for four more years. In fact, 10 months after Mr. Reagan’s 1981 inauguration, Mr. Trump made an early contribution to the political-action committee for the presidential bid of former Vice President Walter Mondale, a Democrat.” BuzzFeed also dug up quotes of Trump trashing Pat Buchanan 15 years ago for being insensitive in his comments about Mexicans and immigrants.

— New York Times, “Analysts said to provide evidence of distorted war against ISIS,” by Mark Mazzetti and Matt Apuzzo: “A group of intelligence analysts have provided investigators with documents they say show that senior military officers manipulated the conclusions of reports on the war against the Islamic State, according to several government officials…The Pentagon’s inspector general, who is examining the claims, is focusing on senior intelligence officials who supervise dozens of military and civilian analysts at United States Central Command, or Centcom … Analysts at the center of the investigation allege that their superiors within Centcom’s intelligence operation changed conclusions about a number of topics, including the readiness of Iraqi security forces and the success of the bombing campaign in Iraq and Syria.”

— New York, “Jeb Bush has made a huge mistake,” by liberal Jonathan Chait: “When Marco Rubio proposed his massive tax-cut plan a few months ago, he left the details so vague it could not be analyzed…And last week, when Jeb Bush released his own proposal, it appeared at first he would follow suit. But Bush has filled in enough details that his plan’s impact could actually be measured. He’s made a huge mistake. Citizens for Tax Justice has run the numbers, and it turns out a whopping 53 percent of the benefit of Bush’s plan would accrue to the richest 1 percent of taxpayers. By contrast, his brother’s tax cut in 2000 gave 40 percent of its benefit to the richest 1 percent.” The Citizens for Tax Justice report is here.

— Los Angeles Times, “California voters sharply disagree on low cost healthcare for immigrants,” by Cindy Carcamo: “California voters are sharply divided over whether free or low-cost health insurance should be granted to those who reside in the state without legal status, according to a new USC Dornsife/Los Angeles Times poll…The poll found that about 48% of voters believed that immigrants who live here illegally should be eligible to receive free or low-cost health insurance…A statistically equal 47% said the group should not be eligible…Backing for the benefit is split along ethnic lines, with 69% of Latino voters but only 39% of white voters responding that the group should be eligible. And it had an ideological cast as well: 68% of Democrats supported eligibility, yet only 19% of Republicans agreed. Opposition was most passionate among supporters of Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump, 90% of whom opposed eligibility.”

HOT ON THE LEFT

MoveOn slams David Brock for hypocrisy after he trashes them for being motivated by profit. From MSNBC: “David Brock, the former conservative journalist who switched sides to found an archipelago of leading Democratic groups, … devotes most of his new book ‘Killing the Messenger’ to the media and the ‘right-wing plot to derail Hillary.’ … He takes particular issue with the progressive group MoveOn, which spent six months trying to draft Warren into the race. … ‘Doesn’t David Brock have something better to spend his time on than driving a wedge between grassroots progressives and Hillary Clinton?’ MoveOn spokesperson Nick Berning said in an email to msnbc. Berning went on to knock Brock, who has raised tens of millions of dollars for his groups, sometimes controversially. ‘First, it’s pretty rich for David Brock of all people to accuse others of being motivated by a desire to raise money,’ he said.”

HOT ON THE RIGHT

Bill Clinton’s office checked with State Dept. on paid speech to group with Tehran ties. From Fox News: “An aide to Bill Clinton asked the State Department in 2012 about the former president potentially delivering a paid speech to an Iranian government-tied group that has pushed for an end to all U.S. sanctions against Tehran, according to an email exclusively obtained by Fox News. The email request, in June 2012, came during a sensitive time for [Hillary]  … in July 2012, one of her top aides, Jake Sullivan, started meeting in secret with Iranian diplomats in talks that helped paved the way for the nuclear deal with Tehran.”

DAYBOOK:

–On the campaign trail: All the Republicans are in Simi Valley. Hillary Clinton sits for a pre-taped interview on Jimmy Fallon’s show. Bernie Sanders meets with activists from Campaign Zero. 

–On the Hill: The House meets for legislative business at 2 p.m., with votes on 12 suspension bills scheduled for 6:30 p.m. The Senate meets at 10 a.m.

–At the White House: President Obama speaks to members of the Business Roundtable and visits Walter Reed. Vice President Biden travels to Southern California, where he will deliver remarks at the Solar Power International Conference and the U.S.-China Climate Leaders Summit. 

QUOTE OF THE DAY: “If president doesn’t work out, can I recommend Secretary of Hunkery?” — Seth Meyers jokes with Martin O’Malley on his show last night

NEWS YOU CAN USE IF YOU LIVE IN D.C.:

Good weather in store. “Outside of the fact we could use some rain, it’s hard to find much fault in this fabulous-looking forecast. Perhaps a touch warmer than some would like? Certainly can’t complain about the humidity, which remains missing in action before increasing a bit for Saturday,” reports the Capital Weather Gang.

The Nationals beat the Philadelphia Phillies, 4-0, showing glimmers of what might have been.

Fig&Olive will reopen today after the salmonella outbreak. The source was never found.

Pope Francis’s visit is really going to be a traffic nightmare. Think inauguration bad. Here are some tips for getting around D.C.

VIDEOS OF THE DAY:

Yeezus 2020, a super PAC supporting a Kanye West presidential bid, released two videos:

A super PAC supporting Jeb Bush released a new web video bashing Donald Trump:

An animal rights group, SHARK, released footage from a drone that was shot down on Friday as it hovered over a pigeon-shoot fundraiser for Sen. Jim Inhofe (R-Okla.):